Question on Dort and infant election

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steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
The canons of Dort are not my confession per se, but I know it is a summary of Reformd beliefs regarding soteriology. Here's something that quite honestly stunned me and I was wondering if I get some help.
Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

Since we must make judgments about God's will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.
My understanding of the covenant is there is a distinction between the inward reality, accomplished by Christ's blood, and the outward administration, figured in baptism. One can certainly be in the covenant who are not elect. But, correct me if I'm wrong, Dort seems to claim that infants of godly parents are necessarily elect by virtue of their parents? This obviously raises all kinds of problems for me, so I must be missing something.
 

Grimmson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think you’re completely right in your understanding of Dort, which I why I prefer the language of elect infants in the WCF.
 
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steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
Right. The wording of 'elect infants' is much more sound. Is this, then, an area of irreconcilable difference (ie. contradiction) between Dort and the WCF?
 

Grimmson

Puritan Board Sophomore
Right. The wording of 'elect infants' is much more sound. Is this, then, an area of irreconcilable difference (ie. contradiction) between Dort and the WCF?

I know many that would say no, but am not in complete agreement on that issue because it does change in my opinion the nature of God's election in salvation. I cannot prove this off hand, but am sure many of the WCF Divines were in agreement with Dort on the nature of infant salvation, but the elect infant allows for more clarification and puts the ball back in the park regarding God being the one electing to salvation based on his own good pleasure and removing the requirement of salvation being on “godly parents;” which in my personal opinion turns salvation of the child to some kind of work righteousness on the part of the parent or propagation of salvation by the flesh and not of the sealing power of the Spirit of God. I am sure there are many here that would be in disagreement with me there. So the WCF could be seen a more of a generic document for this issue and not irreconcilable on the end of the Divines. It is however if one in the WCF camp is in disagreement over the infant salvation argument of Dort. In other word, Dort can agree with the WCF, but the same may not be said of others on the other side. I would love to see a debate though against the three forms of unity guys and WCF people on the issue of elect infants and godly parents. But before such a debate begins I have one question, “where the popcorn?”:popcorn:
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Westminster Confession of Faith

Chapter X
Of Effectual Calling

....

I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,[1] by His Word and Spirit,[2] out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ;[3] enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,[4] taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh;[5] renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good,[6] and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ:[7] yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.[8]

II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man,[9] who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,[10] he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.[11]

III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit,[12] who works when, and where, and how He pleases:[13] so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.[14]
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Scripture Proofs
....

[12] LUK 18:15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. ACT 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. JOH 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 1JO 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. ROM 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

[13] JOH 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

[14] 1JO 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. ACT 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

The Westminster Standards are taken as "the same theology" as the Three Forms of Unity (Belgaic Confession, Canons of Dordt, Heidelberg Catechism).

One of the beauties of the Standards is that they are very precise in meaning what they say and saying what they mean. They do not seek to bind men's consciences with anything that is not evidently clear from Scripture.

It was a surprise to me, because it seems to complicate other important doctrines, to learn there has been and is reformed doctrine that all infants who die in infancy automatically are saved. Some restrict that only to the children of believers.

But the Westminster Confession again here is very careful, binding men's conscience only with what is clear in the Word of God- elect infants, how ever many there are, are saved. We have scriptural warrant to say God can save even infants. But we do not know how many or how few that is.

GI Williamson, in The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes describes this section of the Westminster Confession by saying, [p. 92, 1st Ed.}
We can assert that there are elect infants who die in infancy. We can also assert that believers have special warrant to hope that their infants who die in infancy are such (Luke 18:15,16, II Sam. 12:23, Acts 2:38,39, Ezek. 16:20,21). Beyond this we may not go. We may legitimately hope, but we may not demand.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
This commentary represents one line of reformed thinking, and a credible commentary on Article 17:

Kim Riddlebarger Commentary
http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/notes-on-the-canons-of-dort-fi/

Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers

Since we must make judgments about God's will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy.

_________________________________

Because of human sin, and the fact that the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed to all of his descendants, unspeakable tragedies occur. Ours is a sinful and fallen race. We are weakened in body because of the inherited corruption passed down to us from our first father. Furthermore, we are subject to the sinful actions of our fellow sinners. Because we are under the curse, we will all die. As one of the sages of popular culture puts it, “nobody gets out of here alive.”

One of the worst consequences of the Fall is the death of a child. It is bad enough that children, now grown, must bury those who brought them into the world, and who have cared and provided for them. It is even worse when parents are forced to bury a child who never lived to adulthood. If such a tragedy is not a graphic picture of the reality which is the imputation of Adam’s sin to all his progeny, then I don’t know what is.

