Salvation of Babies
Larry King once asked, “What about a two-year-old baby crushed at the bottom of the World Trade Center?” It’s a question that plagues Christians and non-Christians alike. What happens to babies that die? It is clear in Scripture that life begins at conception. So any death is the death of a person, and persons have eternal souls. So billions of souls have died throughout history.
Millions continue to die today. The book called ‘Empty Arms’ says that up to twenty-five percent of all human conceptions do not complete the twentieth week of pregnancy; one out of four conceived die. Seventy-five percent of fatal deaths occur in the first twelve weeks. Neonatal death (that is, death in the womb); perinatal death (that is, death at the time of birth) occur in great numbers even today.
The highest rates of infant mortality are found in the poorest and most primitive nations and at the same time the most pagan nations, mostly in Africa and Asia. Take four million three hundred and fifty thousand in the year 1999 and just keep adding the years, and you can see the numbers of deaths are staggering. These are eternal souls and the where they are is of monumental significance.
This is a question that needs to be answered on the large scale, and it needs to be answered on the individual scale. Where is my baby? Where is that adult child of mine whose mind never developed and who mentally is still an infant? The one in the womb or the loss of a child at birth is significant. It’s important to understand that there are great impacts on the life of parents.
And you can add to that the somewhat strange biblical indication that God Himself acknowledges and even authorizes the death of some infants. For example, in Isaiah 13:16, when God called for judgment on Babylon, He said, “Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes.” God said in Hosea 13:16, “Their little ones will be dashed to pieces,” the same statement.
What happens to these little ones, the death of which God authorizes in fulfilling His judgment purposes? When a birth is successful, this is because God has allowed that to happen. David said in Psalm 22:9-10, “But You are He who took me out of the womb. I was cast upon You from birth from My mother’s womb. You have been My God.” No death occurs apart from the purpose of God.
Remember, in the original creation, there was no death. However, when Adam and Eve sinned, death came on all people, and to many in infancy and childhood. How does God deal with them? Do they go instantly to heaven? I’m not the first one to try to deal with this, but there are a lot of people who aren’t dealing with it today. How can you be a pastor and not give an answer to that question?
The Word of God will affirm the salvation of little ones who die. Psalm 139 explains it. Verse 17, “How precious also are thy thoughts to me, O God; how vast is the sum of them.” Verses 1-3, “O Lord, O Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. 3 You know my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”
God knows everything about me, even before I can talk. And God is actively involved in my life. Verse 5, “You have enclosed me behind and before. You’ve laid your hand on me.” Verse 6 says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it’s too high, I can’t attain it.” From the very start, You are actively involved in controlling my life. And God will never lose sight of or knowledge of me.
There is no way I can ever be lost to you. Verse 7, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you’re there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, then there thy hand will lead me, thy right hand will lay hold of me.” I can’t go anywhere outside of your knowledge. I will never be lost to you.
Now what they tell us is that God knows every single detail about our life from beginning to end, starting before we could say a word. How is it that God has this personal, intimate knowledge? Because God is our personal Creator. Verse 13, “For You formed my inward parts. You covered me in my mother’s womb.” You created my own personal DNA. You made me the way I am, personally.
And in verse 16, You determined my destiny. You planned my life. “Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance.” You saw me in your sovereign view before I was ever formed. “And in your book, everything about me was written down, the days that were ordained for me when as yet there wasn’t one of them.” God will never lose sight of me, no matter what goes on. I can never be lost to God.
David is speaking of intimate association between God and each human creation. It’s not a chain of procreative acts that He inaugurated, He is there in every single conception. These are precious thoughts because this indicates to us how precious every life is. If every life is so precious that God knows it all, plans it all, guards and protects it all, never loses sight of anything, then they must matter to Him.
In Ecclesiastes 6:3 - 5, Solomon laments that a stillborn child is better off than a person who lives a thousand years twice and doesn’t enjoy the right things. He says, “What’s the point of living two thousand years if you don’t ever enjoy true goodness? You’d be better off a stillborn child.” You have by implication the idea that being stillborn takes you to a place of rest and is preferable to a life of wickedness.
So who qualifies as an infant or a child? That’s really not the question because we’re not talking about an age of accountability. We’re talking about a condition of accountability. Who qualifies then, in our discussion as an infant or child who dying instantly goes to heaven? Those who have not reached sufficient mature understanding in order to comprehend the issues of law and grace; sin and salvation.
This is certainly an infant in the womb. This is certainly an infant at birth. This is certainly a small child. And this is certainly a mentally impaired adult at any age. Anyone in the condition who cannot sufficiently understand and comprehend so as to be fully convinced of the issues of law and grace and sin and salvation. It’s not an age issue, it is the condition of a person.
And from child to child, it varies. And you have to include in this those who grow up mentally disadvantaged, mentally disabled, mentally retarded, so as never to be able to have a sufficient mature understanding and a convincingly comprehensive grasp of law and grace and sin and salvation. People in that condition where they cannot, in a mature way, understand and comprehend these issues.
Are all children conceived as sinners? Some people still believe, though it was condemned sixteen hundred years ago, that all people are born without sin. Sin only takes root in our lives when we commit our first sin by choice, and then we become sinners. They say since these little ones can’t make a moral choice to sin, when they die they go to heaven because they’re not sinners.
