There are biblical passages suggesting that some infants are saved. For example, David said that he would go to his dead son, but his son would not return to him. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit in the womb. However, there is no biblical basis to believe that all who die as infants will go to heaven. It is indeed possible, since it seems the Bible has no example of any infant going to hell, but it is a mere possibility that all of them are saved.
Any infant that is saved must be saved on the basis of God’s election and Christ’s atonement. The Bible denies that there is any other basis for salvation. This means that God could create some who would die as infants, but who would be saved, and Christ died for these when he was crucified.
As for the matter of faith, we will first consider the possibility that since they are too young to understand or believe anything, this may mean that conscious faith does not apply. Their minds have not reached the stage where deliberate belief in doctrine and repentance from wickedness are meaningful. However, this does not mean that all who could not exercise conscious faith are saved. We insist that if infants can be saved, then only chosen infants are saved, whether this includes some or all infants who die young.
The issue is whether faith manifests in these chosen infants. If the Bible allows or assumes the doctrine that God saves some or all infants apart from conscious faith, then there is a coherent way to formulate it without compromising the gospel.
Even when we speak of salvation by faith, we are not referring to faith as such, but salvation by Jesus Christ. Faith itself does not save – only Christ can save. If anyone is saved, he is saved by Jesus Christ. I am saved not because of faith, but because of Christ. My faith is a manifestation of salvation, of election and regeneration. It is not a cause of salvation, but rather an effect of salvation.
Thus if the Bible allows or assumes the doctrine that chosen infants do not manifest faith, it does not compromise the gospel if it affirms that Christ saves some or all infants, but that they do not manifest conscious faith because their minds have not reached the stage where conscious faith is applicable. We would expect a person who receives salvation as an infant but who does not die to manifest this faith when he grows up to the point where his mind could begin to manifest this faith. If he does not, then this means that he has never been saved.
Perhaps the same applies to those who are mentally retarded, although there seems to be no biblical evidence to say that some mentally retarded people are saved, since there seems to be no equivalent examples in Scripture. Their salvation is only a possibility. It is also possible that all mentally retarded people are damned. If this is the case, it would be misleading to complain that they are punished for being mentally retarded; rather, on the basis of the doctrine of reprobation, they would be created as damned individuals in the first place. There is no theological problem either way.
The popular position that all infants are saved is wishful thinking, and continues as a groundless religious tradition. Those who affirm the doctrine of election have never been able to establish that all those who die as infants are elect. Their arguments are forced and fallacious. And those who reject the biblical doctrine of election lacks even this to fabricate a doctrine of infant salvation. Thus the invention deceives the masses and offers them hope based on mere fantasy. The way to comfort bereaved parents is not to lie to them, but to instruct them to trust in God. Whatever God decides must be right and good. It may be difficult due to their grief and weakness at the time, but if the parents cannot finally accept this, that God is always right, then they are headed for hell themselves and need to become Christians.
The possibility in consideration does not apply to mentally aware infants, teenagers, and adults who have never heard the gospel – they will all surely go to hell. The Bible is clear on this. If someone dies without hearing the gospel, it just means that God has decreed his damnation beforehand. Although he will still burn in hell, the punishments that he receives will probably be less extreme than one who hears and rejects the gospel, since the Bible teaches that those who know more but disobey will suffer more.
Now, it seems that most of those who comment on infant salvation prefer the view that all those who die in the womb or who die as infants are saved. Then, there are those who insist that, in an absolute sense and without exception, only those who exercise a conscious faith in Jesus Christ are saved. To them, it is a compromise of the gospel to suggest that some or all infants could be saved by Christ but apart from conscious faith. We could admire their zeal for the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ if they were more skillful in presenting their case. Some people consider themselves defenders of the faith, but their zeal for the admiration of men exceeds their ability.
Let me state my position again. First, I insist that every person is in need of salvation, without which he will suffer eternal wrath in hell, and that this applies to infants and the retarded. Second, I insist that any person who is saved at all is saved by Jesus Christ – that is, by God’s eternal choice and Christ’s sacrificial death for that particular person. Third, salvation is not by faith as such but by Jesus Christ – I do not save myself by my faith, but it is God who saves me by Jesus Christ. Fourth, God saves anyone that he chooses, and anyone that he chooses will receive faith in the gospel. The issue now is whether, say, something like a fetus is ever chosen for salvation, and if so, whether it manifests conscious faith.
In itself, I have no problem with the idea that for anyone to receive salvation, in the absolute sense and without exception, he must exhibit a conscious faith in the gospel. This would mean that those who are unable to exercise faith are all damned to hell, and this would include infants and the mentally retarded, if we assume that they cannot exercise faith. I have no misgivings about this.
I have no problem with the idea that all who die as embryos, infants, and mentally retarded would burn in hell. If this is what God has decided, then this is what happens. I am not like that idiot who thinks that no one ends up in hell because “love wins.” If God succeeds in doing what he wants, then God wins, whether this means sending people to heaven or to hell. If he saves those he loves, so that those whom he loves reaches heaven, then love wins. If he loves his chosen ones so much that he wishes to show forth his glory and wrath to them by visiting the reprobates with judgment and hellfire, then love wins again.
