Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All Babies Automatically Safe in The Arms of God?

Here's a hotly debated subject for sure- the fate of people who die during infancy.

I appreciate John MacArthur and his ministry greatly, however I think he says more than Scripture teaches when he categorically declares all babies who die to go straight to heaven in the above clip.

I don't see how this can be proven from Scripture.

There are certainly examples of babies born to believers who are said to have gone to heaven at death (i.e. David's unborn child). Further, the children of believers are given special status in both testaments being addressed as part of God’s covenant people (Deut. 12:7, 2 Chronicles 20:13, 1 Corinthians 7:14 to name just a few). It is my conviction that based on God’s covenantal promises and dealings, a child who is born in to a Christian home and then dies before they have the ability to profess faith goes to be with the Lord. The possession of faith (in Christ) is what saves a person, not the ability to profess it (more on that thought in a moment).

I think the Synod of Dort got it right when it penned these words in 1619- “Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.”

Now, having said that and recognizing the varying opinions that exist in the Reformed Church about this matter, I also appreciate the more general answer the Westminster Confession gives to this important question:

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. ( WCF 10.3)

Even the Westminster Confession statement, by the use of “Elect” (The Divines could have just said-"All infants" if they meant to say all infants...), implies that not all babies are elect, that some do in fact go to hell. Did I just say that? I’m afraid so, but only because I do not believe Scripture teaches universal salvation for all those who die in infancy like MacArthur states.

Here’s the deal as I understand Scripture- God gives faith (to believe in Christ) to the Elect (those chosen by God according to the good pleasure of His will, not based on anything we do), it is a gift. We cannot conjure faith, we do not muster faith, it is a gift from God. Since it is a gift, He can give it to whomever he wills, whether that person is capable of expressing that faith outwardly or not. For those who are unable to be “outwardly called”, God can still give them the faith necessary to believe in Christ- whether we the onlooker- can see it or not. Who is to say exactly what faith looks like for such a person? God is the sovereign One and can give it to whom He wills. Calvin acknowledged this mystery about faith-

“I would not wish to make the rash claim that infants are endowed with the same faith that we experience in ourselves, or have a faith-knowledge quite like ours. I prefer to leave that in suspense (Institutes 4)”

So, what happens to babies who die? I would say that babies who are born to believers go to heaven. As for babies not born to believers- I have no way of knowing. I just don’t think the bible allows us to assume that every baby who dies goes straight to heaven as John MacArthur does.

Tough subject I know, but worth thinking about.

14 comments:

GUNNY said...

"Since it is a gift, He can give it to whomever he wills, whether that person is capable of expressing that faith outwardly or not."

I'm willing to entertain the "can," but you seem move beyond that to "He does."

I'm wondering what persuades you to make that jump.

A VERY interesting topic of conversation and Johnny Mac certain is on "safe ground" with popular opinion, though I'm thinking it's more than a bit shaky biblically.

Also, 2 Sam 12 is not really all that convincing with regard to David's child going to heaven.

I think we run the risk of attributing to David what we know of the afterlife.

Thanks for taking on a thorny topic.

At the end of the day, everyone just wants to know that their baby is saved. It would be nice to have more of an exegetical basis for a "happy" response.

AJF said...

The basis for my conclusion, that Christian parents can be assured of their children's fate should they die in infancy, is primarily theological. Covenantal to be exact. That's not to say there isn't any exegetical grounds for my conclusion.

Clearly Psalm 22:9 has David professing "You made me trust in you even at my mother's breast". Further, John the Baptist "leaped for joy" in his mother's womb. 1 Corinthians 7 speaks of the child of one believing spouse as being "sanctified". Further, I wouldn't dismiss the 2 Sam 12 passage so quickly either.

Couple these evidences of regeneration in the lives of those who are not yet able to profess faith with the way God deals with His people, addressing the "little ones" and "children" in Ephesians (a book to "the Saints"), I think there is strong evidence for the view God takes toward His Covenant People and their children.

GUNNY said...

"I think there is strong evidence for the view God takes toward His Covenant People and their children."

In fact, wouldn't you say that the children are covenant people as well?

The difficulty comes in assuming/presuming that all infants are elect by virtue of having parents in the covenant. But, yet we know that having parents in the covenant does not ensure electness.

In other words, it seems I can confidently know my child is elect if he/she dies before a certain stage, but yet I know I cannot.

I realize the covenantal view treats them as elect unless they show otherwise, but what's the cut off?

Are you holding to an age of accountability?

Just as they have not been able to show signs of covenant breaking, so they also haven't shown signs of covenant keeping.

It's tempting to go "all or none" on the issue, either Johnny Mac's "They're all okay" or "None are okay."

On some level, either could be true, in the sense that God can operate as He wishes.

God could work faith in the heart of the children of heathen or he could punish the children of believers for their sin in Adam.

