Do Babies Automatically
By: K. B. Napier
King David fasted for a long time in sackcloth and ashes, praying constantly. The reason was that God had struck down the baby conceived out of an illegitimate union between David and Bathsheba. But then, as soon as the child was dead, David stopped what he was doing, cleaned himself up, and worshipped in the temple. His courtiers could not understand, so David explained his actions...while the child was still alive, who knew whether or not God would spare its life?
“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.” Those who believe all aborted babies and children ‘up to the age of responsibility’ (usually held to be about seven years of age) go to heaven, use this text as a proof text. They believe it ‘proves’ their case. Unfortunately, many reformed men teach this as fact. They cannot see that such a belief undermines the whole basis of salvation.
Time and again, this author has found a fatal flaw in the thinking of a large number of reformed preachers and teachers. This consists of mixing the thinking of theologians and tradition with the plain declarations of scripture. For example, the theologian Berkhof is a favourite amongst the reformed churches. For myself, I have read his Systematic Theology and have to be selective in what I pick up from him. This is because, simply, a number of his conclusions are wrong. But, there are those who slavishly accept whatever he says. This is dangerous.
The text above, taken from 2 Samuel 12:23, in conjunction with the conclusions of such theologians as Berkhof, is supposed to mean babies and very young children automatically go to heaven. After all, it is argued, if David was ‘saved’ (favoured by God and went to heaven), and he is saying that he will ‘go to him’ (the baby) then it MUST mean the baby is in heaven! This kind of logic defies rational thought, because it misses out several vital steps of deduction. It does not make sense.
The actual text only says the obvious...that the child was dead and cannot return to David, but David will one day die like the child. Nothing more. The words ‘I shall go’ (halak) mean just that – but can bear the meaning of dying or departing. (It is similar to yalak, which can also bear the idea of dying). This is what the whole context is saying – whilst the child is incapable of being alive, David will eventually die and be in a like state. To make it mean the child was taken to heaven is an extrapolation. It is also a denial of the very core of Biblical teaching on salvation.
Why? Well, saying that someone (albeit a child) can enter heaven without knowing salvation, immediately flies in the face of election and the requirements of salvation set down by the Lord Himself. Only those who are elect will be saved. Those who are saved must hear the Gospel preached and must know regeneration and repentance. We are told that these elements are absolutely necessary for salvation, and that salvation is absolutely necessary for one to enter heaven. Yet, believers in children going to heaven simply because they are children who have not reached the age of responsibility, say they enter heaven (a) because they are not responsible, and (b) because God foreknew they would have been saved if they had lived long enough! This latter pretext is an alarming lack of reformed judgement.
What is wrong with these two pretexts. Well, firstly, they are pretexts devised to uphold a human theory, and not actual Biblical teachings. Secondly, even a child in the womb is held accountable by Almighty God. We see a tiny bundle of joy and have an emotional attachment to a child even before it is born. Obviously, we want the very best for our children and shudder to think they might not be saved. This is where many fail in their judgement (the same happens in the case of the very old – when mere greatness of age somehow transforms a person into an angelic being, even if he or she was a terrible sinner when younger!). We approach this subject with our emotions. God does not. He cannot, because God is not emotional! He has no human emotions, though He certainly understands them. His state is perfect and without emotional liability. Our state is flawed and sinful, and very often we cannot ‘think straight’ because of our emotions.
Conceived in Sin
Children, from conception, are sinners. And scripture says that an unsaved sinner cannot enter heaven. In God’s word this is immutable and unchangeable. Our emotions do not enter the equation. Read scripture and see the true state of babies – God does not see the age of a person who dies. He only sees their state. Children are sinners from conception.
On the subject of the sinful nature of us all, David wrote (Psalm 58):
“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”
Having no emotional hang-up about the age of a person, David’s response is blunt:
“Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth...let them melt away... let them be cut in pieces...let (every one of them) pass away; (like) the untimely birth of a woman, (that) they may not see the sun...”
David is, then, asking God to cut short a life in the womb, that the wicked should not even be born, to ravage society and wreak havoc. (Remember, this is God’s word). He said this because he knew the true state of children. At birth, a child is destined to sin! Within him is the seed of evil that can show as a Hitler or, after salvation, as a Spurgeon. Look at Isaiah 48:8:
“...for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.”
That is God speaking, through Isaiah! To suggest that this is only foreknowledge is to misunderstand God and election. God foreknows, because He has predestined! Even if we concede that God foreknows that a child would have been saved if he had lived – we are saying that every such child would have been saved! This denies the actuality of life – for God says only a very small remnant will be saved in every age. To say that every child would have been saved is unbelievable. Also, to think that every child had the possibility of being saved, is heresy, for it fully rejects election!
