The Salvation of Infants
In reply to our request that others contribute to the discussion of the salvation of infants commenced in the March issue, our brother F. W. Schwartz has submitted the following paper. Everyone may not endorse all that he has written, but his suggestions are weighty and worthy of earnest consideration.
By most of those who are likely to read this article, the eternal safety of those who die in infancy is usually taken for granted. Our reference here is, of course, to all young children who have not reached the stage in their development at which they can be thought of as responsible beings, answerable for their attitude toward God and His claims. Just when that stage is reached in the case of any particular individual, it is impossible to determine exactly.
While we are satisfied that a young child is safe, it is but natural that we should wish to be certain that our belief is well grounded. Some of the inferences that have been drawn from certain passages of Scripture do not appear, on closer examination, to be conclusive. For instance, it is sometimes pointed out that in Matthew 18:11, where reference is made to children, there is no reference to seeking: such as is found in Luke 19:10. It is argued, on the basis of this omission, that children, not having actively strayed, do not need to be sought and are therefore in a different category from sinners in general. But one needs only to read the context in Matthew 18 to see that there, too, seeking is definitely in view, so that the supposed difference between the passages disappears, and the argument based upon it loses its force. Another passage often appealed to is Matthew 19:14, but this cannot be properly interpreted as a statement that young children are safe, —nor can other passages sometimes referred to in this connection.
So far as the present writer is aware, it is nowhere in Scripture stated specifically that infants are saved. God, it would seem, does not usually reveal what is not of immediate and definite importance as indicating either the way of salvation or the path in which His people should walk. As to some matters His desire for us may be that we trust His character rather than that we be fully informed. Faith willingly leaves the unknown to Him, saying with Abraham “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). However, Scripture in many passages testifies to God’s gracious interest in children. The Lord Jesus said plainly, “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14). There are facts, too, from which legitimate deductions can be made, and the evidence, even if “presumptive,” is very satisfying.
God, in His Word, addresses Himself to responsible beings. If the heathen are viewed in the first chapter of Romans as without excuse, it is because they have received a certain measure of light, and are for that reason responsible. Infants cannot be thought of in that way. They have no developed conscience, and cannot be thought of as having either received or rejected light. Where the light of the Gospel has entered, it is said that “he that believeth … hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not … shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36 et al). Infants cannot be logically or fairly thought of as capable of either believing or not believing. The ground of condemnation is stated to be that “light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19). Are infants able to make the choice indicated in such a statement? If not, then surely they will not be held accountable. Furthermore, there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that young children are condemned, nor is there anything said in them that seems, even remotely, to require their perdition. On the contrary it appears that they are subjects of special mercy. When, for instance, God decreed that the people of Israel should not enter Canaan because of their rebellions in the wilderness, He made the provision that “your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, shall go in thither…” (Deut. 1:39). Why were the children not subjected to the condemnation suffered by their parents? Because they had not, we take it, at the time of their parents’ rebellion arrived at a point in their young lives when they could be viewed as in any way morally accountable for that rebellion. Likewise, we are told, “the children of Korah died not” when judgment fell on their parents (Num. 26:11). If, elsewhere in Scripture, we meet with incidents that seem to suggest an opposite principle, the explanation probably is that the removal of the children was necessary in order to eradicate the idolatry or rebellion which they might have tended to perpetuate. In such a case their removal would be merciful, for they would be “taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1), and not left to continue in the guilty ways of their parents and suffer severe judgment for their sins.
