The Salvation Of Those Who Die In Infancy
by Curt Wildy
I have been wanting to post my follow-up to the Primitive Baptist error posts for some time now. Before doing so, I knew I had to address the issue of infant salvation and by extension, the salvation of those born severely mentally handicapped. I have been a fence-sitter on this issue for a couple of years now; not feeling comfortable with my long-held former stance that the children of the reprobate who died in infancy were themselves reprobate and that the children of at least some believers were possibly elect children of God.
Within the past couple of weeks, however, my view on the matter has been solidified; it is now in line with the stance held by most who call themselves Sovereign Grace Baptists, Strict Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Reformed, Calvinists, etc. My stance is now that all who die in infancy (i.e. unborn, newborn, infants, and even many toddlers) are elect. My change of mind has nothing to do with numbers; I have known for some time that my more severe stance was in the minority and that most professors of the doctrines of grace held to infant salvation. My change of mind was caused by one thing only, God bringing Scripture to light that I did not previous understand.
Although there is no direct statement in the Bible that declares “all who die in infancy are saved,” I believe that Scripture gives clear evidence nonetheless that all who die as unborn, newborn, infants, and those who remain as such mentally due to malady or injury (henceforth grouped as infants for ease of writing) are elect children of God.
Children of Unbelievers
As stated above, concerning the question of whether the children of unbelievers who died in infancy were saved, my answer was once an adamant “No!” My argument was that before they were born, and before they ever did any good or any evil, [the elect] hath God loved and [the reprobate] hath He hated. I argued that all reprobate mankind was under the wrath of God and God is just to do with them as He pleases — no matter what the age. Since they were stated as being not yet born (in Romans 9), I perceived the principle behind it as applying to all “reprobate infants” in general.
I looked to the number of such infants who would have perished during the Noahic flood. I looked to those who would have died in Sodom and Gomorrah (which were large city-states that no doubt had thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people therein). I looked to the passages in Judges and Jeremiah that clearly taught that God ordered the destruction of the young and old (newborn and aged). I looked to those who died as they were passed through the fire as a sacrifice to the Devil Moloch. I looked to the Babylonian conquest of Israel, and the later defeat of the Babylonian empire (when their children were dashed). In seeing all of these historic examples, it was clear that infants were not spared the physical and temporal calamities and judgments that came about when God overthrew the wicked. Therefore I saw no reason to believe that He spared infants from eternal wrath and judgment. I also argued that since the children of both the unregenerate elect and the reprobate often do not hear the Gospel proclaimed, their deaths without exposure to the Gospel sealed their woeful state.
Yet my stance softened as I struggled with the matter, knowing that faithful pastors of today and of old held/hold to the position that these children were not damned eternally, even though they were not spared from the temporal judgments that came down upon them. To me, this seemed inconsistent, but I could not disprove it. Since infant salvation is the majority view within both Christianity and Christendom, I decided to leave it alone rather than debate what I acknowledged “I could not be dogmatic about.”.
Knowledge of Good and Evil
One factor used of God to shift my understanding pertained to those passages in the Bible that spoke of children who did not know good from evil; passages such as:
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
Deuteronomy 1:39 Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.
As I aim to develop, the issue of infant salvation does not have as its primary focus age (the actual passing of years), but the mental capability and culpability that usually develops with age. This is not some age of accountability argument wherein one sets the age of twelve or some other age as the line in the sand. No specific age can be set because the age wherein this understanding and culpability manifests will vary from child to child — some, due to severe medical conditions, may never develop such understanding.
Nonetheless, in keeping with Isaiah 7:16 and Deuteronomy 1:39, until a child is mentally capable of understanding the difference between good and evil, he is not mentally culpable. Without that mens rea, that guilty mind, that understanding of what is wrong and what is right and the transgression of that which is right — there is no sin. There is a sin nature without a doubt – but no acts of sin. If the child is not mentally culpable, then that child will not have sins imputable to them. If there is no possible way for them to intellectually understand the difference between good and evil (sin and righteousness) then there is no imputation of guilt. James 4:17 declares “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” The clear implication is that to someone who does not know to do good, because they have not yet reached the state wherein they can know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, to them it is not sin. If, as in Isaiah 8:4, a child does not even have “knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother” then they have no ability to discern between right and wrong.
I John 3:4 declares “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” That word committeth means to make or do. Thus, anyone who maketh or doeth sin transgresseth the law. The Apostle goes on to say that sin is the transgression of the law. But Romans 4:15 declares “…where no law is, [there is] no transgression.” If a child is too young to understand the law written in their hearts, minds, and consciences, then they can be said to be without law. Thus, where no law is, there is no transgression (or imputation of any transgression).
Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Genesis 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Before Adam fell, he had not yet become as One of the divine Persons in the Triune Godhead (the Lord Jesus Christ) to know good and evil. Before His fallen state, he had no sin imputed to him. However, after the fall, when he did indeed become as One of the Triune Godhead, to know good and evil, sin was imputed to him in the sense that he became a sinner and he, his progeny, and the world as a whole was cursed as a result (though I believe that Adam himself was covered under the blood of Christ, being saved by grace). But the infant is said to have no knowledge between good and evil, so their state is as Adam before the fall (not intrinsically, but legally, in the sense of guilt not being imputed to them though the nature of Adam is still theirs); they are innocent to use the biblical term as I aim to prove below. However, before I address the matter of innocence, I want to consider some foundational matters.
The Spiritual Symbolism of Deuteronomy 1:39
A second factor in my change of stance pertains to the symbolism in Deuteronomy 1:39. In this portion of Deuteronomy, God revealed who it was that would enter into the Promised Land. Previous to verse 39, God declared that “Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land… Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him will I give the land that he hath trodden upon, and to his children, because he hath wholly followed the LORD.” God goes on to state “Joshua the son of Nun… he shall go in thither… for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.” We then see in verse 39 that Caleb and Joshua go in with the “little ones, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil.”
I believe that the fact that these children went into the Promised Land, having been given the land and made to possess it, typifies the elect entering into the spiritual Promised Land — the new Heavens and the new Earth. We learned that Moses could not enter into the earthly Promised land (symbolic of the fact that the law, which Moses typified, could not bring anyone into Heaven). We also learned that Caleb and his children entered into the land. Caleb’s name means dog (Strong’s H3612); Caleb is the son of Jephunneh whose name means he will be prepared or turned. Caleb and his children represent those spiritual dogs who “eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table;” in other words, they represent the elect who have been made to see their sinful state, their filthy, doggish nature, and who have been prepared and turned by the effectual working of God, being quickened and converted by Him. We see that Joshua entered the land as well; he is a mighty picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who leads His elect (both his turned and prepared dogs and those little children who know not good or evil) into Heaven. When we consider Deuteronomy 1:35-39 spiritually, God is giving us assurance that (a) those older children and adults who have been regenerated and converted by His sovereign grace and (b) those infants who die (being too young to distinguish between good and evil) will be brought into Heaven by His divine election and sovereign grace.
Another factor pertains to Jonah 4:10-11, wherein we read:
Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and [also] much cattle?
In this passage, God gives as a reason for sparing Nineveh the fact that there were 120,000 people that lacked the capacity to discern between their right hand and their left hand. I believe that this ties-in with the inability to choose between the good (right-hand) and the evil (left-hand); thus, God is sparing the great city because of those who lack real culpability (despite having that sin nature inherited from Adam). If God gives their lack of discernment as a reason for sparing them temporally, I think it safe to say that He eternally spares those who die in that state for the same reasons.
Neither Having Done Any Good Or Any Evil
Let’s look at Romans 9:10-13 carefully: “10…but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, [even] by our father Isaac; 11 (For [the children] being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Notice that God is addressing the state of Jacob and Esau after Rebecca had conceived but before they were either (a) born or (b) guilty of committing evil. They were in a state of innocence, neither doing good or doing evil (neither knowing to choose the good or to refuse the evil). We see that from conception to birth, God does not deem infants as doing evil (despite their having inherited a sin nature from Adam) and I believe that extends until they learn to discern between good and evil. It is not until they reach the age to know good from evil — and then choose the evil (in thought, word, deed, or abstention) — that sin is imputed to them.
Some may point to Psalm 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” to prove that children not only have a sin nature but actually sin from the womb. However, I believe this is hyperbolic language meant to emphasise the state of the wicked and not their literal activity. This passage is no more stating that infants literally speak or lie the moment they leave the womb than Job 31:16-18 is stating that Job guided the orphans and widows literally from his mother’s womb.
Job 31:16 “If I have withheld the poor from [their] desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; 17 Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; 18 (For from my youth he was brought up with me, as [with] a father, and I have guided her from my mother’s womb).”
