Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

Any thoughts on this post that Dr. Riddlebarger put up…. ???? It’s something that has been weighing on my heart since I have two minis.

Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.

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Because of human sin, and the fact that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to all of his descendants, unspeakable tragedies occur.  Ours is a sinful and fallen race.  We are weakened in body because of the inherited corruption passed down to us from our first father.  Furthermore, we are subject to the sinful actions of our fellow sinners.  Because we are under the curse, we will all die.  As one of the sages of popular culture puts it, “nobody gets out of here alive.”

One of the worst consequences of the Fall is the death of a child.  It is bad enough that children, now grown, must bury those who brought them into the world, and who have cared and provided for them.  It is even worse when parents are forced to bury a child who never lived to adulthood.  If such a tragedy is not a graphic picture of the reality which is the imputation of Adam’s sin to all his progeny, then I don’t know what is.

Having raised the brutal reality of the consequences of original sin (guilt, death, and final judgment), the authors of the Canons have also spoken of election (the exercise of God’s mercy) and reprobation (the exercise of God’s justice).

But at this point, the Canons address the very difficult subject of what happens when infants and small children of believers die in infancy, or in their youth, without ever having made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  Are we to consider such children as elect (and saved)?  Or as reprobate (and lost)?  Even framing the question like this makes us shudder, but it is a question we have all asked (if the truth be known), and the Canons do not shirk from answering it.

While most American evangelicals can fall back upon their Pelagianism and argue for the innocence of such children, we have already seen that the Scriptures do not allow us such an unbiblical escape.  If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear that our children–however precious they are to us–are sinful from the time of  their conception (Psalm 51:5; 58:3).  Like their parents, they are by nature, children of wrath, and therefore subject to the curse, which is death (Romans 5:12).

Despite the widely accepted American dogma of an “age of accountability”–that unspecified moment when children supposedly become responsible for their sins, and for any possible rejection of Christ–there is no such doctrine taught anywhere in Scripture.  Sadly, this unsupported dogma holds out the false promise of a salvation apart from Christ, and sets out the false hope that should our children die before they reach the age of accountability, they will automatically go to heaven, because they are “innocent” and never needed saving.

Realizing the myth of human innocence under any circumstances, the Canons point us to an even better source of comfort–not the supposed innocence of our children, but to the merciful God, who in Jesus Christ, provides the means of salvation for all of his elect, including the children of believers.  God’s grace may even extend to all those who die in infancy, but since Scripture is silent on this matter, and all we have is human opinion, we’ll leave that discussion for another time, as the Canons themselves wisely do.

According to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7:14), the children of believers (even if only one parent is a Christian) are holy.  They are “set apart” through the faith of a one believing parent, so that all promises made by God to his people under the covenant of grace apply to them.  If we are believers in Jesus Christ, without hesitation we affirm that our children are members of the covenant of grace, the promises of which are signed and sealed unto them though baptism.  As Christian parents, the Canons direct us to find comfort in the tragic case of the death of a child, in the fact that all of the promises of the covenant center in God’s unconditional promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  We need not count upon the false hope of the innocence of our child to save them.  No, we count on something much, much, greater–the mercies of God in Christ!

It is because God is absolutely faithful to his covenant promises, and not because our children are somehow “innocent,” we can be confident that those children of believers who die in infancy are indeed numbered among the elect, and go to heaven when they die.  The Canons wisely counsel us not to doubt the election of such children, but to be absolutely confident of being joined with them eternally in the “age to come.”  Why?  Because of God’s covenant promise!  God’s grace in Christ trumps human sin.

The promises God makes to us under the covenant of grace give us wonderful comfort in the darkest of moments.  These same promises remind us that God is gracious, and that death and the grave do not have the final word.  God will raise all his own from the dead, ensuring that all his people will one day bask in their promised inheritance together–the children with their parents–as they enjoy their eternal Sabbath rest in the presence of the Savior.

While the promise never removes the pain of death–this side of Christ second coming–it certainly gives us a sure and certain hope.  Far better to count on the blood and righteousness of Christ, than on the supposed “innocence” of those we love.  And this is why we make our judgments from Scripture, where we find far better promises and a much greater hope.   For it is Scripture which promises us, that should our children die, they are even now beholding the face of that one who redeemed them with his precious blood.

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5 responses to “Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

  1. B-Lo,

    This is a tough issue! Do you think that 1 Cor 7:14 applies to adult children? What about those who reject Christ cradle to grave? It also speaks of the unbelieving spouse with the same language. Are they saved by this covenant promise?

    At the risk of being called a baby hating Calvinist, I’m going to assert that God has the same freedom in election of infants that he does with everyone else. I also believe in an incredibly loving God who loves to bless his children. This gives me confidence in the salvation of the infants of believers, but not a dogmatic certainty.

    Steve Camp has a good (courageous) article on it here. Though it doesn’t start out talking about infants specifically, most of the article is dedicated to the topic (not specifically infants of believers either).

    Be Strong and Courageous–

  2. Justin Richter

    B-Lo,

    First off, it was good seeing you man. And it was also good to meet you Mr. Ragsdale.

    I agree with Mr. Ragsdale on the 1 Cor 7.14 passage. It can’t be talking about the kids salvation because the husband would be saved as well. D.A. Carson brought this point up in our Hebrews class.

