Follow-up to Infant Election

By Nathan White

While considering Gene’s excellent post on Infant Salvation, I had a few things that came to mind that I would like to share. Personally, I have not come to a firm position on this issue, but I do have some problems with each side of the debate. Consider a few things on this extremely tough issue:

Doctrinal Questions:

1)Original Sin:
The doctrine of original sin plays an important role in this topic. Before you decide what you believe, you must ask yourself this question: Does God hold us (me, you, everybody), guilty and responsible for the sin of Adam in the garden? Yes or no?

If you say YES: you are ready to move on to the infant question.
If you say NO: you have built an incorrect foundation (a pelagian one at that), and you must deal with Romans 5 before you try and answer the infant question.

Objection to this question: some believe that Adam’s sin is not imputed to unborn children since they are never actually born. However, that raises another question, because the babies still die. That is, sin brings death, or, Adam’s sin –not the specifically the infant’s sin- brought the promise of death to all men. The infants never get a chance to sin because they are never born, but they still die because they are joined with Adam in his sin. So if Adam’s sin is not imputated to unborn children, why then do they die?

2)Election:
Is God free to elect some to eternal life, and to leave others in their sin and thus to eternal condemnation? Again, if you say no, you might as well stop reading right now and deal with Ephesians 1 before trying to tackle this issue. If you say yes, then the freedom of God in election rules over the unborn as well…theoretically.

Continuing on with the foundation that God elects, draws, and calls us before we come to faith in Christ, what is the method in which God justifies us? Through His Son Jesus, through the word of God, and through faith, correct?

Assuming you have a biblical view of election: Is it possible for someone living in the deepest, darkest part of Africa, who has never and will never hear of Jesus, the bible, and belief on His name, to be saved by any other means than repentance and faith in Christ?

To emphasize this question, please see Romans 10 when it says: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? …So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Is it possible for someone to obtain salvation without hearing, without the word of Christ, and without faith? If it isn’t, and the person in Africa has no hope if he never hears the gospel, then on what basis can we affirm that unborn children can enter heaven without the righteousness that is imputated by faith –which Romans 10 says comes by the hearing of the Word?

3)The Atonement:
Does Christ’s death atone for the sins of every single human? Does He perfectly save those whom He died for, or does He simply make salvation possible?

The Synergist (Arminian) will argue that Christ died to make salvation possible, and that infants are saved because they never get a chance to reject Christ –rejecting Christ being the unforgivable sin that the synergist claims sends men to hell. However, the reformed view, the biblical view, is that Christ only effectually died for those whom were given to Him by the Father (the elect), and thus unbelievers go to hell because of their sin, which was not paid for on the cross, and not simply because of the sin of unbelief alone.

In summation, some would affirm that Christ only propitiated the sins of the elect, but that that the ‘common grace’ extended to mankind because of Christ’s death (which also allows unbelievers to live a comfortable life here on earth), atones for the unborn babies as well. So the question we must answer is this: On the cross, did Christ atone for the sins of the unborn? What scriptural support do we have for this belief?

Philosophical Questions:

If God is free to elect from those on earth, would it be inconsistent to say that He has no freedom to elect from those who die before birth?

If God is sovereign over life and death, as the scriptures testify, and God is sovereign over salvation, as the scriptures testify, then does He not have the power to ENSURE the birth and maturity of all of those whom He chose to save?

That is, if He wanted to save someone, and He lays out in His word EXACTLY how to be saved –emphasizing that nobody is saved any other way, then could He not ordain the unborn to actually be born and grow to maturity in order to attain the age needed to place faith in Christ, if indeed His desire is to save them? Or, would you affirm that salvation comes by another, unknowable way, not described in the pages of scripture?

A common belief –and an objection to the above question, is that a baby dieing before birth is proof that they ARE part of the elect. Thus, God is still sovereign over their salvation in electing them through the means of not allowing them to be born and to sin. Or, does it work the other way, in that God is merciful to the unborn, not allowing them to sin in their physical lives, thus they will not be punished as severely as those who are born and reject Christ?

