Thoughts on children, death, and eternity (II)...

(Tim) We are examining the teaching of Scripture concern matters related to the state of the souls of children of believers who die in the womb, as infants, or as very young children. And in the course of this discussion, under the first post in this series, Pastor Dave Curell made reference to Calvin’s comments on 1Corinthians 7:14. For the record, here are Calvin’s comments pertinent to this discussion. There’s a reason Calvin is widely recognized as the prince of exegetes. No one comes close to his precision and judicious restraint in explaining Scripture.

After Calvin's comments, we'll pick up our theme as it is opened up by God's Covenant promises and work.

First, then, the text, followed by Calvin's explanation.

And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.(1Corinthians 7:13, 14)

Verse 14: "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified."

Paul therefore declares here, that marriage is, nevertheless, sacred and pure, and that we must not be apprehensive of contagion, as if the wife would contaminate the husband....

...While this sanctification is taken in various senses, I refer it simply to marriage, in this sense — It might seem (judging from appearance) as if a believing wife contracted infection from an unbelieving husband, so as to make the connection unlawful; but it is otherwise, for the piety of the one has more effect in sanctifying marriage than the impiety of the other in polluting it. Hence a believer may, with a pure conscience, live with an unbeliever, for in respect of the use and intercourse of the marriage bed, and of life generally, he is sanctified, so as not to infect the believing party with his impurity.

Meanwhile this sanctification is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated by intercourse with him, and marriage itself is not profaned...

Verse 14: "Else were your children unclean; but now they are holy."

...The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches, that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.

But how will this statement correspond with what he teaches elsewhere — that we are all by nature children of wrath; (Ephesians 2:3;) or with the statement of David — Behold I was conceived in sin, etc. (Psalms 51:7.)

I answer, that there is a universal propagation of sin and damnation throughout the seed of Adam, and all, therefore, to a man, are included in this curse, whether they are the offspring of believers or of the ungodly; for it is not as regenerated by the Spirit, that believers beget children after the flesh. The natural condition, therefore, of all is alike, so that they are liable equally to sin and to eternal death.

As to the Apostle’s assigning here a peculiar privilege to the children of believers, this flows from the blessing of the covenant, by the intervention of which the curse of nature is removed; and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace. Hence Paul argues, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 11:16,) that the whole of Abraham’s posterity are holy, because God had made a covenant of life with him — If the root be holy, says he, then the branches are holy also.

And God calls all that were descended from Israel his sons. Now that the partition is broken down, the same covenant of salvation that was entered into with the seed of Abraham is communicated to us [Gentiles].

But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them into the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign?

In what respects the offspring of the pious are holy, while many of them become degenerate, you will find explained in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and I have handled this point there.
Calvin teaches both that God’s Covenant promises continue in the New Testament, and that it is wrong to deny the sign of the New Covenant—baptism—to New Covenant children.

Some readers may not know that the Constitution of our congregation, Church of the Good Shepherd, explicitly recognizes freedom of conscience concerning time and mode of baptism as a permissible exception for her officers to take to the Westminster Standards. This means credo and paedo baptists are free to be called, ordained, and installed as officers.

To describe how it works out among us is to engage, again, this issue of the destiny of the souls of believers' children who die in the womb, infancy, or when very young.

Living in harmony across this divide has never been difficult for us, although now and then we have some good arguments. Explaining our unity to others who’ve never been a part of Church of the Good Shepherd, I often note that our unity depends upon our agreement to claim God’s Covenant promises for our children, credo and paedo baptists alike. We agree that the New Testament contains promises concerning believers’ children that distinguish them from unbelievers’ children.

Whether those Covenant promises should be claimed by the application of the sign and seal of the Covenant to believers’ children is the point at issue—not whether New Testament Covenant promises have been given that apply to those children.

So with respect to children of believers who die in the womb or infancy, we agree on this: that we will hold to these promises, asking God to redeem our children from destruction; and that we will claim and ask, all the while acknowledging that, from the womb, God hated Esau, a Covenant child. So never ought these Covenant promises to turn the secret things of God’s election into things revealed, whether the Covenant children at issue are young or old.

So what are the Covenant promises of the New Testament?

Well, we just read John Calvin’s explanation of one of them—1Corinthians 7:14. And here’s Matthew Henry’s explanation of the same:
Verse 14: “…else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.”

