"My heart I give Thee, Lord, eagerly and earnestly." - John Calvin
Saturday, December 26, 2009
What of Eternity for Infants?
"Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."
-Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X, Section 3
A longtime cavil against Calvinists is that we supposedly believe in the damnation of infants. The above paragraph from the Confession is quoted, with various cries of outrage and superiority. Yet, notice that damnation is mentioned nowhere in the paragraph. Rather, only salvation is under consideration.
It is a common concern of spiritually-minded parents what the spiritual welfare is of young children who die, or miscarried, or of children with severe mental disabilities. Afterall, to be saved, we must confess the Lord Jesus with our mouths, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). How can the infant do so? Or how can the mentally-disabled hear and respond to the Gospel? These are heartfelt questions. And logically, there are only four possibilities that can be discussed for their comfort.
First, some believe that children are spiritually innocent. This is a common view, though it is contrary to the explicit teachings of Scripture. David tells us in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And as Paul tells us in Romans 5, from 12 to the end, every human being fell in Adam, so the sin nature has already passed to the next generation, even if unborn. And Paul, again, in Romans, chapter 9, tells us that, before he was even born, "Esau I hated" (verse 13). Just as the sin nature is present from the earliest point of human existence, so that nature is under the just judgment of God.
Second, since we understand that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, one could hold that all who die in infancy or in mental disability are condemned and lost. This is the real implication of the one who denies the truth of God's sovereign election.
Third, one can hold that all who die in infancy or mental inability are elect. Some Presbyterians take this position. For example, A. A. Hodge, the son of the more-famous Charles Hodge, says in his commentary on this passage in the Confession, "It is not positively revealed that all infants are elect, but we are left, for many reasons, to indulge a highly-probable hope that such is the fact." Personally, I believe that he exceeds the evidence of Scripture in that assertion.
And lastly, there is the position of the Confession, that we have the testimony of Scripture that we can expect that the covenant children of believers, lost in infancy or mental-disability, are regenerated by the Holy Spirit invisibly, apart from His usual means of grace. But we must then acknowledge the silence of Scripture regarding those outside the covenant. Are they lost? Are they taken out of this world because God has made them His own? In this life, we cannot know, because the Scriptures do not tell us. Thus, we must be silent on that question, just as the Confession is silent on it.
However, against our Arminian and Pelagian opponents, I testify that this issue is against them, not us. They have no basis for hope for bereaved parents. Yet, we have the comfort of Paul's teaching again in Romans 5:14. While God hated Esau in the womb, He also tells us that "Jacob I loved." In His gracious covenant, God has elected at least some even from the womb. The Christian parents of a lost child, or of one with severe disabilities, have that comfort and confidence from God's covenant promises.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43