June 01, 2008 Q & A

Salvation of Infants


What is the historical Reformed View on the salvation of infants and other individuals that are unable mentally to make a sound profession of faith, and what is the OPC view on the same?


Your question concerning the Reformed view on the salvation of infants and other persons unable to make a sound profession of faith is profoundly important. Virtually all of the great Reformed theologians have considered this question and while they have differed in some respects, from each other, they have been of one mind on something of great importance. Let me deal with the latter first, and then with the former.

It is the Reformed faith alone, among the various theological systems, that is consistent. It is consistent in saying that all people, because of the fall of the human race in Adam its head, are inherently depraved by nature and therefore unable to do anything to save themselves. We tend to think of infants as helpless, while we - as adults - are not helpless. But the truth is that in the spiritual realm, having to do with our relationship with the true God, we are just as helpless as infants (or mentally handicapped adults). It is for this reason that the Reformed faith says salvation - in every part and in every respect - is of God. He regenerates us so that we are enabled to respond to the gospel by way of repentance and faith (read Ephesians chapter 2, where it says "we were dead" until God "quickened" us. Quickened means to make alive). So, while it is true that God calls us to respond to the free offer of salvation in the gospel, it is also God - and God alone, God without any assistance from us - who "opens the eyes of our understanding" (Ephesians 1:18) so that we can "see" and "enter" the Kingdom (John 3:3 & 5).

In other systems of theology or doctrine the source of conversion is commonly divided between God and man. In such systems it is even common to think that man - by his own natural and unaided ability - makes the first move. It is said that by his own free will he must first decide to repent and believe, and then - and only then - and on that basis he will be saved. The trouble here is one that your own question suggests as a big problem. If salvation is partly a result of our own initiative then what hope is there for those who do not have the ability to take the initiative. This is a huge problem for other types of theology. But it is no problem at all for Reformed theology. Why? Because there is no difference at all with respect to ability to initiate anything whatsoever pertaining to salvation. And since it is God alone who chooses whomsoever he will to be saved (Romans 9:10-19), and since their salvation has its beginning in his act of regenerating them (John 3:1-8), there is no reason whatever to think that infants or other handicapped people are shut out of God's sovereign salvation. That is why our Confession of Faith [10:3] says "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word."

On this we are all agreed. The difference comes in the area of speculation: how many of those who are infants, dying in infancy, or otherwise incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word will God save? It is the conviction of the writer of these paragraphs that we simply do not know. Some theologians of high reputation and solid orthodoxy have held that God will probably save all such persons. This may be true. But I have never tried to make this a part of my authoritative teaching for the simple reason that I cannot prove it to be so from the Bible. However, I am happy to say teach that it is on the basis of Reformed doctrine alone that we have any solid ground or basis to even hope for such. And there is the irony: Calvinism, or the Reformed Faith, is often characterized as being harsh or narrow. Yet in the final analysis it is this doctrine only that gives reason to hope for those who are helpless.

Thank you for this weighty question. And may he bless this attempt to give a simple biblical answer.



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