WCF X.III: Elect Infants and the Unreached?

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Dear Saints,

In a discussion on WCF X.III on Sunday afternoon, our pastor said that believers can be assured that their children dying in infancy will be in heaven. I am not at all certain that that is what the Confession teaches. I would point to the fact that the text says “elect infants,” not “children of believers.”

Our pastor continued on to say that there are some elect among unreached peoples who never hear the gospel and yet are, somehow, in the kingdom. It was not explained how this works, just that this happens in the same way that infants dying in infancy are saved, or, at least, that this mystery is similar. We were even told that there can be some grain in truth in some pagan religious texts that can lead someone to saving faith. I cannot accept this, first, as it is not even what this section has in view, and, what is more, it appears to flatly contradict the very next section of the chapter.

I have worked out my thoughts on this in some detail, but I wonder if the saints here could help me and my wife with this one.

I’ll add that our pastor is referring to a book by R.C. Sproul. I am not sure how much he is getting from Sproul, however.

Many thanks in advance for your help with this.

[Edited for typographical errors.]
 
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aaronsk

Puritan Board Freshman
Assuming the book in question is "Truths We Confess" - I can say Dr. Sproul says the following in my best attempt to summarize his thoughts (I would quote the relevant section but I'm not sure copy-write allows me to do so).

1) Sproul clarifies Chapter 10, Section 3 is speaking of effectual calling which is the "inner call" or the Holy Spirits working on our souls.
2) He affirms God can save a baby prior to any "age of accountability" if he so wills by regeneration.
3) He says the divines didn't speculate which babies are elect - just that if a baby is elect it will be saved and vica-versa.
4) He says it is "reformed tradition" through 2 Sam 12:23 that holds infants of believers would be included. He clarifies that infants are not "innocent" affirming original sin and the necessity of regeneration of the elect infant.
5) Sproul then speculates that although its unlikely, should not be rested in, and if happens is rare - it is possible that God could save someone in a remote place via the Spirit (By his language I'm not sure Sproul thinks it does actually ever happen. The language is quite speculative/hypothetical in this paragraph.). He then reminds us of our "marching orders" to "proclaim the outward call" ("missionary outreach") and this remains an unchanged obligation even if God can or does save people in extraordinary ways.
 
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Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Assuming the book in question is "Truths We Confess" - I can say Dr. Sproul says the following in my best attempt to summarize his thoughts (I would quote the relevant section but I'm not sure copy-write allows me to do so).

1) Sproul clarifies Chapter 10, Section 3 is speaking of effectual calling which is the "inner call" or the Holy Spirits working on our souls.
2) He affirms God can save a baby prior to any "age of accountability" if he so wills by regeneration.
3) He says the divines didn't speculate which babies are elect - just that if a baby is elect it will be saved and vica-versa.
4) He says it is "reformed tradition" through 2 Sam 12:23 that holds infants of believers would be included. He clarifies that infants are not "innocent" affirming original sin and the necessity of regeneration of the elect infant.
5) Sproul then speculates that although its unlikely, should not be rested in, and if happens is rare - it is possible that God could save someone in a remote place via the Spirit (By his language I'm not sure Sproul thinks it does actually ever happen. The language is quite speculative/hypothetical in this paragraph.). He then reminds us of our "marching orders" to "proclaim the outward call" ("missionary outreach") and this remains an unchanged obligation even if God can or does save people in extraordinary ways.
That is very, very helpful. Thank you.

I did find that Sproul taught that believers can expect their children to be in heaven. Although, by his language, he’s one or two degrees below certainty. I found this in Now, That’s a Good Question!, page 294 (accessed via Google Books).

I am not sure what to think about Sproul’s comments on the possibility of God saving someone in a remote environment, by some means other than the preaching of the gospel. Romans 10:13-15 comes to mind.
 

Anti-Babylon

Puritan Board Freshman
I am not sure what to think about Sproul’s comments on the possibility of God saving someone in a remote environment, by some means other than the preaching of the gospel. Romans 10:13-15 comes to mind.