That is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church and covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed (as the Jews are called, Isa 6:13), but common and unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were styled in the apostle's vision, Ac 10:28.

This way of speaking is according to the dialect of the Jews, among whom a child begotten by parents yet heathens, was said to be begotten out of holiness; and a child begotten by parents made proselytes was said to be begotten intra sanctitatem--within the holy enclosure. Thus Christians are called commonly saints; such they are by profession, separated to be a peculiar people of God, and as such distinguished from the world; and therefore the children born to Christians, though (those Christians are) married to unbelievers, (the children) are not to be reckoned as part of the world, but of the church, a holy, not a common and unclean seed (emphasis on the original).
While there remain any number of details related to the proper application of these Covenant promises that are unclear (and are of great controversy, today), the promises themselves must be recognized and seen in context with Old Covenant promises pointing to the grace God announces and pours out on children of the Covenant.

Note the same theme, Old Covenant and New, starting with God’s promise to Abraham:

I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Genesis 17:7, 8)

God promised to keep His Covenant, not with Abraham, only, but also with Abraham’s descendants. He would be Abraham’s descendants’ God.

Then, these glorious promises from Acts:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:38, 39).

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

There are Baptists who act as if these promises don’t exist; or, acknowledging them, try to deny God is repeating Covenant promises found in the Old Covenant. Really, though, it’s impossible to pull it off. Old Testament and New, God promises to be a God to our children.

Contrary to American political ideology, Biblical faith is not an autonomous, individualistic affair. Remember, it is the God we worship Who makes so much of federal headship, condemning to death and Hell every member of the race of man because of the sin of the first man, Adam. The solidarity of the race of man is inescapable when we read the account of God’s judgment on all of us, due to Adam’s sin recorded in the Old and explained in the New Testaments:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… (Romans 5:12)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)


Consider also familial solidarity. First, and negatively, look at God’s judgment of Aachan’s family alongside their husband and father:

Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.” And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. (Joshua 7:24, 25)

But also, positively, consider God’s blessing of every household headed by a new believer in the book of Acts—including Lydia:

And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, “Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 11:13, 14)

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14, 15)

And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (Acts 16:33, 34)

Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. (Acts 18:8)

Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. (1Corinthians 1:16)

Please don’t think I’ve put all these household texts into this post to argue there were infants baptized in each of these households. That’s simply not my point.

Rather, I’ve put them all in to demonstrate how indisputable it is that God’s Covenant promises concerning the children of His children are as much a reality in the New Testament as they are in the Old. In fact, throw out the question of whether or not their were infants and young children baptized in these household baptisms and we’re still left with household—not individualistic and autnonomous—faith. Household belief. Household blessings. Familial grace.

And ultimately, this, combined with David’s clear statement concerning his newborn son who had just died, are the hope of Christian parents who lose their precious unborn, newborn, and very young children. God hasn’t changed His familial promises or His familial blessings. Grace is promised, and flows, through households.

Thus, upon the death of his newborn son, David confessed his Biblical faith:

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. (2 Samuel 12:23)

If someone is in the habit of overlooking God’s covenant promises and consistent fulfillment of those promises within the households of believers recorded all through Scripture, they may be inclined to see David’s statement as simply an acknowledgment that he, too, would soon join his son in the grave. But when once we note God’s habit of pouring out His blessings on the children of believers, and we follow up by meditating on Jesus’ rebuke of the Sadducees’ based upon the shortest and simplest of statements, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Matthew 22:32), and it's hard to see how we can dismiss David's confession so lightly.in the Old Testament:

Then also, remember what our Lord Himself said:

Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13, 14)

"The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these"--one of whom is the firstborn son of David and Bathsheba.

Comments

Ginger and I were just talking about this passage about King David. For me this question also becomes about infants who die before their parents become Christians. I tend to think of this the way Eric R. said earlier and pray for salvation even of those who are dead, knowing that God doesn't reckon time the way we do. For Him the foundation of the Earth is still unformed yet ancient at the same time.

This is one of God's mysteries, the interplay between will and election.

I'm comforted by the fact that I cannot save my children, and haunted by it as well.

-Clint

We have shared Jack Hayford's book "I'll Hold You In Heaven" with many couples we have met who have suffered the loss of a young or unborn child. Hayford argues that these children are in heaven using verses such as 2 Samuel but more out of a belief in God's mercy.

