“According to Steve these children go to hell.”
Really? Can he quote me on that? Where have I ever said that everyone who dies in infancy goes straight to hell?
All I said here is that infants die as a consequence of original sin.
The same holds true for Christians. Christians die. And they die as a result of original sin (; ).
In order to mount a internal critique from this platform, it would be helpful if Loftus would actually mount an internal critique. Simply getting mad about what Christian theology or a particular theological tradition states is not an internal critique. That's an external critique. Now, he can certainly do the latter, but, as Steve has repeatedly stated, the way to do an internal critique is to actually show how it is wrong or inconsistent given the actual and properly stated ideas of your opponent for the opponent to hold that position, in this case with reference to theodicy.
1. As usual, Loftus assumes, I presume from his Arminian theological training, a particular position on the death of infants. However, that would only work against an Arminian, not a supralapsarian (or even infralapsarian Calvinist or an Amyraldian). It wouldn't work against a great many Arminians. It may, at best, apply to the Campbellites and a few others. As a rule, evangelical Arminians have a doctrine of original sin, though they temper it with a theology of "the age of accountability" and posit all infants dying in infancy go to heaven.
2. As usual, Loftus presents us with an inaccurate picture of what Steve has actually said. Below, I'm going to repeat a great deal of what Steve has actually discussed in the past few years he has been blogging, as he did happen to touch on this subject way, way back, before Loftus and Steve began engaging.
3. I'd add that an Arminian professor at Duke University and I had a chat on this issue in email about a year ago or so, and I was able to point out some of these same things to him. Granted, he's a professing Christian, but the point I was making is that objecting to infant damnation in order to object to Calvinism presents a massive misunderstanding of the Reformed tradition on this issue. In the course of our discussion, he actually agreed, though he still, to be best of my knowledge sees any view that might allow for the damnation of infants to hell as "hyper-Calvinistic." From my perspective, that's pure rationalism intruding on his theology, for he is allowing his emotions and particular apriori notions about God, justice, mercy, etc. to control his views. It would be better to mount (a) an internal critique of Calvinism with some emotional distance, or (b) for him to mount an exegetical defense of his position. I'd further add that both of these would be helpful for Loftus to attempt if he truly desires to mount an internal critique from this platform.
That said, once more, with feeling...
There are a number of issues that intersect with this particular subject, and some of them are issues I will be covering in a forthcoming paper here in August dealing with the theological language about regeneration itself in the Reformed tradition. What is said here will cover a piece of that. (This was originally posted on my other blog, and that paper was posted, I believe, both there and here at Triablogue).
Typically, the non-Calvinist proceeds toward a notion that there is an age of accountability, normally a person variable index, and that any infant who dies before that age, whatever it may be, is automatically elect and goes to heaven. Immediately this raises several questions, not the least of which is the age itself. In addition, if the person dies and is not morally “accountable” for sin, then why do they die at such a young age. Arminianism that denies that children are counted guilty of sin have a problem, here, as that would infer that such children enter heaven because they are “innocent.” But if they are innocent of sin, why do infants die? In addition to this, this idea in incompatible with the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. If infants are not guilty of sin in some sense, then Adam’s sin is not imputed to mankind through the fall, and Christ’s righteousness, conversely, has no basis for being imputed to men through justification.
How then does Reformed theology answer this? Traditionally, Warfield has classified no fewer than five different positions on this issue:
1.From the beginning a few held with Zwingli that death in infancy is a sign of election, and hence that all who die in infancy are the children of God and enter at once into glory. After Zwingli, Bishop Hooper was probably the first to embrace this view. It has more lately become the ruling view.
2.At the opposite extreme a very few held that the only sure sign of election is faith with its fruits, and, therefore, we can have no real ground of knowledge concerning the fate of any infant; as, however, God certainly has his elect among them too, each man can cherish the hope that his children are of the elect. Peter Martyr approaches this sadly agnostic position.
3.Many held that faith and the promise are sure signs of election, and accordingly all believes and their children are certainly saved; but the lack of faith and the promise is an equally sure sign of reprobation, so that all the children of unbelievers, dying such, are equally certainly lost. The younger Spanheim, for example, writes…”they are justly reprobated by God on account of the corruption and guilt derived to them by natural propagation.