John the Baptist is said to be ‘proof’ that all children go to heaven, because he was filled with the Spirit from the womb. This is yet another extrapolation from a very special case. What we are told is that John was elected to be the last of the Old Testament prophets – the greatest, according to Jesus – who would herald the coming of the Messiah at that time in history.
Isaiah was also elected in the same way: “The LORD hath called me from the womb...” (Isaiah 49:1). This does not mean such a man is born sinless - it means he has been marked out, elected for a very special purpose. Though elected, he still had to live righteously. To say that such men were born sinless is to reject the fact of man’s total and utter depravity, as taught in scripture. Only the Lord Jesus Christ was born sinless.
Can you see the problem with saying a child can enter heaven without first having his sin dealt with and his earthly salvation assured? The problem is that we then make that child equal with Christ, sinless and without corruption. Scripture tells us that, apart from Adam and Eve, only Jesus was born sinless.
Some to Salvation, Some to Destruction
There is no way that we can spiritualise and extrapolate from the very specific to the very general! God can do whatever He wishes, and those instances when He called men from the womb to be His servants are very rare and totally unique. For the most part He declares that men are sinners from conception and must bear the consequences of that sin.
In Jeremiah 1:5 we see what is echoed in the New Testament – that God predestines a man to be His: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before though camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, (and) I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Yet, this man who was so elected, grew to know much sorrow and feared God’s wrath: “...he slew me not from the womb...” (20:17) and “...came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (20:18). The only thing that stood between Jeremiah’s destruction and his being acceptable to God, was God’s election.
Remember Pharaoh? Scripture tells us that he was a marked man, elected to destruction! So, if such a man dies in infancy, does he enter heaven? No, he does not! These instances prove the frailty and error of the case – they certainly do not support the idea that all children go to heaven...any child who enters heaven does so only if he has been elected and he has, in his tender years, been born again.
To be ‘born again’ is to be born naturally, and then, when one has heard and considered the gospel message, is saved. Look at John 3, verse 3. Jesus said: “...Except (or, ‘unless’) a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (The word ‘cannot’ means, he is ‘incapable of’). And in verse 7 He says, “Marvel not that I say unto thee, Ye must be born again.” This is no choice and there are no alternatives. Jesus prefixed this statement with ‘verily, verily’, meaning, ‘of a truth’...’listen to this – it is a command without retraction’.
Born Again – an Imperative, not a Choice
The word ‘must’ is an imperative and it is therefore not negotiable. It is the word dei and, in this context, means ‘it is necessary’ or, ‘it is necessary to achieve some end’ (i.e. salvation). This is reinforced by another meaning given by the Greek text itself – ‘necessity established by the counsel and decree of God, especially as it relates to salvation’. With such a clear teaching, how can a reformed man possibly deny it, and say that children under the ‘age of responsibility’ automatically go to heaven? When we search the scriptures we dare not interleave our own well-meant interpretations with the actual meanings of the words used in the texts.
That this command – to be born again – is an imperative is reinforced even further by the root-word for dei (which is the third person singular active present). The root is deo, which means to bind, fasten; to be under an obligation e.g. of the law. The word ‘must’, then, prohibits any leeway in interpretation. So, when the Lord says we must be born again, He meant it to apply to all men of any age at any time. There are no exceptions, not even the tiniest of children.
Later in verse 15 Jesus defines who would enter heaven: “...whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This ‘whoever’ is the same ‘whoever’ found in verse 16. These are the ‘born again’ ones mentioned in earlier verses. Now, how can a child who is under the so-called ‘age of responsibility’ possibly ‘believeth in him’? Do you really know what ‘believeth in him’ means? The actual Greek for ‘believeth’, pisteuo, means to be committed to, or to put one’s trust in something/someone. That is, to think something is true, by being persuaded enough to have confidence in it. This includes all aspects of the soul, including the intellect.
Can you see that a tiny child cannot have this faith (trust)? As we ‘must’ (an imperative) be born again and believe, we have no option but to disregard the idea of children automatically going to heaven. To embrace it, is to reject a direct command of God to be born again. As we have already said, it is heresy, whether or not we hold such a view with the best of intentions. As believers we have no right to hold views that prefer to have best intentions toward men rather than toward God. Soothing the distress of a parent does not take precedence over truth, as declared by God in His word.