Thanks for this thoughtful post, brothers.

Desiring God ministries also has a very helpful statement paper on this subject: "What happens to infants who die?"

http://tinyurl.com/l9yhsy

To Got2Btru -

You talk about ministering to couples who have lost young or unborn children, with Jack Hayford's book "I'll hold you in heaven". If a couple came to you who had lost a child, and neither of the couple were Christians, would you use the same approach?

At this stage, it would also be helpful to have comment from the pastors here as to how they would minister to a non-Christian couple who had lost a child.

About 2 years ago my precious daughter went to be with the LORD at the age of 15 months (her picture is on this blog in the death category). It continues to be a great comfort to me that I will see her again in heaven just as David is currently with his own precious son. For those of you who will find themselves someday ministering to couples who lost a child, I HIGHLY recommend James Bruce's book - From Grief to Glory. It contains journal entries from some of the founding fathers of the protestant faith who lost children (banner of truth did a book review and also recommended the book). While it doesn't deal specifically with children of non-believers it does give insight into the struggles of those of us who have lost little children and provides an immeasureable amount of hope as you watch others move through the grief with their eyes on Christ and their hope in heaven.

Tim, thanks for dealing with a difficult issue with grace, truth, and tact. It has been a pleasure to read these posts as I remember my dear Abigail

Ross, I appreciate the question. Here is one answer, from a respected source.

J. G. Vos, Studies in the Covenant of Grace:

“Many orthodox Reformed theologians have held, as a matter of opinion, that all infants dying in infancy are saved. Those who hold this opinion (Warfield, Hodge, Shedd) base it on the general consideration such as the great mercy of God, the fact that infants have only original sin (never having committed actual transgression), the truth that God’s election unto eternal life is absolutely free and not limited by any conditions, etc. It is usually admitted that this view that all infants are saved cannot be proved or demonstrated in the sense that the doctrine of justification by faith can be demonstrated, for the Bible is silent on the subject. It is also generally admitted that the Bible warrants us in saying that the salvation of covenant infants is a certainty, whereas in the case of non-covenant infants we are not warranted in speaking of the certainty of their salvation, but may at most entertain a probably hope of it based on such general considerations as are mentioned above. . . Only the Reformed theology affords any ground whatever for even a probably hope that all infants will be saved, for only the Reformed theology teaches that salvation proceeds wholly from God and not at all from man. . . On this basis, and on this basis alone, can we entertain a probable hope of the salvation of all infants dying in infancy.”

Hmm. The previous comment was about a post that apparently didn't post. Let me try again:

R. A. Webb, The Theology of Infant Salvation:

"There is a passage in eschatology which indirectly teaches that infants dying in infancy are saved by grace because they are incompetent to stand the only sort of judgment which is revealed in Scripture--a judgment according to works. In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord prophesied that he would say to the damned in the day of judgment, 'Depart from me, ye that
work iniquity' (Matt. vii. 23). . . 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matt. xxv. 41),
and gives as the ground of this rejection, the fact that they had not ministered unto him. Paul in enumerating classes of persons who would be
excluded from the kingdom of God, says: 'Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of
themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God' (I Cor. vi.9,10). Infants cannot do, nor be, any of these things. Then this apostle lays down the general principle upon which the last judgment is to be conducted: 'For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad' (II Cor. v. 10). But the infant dies before it can be a doer of either 'good' or 'bad,' and so cannot be arraigned upon the ground of its personal deeds. In the Apocalypse, ten verses from the end of God's communication to men, John represents Christ as saying: 'Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works shall be' (Rev. xvii. 12). It appears from these, and a multitude of similar statements that future and final retribution will be graduated according to 'the deeds done in the body;' but dead infants have been prevented by the providence of God from committing any responsible deeds of any sort in the body, and consequently infants are not damnable upon these premises; and there is no account in Scripture of any other judgment based upon any other grounds. I think therefore that a study of the final judgment entitles us to infer that actual condemnation is always predicated upon actual sin. Original sin renders all the race—adults and infants—damnable; but the judgment scene shows us that damnability is
converted into damnation only upon the ground of actual, personal, and conscious sin--a kind of sin which no infant dying in infancy could commit.

