WCF X.III: Elect Infants and the Unreached?

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Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
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.

I appreciate the reply, and have read through it and reflected on these things, but I do still struggle to see this as more than an academic “nuh uh.”

To interact with your post a bit, I see no issue with Acts 2:39 and my position, as it specifically states:

even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

He does not call everyone. This distinction would be meaningless otherwise.

As would John 6:44 and other verses such as these if God the Father first drew everyone. Not to mention Luke 12:51-53.

This is key.

The promise is not to all who are afar off, nor is the promise to all children. Surely if you squint you can see how dangerously close to universalism or Arminianism that type of position is.

While I would very much like for your position to be the correct one between you and I (for mercy’s sake if nothing else), I’m bound by my conscience to hold the position I do.

This is because after careful study and much prayer I see zero scriptural support for the notion of universalism for kids. I’m not sure what your precise understanding of Hebrews 8:6 and other problem verses is, but I imagine it’s quite different from mine.

P.S.

Perhaps one of the fundamental differences between your position and mine, covenant theology aside, is where we think people go when they die by default. My understanding as a credo-Baptist is that they go to Hell and that the elect are a remnant predestined before time.

Esau needed no opportunity to do good or evil. He was known in the womb and I would submit to you that he was hated in the womb.

When a vessel is made, the Lord knows what He will do with it. What is it to us if he permit a vessel unto wrath to be dashed to pieces before it can be filled with a life of sin?
 
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Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
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.
Thanks for this. You’ve given me plenty to think about.

If you don’t mind, what would you say are the places in Scripture that support this teaching that children of believers dying in infancy are saved?
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
I appreciate the reply, and have read through it and reflected on these things, but I do still struggle to see this as more than an academic “nuh uh.”

To interact with your post a bit, I see no issue with Acts 2:39 and my position, as it specifically states:

even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

He does not call everyone. This distinction would be meaningless otherwise.

As would John 6:44 and other verses such as these if God the Father first drew everyone. Not to mention Luke 12:51-53.

This is key.

The promise is not to all who are afar off, nor is the promise to all children. Surely if you squint you can see how dangerously close to universalism or Arminianism that type of position is.

While I would very much like for your position to be the correct one between you and I (for mercy’s sake if nothing else), I’m bound by my conscience to hold the position I do.

This is because after careful study and much prayer I see zero scriptural support for the notion of universalism for kids. I’m not sure what your precise understanding of Hebrews 8:6 and other problem verses is, but I imagine it’s quite different from mine.

P.S.

Perhaps one of the fundamental differences between your position and mine, covenant theology aside, is where we think people go when they die by default. My understanding as a credo-Baptist is that they go to Hell and that the elect are a remnant predestined before time.

Esau needed no opportunity to do good or evil. He was known in the womb and I would submit to you that he was hated in the womb.

When a vessel is made, the Lord knows what He will do with it. What is it to us if he permit a vessel unto wrath to be dashed to pieces before it can be filled with a life of sin?
I believe you are conflating promises given with promises fulfilled through faith. The promises are only realized through faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God. If I meet you at a sign that says "New York city ahead 20 miles" and tell you that if you walk 20 miles ahead, you will be in New York City, that promise is good whether you walk there or not - the key thing is whether you believe what I say (by faith) and walk to New York. In the same way, promises of salvation to our children will not profit them unless they appropriate them with a Spirit-wrought faith. God is not promising to save them without faith, and it has always been that way, in the old and new testament.

Thus the promises of salvation are indeed to all our (covenant) children, head for head. However, the fulfillment of those promises are only to the elect, to whom God grants the faith necessary to appropriate the Christ held out in the promises. Thus if one of our children falls away, that is no fault of the promise - the promise is good - it is the fault of that individual who rejects the Christ of the promise.

As for infants, we make a judgment based on what we believe to be the character of God towards his covenant people, in that he has always shown mercy to the children of his covenant people and included them in his various acts of salvation throughout the scriptures.

Also, just because there is the reality of election does not mean that what we do in this life does not matter. You said "Esau needed no opportunity to do good or evil. He was known in the womb and I would submit to you that he was hated in the womb". Indeed, God's election stands firm and salvation perdition flows from it. However, these realities work themselves out in time. Esau confirmed his reprobation by rejecting the covenant. He was a covenant breaker, who chose to reject the promises of God. He did "need time" as a covenant child to break the covenant.
 

Jerrod Hess

Puritan Board Freshman
One of the earliest commentators on the Westminster Confession and one of the contemporaries of the Assembly itself, David Dickson, who also co-authored the Sum of Saving Knowledge alongside James Durham, had this to say in regards to the paragraph in question:

"ARE Elect Infants, dying in infancy Regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when and where, and how he pleaseth?

Yes. Luke 18. 15, 16. Acts 2. 38, 39. John 3. 3, 5. 1 John 5. 12.