All of us who pastor would dearly love to spare a parent from the hard facts presented here, but we cannot. By far the best way to deal with this matter is to teach the full truth at a time when there is no loss, so that parents are prepared at least mentally if such a terrible thing as child-death occurs. However, what concerns me is when reformed men teach the automatic heaven-ward path of a small child as a sign of their own inwardly-held belief. I can partially understand the desire not to increase the burden of a bereaved parent, by saying something soothing...but to claim it to be a part of scriptural teaching is yet another matter, of gravest importance, because it totally undermines the true gospel. When a reformed man is shown the truth, he must, as a right of God, stand down, acknowledge his error, and repent of it. This is an immediate act, for to continue in error is to sin and to invite God’s wrath.
Adam’s Fall and ‘Original Sin’
In 1 Peter 1:23 we are referred to our state at conception: “Being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God...” Why do you think we are told we are born of ‘corruptible’ seed if a mere child is good enough to enter heaven without salvation? The word ‘corruptible’, phthartos, means ‘perishing’. Its root word, phtheiro, means ‘corrupt’, ‘defiled’, ‘depraved’. Its opposite is given in the text as ‘incorruptible’ (aphthartos) and this speaks of immortality, not liable to decay, cannot perish. So, we are conceived of a seed that inherently has decay and mortality within it.
What is this ‘seed’ that condemns our souls even before it starts to grow within the womb? It is what older generations used to refer to as ‘original sin’ – a concept and truth long forgotten though it rules every human being who has ever been born. In reformed circles today we have a teaching that destroys the need for Christ’s sacrifice (interestingly it is also taught on the Alpha course).
This teaching says that we go to hell because of the sinful deeds we commit on this earth. This is an outright heresy. We do not go to hell for our daily sins. We go to hell for the inborn state of Sin that causes the daily sins! This is fundamental to reformed thinking, yet it is missing! This is the ‘original’ Sin that entered the human race when Adam fell, creating an uncrossable void between Man and God.
It is this inherent Sin that Jesus died for and stood in our stead for. If daily sins sent us to hell, then no man ever born would ever enter heaven! For myself, as preacher and pastor, I make sure that those who hear me understand this vital and eternal difference. It is the very essence of the Reformation. Without it we cannot make headway.
‘Age of Responsibility’?
But, what of this ‘age of responsibility’? As we have already intimated, this is a Roman Catholic teaching, not a Biblical one. If David, the apple of God’s eye, could say “...I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me”, who are reformed men to suggest that every child is somehow free of this sin and can automatically enter heaven? If we are conceived in sin, God cannot, by His own decrees, take a child into heaven merely because he has died. It is simply not possible. That child must be born again. There are no exceptions.
Search as you may, nowhere in scripture do we find even one exception to the rule of salvation! And nowhere do we find anything that tells us a child is free of Sin. He is ‘responsible’ in the godly, legal sense, for His own Sin, from the moment he is conceived. If he is not, then every child is born sinless!
Look again at the last section and you will see that because a child is conceived with a sinful nature, it is impossible for that child to enter heaven without firstly being saved according to the ‘method’ given in God’s word, and commanded by Himself.
There is a definite pattern to salvation. Firstly, God elects who will be saved (to enter heaven). Then, at some point in history, the elect person is born into the world. Later, when that elect person has been regenerated, has heard the gospel and has repented, he is saved, or born again. He then ‘works out’ his own salvation. That is, he desires and attempts to live a holy life honouring to God. Finally, he dies and comes to know full salvation when he enters heaven. This is the pattern set out by God. Not even a small child, or an unborn infant, can break asunder what God has decreed!
The intrinsic sinfulness of men is shown in Hoseah 9:11: “(As for) Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.” Thus, Ephraim’s ‘glory’ was destroyed at conception. We see in Luke 2:23 that “Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”. In its context this refers to the Old Testament order of things, concerning males born to Hebrews, the chosen nation. Such a statement no longer applies.
See what God says about sinful men, as babies, in Hosea 2:4,5: “...I will not have mercy upon her children; for they (be) the children of whoredoms. For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully”. Note that – God Himself said He will not have mercy upon the children. Jesus said: “...Except a man be born of water and (of) the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). That is, he must be born not only physically, but spiritually. If all children go to heaven, then what of “Ye are of (your) father the devil...”? (John 8:44).
And what of David’s honest appraisal in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”? In Galatians 3:22 we see that everyone is bound by sin unless they believe: “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” In 4:1-3 the sinfulness of children is underlined: “Now I say, (That) the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But he is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.” Here the text properly combines both natural children and unsaved men (called ‘children’ in this text) as being the same – both are under the law and are bound to do the things of the world.
