On The Death of Infants and the Promise of the Covenant of Grace

Despite the widely accepted American dogma of an “age of accountability”–that unspecified moment when children supposedly become responsible for their sins, and for any possible rejection of Christ–there is no such doctrine taught anywhere in Scripture. Sadly, this unsupported dogma holds out the false promise of a salvation apart from Christ — the false hope that should our children die before they reach the age of accountability, they will automatically go to heaven, because they are “innocent” and never needed saving.

Realizing the myth of human innocence under any circumstances, the Canons point us to an even better source of comfort–not the supposed innocence of our children, but to the merciful God, who, in Jesus Christ, provides the means of salvation for all of his elect, including the children of believers. God’s grace may even extend to all those who die in infancy (cf. Genesis 18:25), but since Scripture is silent on this matter, all we have is human opinion. So, we will leave that discussion for another time, as the Canons themselves wisely do.

According to the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7:14), the children of believers (even if only one parent is a Christian) are “holy.” They are “set apart” (the primary meaning of “holy”) through the faith of a one believing parent, so that all promises made by God to his people under the covenant of grace apply to them. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, without hesitation we affirm that our children are members of the covenant of grace, the promises of which are signed and sealed unto them through baptism. As Christian parents, the Canons direct us to find comfort in the tragic case of the death of a child in the fact that all of the promises of the covenant center in God’s unconditional promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” We need not count upon the false hope of the innocence of our children to save them. No, we count on something much, much, greater–the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, who, in Matthew 19:14 said “let the little children come to me.”

It is because God is absolutely faithful to his covenant promises, and not because our children are somehow “innocent,” we can be confident that those children of believers who die in infancy are indeed numbered among the elect, and go to heaven when they die. The Canons wisely counsel us not to doubt the election of such children, but to be absolutely confident of being joined with them eternally in the “age to come.” Why? Because of God’s covenant promise! God’s grace in Christ triumphs over human sin and the curse.

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Kim Riddlebarger | “‘The Salvation of Deceased Infants of Believers’ — Article Seventeen, First Head of Doctrine, Canons of Dort” | August 7th, 2023


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2 comments

  1. No argument with Pastor Riddlebarger….I have learned a lot from him and am very grateful for his teaching. But I’d only add that for me, comfort in the loss of a child doesn’t come from pondering where they may or may not spend eternity, but rather from the faith that all of God’s judgements are just. I would not want to sway God’s judgement towards mine regardless of how much I love my children and want them with me in glory. I either serve sovereign God who in all righteousness populated the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world, or I start the slide down the slippery slope of some type of works-based salvation. What more comfort should one need than faith that the God of all creation knows exactly what He is doing? And for the record, I’m in no way arguing against baptism, or against us, as parents, doing what we are commanded to do…..simply that my comfort is not based on what I have or have not done, but rather in my trust of what Jesus has already done.

  2. We are, at this point, ten years out from losing two adult sons. (Suddenly, separately, but close in time.) Their Christian profession was, at best, muted and uncertain. We grasp at straws, and all I can do in the end is trust in the goodness of God.

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