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Infant Salvation

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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On this question most Christians will agree with the following statements: "The great consideration which leads to a solution of the case of persons dying in infancy is found in Romans 5:18, Therefore, as by the offense 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.' In these words, the sin of Adam and the merits of Christ are pronounced to be co-extensive; the words applied to both are precisely the same, judgment came upon all men,' the free gift came upon all men.' If the whole human race be meant in the former clause, the whole human race is meant in the latter also; and-it follows that as all are injured by the offence of Adam, so all are benefited by the obedience of Christ. Whatever, therefore, that benefit may be, all children dying in infancy must partake of it, or there would be a large portion of the human race upon whom the free gift,' the effects of the righteousness of one,' did not come,' which is contrary to the apostle's words" (Watson, Institutes, 2, 57).

"Theologians have pursued two different methods in treating of this subject. (a.) Some are content with saying that God will pardon and save infants on account of the merits of Christ, which extend to all, although they may not have believed in Christ during their lifetime; and that their being born with natural depravity will not harm them, because they themselves are not to blame for it. These writers refer to Romans 5:15-17 for an analogous proceeding. This is the most simple and safest view. (b.) Others, misunderstanding the passage Mark 16:16, suppose that faith in Christ is an indispensable requisite for salvation in all men, and have therefore (together with some schoolmen) embraced the doctrine of faith of infants, which they have variously explained and described as fides praesumpta, implicita, per baptismum m sine verbo (some say sine cognitione) inftsa; talis affectio in infante qualis Deo placeat. The schoolmen describe it as dispositio adjustitiam. But none of them succeed in conveying any intelligible idea. Nothing is said in the N.T. about such a faith. Faith always presupposes knowledge and power to exercise the understanding. Now, since children have neither of these requisites, faith cannot be ascribed to them; nor, indeed, disbelief, unless the word is used very improperly. The mere want of faith is not damnable, but unbelief only, or the guilty destitution of faith. Those who have adopted this view have thus been compelled (as appears from the preceding remarks) to vary the idea which is uniformly attached to the word faith where adults are referred to, as soon as they speak of children, and call something in them by this name which is nowhere else so denominated. The passage Matthew 18:6, does not bear upon this point, since the-disciples of Christ are there meant. (See BAPTISM). From the words of Christ, however, Matthew 19:14, Of such is the kingdom of God,' it is clear that he considers children as belonging to his kingdom. And this is enough" (Knapp, Theology, p. 423).

Calvin, who laid particular stress on infant baptism in harmony with the other leading reformers, held that "it is no small injustice to the covenant of God if we do not rely upon it as sufficient of itself, since the fulfillment depends not on baptism or anything adventitious. It is alleged there is danger lest a child who is sick, and dies without baptism, should be deprived of the grace of regeneration. This I can by no means admit. God pronounces that he adopts our infants as his children before they are born, when he promises that he will be a God to us, and to our seed after us. This promise includes their salvation. Nor will any dare to offer such an insult to God as to deny the sufficiency of his promise to insure its own accomplishment. The reception of an opinion, that all who happen to die without baptism are lost, makes our condition worse than that of the ancient Israelites, as though' the grace of God were more restricted now than it was under law; it leads to the conclusion that Christ came, not to fulfill the promises, but to abolish them; since the promise, which at that time was of itself sufficiently efficacious to insure salvation before the eighth day, would have no validity now without the assistance of the sign." What Calvin here says is so clear, positive, and decided, and so entirely free from the least ambiguity, that he cannot be misunderstood.

Of late years a controversy has arisen in the "Reformed Church" as to the doctrines which she really promulgates on this point, and, as a result, we think we may justly send forth the following: "We still hold on to the old faith of the Church, that the sacraments are sealing ordinances, and feel as confident as ever that God will remain true to his promise, and save the children of the covenant, though they should die without its seal." Indeed, it seems almost impossible for the "Reformed Church" to take any other ground, since one of her founders and great theological, teachers, Ursinus, held not only in the case of infants, but also in the case of all God's reasoning creatures, that "not all those who are not baptized are excluded from the grace of Christ; for not the want, but the contempt of baptism, excludes men from the covenant of God, made with the faithful and their children." (Compare articles in the Ref. Ch. Messenger, March 4, 1868; March 11,1868).

One of the greatest arguments against the salvation of children not baptized, which has been advanced, is, that the rite of baptism is essential to covenantship, provided the parents had not by peculiar' circumstances been prevented from attending to' this duty. But this point does not seem to be well taken, for among the Israelites circumcision did not admit their children into covenant with God, as they were in that covenant by birth. Circumcision was merely the sign or seal of the covenant, without which they could not be recognized as being of the people of God. So Christian children are included in the covenant with Christ; but the rite of baptism is their natural sign and seal of that covenant, and without it they cannot be considered, as belonging to the visible followers of Christ. See, besides the authorities already referred to, Wesley, Works, 5, 377; Mercersb. Rev. 1860, p. 387 sq.; Meth. Quar. Rev. 1859, p. 632; 1864, p. 517 sq., 552 sq.; 1865, p.81; 1870, p. 290; Fairchild. Are Infants elected (Tract of the Presb. Ch. No. 229); McConoughy, Are Infants saved (Presb. Ch. Tract No. 132); Children in Heaven (Phila. 1865, Presb. Board of Publ.), p. 352; Christian Examiner, 4:431; 5 229, 310; Russell, Ons Infant Salvation (London, 1822, 12mo); Harris, Hope for Salvation of all dying in Infancy (Lond. 1822, 8vo); Doddridge, Lectures on Divinity, Lect. 168.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Infant Salvation'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​i/infant-salvation.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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