If all unborn babies go to heaven, and man has the ability to kill quickly and easily before birth, doesn’t abortion become a tool in the hand of man to fill heaven with babies?

Why would I want my child to be born and risk that him or her reject Christ, when all I have to do is kill it and I have done the best thing for my child?

Would it be odd to have more babies in heaven than people who actually lived? For the abortion rates in this country alone are staggering.

Conclusion:

At this point I am not quite ready to conclude. Although, I do see the danger on both sides of the argument. On one hand, we have those who tell other people the surety of salvation for those we cannot verify for sure. We also have to deal with the notion that we might have to cave on the ‘African jungle’ argument above, since we affirm that salvation comes in other ways not specifically described by scripture. And on the other hand, we need to be sensitive, and realize that the scriptures are nearly silent in this area. God is a loving God, and we would not be right in condemning people to hell that He has not condemned.

Ultimately, we know that God is a good God, and that He has a purpose in all conceptions, and in not giving us a clear answer on the matter. We can trust His goodness and His judgment, and know for certain that He will not punish anyone who does not deserve punishment. Think of it this way, whether or not your baby is born, it is still up to God and His mercy to save it. Thus, even if your child is born and grows up, we still have to wrestle with the fact that HE is in control of that child’s eternal destiny. So I honestly do not quite understand why this issue is so emotional for those who have children, and who understand the truths of God’s sovereignty revealed in scripture.

Understanding that God does everything according to His own good purpose and will, and that even granting conception is an act of His mercy, will help take the focus off of our own perception and back on God where it belongs. It is not about us…it’s all about Him.

SDG

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25 Comments on “Follow-up to Infant Election”

  1. serrevin Says:

    thought provoking argument. I don’t know if saying that all children who die in infancy are saved is the same as saying the native of the jungle is saved “because he didn’t get the chance” aren’t we assuming that the child in the womb doesn’t have the capacity to recognize the savior at that stage in his life? don’t we have biblical evidence of john the baptist leaping with joy when he was brought withing close proximity of the lord who was in the womb of mary? doesn’t that speak to the fact that there is a spiritual recognition of who the lord is even if the child doesn’t have all of his cognitive faculties in tact?
    as far as the “well if unborn babies automatically go to heaven then isn’t abortion the best form of evangelism” argument seems coherent at the outset but upon further reflection I think I disagree. I think the problem is solved by the prescriptive will of God and the decretive will of God. that is to say the rebellion of phraoh, nebecudnezzer (spelling), king herod, the jews, pontious pilate, all these sins were used to glorified God, and decreed by the father for all eternity. is it then right to say “well if god is glorified in rebellion then all of us should rebel”? no because that would be violating the prescriptive will of God which commands us to obey. so if god uses abortion or whatever other method of bringing infants into heaven it doesn’t necessarily mean that we ought to employ that as a means of evangelism because of God’s prescriptive will in regards to killing

  2. Alan Says:

    Nathan,

    I enjoyed reading yours and Gene’s posts immensely. In the list of 5 positions that Gene posted, I’m in the #5 camp (admittedly struggling to differentiate between #5 and #2). My mom believed in the “age of accountability” and really started hammerin’ at me to be baptized beginning with my 8th birthday. Anyway, I wanted to lend an additional point to the discussion. Not only is there the issue of “the person in Africa” but likewise the mentally handicapped. While understanding that there are a variety of views within Arminianism as there are in Calvinism, many Restoration churches teach that the mentally handicap will be saved because they are unable to comprehend and respond to the Gospel invitation. (Moreover, some believe and teach that the physically handicap likewise are saved apart from faith because they endured such hardship and disadvantage in this life.) Some see Jn. 3:18 (Mk. 16:16) as the trump card: only those who hear and disbelieve are judged. I understand some apply this by saying Christians should NOT engage in mission work because it is better that those haven’t heard NEVER hear so that we do not risk their condemnation. Again, I believe the NT teaches that salvation occurs only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No other possibility is given. I do trust God’s wisdom and justice in all this of course while recognizing that there is insufficient biblical support for universal infant salvation.