Well then, do not the Anabaptists err, who maintain, that no Infants are Regenerated?

Yes.

By what reasons are they confuted?

(1) Because, John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his Mothers Womb; Luke 1. 15.
(2) Because, the Prophet Jeremiah, was sanctified, from his mothers Womb; Jer. 1. 5.
(3) Because, the promise is made to believing Parents, and to their Children conjunctly; Gen. 17. 7. Acts 2. 39.
(4) Because, of such, says Christ, is the kingdom of Heaven; Mat. 19. 14.
(5) Because, the Apostle calls Chil∣dren, which are descended, but of one Parent, in covenant with God, holy; 1 Cor. 7. 14.
(6) Because, God hath promised in the second Command, that he will shew mercy, unto thousands, that are descended of believing Parents; Exod. 20. 6."

And I don't think there is much more you can add to the discussion than general principles of the word; that there are present in the scriptures, and that more than a couple instances, children of believing parents regenerated in the womb and in their very infancy; coupled also with God's gracious covenantal dealings.

I've had my former pastor say to me once that he could offer (that is, without presumption) comfort to parents bereaved of a covenant child in death, but he could by no scriptural principle offer the same comfort and hope to any of those outside of God's covenant; this I would also agree with.

As Jager and others have said, Deuteronomy 29:29. This paragraph has become a great stumbling block for many, a paragraph which our divines had agreed upon, and had confidence to set forth in the Confession.

Edit: and in light of the reasons given above from Dickson for the paragraph's justification, it is actually rather mind boggling that the London divines kept it in the 1689, seeing the premise of comfort rests upon a paedobaptists method of thought.
 
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TheInquirer

Puritan Board Sophomore
I always thought 2 Samuel 12:23 a pretty vague text to build a doctrine from. David could merely be speaking of joining his child in the place of the dead.

I get nervous when unclear Scripture starts to take precedent over the clear teaching of Scripture in doctrinal formulation. Seems backwards.
 

BRK

Puritan Board Freshman
Al Mohler is a godly man whom I greatly respect; however, I believe he may be in error on his view here. To begin, Mohler denies universalism and affirms the doctrine of original sin.

Universalism is an unbiblical heresy. The Bible clearly teaches that we are born in sin and that God will not tolerate sinners. God has made one absolute and definitive provision for our salvation through the substitutionary atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ our Lord.
[...]
The Bible reveals that we are born marked by original sin, and thus we cannot claim that infants are born in a state of innocence. Any biblical answer to the question of infant salvation must start from the understanding that infants are born with a sin nature.

He attempts to reconcile this doctrine with his belief that all children who die prematurely are redeemed in Christ by appealing to the doctrine of election.

What if all who die in infancy are among the elect? Do we have a biblical basis for believing that all persons who die in infancy are among the elect? We believe that Scripture does indeed teach that all persons who die in infancy are among the elect.

How does he conclude that infants who die are among the elect? Mohler believes that we are to be judged on the basis of actual sin only ("deeds committed 'in the body'" according to 2 Corinthians 5:10), not original sin. While he nominally affirms original sin, he denies that original sin imputes guilt deserving of the wrath of God, effectively denying the substance of the doctrine altogether. Note that Mohler does not reject that Adam's guilt is imputed to us at all; he rather believes that this imputed guilt pertains to our total inability alone. He does not maintain that the imputation of the guilt of Adam's first sin is sufficient ground to condemn all who are in Adam. In other words, original sin disables us but does not condemn us.

What, then is our basis for claiming that all those who die in infancy are among the elect? First, the Bible teaches that we are to be judged on the basis of our deeds committed "in the body."(2) That is, we will face the judgment seat of Christ and be judged, not on the basis of original sin, but for our sins committed during our own lifetimes. Each will answer "according to what he has done,"(3) and not for the sin of Adam. The imputation of Adam's sin and guilt explains our inability to respond to God without regeneration, but the Bible does not teach that we will answer for Adam's sin. We will answer for our own. But what about infants? Have those who die in infancy committed such sins in the body? We believe not.

Furthermore, Mohler's thesis seems to rely on an implied "age of accountability" before which children can be assumed to be members of the elect if they die prematurely.

The key issue here is that God specifically exempted from the judgment those who "have no knowledge of good or evil" because of their age [in reference to Deuteronomy 1:39]. These "little ones" would inherit the Promised Land, and would not be judged on the basis of their fathers' sins.

He goes on to say conclude his thesis that children who die in infancy are redeemed by the blood of Christ, having not yet been reckoned moral agents.

We believe that this passage bears directly on the issue of infant salvation, and that the accomplished work of Christ has removed the stain of original sin from those who die in infancy. Knowing neither good nor evil, these young children are incapable of committing sins in the body – are not yet moral agents – and die secure in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

While Mohler should be commended for attempting to defend his position biblically, it is my opinion that he errs in 1) not comprehending the full implication of the doctrine of original sin as it pertains to the imputation of Adam's sin, 2) invoking an age of accountability argument which stands in contradiction with the doctrine of original sin, and 3) indirectly ascribing absolute certainty to some aspect of the secret will of God as a consequence of the aforementioned points.