Having raised the brutal reality of the consequences of original sin (guilt, death, and final judgment), the authors of the Canons have also spoken of election (the exercise of God’s mercy) and reprobation (the exercise of God’s justice).

But at this point, the Canons address the very difficult subject of what happens when infants and small children of believers die in infancy, or in their youth, without ever having made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Are we to consider such children as elect (and saved)? Or as reprobate (and lost)? Even framing the question like this makes us shudder, but it is a question we have all asked (if the truth be known), and the Canons do not shirk from answering it.

While most American evangelicals can fall back upon their Pelagianism and argue for the innocence of such children, we have already seen that the Scriptures do not allow us such an unbiblical escape. If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear that our children–however precious they are to us–are sinful from the time of their conception (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). Like their parents, they are by nature, children of wrath, and therefore subject to the curse, which is death (Romans 5:12).

Despite the widely accepted American dogma of an “age of accountability”–that unspecified moment when children supposedly become responsible for their sins, and for any possible rejection of Christ–there is no such doctrine taught anywhere in Scripture. Sadly, this unsupported dogma holds out the false promise of a salvation apart from Christ, and sets out the false hope that should our children die before they reach the age of accountability, they will automatically go to heaven, because they are “innocent” and never needed saving.

Realizing the myth of human innocence under any circumstances, the Canons point us to an even better source of comfort–not the supposed innocence of our children, but to the merciful God, who in Jesus Christ, provides the means of salvation for all of his elect, including the children of believers. God’s grace may even extend to all those who die in infancy, but since Scripture is silent on this matter, and all we have is human opinion, we’ll leave that discussion for another time, as the Canons themselves wisely do.

According to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7:14), the children of believers (even if only one parent is a Christian) are holy. They are “set apart” through the faith of a one believing parent, so that all promises made by God to his people under the covenant of grace apply to them. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, without hesitation we affirm that our children are members of the covenant of grace, the promises of which are signed and sealed unto them though baptism. As Christian parents, the Canons direct us to find comfort in the tragic case of the death of a child, in the fact that all of the promises of the covenant center in God’s unconditional promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” We need not count upon the false hope of the innocence of our child to save them. No, we count on something much, much, greater–the mercies of God in Christ!

It is because God is absolutely faithful to his covenant promises, and not because our children are somehow “innocent,” we can be confident that those children of believers who die in infancy are indeed numbered among the elect, and go to heaven when they die. The Canons wisely counsel us not to doubt the election of such children, but to be absolutely confident of being joined with them eternally in the “age to come.” Why? Because of God’s covenant promise! God's grace in Christ trumps human sin.

The promises God makes to us under the covenant of grace give us wonderful comfort in the darkest of moments. These same promises remind us that God is gracious, and that death and the grave do not have the final word. God will raise all his own from the dead, ensuring that all his people will one day bask in their promised inheritance together–the children with their parents–as they enjoy their eternal Sabbath rest in the presence of the Savior.

While the promise never removes the pain of death--this side of Christ's second coming--it certainly gives us a sure and certain hope. Far better to count on the blood and righteousness of Christ, than on the supposed “innocence” of those we love. And this is why we make our judgments from Scripture, where we find far better promises and a much greater hope. For it is Scripture which promises us, that should our children die, they are even now beholding the face of that one who redeemed them with his precious blood.
 
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Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Oh, that Riddlebarger commentary is VERY good! Thanks, Scott. Yes, our hope is in God's goodness and love toward us, and therefore toward our children as well. There is nothing better or more comforting we might hope in.
 

steadfast7

Puritan Board Junior
I think for the Canon to say that godly parents "ought not" doubt their infants election goes beyond a simple hope of charity. Doubt in scripture is usually the opposite of faith and belief, which are, in turn, based on things which are reliable and true. Even the above commentary says, "it certainly gives us a sure and certain hope." In other words, it is decidedly so.

Scott's post:
But the Westminster Confession again here is very careful, binding men's conscience only with what is clear in the Word of God- elect infants, how ever many there are, are saved. We have scriptural warrant to say God can save even infants. But we do not know how many or how few that is.
Seems to contradict Dort.

In all of this, I see a challenge to the idea of God's election being unconditional. Rather, the election of infants in this scenario seems based on: 1. The parents' godliness; and 2. The infant's foreknown death. It now seems that God "owes" election to the infant satisfying these criteria, all for the sake of granting the parent hope.