4.More held that faith and the promise are certain signs of election, so that the salvation of believers’ children is certain, while the lack of the promise only leaves us in ignorance of God’s purpose; nevertheless that there is good ground for asserting that both election and reprobation have place in this unknown sphere. Accordingly, they held that all the infants of believers, dying such, are saved, but that some of the infants of unbelievers, dying such, are lost. Probably no higher expression of this general view can be found that John Owen’s.
5.Most Calvinists of the past, however, have simply held that faith and the promise are marks by which we may know assuredly that all those who believe and their children, dying such, are elect and saved, while the absence of sure marks of either election or reprobation in infants, dying such outside the covenant, leaves us without ground for inference concerning them…It is this cautious, agnostic view which has the best historical right to be called the general Calvinistic one. Warfield, Works, 9:431-434.
Warfield also mentions that
“Calvin seems, while speaking with admirable caution, to imply that he believed some infants dying such to be lost,”ibid. 431, n66
Most Reformed Baptists seem to move along 1,5, and 2, though you may find
representatives of each of those 5 if you looked hard enough. I personally speak where Scripture speaks. There are too few Scriptures chasing this question, so any answer I give is speculative. I agree that if they are all universally saved, it is by sovereign election and thus they all pass into glory on the merits of Christ alone. I do not affirm that infants are regenerated “willy nilly” and survive into childhood without being converted at a very early age. I am also inclined to believe Calvin’s view on infant reprobation, but that is because a person is either reprobate or elect from eternity past; he is not reprobated or elect at birth, as God is not bound by time, rather he is either elect or reprobate by eternal decree. I’d add that this is even true of the Arminian order of decrees. So, I’m inclined to affirm that, while in one sense it is wise to remain agnostic where Scripture is agnostic, it is likely that their death in infancy is a sign of their election. I have no theology of covenant children, as I am a Baptist, but I affirm with the 1689 Confession that elect infants go to heaven. That is, they go based on God’s merciful election, because they are still imputed with original sin/guilt and require election to salvation in order to enter heaven.
Calvin on infant reprobation, according to Boettner(Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 147). :
While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches they will be lost as infants, sand while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate “procure” their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself) that no reprobate child will die in infancy; but such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.
R. C. Sproul even calls the doctrines of infant salvation “speculative.” (Providence, Tape 10,Q&A). Sproul points out that some reformers believe that all babies who die are numbered among the elect, and other reformers believe that all babies of saved parents who die are numbered among the elect. Boettner writes:
Most Calvinistic theologians have held that those who die in infancy are saved. The Scriptures seem to teach plainly enough that the children of believers are saved; but they are silent or practically so in regard to those of the heathens. The Westminster Confession does not pass judgment on the children of heathens who die before coming to years of accountability. Where the Scriptures are silent, the Confession, too, preserves silence. Our outstanding theologians, however, mindful of the fact that God’s “tender mercies are over all His works,” and depending on His mercy widened as broadly as possible, have entertained a charitable hope that since these infants have never committed any actual sin themselves, their inherited sin would be pardoned and they would be saved on wholly evangelical principles.Such, for instance, was the position held by Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield. Concerning those who die in infancy, Dr. Warfield says: “Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act. (Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 143-144)
Most objectors to this seem to move along the assumption, at least in part, that those who have held to the doctrine of infant reprobation have affirmed that infants suffer in hell as infants, but is this really the case? Those I have read qualify their position quite heavily.
i) Of course, much of what makes this mental image repellent is just that—the colorful imagery. But let’s not mistake Dante for whatever hell is really like. Those who hold this view have generally stayed away from “burning in hell” and looked beyond this imagery to hell as as Arminian heaven, where all bets are off and all its residents can do what they want as they want to their hearts content. Moreover, hell is a place of differing degrees, so it’s not as if such persons, in this view are placed near the center. No, that is, it seems reserved for those who apostatized in particular. What we’re literally talking about is the state of the soul—whether a younger or older soul, which–at the general resurrection–will be reunited with a body.
ii) Is the age you die at the age you remain? If you die at 90, are you still 90 in heaven?