I am not sure why the remoteness of any person even matters? Hypothetically, couldn't God be working towards salvation in our own nations with people who don't know the Gospel yet?

God calls His elect in whatever means He chooses. It is only through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that this occurs, however He can do so.

This includes every non-believer everywhere.

When I reflect back on my salvation, I have no ONE moment. There was no decision card - meaning I was not saved despite a "sinner's prayer" moment in some charismatic service.

God was working on me as I read the Word. If I had died somewhere before the thought occurred to me that I had been called by Him to repentance even as I was feeling it, am I going to heaven? A second before it struck me? Probably. A day? A week?

I don't even know nor do I even care (!)

IF God has the Word in some OT form for those who have never heard before, so be it. Yet, it is God's Will that the Word be made known fully to all.

That He wills it, that He calls us to it is enough for me to go and preach His Gospel to all - including those nearby in my own country. Sometimes these hypothetical questions are just superfluous. Fun and interesting but nothing to stress in my opinion
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
[Sproul] says it is "reformed tradition" through 2 Sam 12:23 that holds infants of believers would be included. He clarifies that infants are not "innocent" affirming original sin and the necessity of regeneration of the elect infant.
I hope someone will be able to comment on the underlined here. Is it not the case that there are differences among Reformed Christians on this question?
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
I hope someone will be able to comment on the underlined here. Is it not the case that there are differences among Reformed Christians on this question?

Full disclosure: I'm not a Presbyterian, I'm a Reformed Particular Independent Fundamental Baptist, if that means anything to you. Think Charles Spurgeon. :)

There are differences.

This verse, 2 Samuel 12:23, is either [1] referring to Sheol (with Abraham's Bosom being part of it), or [2] referring to passing through the veil of death as David's son did, the determination of which is stated plainly in Hebrews 9:27.

This can be a difficult subject, particularly in instances of death in the family, but the fact of the matter is that just as sprinkling or cutting the flesh of infants can not save, neither can what we would regard in our human experience as early death. There is no age of accountability (although individuals will be rewarded and/or punished based on the light that has been given them).

I hope it is of some comfort that the LORD is sovereign, He knows those who are His, and all of His ways are perfect and righteous and just.

Grace and peace, dear brother.

P.S. I believe it to be true that Charles Spurgeon did hold to some curious beliefs with respect to salvation (that there would be more saved than unsaved, for God can not 'lose', etc., which I would reject, as the elect are a faithful remnant) and infant salvation (which I would reject, as salvation is for the elect, predestined before birth). These are views that I personally do not hold to, as I have not been able to find scriptural support for them. However, I've included a little information from Charles Spurgeon along these lines for your prayerful review.

 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Here is Matthew Henry on 2 Sam. 12:23:
Note, The consideration of our own death should moderate our sorrow at the death of our relations. It is the common lot; instead of mourning for their death, we should think of our own: and, whatever loss we have of them now, we shall die shortly, and go to them. Secondly, To him to heaven, to a state of blessedness, which even the Old Testament saints had some expectation of. Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not. Favores sunt ampliandi—Favours received should produce the hope of more. God calls those his children that are born unto him; and, if they be his, he will save them. This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death, they are better provided for, both in work and wealth, than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I hope it is of some comfort that the LORD is sovereign, He knows those who are His, and all of His ways are perfect and righteous and just.
This is key.

I think that we ought to guard against sentimental wishes on this subject, as difficult as it is. To say, as Sproul and others do, that God saves all Christian babies, muddies the waters a bit.