This view called Pelagianism, was denounced as a heresy by every church, and yet it survived even until today in what we call Arminian theology. However, the Bible is absolutely clear that all children are sinners from conception. Children are born morally corrupt. And the notion that children are born morally neutral and free from a predisposition to sin is contrary to Scripture.
The only persons who don’t actually sin are those who die in infancy, and the only reason they don’t actually sin is because they die before they can manifest their sinfulness. Any child who lives to the point of moral responsibility will choose to sin. 1 Kings 8:46, “There is no man who doesn’t sin.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; in sin, my mother conceived me.”
Jesus, in Matthew 15:18, says, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness and slanders. These are the things that defile the man.” It’s what comes from the inside. In Romans 3, “There is none righteous; no, not one.” And it goes on to describe the wretchedness of the human heart.
So the Bible tells us that sinfulness is the condition of the entire human race, and every conception brings into being a sinful life. Ever since Adam and Eve, everyone born has been born in a fallen, sinful state. That becomes evident as soon as any behavioral choice is made. We are born sinners. We are also born guilty because we inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin described in Romans 5:12.
And the very fact that babies die proves that they have inherited the corruption of sin that produces death. We believe that all infants who die are elect of God and are therefore saved. Reformed soteriology can account for the fact that fallen, sinful, guilty, depraved children who die with no spiritual or religious merit of their own can be welcomed by a holy God into eternal glory.
Only pure Reformed theology can allow for that because we believe that salvation is all by grace. How were you saved? By grace. You had no more to do with your salvation than a helpless infant. Jesus had that in mind in part when He said, “You who go to heaven as little children.” Is there a better illustration of salvation by grace than the salvation of a helpless infant?
True understanding of Scripture yields the reality that all salvation is by sovereign choice by God through grace based on nothing that the sinner merits. And is there a better illustration of that than saving lost infants? Does that magnify sovereignty? Does it magnify grace? Of course it does. Scripture always describes the inhabitants of hell with lists of deliberate sins.
Do you understand that by nature God is a Savior? Is that not the truest expression of His heart? Isn’t Jeremiah weeping the tears of God in Jeremiah 13? Isn’t Scripture saying God wants people to be saved, He’s not willing that they perish? How can we believe that if He places billions of helpless infants into hell? Is this any magnification of grace? Is this an illustration of grace?
Someone says, “Ah, but God is gracious only to baptized babies.” This is Lutheranism. Now, we have much to thank Martin Luther for, but infant baptism isn’t one of those things. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession says, “Baptism is necessary for salvation, and that through baptism the grace of God is offered, and children by baptism are received into God’s favor.”
This view is held by Anglicans, Episcopalians and some Reformed groups. The Roman Catholic Church essentially teaches the same thing, that the removal of sin depends on the sacrament of infant baptism. In 1951, Pius XII taught that: “No other way besides baptism is seen as imparting the life of Christ to little children.” The Catholic Catechism says, “By Christian baptism, one enters into the kingdom of God.”
Now, this would make salvation not an act of grace but an act of works. That is no credit to the grace of God. The point must be rejected outright, first of all, since infant baptism isn’t mentioned or taught in Scripture. If you’re trying to find infant baptism in the Bible, you’re not going to find it. Infant baptism would certainly be a work, and if babies are saved in that work, then salvation is not by grace.
Let me summarize. No view of infant salvation which denies original sin and total depravity is true. Babies are not free from sin, they are sinners. Salvation is grounded in God’s absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace. All babies saved would be an act of grace apart from any merit on the part of any child, and that is true of adult salvation. And no baptism of anyone saves them.
If those who are mentally retarded, mentally disabled, dysfunctional, and therefore in the same category as an infant, in the condition of not having a capability to understand matters of salvation, if they are saved when they die, by what means are they saved? Well, by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. Because that is the only means by which anybody can be saved.
God has predestined all He wills into salvation, including those in infancy. That salvation is by His sovereign choice through grace alone, though all infants deserve eternal judgment because of their guilt and corruption. Their sins were paid for by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross in which He bore the wrath of God not only for all who could believe, but for all who could not believe.
If death in infancy depends on God’s providence, it is surely God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation. Anybody who believes in an Arminian system has some contribution to salvation made by the individual, that it’s partly God and partly us. But the doctrine of salvation says it’s all of God and all of grace that saves these little ones.
Turn to Revelation 20, Scripture teaches that men and women are saved by grace, but damned by works. Scripture teaches that all condemned sinners earn their eternal punishment by their sins. And the greatest of all the sinner’s evil works is unbelief. John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. He who doesn’t obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God.”
Little children don’t have that record. In Jonah 4:11, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who don’t know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” There are people there, God says, who deserve compassion because they are infants or those who are mentally incapable of understanding truth.
Infants who die have been protected by God’s providence from committing those deeds, those responsible acts of sin by which they would be condemned. God doesn’t charge people with actual sins until they commit them. Salvation is by grace apart from works. Damnation is by works apart from grace. If a baby dies, that baby is elect to eternal salvation and eternal glory. Instant heaven.
So, dear one, if you have a little one that dies, rejoice. Count not that child as having lost, but having gained heaven, having passed briefly through this life, untouched by the wicked world, only to enter into eternal glory and grace. Don’t sorrow over your children in heaven, sorrow over your children on earth, that they should come to Christ. This is your great responsibility and your great opportunity.