In heaven, wouldn’t you, in a sense, age up, age down, or both? You would age down in the sense that if you were past your prime when you died, you’d then revert to an optimal time of life—both mentally (in the intermediate state) and physically (in the final state). But you’d also continue to mature—in that same ageless and youthful state—to mature intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
iii) The same with those who go to hell. Suppose that some of the great bloodletters of history like Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Attila and and Genghis Khan had died in childhood, died before they murdered their millions. And suppose they went to hell.
Should we really visualize them as cute, curly-haired, cherubic babies in hell—50 years later, a 100 years later? Or should be visualize them as what they became, and worse—far worse. In fact, if you put anyone in hell, without the preservative of common grace, much less saving grace, they’ll all turn into a Hitler or Nero or Stalin—a super-duper Hitler, Nero, or Stalin.
What you have here is a natural evolution of sin, from seed to full flower. It is not a little angel turning into devil, but a little devil turning into a bigger devil.
iv) And when we debate the merits of universal infant salvation, not only are we forming a mental image of babies in heaven or hell, but we’re tacitly projecting our mental image onto the mind of God, as if he is visualizing the very same spectacle.
But does God see a baby as a baby, as only a baby? According to , God sees a baby as a storybook character in a novel that he himself has written. His entire life and afterlife is present to the mind of God—present because he penned every single page.
What is more—God has a number of unpublished manuscripts as well. Books that never went to press. Books he’s written with alternative endings (cf. ; ).
The point is not that God chooses according to what’s in the book. The point, rather, is that what’s in the book is according to God’s choosing.
Moreover, when we see a baby or a little child, that is literally all we see. We don’t see the soul. But God sees the invisible soul. Not only does he see the future, but he sees an delitescent dimension of the present. Parts of his book are written in invisible ink—legible to his eyes alone.
Let’s not forget this is still a problem for other theological traditions. The traditional rationale for infant baptism was the presupposition that infants were hell-bound due to original sin unless they received the sacrament of baptism. Although Catholicism has softened its initial position, it can only do so by impeaching its rationale for infant baptism. Logically speaking, the structure of Presbyterian theology is more predisposed to universal infant salvation than Reformed Baptist theology. To some extent, then, you have the same arguments and counterarguments for universal infant salvation as you have for infant baptism, and for a Baptist, since Baptists do not include infants in the covenant community, isn’t this a major problem, since we affirm a person must be converted in order to be saved?
Intersecting with this is Prebyterian and Dutch Reformed theology on infant regeneration, as well as James Boyce who speaks of infant regeneration as well in his Abstract of Theology. So, let’s take a quick look at their work on this subject before continuing.
The Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed tradition allow for infant regeneration. Some Reformed Baptists (James Boyce) do as well, but for different reasons. Hardshells also affirm that infants can be regenerated.
Difference between Hardshell doctrine and dominant Reformed doctrine:
In Hardshell doctrine, infants regenerated may come to Christ very late in life. In Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches (and as abstract limiting cases in the views of some Baptists), an infant that is regenerated will come to faith, not as an adult, but at an exceptionally young age.
On this latter view, they are reared in believing homes, exposed from infancy to the Word of God, the gospel, etc. and make a saving and credible profession very early. Therefore, their conversion is not separated from instrumentality at all. They may through their behavior prove not to be “problem children” at all, but behavior itself is not a measure of their status with God at this age. This is considered the exception to the rule in God’s dealings with people and is very rare. It is put forward to account for those who either have no memory of their conversion (like Ruth Graham) or were converted at the ages of 3 or 4 and generally shown the fruits of conversion (faith, understanding of truth, apprehension and love for God and Christ, sorrow over sin, etc.). Shedd epitomizes this view, in his discussion of regeneration in adults vs. infants. After his discussion of preaching, prayer, etc. and its connection to regeneration and conversion, he writes:
The regenerate child, youth, and man, believe· and repent* immediately. The regenerate infant believe· and repent· when his· faculties will admit of the exercise and manifestation of faith and repentance. In the latter instance, regeneration in potential or latent faith and repentance.