I do not think we can be certain. Let God’s grace be magnified. There is none deserving of salvation. If my child were to die, I should hope to see him in heaven. But if he were not there, would heaven be less blessed for his absence (Psalm 145:17)?
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
Here is Matthew Henry on 2 Sam. 12:23:
Note, The consideration of our own death should moderate our sorrow at the death of our relations. It is the common lot; instead of mourning for their death, we should think of our own: and, whatever loss we have of them now, we shall die shortly, and go to them. Secondly, To him to heaven, to a state of blessedness, which even the Old Testament saints had some expectation of. Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not. Favores sunt ampliandi—Favours received should produce the hope of more. God calls those his children that are born unto him; and, if they be his, he will save them. This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death, they are better provided for, both in work and wealth, than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more.

A few thoughts from what you've shared:

"Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not."

This is troublesome, because we're not the nation of Israel. So, too, here we shouldn't be speaking of physical seed (as in offspring/progeny), but rather spiritual seed, as spiritual Israel will be comprised solely of the elect - with no more wheat and tares to weed out in that state.

Saul could have a kid like Jonathan, yet David could have a kid like Absalom. Absalom was never going to be anyone other than who he was, regardless of when death came for him. It's the same for Jonathan - for Jacob, for Esau, for Judas. For those who tragically lose their life as infants, what biblical reason would we have to suppose that there are not Jacob's and Esau's and Jonathan's and Absalom's among them?

Yes, it is heartbreaking to consider. Yes, we are not called to discouragement. But we must speak true things, and where we can not determine what is true from God's Word, we leave these things with God. There is no reason to not pray and have faith and hope with the unexpected death of a young child or infant, for we do not know who the elect are with certainty, even among adults (although we know the elect will persevere until the end and can possess reasonable certainty based on their fruit, among other things).

When it comes to these sorts of controversial topics, I trust we can all read verses like Deuteronomy 29:29 and say 'Amen'.

Anyway, given the subject matter, it's no surprise we would want to focus on our great God and reasons to hope for the best. We don't want to discourage folks. But you can still find Henry's reference to election "God calls those his children are born unto him; and, if they be his, he will save them."
 
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chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
In a discussion on WCF X.III on Sunday afternoon, our pastor said that believers can be assured that their children dying in infancy will be in heaven. I am not at all certain that that is what the Confession teaches. I would point to the fact that the text says “elect infants,” not “children of believers.”
I think by the same logic you could say that we cannot be certain that believers will be in heaven, only the elect.
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
I think by the same logic you could say that we cannot be certain that believers will be in heaven, only the elect.

In many ways this may be true, although I do not write this to stir the pot. It is a deeply sorrowful thought.

A few passages for your consideration:

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." - Matthew 7:22-23 (KJV)

"And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:30 (KJV)

"But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." - Luke 19:27 (KJV)

"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." - 1 John 2:19 (KJV)

Let us not forget Simon Magus in Acts 8:13-40 either.

"Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." - Acts 8:13 (KJV)

Grace and peace.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
"Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not."

This is troublesome, because we're not the nation of Israel.
This touches on the differences between Baptists and Reformed. Without derailing the thread, there is a fundamental difference in our underlying understanding of the covenants. The covenant to Abraham was to him as a believer and all in his household, which is why not only did he receive the covenant sign, but all his household and all those to be born into it. It’s not because God saves by physical lineage, but God works through graceful promises.

@Tom Hart See also this statement from Dordt:
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 ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their [children] whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
This touches on the differences between Baptists and Reformed. Without derailing the thread, there is a fundamental difference in our underlying understanding of the covenants. The covenant to Abraham was to him as a believer and all in his household, which is why not only did he receive the covenant sign, but all his household and all those to be born into it. It’s not because God saves by physical lineage, but God works through graceful promises.

@Tom Hart See also this statement from Dordt:
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 ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their [children] whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.

According to my Pastor, who started out as a Southern Baptist before becoming a Presbyterian and then after many years finally becoming a Reformed Baptist, many young parents have flocked to Presbyterianism for this reason. Even as recently as this past year we lost a covenanting member of our local church body who went off to join a Presbyterian church with the blessing of our elders. As a young father with three daughters and a son, I can certainly understand its appeal. But eventually the kids grow up, and the parents find that the promise made by Presbyterianism isn't always a promise kept. This is certainly true of other denominations as well, I don't mean to point out specks.

