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.