Historically, the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed traditions have oscillated between 2 views on the treatment of children. Abraham Kuyper, for example, advocated a position by which children born to believers (and of course baptized) should be presumed to be elect (and thus presumptively regenerate) until they show signs otherwise. They appeal to Maccovius, Voetius, Gomarus and others, but this is far from conclusive. (See: http://members.aol.com/RSIGRACE/neo3.html) Presently, those Presbyterians favoring Auburn Ave./Federal Vision theology tend toward this direction. This view also seems to involve the a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling.
Archibald Alexander summarizes the dominant view among Presbyterians in the Princeton tradition (emphasis mine): “The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood.” (Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 13-14.) So, the first presumption is not that the child is regenerate, rather it is that s/he is unregenerate. What then is the age about which we are speaking here?
Vern Poythress articulates this position today (emphasis mine) from www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1997Linking.htm
It might seem that I have pushed hard in the direction of finding genuine faith even in very young children. But it would be artificial and speculative to place any great weight on demonstrating the character of the child’s response. It is much more important that we recognize that God can meet and spiritually bless such young children. Obviously the very young child is more passive, and the signs of response may be very vague. But the blessing of God, his spiritual care, rebuke, comfort, and strengthening are quite vividly real, as they come largely through the channel of the child’s parents. To a large extent, these very young children are receiving the substance of the care that ought to characterize participation in the Christian community.
The experience of the Christian community also shows what happens to children who are raised in this kind of environment. Let us suppose that the parents and the larger community are diligent in practicing their faith and in raising children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (). Let us suppose that they are diligent in praying for their children to be saved and to grow spiritually. Then the children will be professing faith in Christ when they are two and three and four. There are no four-year-old apostates in a healthy Christian community.
Infants do not directly manifest their faith by verbal confession. But the prayers of their parents, the training of their parents, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community are evidence that they will give credible professions by the time they are a few years old. One might then argue that this evidence is in practice just as convincing as a verbal confession. There is no more danger that the children will apostasize when four years old than that an adult convert would apostasize after four years in the faith.
This is, therefore in contrast to the Kuyperian and Old Hardshell traditions which state that infant regeneration can occur (and in the Old Hardshell tradtion, regeneration can occur at any time), and the individual is not converted either immediately or in a very short period thereafter.
Thus we can outline these 2 positions as follows:
A. Kuyperian/Old Hardshell*
Time Gap, even into adulthood
Conversion, even in adulthood
*In Old Hardshell doctrine any person, not only an infant, may be regenerated by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit and not become conscious of it for a lengthy interval, even a great many years. From this comes their doctrines of “time salvation” and “eternal justification.” In contrast, View 2 above states that, while the agency of the Holy Spirit is immediate and, technically, His own work apart from means, in all but infants (the exception to the rule), this does not happen apart from instrumentality of the Word, and the first conscious action of the person is to repent and believe, and, moreover, because of the use of instrumentality, they are actively engaged in the psychology of this process.
No time gap
Effectual calling commences immediately
Conversion at very early age “as soon as his faculties will admit”; very rare
Strictly speaking, from a Baptist perspective, both views seem to involve a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling, judging from a surface level comparison. Moreover, because Baptists deny that children are part of the new covenant, Reformed / Sovereign Grace Baptists have no conceptual mechanism by which to presume infants regenerate, making the Old Hardshell position / Kuyperian position seem grossly illogical as a result. However, Baptists standing in the broader Reformed tradition do often, as Boyce demonstrates, affirm the possibility of infant regeneration under the Princetonian, not the Kuyperian, paradigm, because of their pastoral experience, not because of any theology of covenant children, and we all affirm that elect infants dying in infancy go to heaven. (SLC 10.3)
William Young, responding to the Kuyperian position taken by the hyper-covenantalists / Federal Visionists responds to this idea (emphasis mine):
The view of Voetius and Kuyper involves the anomaly of a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling, particularly appalling in the case of the apostle Paul, of whom, on the basis of , the younger Kuyper is reported to have preached as an example of a regenerated blasphemer.