On points 1 and 2, compare Mohler's formulation of original sin, specifically his view of imputed guilt as merely the cause of our inability to turn toward God, with the WCF 6.6 which argues that original sin renders us justly liable to the penalty of God's wrath.

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto. doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

On point 3, consider the WCF 3.5. Here the text states that God chose the elect according to the secret counsel of his will, not according to anything in them, done by them, or that befalls them.

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.

To further elaborate, I submit that Mohler's position allows us to know who some of the elect are with absolute certainty, which conflicts with the scriptures and confession which state that the elect are known only to God according to his secret will. If all persons dying in infancy are among the elect, then we can know something of the eternal decree that scripture says we are not privy to (Deuteronomy 29:29). Furthermore, this creates uncomfortable moral tension within the Biblical ethical framework by making the death of infants, in some ways, a desirable thing because it would mark them as among the elect and thus heirs with Christ. How should Christians respond to abortion? In this frame of mind, indifference to the death of these children would arguably be desirable, as the more children who are aborted, the more we can be certain are in heaven. But every child who is saved from abortion will go on to become accountable for their actual sins at some point, thereby deserving the justice of God. Then what is more loving, that we allow children to die that their souls will be saved or that we save their lives that they might lose their souls? This perverts the prescriptive will of God and places us into a position in which we may argue that it is proper to "do evil that good may come".

I love Al Mohler as a brother, but I think his position does not best account for all of the biblical data. The scriptures tell us that all sinned in Adam and that salvation is by grace alone. While we can't know how many infants God saves, whether some, which appears to have strong biblical warrant, or all, which appears less viable, or who they are, we can be sure that God is just to condemn all sinners in their sins, original and actual, and that he delights in saving sinners for his own glory. Who the elect are is not for us to know, rather we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel as the ordinary means by which God convicts and converts sinners of their sin.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
I always thought 2 Samuel 12:23 a pretty vague text to build a doctrine from. David could merely be speaking of joining his child in the place of the dead.

I get nervous when unclear Scripture starts to take precedent over the clear teaching of Scripture in doctrinal formulation. Seems backwards.
I don't think the reformed are building their view on that text.

I think they are interpreting that text in light of their understanding of how the covenant of grace works.

For example, this is what the Canons of Dort says:

"We must judge concerning the will of God from his Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents.1 Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy.2"


None of the scripture references for this article reference 2 Samuel 12:23.

If that was our starting point, I would tend to agree with you - you can't build on that foundation. But it is not.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks for this. You’ve given me plenty to think about.

If you don’t mind, what would you say are the places in Scripture that support this teaching that children of believers dying in infancy are saved?
I believe it comes out of our understanding of the covenant of grace and the place of our children within that.

It's not something that is going to be solved with a proof-text. But I would rather look at the various salvific acts that God has performed for his people throughout redemptive history, and then ask whether the little children or mentally disabled were included or no?

For example: the passover. It was up to the head of the household to place the blood on the doorposts. That covered the whole family. If a child was old enough to have his own household, then it would be his responsibility - but if they were small, the faith of the parent was sufficient to turn God's wrath away. There are others - like crossing the red sea. In all of these we don't have the Israelites leaving the little ones or mentally disabled to fend for themselves. They are included in the covenant blessings - not because they deserve it, or because they aren't by nature children of wrath but only because God's covenant mercies extended to even them.
 
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Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
I believe it comes out of our understanding of the covenant of grace and the place of our children within that.

It's not something that is going to be solved with a proof-text. But I would rather look at the various salvific acts that God has performed for his people throughout redemptive history, and then ask whether the little children or mentally disabled were included or no?

For example: the passover. It was up to the head of the household to place the blood on the doorposts. That covered the whole family. If a child was old enough to have his own household, then it would be his responsibility - but if they were small, the faith of the parent was sufficient to turn God's wrath away. There are others - like crossing the red sea. In all of these we don't have the Israelites leaving the little ones or mentally disabled to fend for themselves. They are included in the covenant blessings - not because they deserve it, or because they aren't by nature children of wrath but only because God's covenant mercies extended to even them.
Once again, thank you.

I have not been completely persuaded, but you have really helped me see the other side more clearly.
 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
As for the other part of my question, regarding the salvation of elect unreached people who have not heard the gospel, my understanding remains unchanged: That is not in view in WCF X.III.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
As for the other part of my question, regarding the salvation of elect unreached people who have not heard the gospel, my understanding remains unchanged: That is not in view in WCF X.III.
Fully agree. Not outwardly called does not equal incapable of being outwardly called. The unreached are not in view in this section.
 
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