This raises another problem for me too: what exactly is the definition of an "infant"? less than 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? It sounds silly, yes, but for the parent who is to glean so-called hope from this assertion, must he not know if his infant truly "qualified".
 

kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
I think there is room in "ought not doubt" for something other than the "sure and certain hope" as Riddlebarger describes it. Still, the language is imprecise, which is why I am more inclined to accept the WCF on this point. More troubling for me is Riddlebarger's concluding remark:
"For it is Scripture which promises us, that should our children die, they are even now beholding the face of that one who redeemed them with his precious blood."
That the sure salvation of infants (without the qualifier of "elect") is promised in Scripture goes too far, In my humble opinion. It is necessary, if this statement is to hold up, to equate "our children" with the "elect." As has been mentioned earlier, this begs the question of the unconditional nature of God's election.
This is, without a doubt, a delicate pastoral issue. I taught on it yesterday, in fact, and was faced with several parents who had lost young children. I stressed the blessings of the covenant as grounds for hope, yet cautioned that we must not go beyond the Word - certainly not to the point of claiming that Scripture promises something which can, at best, only be inferred (and that not without controversy). In the end, we must trust in the goodness of God, and in the confidence that we will rejoice fully in that goodness when we are gathered into His presence.
 

dannyhyde

Puritan Board Sophomore
Still, the language is imprecise, which is why I am more inclined to accept the WCF on this point.

Hi Steve,

Let me encourage you to follow the link I provided above and read the articles I offer as bibliography. In a word, the language of Dort is hardly imprecise. It expresses a truth that every single delegate to the Synod of Dort subscribed to. This means, as you'll see in the articles, that those who said only elect infants are saved while those who said all infants of believers and unbelievers who die are saved, and that in between all crafted this article that all could agree.

Like Dort, Westminster's statement is one that all in these various camps can agree on. Like Dort, at Westminster there were various beliefs on this issue and the result was a consensus document.
 

kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
Still, the language is imprecise, which is why I am more inclined to accept the WCF on this point.

Hi Steve,

Let me encourage you to follow the link I provided above and read the articles I offer as bibliography. In a word, the language of Dort is hardly imprecise. It expresses a truth that every single delegate to the Synod of Dort subscribed to. This means, as you'll see in the articles, that those who said only elect infants are saved while those who said all infants of believers and unbelievers who die are saved, and that in between all crafted this article that all could agree.

Like Dort, Westminster's statement is one that all in these various camps can agree on. Like Dort, at Westminster there were various beliefs on this issue and the result was a consensus document.

I understand that the delegates all subscribed to this language. However, as you mention in your article, some who follow the Canons take the position of Bavinck, while others take the position of Hoeksema. This is what I meant by "imprecise." Sure, Bavinck and Hoeksema could both say, "I believe that," but what they each are saying that they believe is quite different from the other. While there were differences at the crafting of the WCF, as well, they chose language that can only mean one thing - elect infants are regenerated. Certainly, there is room in that language for debate over whether all dying in infancy are, in fact, elect; however, the addion of the qualifier "elect" eliminates any debate over whether they are regenerated because of God's purpose in election or because of the parent(s). I admit to not having had the opportunity to read all of the references you provided, but it seems as if the language in the Canons is, well, a bit imprecise in this regard. I am open to learning more about the interpretive history of the Canons at this point and am not necessarily rendering a conclusive personal decision. However, on their face, the WCF language seems to say what I think we mean, but better.
 

BertMulder

Puritan Board Junior
I understand that the delegates all subscribed to this language. However, as you mention in your article, some who follow the Canons take the position of Bavinck, while others take the position of Hoeksema. This is what I meant by "imprecise." Sure, Bavinck and Hoeksema could both say, "I believe that," but what they each are saying that they believe is quite different from the other. While there were differences at the crafting of the WCF, as well, they chose language that can only mean one thing - elect infants are regenerated. Certainly, there is room in that language for debate over whether all dying in infancy are, in fact, elect; however, the addion of the qualifier "elect" eliminates any debate over whether they are regenerated because of God's purpose in election or because of the parent(s). I admit to not having had the opportunity to read all of the references you provided, but it seems as if the language in the Canons is, well, a bit imprecise in this regard. I am open to learning more about the interpretive history of the Canons at this point and am not necessarily rendering a conclusive personal decision. However, on their face, the WCF language seems to say what I think we mean, but better.

Rev. Herman Hoeksema does a good job (in my opinion) explaining this article in 'Believers and their seed'. Reformed Free Publishing Association Prof. Homer Hoeksema (Herman's son) likewise does a good job on this article in his commentary on the canons of Dordt in his 'The Voice of our fathers' Reformed Free Publishing Association
 
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