There are many fathers who, like David, grieve for their Absalom's. May we continue to lift them up in prayer, for our God is mighty to save.

Grace and peace.
 
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Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
But eventually the kids grow up,
Not under discussion. This is about infants dying in infancy.

It’s also a significant charge that people become Presbyterian for sentimental, and not biblical reasons. That may have been true for your pastor. It may be true for others. But it bewrays a lack of understanding/interaction with our Reformed forbears and their teaching on the covenants.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
The Canons of Dort 1/17 says
"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"

Have you read Dr Venema's insightful article on this where he compares CD 1/17 to the WCF?
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman

I'll admit, I winced when I read the name. Ol' Al hasn't been in the spotlight for the right reasons as of late. I digress. I read through his position, but still have trouble stringing the biblical portion of his argument together. While we are to be judged on the basis of our deeds committed 'in the body', this in no way exempts us from original sin, or the fact that every one of the non-elect go to Hell.

The first few paragraphs were great! We shouldn't base doctrine on what we merely hope for. I hope we can all say 'Amen' there. But then he proceeds to do just that, after a whole lot of 'look what holy men of God over the course of history in Reformed circles also held this view'. To my mind, appealing to history and tradition isn't a great way to determine sound doctrine either. Curiously, Al Mohler himself states in that article:

"Those who have not believed in Christ and confessed Him as Lord will suffer eternal punishment in the fires of Hell. Universalism is a dangerous and unbiblical teaching. It offers a false promise and denies the Gospel."

Amen. Yet what Al Mohler is proposing is effectively universalism for the unborn, infants, and presumably children up to a mythical age of accountability.

In closing, and as a father, I have great difficulty believing that hypothetically the best way to have ensured my children would be with me in Heaven would have been to have an abortion while they were yet in the womb as a means of guaranteeing, in effect, their election.

P.S.

Another head scratcher I'd love to get everyone's thoughts on:

Does God know us in the womb? Did God always hate Esau, or did he begin hating Esau at some point? If so, when did God start hating Esau?

Maybe I'm not accounting for God's sovereignty or election properly, or maybe I'm missing something somewhere else. Not sure.
 
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Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
Romans 9:11-13

This is an altogether lovely verse, and supremely relevant. But what do you suppose it means in the context of our discussion, or as it pertains to my earlier question? I'm looking at a few different commentaries for Romans 9:11 now. Gill notes:

neither having done any good or evil; Jacob and Esau were under all considerations upon an equal foot, were just in the same situation and condition, when the one was loved and the other hated; or in other words, when the one was chosen, and the other rejected;

Source: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/romans/9-11.htm

It would seem to support my hypothesis that some are elect (loved) and others non-elect (hated), despite not having opportunity to do good or evil on Earth themselves, but I could be reading it wrong. What do you make of it?
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is an altogether lovely verse, and supremely relevant. But what do you suppose it means in the context of our discussion, or as it pertains to my earlier question? I'm looking at a few different commentaries for Romans 9:11 now. Gill notes:



Source: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/romans/9-11.htm

It would seem to support my hypothesis that some are elect (loved) and others non-elect (hated), despite not having opportunity to do good or evil on Earth themselves, but I could be reading it wrong. What do you make of it?
I find it significant that neither WCF nor Dordt say anything about “non-elect infants dying in infancy” or “children of ungodly parents”. Not because they are universalistic toward infants, but because scripture offers no hope to the ungodly, yet God’s mercies surely extend beyond what we are able to comprehend when He is the one choosing to take life in infancy.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I think it would be difficult to make a biblical case that God ever changes his disposition toward the reprobate, extending to all eternity (cf. Rev 13:8 NASB95). This also accords with the context of Romans 9 where Paul goes on to state "for Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (v.17)
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
The Canons of Dort 1/17 says
"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"

Have you read Dr Venema's insightful article on this where he compares CD 1/17 to the WCF?
Thank you, esteemed Mr. Smith. I will read this right away.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
Here, I suppose, is the principal question (for me, at least):

If God saves elect infants without their having responded to the outward call, does he work something similar in others? That is, are there elect persons who will be saved without having heard the gospel?
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
How does this sound?