Rather, if it seems we cannot insist that the Bible rules out salvation for infants apart from conscious faith, it is because the Bible itself presents some possible hurdles, such as the cases of David’s son and John the Baptist.
After his son died, David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). If we assume that he referred to heaven, then the child was saved. Thus the way to overcome this hurdle would be to show that the child was no longer a small infant, but that he was already old enough to believe. But then we are burdened with the implication that David did not repent for an extended period of time. Perhaps he refused to repent for two, five, ten years? A popular estimate is that Nathan came to David after one year. Also, if the “seventh day” (12:18) referred not to the seventh day of the illness but the seventh day since the birth of the child, then an attractive interpretation is that God did not allow the child to be circumcised on the eighth day and thus as an act of judgment prevented him from becoming a citizen of Israel.
Another way to remove the hurdle is to show that when David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me,” he referred not to heaven, not to the place that the child’s spirit had been taken, but to death or the grave. That is, the child would not come back to David from death, but David would go to the child at death. Of course, initially there is also the option to think that the child was sent to hell, and David said that he would also be sent to hell when he died. But it seems safe to assume that David was saved based on what the Bible says about him.
As for John the Baptist, the angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15, ESV). So he was young enough to represent the group that we have in mind. One way to remove this hurdle is to show that to be filled with the Holy Spirit does not imply salvation, that is, to show that a person can be full of the Spirit and still headed to hell.
If it is possible to overcome these hurdles, it will entail a display of some exegetical skill to make an irrefutable case. At this time neither have I come up with nor have I come across a definitive argument that removes them. Just as I have been dissatisfied with the attempts to show that all those who die as infants are chosen and saved, I have been dissatisfied with the attempts to show that these hurdles to the necessity of conscious faith in fetuses and infants have been conclusively overcome.
Some of you critics might resent me for respecting the Bible’s portrayal of the situation instead of bowing down to your theological agenda and tradition, and so you wish to push the issue. But you should slow down and think. Perhaps I am not less zealous than you are for the gospel, but just more intelligent about it. If you can show from the Bible that those who have been regenerated always manifest faith, including fetuses and infants – that David’s son and John the Baptist were either unsaved, or that they were saved and manifested faith – then I will most gladly comply, and insist on the doctrine more vehemently than you ever could.
As I said, if the Bible allows or assumes the doctrine that God saves some or all infants apart from conscious faith, then there is a coherent way to formulate it without compromising the gospel. But now, if the Bible forbids the doctrine that God saves some or all infants apart from conscious faith, then there is still a coherent way to formulate a doctrine of possible salvation for fetuses and infants without compromise.
So far we have maintained the assumption that fetuses, very young infants, and the mentally retarded could not exercise faith. But there is nothing in Scripture that requires us to hold this assumption, or to the assumption that fetuses and infants cannot supernaturally receive awareness and intelligence, and that the mentally retarded cannot be miraculously cured.
In other words, if God indeed saves the infants and the retarded, and if he indeed calls even them to manifest faith, then this means that when he regenerates infants and the retarded, he also grants them knowledge of the gospel and the intelligence to affirm it. There is nothing in the Bible that requires everyone who learns the gospel to learn it from men (they would be relieved that they do not have to learn it from the likes of you), and there is nothing in the Bible that says a fetus cannot think or believe. We often assume that they cannot, and even if we are correct to assume this, God can grant them the ability by miraculous power. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that the mentally retarded cannot be cured. So I have no problem with this, and I think that this is entirely possible. But we cannot say for sure what is actually the case, if this or another possibility is in fact what happens. If you know, that is fine with me, but with the kind of third-rate criticisms that I have heard from some of you, I seriously doubt that you know or that you even have the intellectual ability to think about the subject.
Moreover, the Bible does not say that, when infants and the retarded supernaturally receive awareness and intelligence, they must tell you about it. You say, “If they do not talk about it, then how are they saved?” Perhaps they just do not talk to you about it. Why? Because you are so obnoxious about this whole thing on infant salvation that these tiny prodigies know better than to tell you anything. But you say, “If they tell other people about it, then why would I not hear about it?” Perhaps God in his providence arranges everything to prevent you from hearing about it, because he also finds you obnoxious, and the best way to punish you is to allow your ignorance and self-righteous zeal to continue. And I would rather not discuss it with a spiritual and intellectual failure like you, either.
If an infant is in heaven, I have no desire to damn him to hell; if an infant is in hell, I have no power to elevate him to heaven. But whether a fetus, infant, or adult, if you can read this and understand this, then I am telling you that you must believe in Jesus Christ to save your wretched soul. As for my critics, yes, even obnoxious morons like you can be saved. My concern is not so much about whether embryos can exercise faith, but that as annoying and unintelligent as you are, whether you can exercise faith, and whether the faith that you think you have is genuine, or whether it is only a human religious zeal like the demonic passion that possessed the murderous Pharisees. As for the embryos, if they perish, they will go where God decides – if they all burn in hell, they all burn in hell; if they all ascend to heaven, then they ascend to heaven – but if they live, I will talk to them in a few years.