AJF said...

To add...(my thought got interrupted by the need to go put some kids to bed)...

I think there is more biblical/theological evidence for believers to be assured of the fate of their children who die in infancy and the fate of children of unbelievers being left to the Judge of the Universe than to do what Johhny Mac did in offering a blanket absolution of all babies who die in infancy simply because they cannot "understand". Who understands? Really?

grj said...

I agree there is no clear evidence in Scripture that explicitly states that ALL infants, or younger children, or anyone who is less mentally astute than normal, goes straight to heaven when they die.

Yet, if you go the other way and examine the One Who shows mercy to many, instills repentence and faith in His enemies hearts, and forgives their sins to show forth and proclaim His Glory to all of creation, you have to determine that He is Holy and Love itself.

Father God even sends the Blessed Son to die and atone for our sins
out of love, and that His Glory may be known to His creation.

Surely His righteous wrath, judgement and justice will be poured out on those whose hearts are hard and never turn to God in repentence and belief, and rightfully and Scripturally so.

Far be it from me to presume to judge God, and I hope I don't give anyone that impression here, yet I have to wonder how His Glory would shine forth sending either babies murdered in the womb, or who die in infancy, or people who are not as blessed mentally as some...

The same Jesus that cries over Jerusalem and Lazurus, is the same Who calls the children to Himself and explains to the disciples that "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven made up".

Also, in I Cor 1:26-31 the Holy Spirit teaches that "God has chosen the weak and despised" of this world as His elect children.Most certainly, throughout history, children have often been despised and they are certainly the weakest.

It is true in Romans 9 that we are taught that the potter has power over the clay, and that Esau was hated before either child had ever done any wrong, yet God gave Esau an adult life, and an oprotunity to turn to God.

Although we can not say for sure what God's will is regarding kids and weaker vessals, I choose to trust in His Love, Mercy and Compassion which was so clearly displayed in our Lord's death at Calvary, without which, I would not be sitting here writing....

I also believe that God's Glory is most amazingly shown forth that He has mercy on ANYONE, when we all deserve wrath and judgement...
and when we get to heaven there will be many, if not ALL, infants to geet us.

AJF said...

Gunny,
I think we agree that Johnny Mac went too far in his blanket statement, right? That's my main point.

I do believe in an age of accountability, it's right at conception :) From that moment all people are accountable to God for their sin. It is up to God to save them-when and where he pleases.

I don't think it's necessary for me to be able to see the fruit fo salvation in anyone in order for that person to be truly saved. God gives faith and He gives works that follow that faith. What that looks like in an infant, I don't know, I leave that mystery to God.

I don't think there's as much mystery, however, about how God views the children of believers. Consider the many passages that speak of this view. Consider God's command for the Israelites to mark their children with the covenant sign- a sign that says they belong to God. Surely some apostasize and reveal they were not actually elect, but in the case of an infant born to a believer, what evidence of apostasy is there? Why would I assume they are lost? David didn't assume that. In Ezekiel God was furious with the Israelites for sacrificing "his children" (meaning, covenant children). All manner of exegetical gymnastics have been employed to explain away 1 Corinthians 7. There are hoards of such statements in the OT. Peter has a high view of covenant children.

I'm not suggesting that all "heathen" babies go to hell, I'm just saying God doesn't reveal the answer to this exactly, as John MacArthur states. I respect the WCF's attempt to navigate the difficulty of the question, but I tend to think the Canons of Dort do the issue more biblical justice-
“Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.”

AJF said...

grj,

I certainly respect your comments. God could certainly have willed all babies who die in infancy to go to heaven, but absent a clear statement on that, I defer to the clearer statements that relate. It seems that believers can have a special confidence concerning their babies who die in such a situation. A level of mystery has to be acknowledged regarding all others.

GUNNY said...

I think we agree that Johnny Mac went too far in his blanket statement, right? That's my main point.

I couldn't agree more, brother.

Sometimes Johnny Mac really overstates things, like his whole "wine wasn't really wine" bit.


I do believe in an age of accountability, it's right at conception :) From that moment all people are accountable to God for their sin.

Whoop! I'm gonna use that and I'll be sure to give you the royalties.


I don't think there's as much mystery, however, about how God views the children of believers.

I think that's a nice way of putting it. There's a certain amount of mystery (it seems to my small brain) about the various categories, but I do think the children of believers have a leg up, so to speak.

God is not obligated out of necessity, but does seem to specially bless those children. That doesn't ensure their election and God has certainly show Himself ready, willing, and able to operate outside of conventional wisdom.

But, I would be surprised to hear of a heathen's child getting special love over that of one of His children.


Regarding the WCF, I always thought the bit in question was rather weak, as well as non-falsifiable. God could have elected all or none and the statement still been true.

