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The Salvation of Infants (1)

Limbo is a thing; but it is a fond thing, vainly invented.

In the Reformed tradition, on the other hand, there is a strong strand that affirms the salvation of all those who die in infancy. In this and future posts, we will look at some representative examples.

Why does speculation on limbo exist? Limbo, and in particular for the purposes of this series, the limbus infantium, tries to reckon seriously with the effect of original sin, and its resultant liability to condemnation, on all men. Unfortunately, it does not reckon seriously enough with the grace of God, the character of the atonement, or the relation of sacraments to the application of redemption.

Thus Charles Hodge, in a section on the “Insufficiency of Natural Theology” in the second chapter (“Theology”) of the first volume of his Systematic Theology, affirms the belief in the universal salvation of all deceased babies via a reading of Romans 5 and the theological inner logic of the Scriptural teaching about God’s grace and favor toward sinners. He claims, moreover, that this belief about infants–this settled conviction, grounded not in sentiment but in reflection on the revelation of the divine mercy–is the “common doctrine of evangelical Protestants,” in contradistinction to “the doctrine of Romanists and Romanizers.”

And it is indeed noteworthy how wide Hodge makes the mercy of God with respect to those under condemnation for sin, and the way in which he takes this mercy to be founded upon the very nature of God himself, for whom it is “more congenial…to bless than to curse, to save than to destroy.” Thus his mercy and grace outstrip all other considerations, whether of baptism, of parentage, or of anything else.

Hodge writes:

A. What the Scriptures teach as to the Salvation of Men. Salvation of Infants.

What the Scriptures teach on this subject, according to the common doctrine of evangelical Protestants is first: —

1. All who die in infancy are saved. This is inferred from what the Bible teaches of the analogy between Adam and Christ. “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many (οἱ πολλοί = πάντες) were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many (οἱ πολλοί = πάντες) be made righteous.” (Rom. v. 18, 19.) We have no right to put any limit on these general terms, except what the Bible itself places upon them. The Scriptures nowhere exclude any class of infants, baptized or unbaptized, born in Christian or in heathen lands, of believing or unbelieving parents, from the benefits of the redemption of Christ. All the descendants of Adam, except Christ, are under condemnation; all the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved. This appears to be the clear meaning of the Apostle, and therefore he does not hesitate to say that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, that the benefits of redemption far exceed the evils of the fall; that the number of the saved far exceeds the number of the lost.

This is not inconsistent with the declaration of our Lord, in Matthew vii. 14, that only a few enter the gate which leadeth unto life. This is to be understood of adults. What the Bible says is intended for those in all ages, to whom it is addressed. But it is addressed to those who can either read or hear. It tells them what they are to believe and do. It would be an entire perversion of its meaning to make it apply to those to whom and of whom it does not speak. When it is said, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John iii. 36), no one understands this to preclude the possibility of the salvation of infants.

Not only, however, does the comparison, which the Apostle makes between Adam and Christ, lead to the conclusion that as all 27 are condemned for the sin of the one, so all are saved by the righteousness of the other, those only excepted whom the Scriptures except; but the principle assumed throughout the whole discussion teaches the same doctrine. That principle is that it is more congenial with the nature of God to bless than to curse, to save than to destroy. If the race fell in Adam, much more shall it be restored in Christ. If death reigned by one, much more shall grace reign by one. This “much more” is repeated over and over. The Bible everywhere teaches that God delighteth not in the death of the wicked; that judgment is his strange work. It is, therefore, contrary not only to the argument of the Apostle, but to the whole spirit of the passage (Romans v. 12-21), to exclude infants from “the all” who are made alive in Christ.

The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feeling. He evidently looked upon them as the lambs of the flock for which, as the good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands. Of such He tells us is the kingdom of heaven, as though heaven was, in great measure, composed of the souls of redeemed infants. It is, therefore, the general belief of Protestants, contrary to the doctrine of Romanists and Romanizers, that all who die in infancy are saved.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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