A reader writes concerning infants who die in infancy. He wonders whether all these infants are saved, as some teach. He refers to a number of passages in Scripture which might seem to teach this. These passages are Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20; Jeremiah 32:18-19; Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; Jonah 4:10-11; Matthew 25:45-46; II Samuel 12:15-23; II Samuel 18:29-19:5 and II Kings 4:26.
We will consider these passages in this and following issues of the News and answer the general question: Are all those who die in infancy saved?
The first passage is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20: “The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die ... The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
Appealing to these verses, the questioner writes, “The idea seems to be that the sin referred to here is the act of someone who is old enough to sin consciously and wilfully, whereas a child who dies in infancy has not lived to manifest sin in its life nor consciously reject God in unbelief. It is therefore concluded that such an infant must be elect, redeemed and regenerated, and in heaven. Is this what the passage is teaching?”
There are two points that must be cleared up before I enter into the meaning of the text. The first point is that I am assuming that the questioner is referring to all infants who are born in covenant lines, that is, from covenant families. I presume the questioner does not refer to all infants in the entire world. That was an idea taught by Ulrich Zwingli, the sixteenth-century Swiss Reformer and contemporary of Luther. Zwingli, though correct in many of his views over against Roman Catholicism, was nevertheless also under the influence of the humanism of Erasmus. I do not know how widespread this idea is today. It is probably more widespread than I realize, but it certainly is not the teaching of Scripture.
The second point is related to the first. We must not forget the doctrine of original sin. All children are conceived and born in sin. Their total depravity is the punishment of God upon them for their responsibility for sinning in Adam. All children can justly be punished for this original sin alone. No child has to sin in his or her own life and be guilty of unbelief to deserve hell; the child deserves hell for his or her original sin. This is clearly taught in Romans 5:12-14 and Psalm 51:5. If the questioner means that a child has to go to heaven because he or she has not yet manifested “sin in [his or her] life nor consciously reject[ed] God in unbelief,” the reasoning is false.
If this is the reasoning of the questioner, there is blatant contradiction in the argument. On the one hand, it is argued that infants have to have sinned in order to be punished, but on the other hand, it is asserted, “an infant must be elect, redeemed, and regenerated, and in heaven.” A child without sin need not be redeemed and regenerated; it is already sinless. It needs not the blood of atonement.
But if the meaning of the questioner is: The child is sinful from conception and birth and needs redemption and regeneration as well as any adult, but is saved if it dies in infancy, the question immediately pushes itself to the foreground: Why? Why should Christ die for all infants who die in infancy, when He did not die for all men head for head? There are inherent problems with this position.
The main teaching of Ezekiel 18 is that the complaint of the children of Israel that they are being punished for the sins of their fathers is merely sinful self-justification—an insufficient and pathetic excuse. God does not punish anyone for the sins of someone else, not even in the line of generations.
Let it first of all be understood that there is a sense in which the sins of fathers in the line of generations reappear in the children “unto the third and fourth generation” (Ex. 20:5). God specifically states in this, the second, commandment: “[I will visit] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” That is punishment for those who worship graven images. God clearly explains that it is those children “that hate me” who are punished. It is a general rule that parents who do not give their children proper covenant instruction in the truth of Scripture and in a walk that is a manifestation of a covenant relation to God, see their children drift away from the church and live more and more like the world. God indeed visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. Jeremiah confesses, “Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities” (Lam. 5:7). Nevertheless, the children bear their fathers’ iniquities, not simply the punishment of their iniquities. And so they are punished for their own sins—even if they learned these sins from their fathers, even if they have carried the sins of their fathers to greater extremes of wickedness.
God’s insistence in Ezekiel 18 is that Judah is not being punished for the sins of their fathers while they were innocent. (Ezekiel was writing to the captives in Babylon who were muttering this complaint and trying to justify themselves by claiming that Jehovah had put them into captivity for the sins of their fathers.) “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Eze. 18:4). God is always justified in all that He does. His judgment is always just and always for the sins of the individual.
Now the question is: “May we conclude from this that the children of these people went to heaven?” That is a conclusion that goes far beyond the text and has no basis in the text at all. Unless, unless ... unless these infants who die in infancy had no sin of their own. But then we must deny original sin. That we cannot do.
Ezekiel 18:20 emphasizes the same thought: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” That is, a righteous person shall be rewarded for his own righteousness, and a wicked person shall be punished for his own wickedness.
We will consider Jeremiah 32:18-19 and other texts next time (DV).
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 18
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
Address725 Baldwin Dr. B-25
State or ProvinceMI