  3. Gordan Says:

    I think the confessional position on how people are saved is that God is completely sovereign in it, and that there is “normally” no salvation to be found absent the formula of grace through faith. Otherwise, you not only have a problem with infants but also with those born severely retarded, such that they may never develop the mental capacity to understand the Gospel message. Ditto for mental illness, etc.

    Another consideration seems to be the whole issue of a time of accountability. Jesus spoke of people not being held liable for their sin, had He not come and witnessed to them, etc. And Paul preached that there was a time in which the foolishness and idolatry of the world at large was “winked” at (KJV.) I’m not certain what all that means, but there may be an implication that sin is not imputed in the same manner to all in all stages.

    There is more to the issue of Original Sin than merely guilt. There is also the aspect of corruption to depravity. And the fact of death in babies does not imply guilt in babies, since death also happens in the animal kingdom, where surely none are dying due to any wilfull rebellion. Death is here because of Adam’s sin. I’m not sure the Bible really teaches that the bondage of the creation that results implies the guilt of that creation. Romans 5 certainly does teach that death comes to all by Adam sin, but I humbly suggest it may represent a stretch to have it teaching that all are born “guilty.”

    Additionally, we have both Job and Solomon saying that a stillborn baby is better off than both the wise man and fool. That would be an amazing statement to make if the baby’s in hell.

    Like you, though, I remain undecided and still wrestling.

  4. Gordan Says:

    Nathan,

    Your excellent post has prompted a few more thoughts:

    1. First, for the elect, death does not imply guilt. If your sins have been perfectly atoned for by Christ, then you do not die because you have some sort of guilt imputed to you: you die because that is the means God has chosen by which to glorify His beloved. So, the mere fact of an infant death does not necessarily equate to infant guilt in Adam. At least not for elect infants…

    2. Second, I think you are pressing the Romans 10 verse into service where it wasn’t meant to go. That is, you seem to want it to function as a formulaic answer to the question, “Where does faith come from?”

    But contextually, that is not Paul’s reason for producing it. It comes on the heals of a fairly detailed defense of election (Romans 1-9), in answer to the objection, “If God has already chosen whom He will save, then why evangelize?” The answer: because otherwise, how can the elect believe in a Jesus they don’t know?

    Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But this cannot be a mathematical formula, because some come to faith by reading the word themselves, and not by actually hearing with the ears. You would exclude the deaf from salvation here as well as the infant and retarded. Faith comes from election, if we’re really going to talk about its origins.

  5. Nathan White Says:

    Serrevin:

    I used the example of the native of the jungle not to show that he didn’t get a chance, but to show that salvation cannot come to anyone who doesn’t place faith in Christ. Remember, there are some circles of Christendom that will grant a native salvation simply through seeking ‘God’ instead of the Person of Christ particularly.

    I would say John the Baptist was a special circumstance, being a prophet of God, and that this historical example is not sufficient to build a theology off of. But, I admit that the passage is thought-provoking.

    Good word on the ‘abortion – evangelism’ point. Obviously, that was a rhetorical question aimed simply to make us think.

    SDG

  6. Nathan White Says:

    Allan,

    Good thoughts. I think the gist of what you and I affirm would be that God’s grace cannot be demanded by anyone, including infants, and that any entrance into heaven does not come by anyone’s ‘innocence’, but by the righteousness of Christ.

  7. Nathan White Says:

    Gordan,
    Great thoughts. Let me add a few things:

    Regarding point #1: the justification of the elect is a present declaration, but a future reality. Thus, I believe the elect do die because of the imputed guilt of Adam. If we grant infants innocence in the womb, then we must grant them innocence when they enter the world –until the first sin. That is a pelagian belief that would certainly contradict the scriptures.