But what about my previous argument? What about those newborns, infants, toddlers, and those in the womb who perished during the Noahic flood. What of those who died in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, the other Canaanitish cities, Israel, Babylon, etc. If they were not spared the physical wrath and death that came about when God passed judgment on people, why would one think that he would spare them from eternal judgment? My answer is simple — remember the thief on the cross! The Lord Jesus spared the elect malefactor eternally, but he still suffered not only the agony of being crucified — but the agony of having his legs broken while crucified. Eternal salvation does not equate to being spared from temporal judgments, pain, sickness, or even death in this life; just look at Samson. The fact that one dies painfully, even under God-ordained temporal judgments, does not mean that a person is not a child of God. Just as the elect thief suffered but was nonetheless eternally saved, I believe that those who die before knowing to do the good and to refuse the evil are likewise children of God — without regard to the manner in which they died.
Consider also the following verses from Ezekiel 16 (emphasis added):
20 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. [Is this] of thy whoredoms a small matter, 21 That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through [the fire] for them?
Note that these sacrificed children were usually newborns, or at least infants; notice that God calls them my children. What a wonder; God is calling them His children. I looked for other passages wherein the precise phrase “My Children” was used of God and found none. I do not want to read too much into this, but I do not want to minimize or diminish it either. In light of everything above, His calling them My children evidences to me that despite their horrible end in this life — they know only eternal bliss in the Life above.
In II Samuel 12:23, King David said of his son (who died shortly after birth in direct relation to the sin of David and Bathsheba) “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” I believe that this passage teaches that David fully expected to see his son in Heaven upon his own death, though his son would not be brought back to life on earth during David’s lifetime. David was not stating, as some suggest, that he shall go to him in the grave (the argument being that his eventual dying and being buried was what was in view and not his going to Heaven). Nor was he stating that he would be going to him in Hell, for David knew that Hell was not his portion. So we see clearly that despite the nature and circumstances of his death, David’s young child went to Heaven where David was to follow and meet with him again.
Consider the words of Job:
Job 3:9 Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but [have] none; neither let it see the dawning of the day: 10 Because it shut not up the doors of my [mother’s] womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes. 11 Why died I not from the womb? [why] did I [not] give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? 12 Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck? 13 For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, 14 With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; 15 Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: 16 Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants [which] never saw light. 17 There the wicked cease [from] troubling; and there the weary be at rest. 18 [There] the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. 19 The small and great are there; and the servant [is] free from his master.
In the above passage, Job clearly wished he had died in the womb or at least soon after birth. Did he wish this because he believed infants who die as such go to Hell and he wanted to follow thereafter? Was he so weary from his trials that he wished he would have been born stillborn and to have just gone to Hell? Of course not! Job knew that his Redeemer liveth and simply wanted to die young, sparing him from this sin-cursed life. He wanted to go where there was (a) quiet; (b) rest; (c) a cessation of the wicked’s troubling; (d) a cessation of the voice of the oppressor; and (e) no more bondage to self and sin (the natural masters of fallen men).
Job understood that those who die in infancy were spared many of the problems of this life, having gone to Heaven to be with the Lord. This is what he wished for his own self in light of internal sin and external trouble.
I stated above that I wanted to address the issue of innocency as it relates to infants. Consider the following passages:
Jeremiah 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire [for] burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake [it], neither came [it] into my mind:
Psalm 106:37 Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, 38 And shed innocent blood, [even] the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.
In both passages, the Hebrew word for innocent is naqiy (naw-kee — Strong’s number H5355); it literally means: blameless, clean, clear, exempted, free, guiltless, innocent, quit. It comes from the root Hebrew word (Strong’s H5352) transliterated as naqah (naw-kaw’); it is a verb meaning to be (or make) clean (literally or figuratively). In the AV/KJV it is translated as to be clear, free, guiltless, blameless, etc.
Some may argue that only a secular, legal sense is meant by the terms innocent, guiltless, blameless, etc. Though this could be true in some instances of the use of the term, the totality of the evidence rules against such an interpretation here. Remember, the same ones called innocent are also called by God: My children. They are not described as being innocent of particular crimes or sins — but innocent, blameless, or guiltless in general. God is declaring that these children, His children, are blameless. I believe that what is true for the children sacrificed is true for all such children who die in infancy.
We read in Job 4:7 “Remember, I pray thee, who [ever] perished, being innocent (naqiy)? or where were the righteous cut off?” I do not believe that infants, who die as such, eternally perish. I do not believe any of them are cut off from the kingdom of God. In Christ, these innocents are deemed righteous. they are not righteous in and of themselves — they bear Adam’s natural stamp. But in Christ, they are made righteous — being chosen in Him from before the foundation of the world. Although it could be a study in itself, note that the word innocent/naqiy/H5355 is often yoked together with the word righteous — as we read in:
Exodus 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent (naqiy) and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
Job 22:19 The righteous see [it], and are glad: and the innocent (naqiy) laugh them to scorn.