In his detailed exposition in E Voto, Kuyper devotes a chapter to documentation and argumentation for his claim that he is introducing no novelty, but simply returning to the doctrine of Calvin and the Reformed fathers which a later generation allowed to fall into oblivion.(32) Does he make out his case?
Kuyper quotes from Institutes IV.xvi.17-20 to find support in Calvin, who does teach: “That some infants are saved; and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.” What Kuyper fails to quote is Calvin’s rejoinder to the Anabaptist evasion that the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb “was only a single case, which does not justify the conclusion that the Lord generally acts in this manner with infants.” Calvin’s rejoinder is: “For we use no such argument.”(33) But Kuyper does use such an argument, in contending that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated because in fact that is the general manner of the Lord’s dealing with them. Calvin does speak of a seed of future repentance and faith implanted by the Spirit,(34) but does not state the false proposition that this is the case with all baptized infants, nor the highly disputable thesis of Voetius that this is the case with all elect children of believers. Certainly there is no hint of the presumptive doctrine of Kuyper in any of these texts of Calvin. (Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 36 (1973-74).)
The understanding of the dominant Princeton tradition represented by Presbyterians outside the Auburn Avenue/Federal Vision/”hyper-covenantal” position, has been that those who are regenerated in infancy will, because of God’s providential care, be exposed from birth to the means of grace, including the gospel (as soon as they can understand language) and thus, the effectual call begins from that moment and culminates in their conversion. This view is also the view of Reformed Baptists who hold this out as an abstract possibility. These individuals reason as James Boyce in his Abstract of Theology (http://www.founders.org/library/boyce1/ch32.html) as follows:
2. Regeneration (as in infants) may exist without faith and repentance, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Therefore, regeneration precedes.
3. Logically the enabling act of God must, in a creature, precede the act of the creature thus enabled. But this logical antecedence involves actual antecedence, or the best conceptions of our mind deceive us and are not reliable. For this logical antecedence exists only because the mind observes plainly a perceived dependence of the existence of the one on the other. But such dependence demands, if not causal, at least antecedent existence. Here it is only antecedent.
VI. There is not only antecedence, but in some cases an appreciable interval.
1. This is true even of conversion regarded as a mere turning to God. Between it and regeneration must intervene in some cases some period of time until the knowledge of God’s existence and nature is given, before the heart turns, or even is turned towards that God.
(1.) This must be true of all infants and of all persons otherwise incapable of responsibility, as for example idiots.
Boyce will go on to discuss the heathen and some pastoral cases, but they are not germane to this particular discussion on infants. For Boyce, such individuals are regenerated in infancy and are brought under the effectual call and believe as soon as they are able.
Thus, unlike the Kuyperian tradition, there is not a time gap between regeneration and the effectual call, since all the means of grace, including the Word of God are included in the Princetonian tradition’s definition of the external and internal call, but there is a time gap between regeneration and conversion itself. In addition, then, at the conceptual level, this view is quite at home in View 1 of Regeneration above, and View 1 itself is, as we have seen, at home in View 2 as a subset of View 2. A Reformed Baptist holding to View 2 would be more prone to say that the child making an early saving/credible profession of faith was regenerated by the Holy Spirit at the time of his actual conversion, but, strictly speaking, given the speculative nature of such analysis, and the further rarity attached to infant regeneration as such, the two evaluations, while differing on the timing of regeneration, are generally equivalent.
In the Kuyperian tradition, there is a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling. This is closer to the Old Hardshell doctrine, but it is not the view of Sproul, Frame, et.al. They hold to the Princeton tradition in this matter. It is unfair, therefore, for individuals like Bob L. Ross to lump all persons affirming the regeneration of infants in the Presbyterian tradition together while dropping their distinctive approaches.
Now, that said,
Related to Presbyterian theology is the assumption that if some infants are lost, they are the infants of unbelievers. This is why a Presbyterian in Gill’s day would have found more comfort than Gill, since his theology is more conducive to universal infant salvation than Gill’s was at the time.