    2: Yes, faith does come from election –it is a gift of God’s grace. I was simply pointing out the obscurity of trying to affirm for certain that infants are capable of saving faith. If we do that, I think it would only be consistent to affirm that jungle natives can be granted saving faith without coming to the knowledge of Christ as well. Just a thought.

    SDG

  8. Gordan Says:

    Nathan,

    On #1. Could you point me to a text that leads you to the belief that Christians die as a result of being held guilty in Adam? Doesn’t Romans 5 place us, now, under the Last Adam instead? So in atonement, our own sins are utterly removed, as far as the east is from the west, but Adam’s guilt still condemns us? Rather, I would suggest, as in Jesus’ discussion of death and resurrection in John 5, that the elect simply do not die in the same way that the depraved do. Death is a different thing for the two groups, and accomplishes a totally different purpose.

    I didn’t mean at all to imply or suggest innocence in infants. I believe in Total Depravity and that we are all born sinners. I meant to suggest that God is free to impute sin when and where and how He will. He is free to regenerate the elect in the same manner (a la John the Baptist.)

    2. On “saving faith in infants” I do think we need to explain the above case of John, as well as David’s confession that God made him trust as a nursing infant. I’m suggesting that what is saving about faith is that it is genuine, and comes from God as a gift to His people; it is not the level of knowledge or maturity in that faith that saves, but only whether it is from God for the purpose of salvation.

    Nathan, thanks again for a really thoughtful, challenging post.

  9. Nathan White Says:

    Gordan,
    Romans 5:12 says: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
    As it states, death came because of sin. Without sin there is no death. Yes, we are under the last Adam and have been freed from the ‘sting of death’, but we still live in a fallen world, we still sin, we still reap the consequences of our sin, and we still suffer the temporal consequences of Adam’s sin –death being one aspect of the curse (the wages of sin is death). We are not condemned, as you rhetorically asked below, but we do suffer consequences of sin while here on earth, and death is one of those consequences. We die no different than the unbelieving world, as Solomon says many times in Ecclesiastes. But we have had the sting of death removed, and death no longer reigns over us.
    Regarding the unborn, again, they die because the sin of Adam spread to all men, and thus brought forth death. If they were truly innocent, like some try to argue, then they would not die.

    I am not convinced that one historical example of John the Baptist proves anything, but there is certainly a possibility that I am wrong.

    Overall, I think it is important to remember that the justification of believers it twofold: first, we have been imputated with Christ’s righteousness, which it took 30yrs or so of Him living on earth to fulfill (remember when Jesus told John why He needed to be baptized? –to fulfill all righteousness?). Secondly, our sin was imputated to Christ as well. So its not just the absence of sin that justifies anyone, it is the presence of perfect righteousness as well.

    Thanks for the good thoughts, Gordan.

    SDG

  10. Gordan Says:

    Nathan, I think we agree. I just have some questions that I haven’t yet worked through completely; and I am not trying to argue, I hope you know, but to discuss with a brother.

    I see what you’re saying about Romans 5:12. And I agree that death is a direct effect of Adam’s sin. It just seems to me that there is a difference between affirming that we all die because we have all sinned with Adam, and saying that we die because we bear his particular guilt for that initial sin.

    I do think, to borrow a phrase from John Owen, that there was a “death of death in the death of Christ.” In John 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, for instance, Jesus and Paul both seem loathe to speak of death as such, preferring to use another term for what happens to the believer. I don’t want to make too much of that, but there it is.

    Anyway, thanks again for your thoughts and your interaction on this.


  11. An excellent sermon can be heard from Dr. Roy Hargrave from Riverbend on this subject.

    Go to: http://www.riverbendchurch.com/wma/2005/112705p.wma

    Sermon is entitled: “Infant Salvation”

    CR


  12. Sorry, I don’t think the link worked the way I thought it would –

    Instead, go to: http://riverbendchurch.com/resources.asp?p=onlsermons and scroll down to the sermon titled “Infant Salvation”. It will automatically launch in Media Player or some similar program.

