A short time after 9/11 I saw John MacArthur on Larry King Live stating that every child who died in the 9/11 attacks obtained “instant heaven”. Later I heard a sermon he gave and read some materials of his relating to this topic.
Today then I read a blog post by centuri0n about which some users commented and mentioned this topic again. I started to reply in his blog, but realized there’s too much to say for such a forum, so I’m bringing it here.
Both John MacArthur and R. Albert Mohler Jr. (along with Daniel Akin of SBTS), hold to the view that all those who die in infancy automatically go to heaven. Many of my good friends also hold this view. I firmly believe that the Bible is SILENT on, not merely “quiet”, but actually silent on this issue.
I may perhaps take time to further flesh out this discussion later, but I wanted to make some general comments tonight. (It’s really late!)
Firstly, the meaning of the verse wherein David laments the death of his son and says “I will go to him” (2 Sam 12:23) is disputable and does not have mean “my son is in heaven and when I die I’ll be there too”. David’s mention in the previous verse of God’s graciousness is directed specifically at the possibility of having another child, not in reference to his reuniting with his deceased child in heaven. It is therefore more likely that David is referring to the grave as he is by no means rejoicing in this verse. I would say that this verse is similar to that modern saying “it is not right for someone to outlive their child”. Often in Scripture it is mentioned that so-and-so was buried “with their fathers”, yet here David is noting that the opposite will occur, he will be buried with his son. Yet, regardless of how one views this verse, there is nothing in this verse to give any kind of hope to the unbeliever that their child is in heaven!
Another passage referred to in support of this universalist paedo-salvation view is Mar 10:14 and Luke 18:16, wherein Christ says “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Clearly, there is again nothing here to give the unbeliever hope that their child has defacto salvation until reaching the mythical age of accountability. Keep in mind that this very same passage is used by paedobaptists to support a completely different theological point all together, that is that children are covenant members and should be baptized. I don’t believe either view can be substantiated by this passage but rather this verse is speaking to the heart of individuals who desire to see the Savior, children and adults alike, thus it states “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” In the very next verse Christ says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Christ’s point is not that all who die in infancy obtain “instant heaven” rather, that citizenship in the kingdom of God is based on child-like faith.
In his article, Dr. Mohler first declares that all who are born of flesh are “marked with original sin” and that none are “born in a state of innocence”, but later he states that because “these young children are incapable of committing sins in the body…” they “die secure in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. While Dr. Mohler does say “Christ has removed the stain of original sin from those who die in infancy”, but what is his basis for this claim? It seems that because these children are “incapable of committing sins in the body” that Christ “removed the stain of original sin”, but what Biblical support does Dr. Mohler provide for this? Mohler turns to Deut 1:35-39.
He states, (on the basis of Deut 1:39):
“The key issue here is that God specifically exempted from the judgment those who “have no knowledge of good or evil” because of their age… We believe that this passage bears directly on the issue of infant salvation, and that the accomplished work of Christ has removed the stain of original sin from those who die in infancy”
Yet God’s declaration that the children “have no knowledge of good or evil” is not the reason for His sparing them from the judgment. That is, it is not because the children have some general “innocence” that they’re spared, rather it is because these young ones (not simply infants) were not guilty of this particular sin that God graciously keeps His promise He made to their forefathers and spares them. Why do I say this? Consider that God surely knew that the children of the sinning Israelites would none-the-less likewise sin yet He spares them graciously.
The JFB commentary states about this passage: “…who know not as yet good or evil.” As the children had not been partakers of the sinful outbreak, they were spared to obtain the privilege which their unbelieving parents had forfeited. God’s ways are not as man’s ways“
Again does this verse really have to do with all infants obtaining eternal salvation? One could just as easily point to the fate that befell Sodom or any of the other cities in which God’s wrath was so clearly displayed against adult and infant alike and declare just the opposite of Mohler’s position.
Mohler goes on, “The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt explains our inability to respond to God without regeneration, but the Bible does not teach that we will answer for Adam’s sin.”
Mohler seems to limit the extent of original sin so as to have it affect the will, but not actually trasnfer guilt. But this is not what the Bible presents. Romans 5 and elsewhere clearly express that “in Adam all die”, we who call ourselves Reformed acknowledge that this is spiritual death, but apart from being made “alive in Christ” there is no solution to spiritual death and its result is condemnation unto damnation. Unless one is graciously transferred from the headship of Adam into the headship of Christ, they will die… not just die physically, but they will face the second death. This is what the doctrine of imputation is about, Adam’s sin imputed to me (as well as my own sins being put in my acct) because Adam was my federal head. Likewise Christ’s obedience and death is credited to me, apart from my own actions, and His resurrection secures my justification resulting in salvation. If Adam’s sin doesn’t make me guilty, on what basis can I be declared righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Christ’s obedience in my stead? Imputation must work both ways, or its not imputation… if we want to seriously believe in the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer, we must also believe in the sinfulness of Adam imputed to the unbeliever.
While I agree that each “will answer “according to what he has done,” it is also written that “death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” Thus Adam’s transgression was working already in his seed, condemning them regardless of their own actions. As one who has debated Pelagians of various stripes, I know that the doctrine of original sin and imputation are their primary targets and this misunderstanding of their nature plays right into the hands of the Pelagian apologist.
Yes, one can and should make inferences from these various verses and say with certainty that the Bible supports the gracious salvation of some infants, but to make a blanket statement as John MacArthur did during a Larry King broadcast in stating that the children who died in the 9/11 attacks obtained “instant heaven” based on this filamentary and disputable evidence is irresponsible.
It seems there is a pastoral desire for many in caring for their flock and to comfort the emotional concerns of even unbelievers who consider the wrath of God somehow unjust when directed toward “innocent” infants. The fact of the matter is that Adam sinned in my stead, just as Christ obeyed in my stead. I am born a child of Adam but I am graciously made into a child of God by grace through faith. Declaring another means of universal salvation apart from the normative means expressed in Scripture flies in the face of what we who claim Sola Scriptura stand for.
There are proper times for the teacher of Scripture to acknowledge that there are some things that we simply don’t know for certain. This is truly the only valid response to “what happens to infants who die”. Yes you can discuss the various ideas, verses and such involved, give comfort to the grieving and such, but ultimately we must rely on our gracious God to do what is right in His eyes and not seek to speak out of place and put ourselves in judgement of the Almighty by telling Him what we would do in His place.