Psalm 94:21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent (naqiy) blood.
From King David to John the Baptist
In Psalm 22:9-10, King David declares “But thou [art] he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope [when I was] upon my mother’s breasts. 10 I was cast on You from the womb, from My mother’s belly, You are My God.”
Although I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is primarily in view here, we cannot discount the fact that what the Lord Jesus fulfills in essence, King David typified in time. What King David experienced as a historic parable was a precursor, a shadow, of what the Lord Himself experienced. Thus, though the Lord Jesus Christ was the one who was cast upon the Father from the womb, I have no doubt that God cast David upon Him from the womb as well. I believe He did the same for Jeremiah and many others. We see another clear picture of this with John the Baptist.
Luke 1:39-44 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed [art] thou among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence [is] this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
Here we see that a babe in the womb, when he heard the salutation of Mary, leaped with joy over the Messiah. I think it safe to say here that the Holy Spirit taught him, gave him understanding, enabling him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ from such a very young age. He was cast upon God even though he was no doubt not yet old enough to discern between his right-hand and his left. Even when John the Baptist came to an age wherein he was mentally capable and culpable of committing sin, and even though he did commit sin like all of the sons of Adam by nature, nonetheless — He was a child of God. He still fell into sin, still needed a Redeemer, but He was quickened of God, kept of God and taught of God. When he grew to adulthood, he did not become a Pharisee, Sadducee, pagan, or anything else of the sort; instead, he grew up faithful because God put a hedge about him and kept him faithful.
I want to make clear that my understanding is different from those who use infant salvation to push the deadly error of regeneration without Gospel conversion as it pertains to those who are able to discern between good and evil. In the Bible, those with such capacity and culpability are always converted by God upon regeneration. God always gives faith and repentance to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and to believe the Gospel being proclaimed. I reject the foolish notion that God regenerates people that are of an age and ability wherein they can discern their right hand from their left, good from evil, but never converts them. To use infants, who cannot so discern, to argue that those who can discern may nonetheless remain unconverted for quite some time, or even all of their lives, is utterly ridiculous.
Those too young or infirmed to ever have the ability to discern between good and evil have no notion of false religion or false gospels from which others must repent. If they die in such a state, they die as His children. For those amongst the elect who are ordained to grow to an age and state wherein they are able to discern between good and evil (and thus have sins imputed to them), He covers them as well — forgiving those sins by his blood and nailing that nature to the cross. He causes them to repent from their sins, including the sin of false religion and enables them to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth by His effectual working.
This is contrary to the foolishness put forth by some, who argue that a person can be regenerate but remain an Arminian, Romanist, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. for large portions (or all) of their so-called ‘regenerate’ lives. If a person is truly elect of God, God will both regenerate and convert them (this is true salvation and it is a near simultaneous event); of course, if they are not elect, they will perish in their false religion and other sins. The thought that God would regenerate, but leave unconverted, those whom are of an age to discern between good and evil is completely without biblical warrant — it is a most damnable doctrine.
All who die as “infants” (unborn, newborn, infants, many toddlers, and those who have the mental capability/culpability of such due to a severe, permanent mental handicap from that young age) are elect of God. They lack the culpability necessary to have their sins imputed to them, and have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them instead (guaranteeing them all aspects of salvation). As with all of the elect, there sin nature was dealt with by the finished work of Christ on the cross. However, despite being eternally safe and secure in Christ, many of them are not spared the temporal pains and anguishes of this, albeit short, sin-cursed life. Though they may suffer from the judgements that come upon their lands and relatives, they will not endure the eternal fate of their reprobate kinsman. God brings all of His little children home for He suffers the little children, and forbids them not, to come unto Him: for indeed of such is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14).
When God declares “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein;” He isn’t just speaking fluff. When He stated that “such is the Kingdom of Heaven” he was not stating that literal infants weren’t really included. The Lord Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom was indeed made up of such little children — in numbers that no man can count. Moreover, God is stating that the older amongst His elect, those with the mental wherewithal to know good from evil, must (by His grace) receive the Kingdom in the same helpless, needy, impotent way that the younger elect (those dying as little children) receive it — completely without their own aid, input, works, intents, egos, etc. — just helpless, (otherwise) hopeless, dependant, trusting, and loving — all by the eternal love, grace, and mercy of God.
To God alone be the Glory