    CR

  13. Dex Says:

    Nathan,

    I agree with you completely. In the absence of specific scriptural teaching on this subject, we must look to what scripture does say and place the weight upon that instead of inventing some hypothetical situation about what God possibly could do. This discussion quickly departs from examination of the scripture to philosophical arguments and assumptions about what the death of an infant means. We forget that the Bible says a lot about salvation. The question is, upon what basis would you think it is any different for infants? If the Bible does not clearly provide a distinction between adults and infants, then there are two possibilities: it is not something God wanted us to know, or there is no distinction. We should place the weight upon what has been said, while leaving room for some ambiguity if indeed there is something that we have not been told.

    P.S.
    Was John the Baptist leaping in the womb:
    1. a sign that John was regenerate
    2. a response to Mary’s voice
    3. a response to the infant Christ’s presence
    4. part of a sign to Mary (and Elizabeth)
    5. a response to the infilling of Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit

    See Luke 1:39ff

  14. Nathan White Says:

    Dex,

    Excellent, excellent comment. You certainly summed up my position in much clearer terms than how I put it. Couple that with what I said above in that God’s grace cannot be demanded by anyone -including infants, and the thesis I was trying to come to in this post has been communicated. Ultimately, I pray that this post will lead us back to focusing on God, His perfect character, and His sovereignty over His creation, instead of getting caught up in our feeble perception of ‘innocence’ and what we perceive as ‘just’.

    P.S. I would present a similar list of questions for the passage concerning David’s child as well.

    SDG

  15. Allan Says:

    Nathan, So does this mean you do beleive some infants are predestined and others aren’t or that you don’t know?

    I asked Gene to review this and let me know his thought and I would ask the same here concerning. (forgive me here) Spurgeon states that Calvinists have never taken the stance that some infants are predestined and some aren’t. Being as he is 200+ years closer to Calvinistic roots I thought it was interesting to hear him. I am just going to put the web address here and see what you all think. I am not going to write back because I only want to hear you thoughts on it.

    http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0411.htm

  16. serrevin Says:

    good points dex.
    I think you’ve made great points about john the baptist. but david’s statement about his son seems to me pretty obvious. If david wasn’t sure that he’d see the child again in the afterlife it seems strange to me that his mourning would have ceased for the child so suddenly. I can see david thinking to himself “well I’ll be able to see my child again in better circumstance” and so console himself with that thought. but for david to say “well I may see him again, I may not but i’ll enter the realm of death along with him” doesn’t seem to me to be much consolation.

  17. Nathan White Says:

    Allan,

    Very good article (or sermon). I would recommend to everyone that they read it. I agree with just about everything Spurgeon says, with the exception of the certainty in which he arrives at his position. I simply cannot be that dogmatic about an issue that scripture is not crystal-clear on. Even if we are to assume Spurgeon’s scriptural examples of babes being regenerated in the womb (John, Jeremiah), we cannot apply this logic to every single baby without exception. The same thing with David’s baby: if we assume that he meant that the child would be in heaven (which I freely admit is a possibility), then on what basis do we take this historical example and apply it to every baby without exception? Scripture does not adequately explain this issue to us.

    Spurgeon was defending Calvinists against the slander of others when he said that no Calvinist teaches that babies are predestined to hell. Funny thing, this slander is still going on today. Herb Reavis comes to mind regarding that one. But I, like Spurgeon, know of no Calvinist who goes around teaching that babies go to hell. I’m certainly not saying that, and I am not familiar with anyone who does. However, that doesn’t mean to say that there is no Calvinist teaching that it is something we simply cannot know. We see a great divide here, for on one hand we know the character of God, and on the other hand we see what God has revealed in scripture concerning salvation. Seemingly, there might be a little contradiction between the two, for a good case can be made on both sides. But ultimately, saying that the subject is unknowable or that God has the freedom to elect some (or all) of the children is NOT the same as saying that without a doubt there are some children who are predestined to hell.