But how this is supposed to follow? In the case of adults, we know for a fact that election cuts across family lines: that you have elect children of reprobate parents and reprobate children of elect parents—as well as elect children of elect parents and reprobate children of reprobate parents. Ergo, there’s no pattern here from which one could extrapolate to the case of infant mortality.
Thus, you end up with universal infant salvation is justified on the grounds of some chronological threshold. This is variously called the age of discretion or the age of accountability. Although the two terms are used interchangeably, the concepts are hardly synonymous. Scriptural evidence for an age of discretion is not necessarily evidence for an age of accountability—especially in light of original sin, which both Arminians and Calvinists have generally affirmed, with the exception of certain more Pelagian traditions like the Campebellites.
On the face of it, the chronological threshold seems pretty artificial—if not wholly so. If a child dies at the age of 6, he is saved–but if the very same child dies at the age of 8, he is damned? One is, in effect, positing a transition from election to reprobation. This is a hypothetical transition, to be sure, but the whole discussion is hypothetical in the absence of clear revelation. Does your eternal fate really turn on which side of the age range you fall on? Is that the boundary-condition?
This doesn’t seem to be an argument that has nature in its favor. After all, cognitive development ranges along a continuum. It’s not as if the kid goes to bed one night below the age of discretion and wakes up the next morning above the age of discretion. Likewise, it’s hard to see how grace would respect a chronological threshold. How is the boundary drawn? Where is it drawn? Why is it drawn? If it isn’t a natural boundary or a gracious boundary, then what is it?
Is there really some invisible line to cross? Is the same line in the same place in the case of every human being? Or only those who die in infancy? Does God have the same line for those who die in infancy in some possible world, but not the actual world? The whole scheme strikes me as hopelessly ad hoc. It would seem preferable to affirm universal infant salvation by way of de facto election and regeneration into the kingdom, which is exactly the method that the SLC/WCF 10.3 affirms or take an agnostic position, since too few Scriptures are chasing this topic.
John Piper today is representative of this position.
“Who are they? I am still inclined to think, against the most common scholarly opinion, that the group of people begging for an explanation, and providing the most relevant illustration for Paul’s point, is infants. Infants died…
I know that many commentators object to the reference to children. It is indeed a very difficult complex connection of thoughts….Personal, individual sin cannot be the reason all died, because some died without transgressing a known law the way Adam did (v.14), and thus without the ability to have their personal sins reckoned to them in the sense of which he is speaking (v.13). Therefore, they must have died because of the sin of Adam imputed to them. “All sinned” in 5:12b thus means that all sinned, through the one man’s disobedience.” (v.19).”
From my perspective an Arminian arguing for universal salvation has an bigger problem, for it seems he should logically deny the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, since babies die and would have to do so from the imputation of Adam’s sin, if they are innocent of personal sins themselves and not counted “guilty” until that ever illusive “age of accountability” which is generally the view they take. True God in His graciousness allows them into heaven and His presence, but they get their by way of moral innocence, not by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, or, alternatively by way of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness which is conditioned on their moral innocence at the time of death, not sovereign election as such, so this view still moves salvation out of the ethical category of mercy and into remunerative justice. If this view denies the imputation of Adam’s guilt, and they are not guilty of sin in some sense, why do they pay the wages of sin, death? This certainly wouldn’t be saved due to election, since election based on foreseen faith puts election itself outside a chain effected by grace, unless there is an alternative, hidden scheme for the election of infants operative in Arminianism or “moderate Calvinism” that they’ve never articulated, at least to my knowledge, that includes “moral innocence.”
There is one way, theoreticaly, to alleviate this difficulty, and that is to posit the imputation of Adam’s sin, suspended on the first actual sin of the infant, who, by his sin or the certainty of his sin should he survive to commit it (a certainty known by divine foreknowledge), agrees with Adam and thus violates the covenant of works himself. So Adam’s federal guilt is imputed retroactively on the child. But that still does not answer for why such a one would die, for death comes as a wage of sin. It also suspends the imputation of guilt on divine foreknowledge without warrant and in violation of ’s paradigm case, Jacob and Esau, and such foreknowledge is itself predicated on a divine decree. Ergo, this solution ultimately fails on the horns of the regressive fallacy, by moving the question back just one step.