. . . For punishment to be rational and effective, the subject punished must be
sentient, and fully conscious, so that his conscience may recognize the reason why he suffers. . . Penal suffering, to be strictly penalty, must be recognized as such in the consciousness of the sufferer, else it would be to
him unmeaning and causeless pain. The element of awareness is an essential ingredient in rational punishment. . . An infant, being a sentient creature, is capable of suffering; but being an unconscious creature, with faculties too immature to understand and appreciate the reason for suffering, it is incapable of being punished, strictly and truly speaking. . . It it were
sent to hell on no other account than that of original sin, there would be a good reason to the divine mind for the judgment, but the child's mind would be a perfect blank as to the reason of its suffering. . . Such an infant could feel that it was in hell, but it could not explain, to its own conscience, why it was there.

. . . For suffering to be truly penal there are two necessary conditions:
(1) there must be a reason satisfying the conscience of him who inflicts it, and (2) there must be a reason certifying guilt to the conscience of him who experiences the suffering. . . Let it be understood that God does not send
any human being to woe just for the sake of suffering, but in order to inflict penalty, and vindicate law and justice. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked--suffering, as such, is not a matter in which he delights. . . He does inflict the torments of hell, but he inflicts them, because the person of the evil-doer and suffering ought to be brought into connection with each other, even as the righteous earthly judge connects the person of the criminal and forms of suffering together, not to gratify a
morbid cruelty, but because the thing ought to be done, to preserve the majesty and dignity and force of law and order and justice. . . Providence
must delay the death of the reprobate infant until he comes to maturity, and translates his original sin into conscious actual sin, so there may be a basis, not simply in law and truth, but in consciousness and conscience and experience for penalty. Consequently, a reprobate infant cannot die in infancy: such a result would defeat the ends of justice.

. . . We know from the data of human history that all infants are sinful,and we are compelled to infer therefrom, that they are by nature damnable;
but are any of them, as infants, actually damned? That is the supreme question. . .

Original sin is a valid and adequate ground upon which to rest the damnability of the race, and upon that ground God does pronounce a sentence of universal condemnation, which is a judgment, de lege, that all the natural sons of Adam are amenable to an eternal doom; but it would also
seem that actual sin is necessary to furnish an adequate and satisfactory ground upon which to base the actual damnation of any. . . while all are damnable on account of Adam's sin, none are actually damned except for their own sins.

. . . In this argument I am no Pelagian, because the infant is not innocent; I am no Semipelagian, because the infant is unlovely; I am no Paternalist,because the infant has been disinherited; I am no Racialist, because the
infant is an individual; I am no Second Probationist, because the infant's
destiny, is fixed this side the grace; I am no Arminian, because the atonement is limited; nor Sacramentarian, because the infant may be
unbaptized. I am a Calvinist, holding that the infant by nature is both guilty and depraved and condemned; but that it is elected by the love of the Father, and redeemed by the grace of the Spirit, and that the death of the infant is the proof of these saving facts. All is done for the infant that is done for the Christian adult, except that the religion of an adult comes
to consciousness in this life, while the infant passes from these earthly scenes before it attains to discretion. [Charlie, please take special note that age of discretion is not synonymous with age of accountability.]

Calvinism, then, is the only soteriology which makes the salvation of a single infant a possibility; the only soteriology which makes the salvation of all dead infants evangelical."

Thank you, Jack, for pointing to Warfield's essay, "The Development of the Doctrine of Infant Salvation," in the post, http://www.baylyblog.com/2009/07/children-death-heaven- and-hell.html#comments, on this topic.

http://www.lgmarshall.org/Warfield/warfield_infantsalvation.ht ml

The Warfield essay is worth reading as a historical description of doctrine, but he falls apart when he comes to arguing for his own belief that the children of the elect are all saved. In the following gigantic concluding sentence (itself a sign of wanting to obscure his logic), he gives three cogent arguments against his own position but argues for it only by raw authority (Toplady, Doddridge, etc.) and by begging the question--- "these infants too are included in the election of grace ... because God in His infinite love has chosen them in Christ, before the foundation of the world, by a loving foreordination."