    SDG

  18. Dex Says:

    2Sam 12:11-23

    22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’

    23 “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

    It seems to me that David was praying for God to show mercy and spare his son. While his son lived, there was still hope that God might relent. When the child finally died, there was no point in further prayer for mercy. Instead David got cleaned up and went into the temple and worshiped. David knew that he could not raise his son from the dead. Death is a one-way trip. (Not that God could not raise the dead, but is was obviously God’s purpose that the child die) He also knew that he himself would eventually die, as his son had. I believe David was referring to the certainty that everyone dies. It is stretching it to say that he was referring to a knowledge of his son’s eternal destiny. He did not stop praying for mercy because of his assurance of his son’s salvation, but because it was clear that God’s decision was final and there was no changing the consequences of David’s sin. Instead, he switched to worship. I guess David believed in the sovereignty of God, hey? Reminds me of Eli in 1Sam 3:17-18.

  19. Dex Says:

    2Sa 12:11-23
    1Sa 3:17-18

  20. Dex Says:

    OK, how do you make this thing show 2 Samuel?

  21. Dex Says:

    Quick note for Serrevin:

    David’s response doesn’t strike me as one of consolation, but resignation. His child was now in God’s hands, whatever that meant. David had 7 days of fasting and prayer to mourn his sin and its consequences. He was begging for God’s grace, which as Nathan (Nathan White, not the prophet in v13,15 🙂 ) has already pointed out, cannot be demanded. When grace was not given, that was the end of it. God’s decision was final.

  22. Nathan White Says:

    Dex said: When grace was not given, that was the end of it. God’s decision was final.

    I would actually disagree with this assumption. If we look at the death of Absalom, we see that David mourns and mourns seemingly endlessly over his death. Here I think we get a glimpse of David understanding that there was no hope for Absalom, that God’s justice would require his soul –no questions asked because he was a wicked man. But this is not so in the case of the little child, for David doesn’t mourn at all after his death. Whether this is because he thought the child would be in heaven, or because the child hadn’t lived a wicked life and thus his fate was unknown, we do not know, for the text does not explain it for us. But I do not believe that David knew for certain God’s decision in the matter, and I certainly don’t think that he knew the baby would be punished –he would have been a little more upset than he was.

    SDG

  23. Dex Says:

    Nathan,

    I just meant that God’s decision in not sparing the life of the child was final, not that David knew for certain one way or the other the eternal fate of his child. That too would be going beyond the text.

  24. Nathan White Says:

    Tim Challies has written a few good articles on this topic, they can be found here and here.

  25. Paul Bollen Says:

    Dear fellow christians:

    In our church, we use this test to tell if you are using an inspired translation is to check them against each other in Galations 2:16. The KJV says, “That nan is not justified by the deeds of the law, but by the faith OF Jesus Christ…” While the NIV and NKJV says, “Man is not justified by the deeds of the law, but by faith IN Jesus Christ…” My point is, there is a difference between the two words, in and of. Would you say that Jesus is the son OF God, or Jesus is the son IN God. I have been told that the KJV has the correct translation according to the Greek. We teach that man has not faith to come to God, much less repent and put faith in him on their own. If we could put our faith in Christ that would be works. Look in Ephesians 2:8-10. “For by grace are ye saved through FAITH, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast….” What is this: “and that not of yourselves?” Many people say it is GRACE. But the phrase follows “through FAITH…” That is what’s not of yourselves. It is Jesus’s faith that saves you. Look at the other scriptures in the KJV where it says “your faith in Jesus Christ” and those that say, “the faith of Christ…” God used his own method of appearing to Jeremiah 1:5, and Paul in Galatian 1:15. I have no problem in God saving babies.

    PWB


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