To me, it doesn't say much more than "God saves who He wants to save even though it may be different than the norm."

On some level, I appreciate what they said and what they didn't say. I don't find it satisfying, but that could be more a problem with me than with the WCF.

Rick Calohan said...

Where were you guys last week when I was debating my cousins? I digress. Once again, Tony & Gunny you hit dead on the differences between Reform Theology and the other guys. I know the Synods of Dort express it, the Westminster Confession, and clearly the Bible points out Covenant wise, Elect wise.

I was asked by my cousin if I believed John Patrick was part of the Elect.

“Did Christ die for your unborn son? Is he one of the elect?”

My answer was Yes, and Yes.

Of course that lead to further questions to wit with this same group of Semi-Pelagians.

I gave them this explanation and link.

It is a Reform view that the Covenants or Promises that God has made. It is my faith in these Covenants that my son is part of the Elect.

A link that explains it further relating to the children of the Elect is found here.

http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_51.html

Even breaking it down further by using the R.C. Sproul examples.

1. God could decide to provide no opportunity for anyone to be saved.

2. God could provide an opportunity for all to be saved.

3. God could intervene directly and insure the salvation of all people.

4. God could intervene directly and insure the salvation of some people.

We who are by His Grace are Elect who believe in Reform and Covenant Theology know that the fourth option is the correct option.

Which lead the non-Reform to ask:

I have a question. I haven't really seen this question before. Lets say there are 100 people who have ever and will ever be born. If God chooses 10 people to be saved and the other 90 perish. God gets glory right? I believe you would say yes. Ok, if God chooses 30 to be saved and the other 70 perish does God get more glory or less or is it the same? Does it make a difference in how many people are saved vs. how many perish? Have you ever thought about that?


To which I replied I do not know if this will answer your question, since apparently all my answers lead to more questions. Have you ever thought of working in a counter-terrorism task force or running for District Attorney?

Calvinist and or Presbyterians are not Jehovah's Witness who affix a set number of people to be saved. We or I should say have no way of knowing exactly how many will be saved or perished. We or I rely on the Grace of God to bring us to Regeneration, which gives us our Faith, thus we are Justified, continuously transformed and sanctified thus bringing us Repentance unto Life, and by His Grace be Glorified in His Kingdom when our time comes. Our faith and our trust is in Jesus Christ, not in John Calvin, as others have been mislead to believe. As to a set number or percentage I do not think the Eternal Decrees would indicate to us what that number would be. All I know is that in all things GOD GETS THE GLORY!

I also would like to add that there is no way in one, two or 2000 emails I would be able to explain my views. As you all know in emails some things are added, misread, misinterpreted, left out, but let the reader know this that despite whatever objections you have against Calvinism, that our doctrine is sound, and it is Biblical.
Finally, what ended these exchanges was I explained four chapters of scripture I used when I gave my dad’s Eulogy John 14: One of the first chapters I learned in my Christian walk. I went to Bethany Baptist Vacation Bible School, and if we could memorize John 14: 1-6 we would win a Red Leather Bound Bible.

Psalm 63: Because Patton was a movie that both Dad and I would watch together many times over. It is the Psalm that Patton prays in the Cathedral in case you were not familiar with the movie.

Psalm 102: On the day, my dad was diagnosed with terminal Lung Cancer, September 11, 2001, that was the Psalm for my reading that day. At the time I read a Psalm a day, a Proverb a day, a Chapter from the Old Testament a Chapter from the New Testament, and the Lectionary readings.


Finally, as my hour-long eulogy was drawing to a close. I read from 2 Timothy 2. My former minister at my old church gave a sermon on one section the Sunday before my dad’s funeral since it was from that chapter that was part of the lectionary that week..

May we hear the Inspired and Infallible Word of the Living Triune God.
2 Timothy 2

A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus
2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
A Worker Approved by God
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

May God speak to us with His Holy Word and May His Name Be Forever Praised. Amen.

"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about...” "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked for us. (Hebrews 12:1) "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) because "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)

OK, speaking of Covenant Promises need to get back to my CHOSEN Wife & Son! John Patrick has a bris in the morning.

In His Grace, For His Glory

Rick

Frontier Forest said...

Being now, only 3 years uncovered, enlightened and exposed to Reformed/Calvinist theology verses 35 years Armenian/Wesleyan theology but built upon Biblical, but Baptist Doctrines, this entire, extremely difficult and sensitive subject tears at the very heart of my ability to faithfully exercise my “gifts of exhortation and mercy!” But I know, if the Lord offers me the opportunity to share comforting words to a grieving family, HE will, according to Matthew 10:19 and James 1:2-5, give me His Words to say.
I also know and stand in absolute trust, that our loving God is merciful, and He is sovereign beyond any comments that I would presumptuously try to pontificate above these wise-beyond my brain, men of God.
But a positive note I can add to this very heavy subject is; Congratulations to my new friend and wise brother in Christ, Rick Calohan and his dear wife on the birth of the most precious of all gifts, the Covenant Promise afforded to their new CHOSEN son, John Patrick Calohan!

rgmann said...