1 Corinthians 15 tells us that we are all born in ‘dishonour’ with ‘natural’ bodies that cannot enter heaven. How, then, can a child enter heaven merely on the merit of being under a certain age? There is no such merit or excuse given in any of scripture.
David himself was deemed justified by his faith (even though he had been elected by God)...read the whole of Hebrews 11! By definition a small child does not have faith, saving or otherwise. The idea that a child is somehow pure until he reaches the age of responsibility is Jesuit/Catholic theology, not scriptural teaching. A man is conceived and born in sin. That is what scripture says. Even when born, then, a child is held culpable for his state. A man who is unsaved does not enter heaven, whether he is unborn, one minute, or 100 years old. We might argue that God will not apply His own laws to babies, simply because they have made no conscious decision to sin. It is, of course, possible – but if it is, scripture does not tell us so.
To think otherwise is to cast God’s precious gift of salvation back into His teeth. It denies the very foundation of what salvation is. It rejects the need for Jesus Christ to die in our stead, because if only one man, as an unborn child, enters heaven without salvation, then the whole reason for the entrance into this world by God, as Messiah, is dashed to the ground.
There can be no exceptions to the rule set by God. One exception causes the entire edifice to fall. It is for these reasons that infant baptism is wrong. Baptism is an outward acknowledgement by a man that he has repented and been saved. A baby cannot do this. Only those who have heard the preaching of the gospel, understood it and been saved through it, can be baptised.
Foreknowledge and Foreordained
The second plea, that God ‘foreknows who would have been saved’, is sheer nonsense as a pretext for the salvation of unborn or very young children. Look at the root meanings of ‘foreknowledge’, ‘predestination’, and ‘election’. There you will discover very little difference in meaning! Foreknowledge is not divorced from election! Election says that God foreordained before the world was made (in eternity) those who would be saved. All others are foreordained to destruction, whether they are in the womb or out of it, and at any age. We might not like it, and we cannot reconcile it with our heart’s desire, but it is nevertheless a fact of God’s word.
With election there is no error and no guesswork. If we say that God takes a child to heaven because that child ‘might’ have been saved if it had lived, is to devalue and degrade what God says to us. Because of the fact of election no-one, absolutely no-one, ‘might’ be saved. Those who are elected WILL be saved. That little word ‘might’ enters into the heretical world of Arminianism and brings ‘free will’ to the fore, even though such a will does not, and cannot, exist. We are either of God or of Satan. We have no freedom to serve ourselves, except that false freedom, which is a bondage to sin, given by Satan to do evil!
Another kind of text used as ‘proof’ by believers in the automatic salvation of children, is found in the New Testament, where Jesus talks of ‘little children’. My friends, the texts being used are totally misinterpreted! The professionalism (intended or not) and the traditional bias of so many reformed men lead them to absurdity, causing their understanding to be dimmed on various issues. This is part of what I refer to as ‘reformationism’, and it is a dimmer of spiritual life.
Child-like, not Child-ish!
One text wrongly alluded to is Matthew 18:1. It is often used in sermons to refer to the salvation of children, but it is nothing of the sort! Jesus was using Hebrew idiomatic teaching here to illustrate something. At this time and on other occasions the disciples were debating who would be Jesus’ ‘right hand man’ in heaven. To settle the dispute Jesus called a child to His side as a visual aid.
He told them that unless they repented and turned away from their sin (be saved) they could not enter heaven. They must ‘become as little children’. So, he was referring to adults becoming like children...He was not referring to the children themselves, only to their propensity to trust. Note that they must ‘become as’. That is, become child-like (not childish), trusting Him implicitly. Without this total trust (faith) they would not enter heaven. To make this mean little children automatically enter heaven because of this trust in adults, is to extrapolate wildly.
In other New Testament texts Believers are called ‘little children’. See, for example, John 13:33, Galatians 4:19, 1 John 2:1, etc. These clearly relate to Jesus’ own words on what we must be like in order to enter heaven. A small child will jump through the air into the arms of an adult, because he trusts totally. (But, if only once the adult does not catch the child, the child will learn never again to trust that adult. This again clearly indicates that Jesus was referring to His relationship with those who are saved through the Gospel. He is the Saviour and God and can be trusted totally because He cannot ever let them down. Thus, they can trust Him as a child trusts an adult). There is a big difference between being ‘child-like’ and ‘childish’!
Arminian Denial of the Gospel
To make the texts on little children fit a particular theological stance is an error in its own right. It leads to Arminian heresy for it denies the full gospel message of God. This one error finds many other errors attached to it, too, as has been shown above. And these errors do not take into account the Roman Catholic connection!