The response to the outward call is the rule (Rom. 10:13-15), yet there are exceptions thereto, namely elect infants dying in infancy, and others lacking the capacity to respond to that outward call. In them God still mysteriously works saving faith.

I think there is a strong case for the salvation of at least some infants (David’s son by Bathsheba, John the Baptist having been saved in the womb), but I do not see biblical warrant to apply this exception any more broadly.
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Sophomore
The Canons of Dort 1/17 says
"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"

Have you read Dr Venema's insightful article on this where he compares CD 1/17 to the WCF?
I was emailing with Dr. Venema recently about the topic of when death occurs before or shortly after birth. He pointed me to his book Christ and Covenant Theology. He said he covered the topic at length in two chapters.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
I was emailing with Dr. Venema recently about the topic of when death occurs before or shortly after birth. He pointed me to his book Christ and Covenant Theology. He said he covered the topic at length in two chapters.
I have this book. It is very good. I hope one day Dr Venema writes a full and comprehensive work on covenant theology.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
A few thoughts from what you've shared:

"Godly parents have great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not."

This is troublesome, because we're not the nation of Israel. So, too, here we shouldn't be speaking of physical seed (as in offspring/progeny), but rather spiritual seed, as spiritual Israel will be comprised solely of the elect - with no more wheat and tares to weed out in that state.

Saul could have a kid like Jonathan, yet David could have a kid like Absalom. Absalom was never going to be anyone other than who he was, regardless of when death came for him. It's the same for Jonathan - for Jacob, for Esau, for Judas. For those who tragically lose their life as infants, what biblical reason would we have to suppose that there are not Jacob's and Esau's and Jonathan's and Absalom's among them?

Yes, it is heartbreaking to consider. Yes, we are not called to discouragement. But we must speak true things, and where we can not determine what is true from God's Word, we leave these things with God. There is no reason to not pray and have faith and hope with the unexpected death of a young child or infant, for we do not know who the elect are with certainty, even among adults (although we know the elect will persevere until the end and can possess reasonable certainty based on their fruit, among other things).

When it comes to these sorts of controversial topics, I trust we can all read verses like Deuteronomy 29:29 and say 'Amen'.

Anyway, given the subject matter, it's no surprise we would want to focus on our great God and reasons to hope for the best. We don't want to discourage folks. But you can still find Henry's reference to election "God calls those his children are born unto him; and, if they be his, he will save them."
The promises do not cease to apply to our physical children, as re-iterated by Peter in Acts 2:39. Of course, they are promises, not necessarily fulfillment, for the fulfillment requires faith in the promises. This is why some of our children are lost - not because the promise is bad, but because they lack faith.

As to the matter of whether there be Judases or Absaloms among our children who die, the answer to that is a clear no. The difference of course being that children who die in infancy have not rejected the promises (the Christ) of the covenant like Absalom and Judas. That is a huge difference. Our children are comprehended in the covenant of grace by virtue of the faith of their parents until they walk away on their own accord. For that very reason Noah's children were saved in the ark, the little infants of Israel were carried across the red sea by their parents, and Joshua can say "as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord". God worked in that way before and he still does now.

In all this we are not claiming that our children don't deserve God's judgment or are free from original sin. We are not claiming that there is anything in them that deserves God's mercy. Rather, we are claiming that despite all this, God really and truly comprehends them in the covenant of grace. Notice also that I am not saying that I presume our children are regenerate. We don't presume on that, unless of course one of them happens to die in infancy, in which case we must make that conclusion in order to support our premise.
 
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