I would argue that is it precisely the imputation of Adam’s sin to infants who die in infancy that allows them to die, but this is also that which means that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to them in order to bring them into heaven with Him. In this sense death becomes a sign of their election the way that, in those who survive infancy (all of us alive at this moment), faith and repentance are signs of election. We must remember that infants contain sin in “germ form.” All that we are, they are in principle, but not yet in practice, yet not yet expressed. God, unlike man, sees the whole book, not just the first page. These children may be innocent babies to us, but to God they are much more. By imputing them guilty in Adam, He can then impute them righteous in Christ, and, in so doing, no man, including those who were taken as infants, will be able to glory in his innocence as a means to gain eternal life. They will have all, infants, included arrived by the grace of God alone. I suspect those who die in infancy will have the most marvelous testimonies of all in the next world, for they never had to know much of what we experience here. They got to be with the Lord from the start!
The question of infant salvation is a limiting-case of hell. The reason for these makeshift distinctions is the unbearable specter of babies burning in hell. But is that an accurate depiction?
Once again, this ranges along a continuum. Consider the opposite end of the spectrum. What about the specter of your dear old grandmother roasting in the everlasting bonfire. Is that any less intolerable? What about your mother or father? What about an adult child who dies prematurely? Everyone is related to someone. Most-all of us would like to exempt our own family members for liability to damnation. So the logic for universal infant salvation is really of a piece with the logic for universal salvation, simpliciter. And, by that same token, the logic is reversible. If everyone is not saved, then…
Many things in life are unbearable, yet we go on with life. We all live with a certain amount of sorrow and heartache–some more than others. Life is a fallen world is rife with personal tragedy.
Those that do not favor universal infant salvation (at least as a universalizable truth) generally proceed on the notion that no man, infant or adult, has a free pass to heaven. God would be perfectly just in condemning them to hell. To us, this seems quite harsh. On the other hand, in doing so, He may be punishing one who would flower into a Hitler on steroids if left to common grace working itself out. God sees us as a whole book, not page one or two. He sees us as we really are. Who’s to say that the spirit of a child does not go to heaven with all the faculties of adulthood? This is a relation about which we know nothing. God does. From our perspective, an infant is dying. From His, a serial killer may be dying. To deny this, from the perspective of this view, involves a denial of imputation and/or original sin and/or the fall of men. Either all men are fallen and corrupt or they are not. Either they have been imputed guilty or they have not. Either no one can boast because grace alone gets them into the kingdom or they can boast that their moral innocence served to aid in the process.
Samuel Hopkins writes: “Many have supposed that none of mankind are capable of sin or moral agency before they can distinguish between right and wrong. But this wants proof which has never yet been produced. And it appears to be contrary to divine revelation. Persons may be moral agents and sin without knowing what the law of God is or of what nature their exercises are and while they have no consciousness.”
Scripture itself is largely silent on this issue. It simply depends on how convinced one is about the exegetical arguments as to which position one takes. I wonder, is David’s, “I will go to him” is really meant to infer universal infant salvation for all infants who die in infancy? That’s a rather grand, sentimental application of the text. God may well do this. I think there is a pretty good chance He does. On the other hand, I must admit (a) He would not be unjust not to do this; and (b) if He does, it is by way of Calvary, not some kind of “age of accountability” that mitigates against us being counted guilty in Adam.
Those who affirm reprobation of infants, at least by way of abstract possibility, believe that it as it seems to lack in biblical certainty, it would be unloving to extend to someone “absolute assurance” where Scripture itself is not absolutely clear. What we can give unshakable assurance to, is that God is just and righteous desiring that none should perish; delighting not in the death of the wicked; and is at the same time both loving and holy, just and merciful, wrathful and full of grace. And in all that He does, He does with absolute perfection befitting His own righteous, holy character after the council of His will, to accomplish His purpose, for His own pleasure and for His glory alone (Cf. Ephesians 1:4-14 ). And it is there, that we must rest, find our resolve, and leave it with Him.