"In the course of time the agnostic view of the fate of uncovenanted infants, dying such, has given place to an ever growing universality of conviction that these infants too are included in the election of grace;

so that to-day few Calvinists can be found who do not hold with Toplady, and Doddridge, and Thomas Scott, and John Newton, and James P. Wilson, and Nathan L. Rice, and Robert J. Breckinridge, and Robert S. Candlish, and Charles Hodge, and the whole body of those of recent years whom the Calvinistic churches delight to honor,

that all who die in infancy are the children of God and enter at once into His glory -

not because original sin alone is not deserving of eternal punishment (for all are born children of wrath),

nor because they are less guilty than others (for relative innocence would merit only relatively light punishment, not freedom from all punishment),

nor because they die in infancy (for that they die in infancy is not the cause but the effect of God's mercy toward them),

but simply because God in His infinite love has chosen them in Christ, before the foundation of the world, by a loving foreordination of them unto adoption as sons in Jesus Christ."

This goes to show that even mainstream Calvinist theologians are tempted towards universalism. It would be nice if God elected all infants of believers, as it would if He did all grown-up children of believers, and all other relatives, and every other person whom we don't actually dislike, but it seems pretty clear that's not the way things work. Children of believers--- and perhaps relatives and friends--- have a huge advantage, both from the natural consequences of good teaching and from the supernatural promises of God that Tim talks about in the post above, but those advantages don't always result in salvation.

OOPS. Sorry for my spazzing out with the posts.

Two points:

1. Here are some things I usually try to cover in discussing this topic -- It seems that for us to have a hope in Christ, then we also must believe we are guilty of Adam's sin -- as natural offspring of Adam. (Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15). Even infants from the time they were conceived are guilty of Adam's sin. The only way they can come out from that guilt and its consequent curse of surely dying is if they somehow are united to Christ under his Covenant Headship - and so received the blessings of His faithfulness. The condition of repenting and believing to come under Christ's headship seems to be spoken to those functionally able to hear, understand, believe, and profess their faith. But we know that John the Baptist already seemed to believe in Jesus while still in the womb. So the Holy Spirit could work that in other children's hearts. But this is beyond our ability to discern. And so we can only leave it to God -- his Justice and Mercy.

2. I know of an even more difficult situation. A (non-Christian) human rights and democracy activist in Taiwan was imprisoned and tortured by the authoritarian fascist government in Taiwan in 1980. His family members were then assassinated in their homes in broad daylight -- His mother (a Buddhist) and his two 7 year old twin-daughters were stabbed to death. The daughter who survived the assassination then grew up and became a Christian. Now she is trying to share the gospel with her dad who lost his daughters and their grandmother at a time when clearly none of them were Christians. If he listens to his surviving daughter and believes in Jesus he must count his mom and his other daughters as being outside of Christ.

Please pray for this dad who has suffered so much -- that somehow he could come to know and believe in God's love through Christ that his one remaining daughter so desperately wants to share with him.

Actually, Jack, it was the spam filter that messed things up. For some reason, most of your comments didn't make it through the spam filter, and then last night I pulled them all out without going through to see which was which. I've tried to clean things up, now.

Thanks for your patience.

Love,

Dear Julie,

May our Heavenly Father continue to give you faith in His goodness and mercy.

Love,

Eric,

I think that's rather facile reading of Warfield. I'd also like to have your evaluation of the Webb excerpts I posted.

Dear Jack,

Actually, Eric's reading of Warfield on this--even down to his characterization of the blustering at the end--largely speaks for me, also.

I'm sorry, brother, but the sovereign election of God must not be trumped by Covenant promises, precious though they are. All of us must face Jacob and Esau and humbly and submissibly plead with God for His Own fulfillment of the promises in the lives of our precious children.

With respect,

Jack, I took a skim of the Webb argument. He, unlike Warfield, makes a real argument, one concerning the purpose of punishment. I can't understand it well enough now to say whether I think it's valid or not. I think it's related to the deep matters Warfield describes concerning the nature of Hell--- the components of active pain, deprivation of the beatific vision, and deprivation of the good things God gives everybody on Earth. It may be that Webb has a valid argument for limbo, actually-- for a part of Hell that is hellish only because it is far from God, with lack of joy rather than the presence of pain.

I hope you'll do more than skim, Eric. I think Webb's (biblical) reasoning is pretty air tight.

To Ross -- sorry for the delay in answering.

Yes, we would use the same book for non-Christian parents. I am not personally aware of any other books that would suit themselves to this purpose, other than the Bible itself.

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