Judgment is ever on the ground of works (“deeds” — Romans 2:5,6). That being the case, it would seem clear that infants will be exempted. Would a parent punish a mere babe who throws down a valuable article and ruins it? Would we call the police if we found some babe making away with a sum of money or goods? (We might give him a light slap as part of our teaching process, but would not think of that as punishment!) Surely that same babe will obtain mercy of God for the same reason that we spare him — he has no knowledge of right or wrong, and therefore is not to be held responsible. In Luke 12:47,48, we have a further illustration which may help us. The Lord there speaks of one servant who knew his Lord’s will, but did not do it, and of another who did not know his lord’s will and did things worthy of stripes. The first would receive many stripes, the other few. The treatment of these two men illustrates a principle which the Lord immediately states: “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” That is, the responsibility of any individual is determined by the measure of light and privilege he has or has not enjoyed. As to mere babes, it cannot be said that they have received either much or little. Consequently, on the principle stated, they would not be considered responsible. The same principle is further illustrated in the Lord’s prayer for those who took part in the crucifixion, “Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It was, of course, not an inclusive and complete forgiveness of all their sins that he was asking for, but simply forgiveness for what they were doing at that moment. The act was, in itself, the greatest crime ever committed, and, had they known what they were doing, they would have merited their being consigned to perdition at once. But they acted in ignorance of the real nature of their deed. Similarly, we find Paul saying concerning himself “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). “Blasphemer …persecutor and injurious” as he admitted himself to have been, he was nevertheless shown mercy because he was ignorant of the real nature of his sin — in fact was doing what he thought at the time he “ought to do” (Acts 26:9). The mercy shown him took the form of a temporary respite until the opportunity was later given him to face the issues involved. Now, if those who surrounded the Cross, and Saul of Tarsus, the arch-persecutor, were not immediately held to account for what they did in ignorance, surely infants, who are completely unable to understand what they do, will not be held accountable.
We have yet to speak of the marvellous scope of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist spoke of Him as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We are told that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them …” (2 Cor. 55:19). The work of reconciliation is a completed work, the benefits of which sinners are invited to enter into by “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” The reconciliation, in itself, is sufficient for the need of all mankind; the payment made at Calvary was more than enough to satisfy every claim against each and every human being. True, no benefit accrues to those who will not receive it, but must we conclude that infants (or the mentally deficient or retarded) are therefore excluded from those benefits? We believe not: they have not the ability to either receive or refuse, and we may be sure that God, Who delights in mercy, will credit to them the full value of the sacrifice of His Son. It is, of course, only through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ that there can be salvation for any human being. Children are not exempted because they are “innocent.” They inherit a sinful nature; they are “conceived in sin” (Psa. 51:5); they “go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psa. 58:3); their disposition to sin manifests itself at a very early age indeed, proving that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). Death claims infants as well as older people, and since death is plainly stated to be a consequence of sin, it is clear that sin exists in infants, even though there is not any moral consciousness of it.
Let it be clearly understood that the benefits of the work of Christ extend to ALL infants, not merely to those of a special class. Some would limit salvation to “elect infants dying in infancy,” others to those only who are the children of Christian parents, considered to be “under the covenant” or eligible for a similar reason. Others would rule out children who are not baptized or “christened.” Roman Catholic teaching has a special place to which unbaptized children are said to go — the “lim-bus infantum.” It cannot be too emphatically stated that parentage and ordinances have no bearing whatever on the salvation of either infants or adults. For one and all salvation depends entirely on Christ and His precious blood.
It may be pointed out that there is nowhere in Scripture any reference to concern or anxiety for infants who have died. On the contrary we find David ceasing to fast or weep for his child when it had died, and expressing the hope of a reunion (2 Sam. 12:23).
And now just a word of caution. Children should never be given an assurance that salvation is already theirs just because they are young. For all who are able to understand it, God has only one Gospel. Children should be impressed with the facts of their sin, need and danger. They should be taught what are the results of sin that is not repented of, and should be shown the sufficiency of the work of Christ and invited to trust Him. While the “age of accountability” cannot be determined exactly, it is evidently possible for children to believe in the Lord Jesus at an early age, for the Lord Himself referred to “these little ones who believe in Me” (Matt. 18:6). But too many have been led to think they are saved, just because they were able to parrot some easy formula, or assent to a statement of Gospel facts. Salvation is the work of the Spirit of God, in a child as much as in an adult. It is a revelation of Christ to the soul. To pretend to “save” a child (!!) or to have a child make a profession of salvation before there has been a real work of God in the soul, is CRIMINAL FOLLY. Yet it is to be feared that many of the statistics of child conversion that come to our attention are based on nothing better.
It goes without saying, of course, that Christian parents, as their children grow toward maturity, may properly look to the Lord for the salvation of those children. They are encouraged to do so, in the hope that in due course the children will intelligently grasp the truth of the Gospel, trust Christ and be saved.
Lack of space compels us to close. We do so with the sincere hope and prayer that what has been said will be truly helpful to all concerned.
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God is infinitely patient with wrong doing. Have you learned to take things as God takes them?