    Secondly, this is obviously a first generation Christian convert. It sounds as if the person becomes a Christian but already has some unsaved children and husband. In that case should the parent baptize the children even though they were not born while she was in the covenant. If a forty year old married woman becomes a Christian should her twenty year old children get baptized? Are they saved? I am not so sure about that.

    Lastly, what does God’s faithfulness have to do with when a baby is baptized? Is not God faithful to his covenant people when covenant kids are baptized later in life? Is he not faithful when the Spirit works in their lives to bring them to baptism? Of course He is. We can still hold on to a covenantal view and know that it is by God’s grace that children are saved.

    As Reformed believers we recognize that God is in control of how long our children live as well. I say this humbly B-Lo because I don’t have children yet, but do think the motivation in some ways is like the fire insurance idea. We believe God is gracious and with our without baptism we don’t know whether or not our child is saved. In fact if a child takes on the sign of the covenant and does not have the fruit of the spirit does that mean covenant curses? Baptism doesn’t guarantee anything in my opinion. Only God’s grace acting through the Spirit does.

    Again B-Lo these are just my thoughts that I have been working through. When it comes down to it I respect the authority of the parent’s decision and I won’t get upset either way. I just prefer Craedo because I think it more practical and in some ways more biblically satisfying. Love you man.

  3. Hello friends,

    Thanks for posting this Bryan. I must admit this covenant thing extending to unbelieving members of the family is a new idea for me. It will be good for me to chew on and research.

    I have tried to think through this issue some because my denom. (SBC) has decided to take a stand on it in their Baptist Faith and Message, saying that “as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.”

    In researching it, I found what the guys at Desiring God had said:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/2006/1622_What_happens_to_infants_who_die/

    I believe that DGM and Piper are saying that all infants will be saved. They say that “God is not saving infants because they are innocent. They are not innocent, but guilty. He is saving them because, although they are sinful, in his mercy he desires that compassion be exercised upon those who are sinful and yet lack the capacity to grasp the truth revealed about Him in nature and to the human heart.” This is taken from Romans 1:20 and John 9:41.

    Also, they state that this is not inconsistent with unconditional election because “As Spurgeon pointed out, it is not that God chooses someone to salvation because they are going to die in infancy. Rather, He has ordained that only those who have been chosen for salvation will be allowed to die in infancy.”

    Thanks for bringing this topic to the table, I’ve had a hard time finding some good discussion on this.

    Cheers,
    Cody

    P.S. If you are wondering, I am a friend of Greg and Clint and got a link to this blog from them. 🙂

  4. christopherlake

    I’m with Tim and Justin on this issue. The Bible does give us some hope that infants of believing parents will be saved (I think particularly of David’s statement about his infant son), but I’m not sure that it gives us certainty about the issue in all cases. It is ultimately up to God. I have to trust His heart with any possible future children I may father. He is perfectly holy in all that He does, including choosing to save and not to save. We are all sinful rebels from birth. I hope that God does save infants, but in the words of the hymn, “Whatever My God Ordains Is Right.” I don’t write these words casually or callously– I might be referring to my own future children here.

    On the baptism of infants, which Justin mentioned, I still have to ask, why should Christian parents apply a symbol for the washing away of sins to a child who may never actually have his/her sins washed away by the blood of Christ? Certainly, Christian parents should raise a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but baptism actually seems to presume upon God’s mercy to that child. I know that God often works through families in Scripture (not always though), but ultimately, a person is saved as an individual (and then brought into the church) by God, not by virtue of having been born into a Christian family and raised by Christian parents. Of course, I don’t deny that God uses means, and often, He does use Christian parents as mighty instruments in a child’s salvation, but not always. The symbol for the washing away of sins makes most sense, Biblically speaking, when applied to one who shows clear evidences of regeneration. This principle simply could not apply to an infant. As a great preacher once said, “You can get a baby wet, but you can’t baptize it.”

  5. Thanks to all Chris, J and Tim for your remarks. I find this process of growing in sanctification and knowledge ever-challenging as well as humbling. My primary reason for posting this article was to spur on healthy conversation between brothers that I look up to, like all of you. I do say that I am largely in agreement with you, Tim, on the election of infants. Now, this is coming from one who has had two miscarriages with my wife. It is quite the sobering yet freeing thought to know and understand that scripture is true when it says “… before the foundation of the earth” he adopted his Sons (and daughters). But I don’t know that I would say I can rest assured that my two unborn children were elect. I don’t see why the “rules” of salvation would be negotiable for infants or the unborn… making them exempt from God’s wrath… just because they were “young.” This may be harsh and I may be missing something, but I know that scripture is clear in stating that God chooses who he chooses, so in that I trust and know that the Lord’s sovereign will can and will bring everlasting glory far greater than I ever could. This would also pose the question…. what about someone with mental problems…. in some situations they may not be able to perceive yet are still born into the curse and fall of Adam.. ?? Is not all of mankind accountable for the fall? The reason why this is still freeing to me is that I know and trust our sovereign king will bring glory to himself however he chooses… which is indeed our greatest joy. So, I don’t know who or how God elects.. but I can be dogmatic in stating that God is looking out for his Glory.

    I hope you all know that I am stating this as someone who is dull and still trying to learn and grow. I don’t know all the answers, but I do pray that God will continue to sanctify us (his bride) by the washing of the water of the word. Let’s continue to talk through these issues… we all have a lot to learn.

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