I appreciate John MacArthur and his ministry greatly, however I think he says more than Scripture teaches when he categorically declares all babies who die to go straight to heaven in the above clip. I don't see how this can be proven from Scripture.

What John MacArthur “categorically declared” in the above clip is not only “more than Scripture teaches,” it is positively contrary to what Scripture teaches. Did someone steal the following passage out of MacArthur’s Bible?

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) — then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment. -- 2 Peter 2:4-9

Were there no infants or mentally deficient people in the “ancient world” that was destroyed in the days of Noah? Were there no babies in Sodom and Gomorrah? Of course there were. Yet they were directly “destroyed” in God’s wrath and judgment! And the context makes it clear that much more than temporal physical death is meant here. Indeed, the Holy Spirit plainly states that the destruction of these cites “are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 7). So I’m not sure what sort of exegetical basis MacArthur is relying on to make such a ridiculous claim -- but he’s absolutely certain that all babies who die in infancy get “instant heaven!”

The basis for my conclusion, that Christian parents can be assured of their children's fate should they die in infancy, is primarily theological. Covenantal to be exact.

I don’t completely disagree with your overall “covenantal” point, Pastor, but what about the many verses which teach that God does not view all of our children as “belonging to Him” or as genuine recipients of the “covenant promise?”

But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh [our merely “natural” born children], these are not the children of God; but the children of the [covenant] promise are counted as the seed [that is, our elect children]. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” -- Rom. 9:6-13

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the [covenant] promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ…For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the [covenant] promise. -- Gal. 3:16, 26, 29

The Scriptures seem pretty clear here. Only our elect children are the “children of God” and “heirs according to the [covenant] promise.” Therefore, to say that “Christian parents can be assured of their children's fate should they die in infancy” seems a little strong, does it not? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that Christian parents have good reason to “hope” in God’s covenantal promise and electing mercy for their child, rather than to say that “Christian parents can be assured of their children's fate should they die in infancy?” Isn’t that simply falling into the same trap as MacArthur, only with reference to our own children rather than all children worldwide?

AJF said...

Roger,
You make excellent points, I really can't argue vehemently with them. Maybe I am too strong on my confidence concerning covenant children. It comes from the language God uses concerning the children of believers, not so much the matter of trying to figure out who is or isn't elect. Anyways, you argue well for a widely held Reformed belief so I can't say much in reply. I think the WCF is worded generally for good reason.

rgmann said...

Maybe I am too strong on my confidence concerning covenant children. It comes from the language God uses concerning the children of believers, not so much the matter of trying to figure out who is or isn't elect.

Well, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I believe the “language God uses concerning the children of believers” is genuine and important. It is for this very reason that we are to regard our children as covenant members, apply the covenant sign of baptism to them, and rear them as full-fledged members of Christ’s church. Nevertheless, I also recognize that God’s covenantal language toward our children is governed by election. As the above passages demonstrate, only our elect children are the true “children of God” and genuine “heirs according to the [covenant] promise.” Since we do not (and cannot) know which of our children are elect or reprobate, we are to regard all of our children as covenant members and treat them accordingly. This is why I said that Christian parents have good reason to “hope” in God’s covenantal promise and electing mercy for their child, rather than have an absolute “assurance” of their children’s fate should they die in infancy. Of course, if “assurance” simply means “inspires or tends to inspire confidence” and not absolute “certainty,” then I wouldn’t have a problem with that term either.

Anyways, you argue well for a widely held Reformed belief so I can't say much in reply. I think the WCF is worded generally for good
reason.


I agree that this is probably the reason why the WCF is worded in general terms on this point. I think they were very wise in the way they worded it. Thanks for the great discussion!

Roger

Matt said...

I had agreed with John MacArthur, but your post brought to mind Nathan's sermon and our HFG discussion this past week. We sin because we are sinners, and some were made by God to be vessels of wrath. He's God, and in His infinite wisdom, that's how it has to be. It is only by God's choice and action that anyone is saved, and God has chosen His elect from before creation.

So it follows, we are sinners from conception, all meriting eternal punishment. Nothing we do in this life pushes us over the edge of condemnation; we're there (just as nothing that we do saves us). It is only my sinfulness that allows me to be more comfortable with the idea of an adult dying and going to Hell than an infant - that comfort hinders me from professing the Gospel almost always. It is only God's grace that any of us are saved, and while we can argue and hope that God's plan of salvation is palatable to our sinful human minds, it is good even if we can't comprehend it.

Thanks for the exercise, Tony!