Reformed pastors (intentionally or not) bring the truth down by believing what cannot be justified by scripture. It is a fact that they are called upon by the general populace to conduct weddings and funerals, etc. Yet, there is nothing in scripture to support such activities – a Christian pastor’s role begins and ends with his own saved fellow Believers. Pastors have no role to play in the unsaved community.
In an effort to comfort the bereaved they often say things that are unscriptural. This is particularly so if the dead person is an unborn or young child. What minister has the courage to teach what scripture says in such circumstances? I know of none! But they place themselves in this awkward position by playing pastor to people who are not even saved. They also do not teach the whole of scripture as it is written, to their own congregations. That is how they fail at vital points.
Reformed men who teach errors such as the above do not really understand the nature and way of interpreting scripture. They therefore deny the most basic rule – that a text should be viewed as being literal and obvious, unless the context and wording suggest otherwise. Not to keep to this strict rule leads men into all sorts of spiritualised blunders. But they are not just blunders – they are denials of God’s truth.
God cannot give one teaching that counters another of His own making! Such is impossible. Whilst a few mere words can certainly give comfort, though cold, to a grieving mother, they are nevertheless rejections of truth. We are conceived and born in sin. That is what God says in His word. How, then, can a minister turn this on its tail and deny it, by teaching a falsity? Remember – this one, single falsity attracts many other errors to it, like a magnet. It is Satan’s way of undermining scripture and its authority.
Matthew 18:16,17 clearly shows the Master using children as illustrations of what older people must be like in their faith toward Him. The text is not about the children themselves, though He indeed loved them. He tells the adults that unless they receive the kingdom (i.e. salvation) as a little child (i.e. in a child-like trusting manner), they will not enter heaven.
If you are a reformed minister and do not understand this, then you also deny the very basis of your own convictions, rooted as they are in reformed principles. Far worse, you deny scripture. Let me put it this way – long ago I stopped listening to theologians and began trusting only in scripture. God’s word is the only and absolute authority for everything and anything to do with our lives, so why should I trust a finite theologian when I have an infinite God? There is no comparison!
Yes, read the works of saved theologians, but be very careful. Let go of your mixture of tradition, human theology and scripture. Throw away all except God’s word. Then you will come to see the vibrant, organic, living doctrine of God! No minister of God can retain integrity unless he preaches solely from scripture.
The reader should now read other material, concerning election, foreknowledge, the true state of Man, Arminianism, free will, etc. The Christian is NOT free to think as he wishes. These are NOT things we can happily differ on. NO Christian has the freedom to just ‘disagree’ on what is plainly set forth in God’s word.
We are bound by our common salvation to hold all things in common – including the teachings that comprise Biblical, Christian doctrine. In scripture, Christian unity is possible only if we all hold to the doctrine set forth in scripture. In that same scripture very few texts are capable of ambiguity or hidden meaning.
This is not about what I believe or what you believe. It is about obeying what God says. It is about reading scripture and interpreting it as it is itself interpreted. Such interpretation comes by accepting meanings to texts that are given by the texts themselves. It does NOT come by applying our own humanly-devised interpretations that are separated from what the words themselves tell us!
The mistake of so many reformed ministers (famous or not) is that they read scripture, then they apply the interpretations provided by finite men. This error has no place within the churches, leading as it does to division of the brethren as well as to division of truth.
Nowhere in scripture do we find a plain text that tells us unborn babies or very small children automatically enter heaven. The proof texts used to support such a notion are spiritualised or badly interpreted, paying scant regard to the meanings of words themselves, or to the context they appear in. Nor do they pay attention to the rest of scripture, which fully and bountifully outweighs any such claims.
The reformed men who teaches the automatic heavenly destination of small children must think very hard. In believing and teaching it, they thereby reject plain truth; they imbibe heresy and encourage others to think the same way; they reject the principles of the Reformation and of scripture; they reject election, the bastion of salvation; they reject the way of salvation; they reject God’s grace. They are, by definition, teaching Arminianism, which upholds the freedom of the will – and that is heresy.
Note that to teach the unequivocal entry into heaven of even unborn babies, is to teach a gospel that is no gospel. It is a false gospel that has no place within reformed churches. The emotional appeal of this false teaching might ease the mind and heart, but it does nothing for the soul, except to deceive it!
Reformed men must get back to proper and true Biblical thinking. Presently, these men believe they think Biblically, but they patently do not. This can be highlighted in so many ways! To think Biblically, is to cast aside men’s theories and traditions, and to embrace scriptural text as it is written, and interpreted as the Lord demands in His own word.
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© February 1999
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