Why We Believe Children Who Die Go to Heaven

We first posted this article about a year ago at BtT, but have decided to publish it again. This is one of the questions we are most frequently asked by students, laypeople, and persons in need of spiritual counsel. For that reason it seems beneficial to once again make this resource available. It is our prayer that this article will help you come to biblical convinctions about this very important issue.

WHY WE BELIEVE CHILDREN WHO DIE GO TO HEAVEN

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and Daniel L. Akin

Few things in life are more tragic and heartbreaking than the death of a baby or small child. For parents, the grief can be overwhelming. For the minister, to stand over a small, white casket and provide comfort and support seems to ask for more than he can deliver.

Many console themselves with the thought that at least the child is now in a better place. Some believe small children who die become angels. They are certain these precious little ones are in heaven with God.

However, it is important for us both to ask and answer some important questions if we can. Do those who die in infancy go to heaven? How do we know? What evidence is there to support such a conclusion? Sentimentalism and emotional hopes and wants are not sufficient for those who live under the authority of the Word of God. We must, if possible, find out what God has said.

It is interesting to discover that the Church has not been of one mind on this issue. In fact, the early and medieval Church was anything but united. Some Church Fathers remained silent on the issue. Ambrose said unbaptized infants were not admitted to heaven, but have immunity from the pains of hell. Augustine basically affirmed the damnation of all unbaptized infants, but taught they would receive the mildest punishment of all. Gregory of Nyssa offered that infants who die immediately mature and are given the opportunity to trust Christ. Calvin affirmed the certain election of some infants to salvation and was open to the possibility that all infants who die are saved. He said, “Christ receives not only those who, moved by holy desire and faith, freely approach unto Him, but those who are not yet of age to know how much they need His grace.” Zwingli, B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge all taught that God saves all who die in infancy. This perspective has basically become the dominant view of the Church in the 20th century.

Yet, a popular evangelical theologian chided Billy Graham when at the Oklahoma City memorial service he said, “Someday there will be a glorious reunion with those who have died and gone to heaven before us, and that includes all those innocent children that are lost. They’re not lost from God because any child that young is automatically in heaven and in God’s arms.” The theologian scolded Dr. Graham for offering what he called “. . . a new gospel: justification by youth alone.”

It is our conviction that there are good reasons biblically and theologically for believing that God saves all who die who do not reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability. It is readily admitted that Scripture does not speak to this issue directly, yet there is evidence that can be gleaned that would lead us to affirm on biblical grounds that God receives into heaven all who have died in infancy. Some evidence is stronger than others, but cumulatively they marshall strong support for infant salvation. We will note six of them.

First, the grace, goodness and mercy of God would support the position that God saves all infants who die. This is the strongest argument and perhaps the decisive one. God is love (1 John 4:8) and desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). God is love and His concern for children is evident in Matthew 18:14 where Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” People go to hell because they choose in willful rebellion and unbelief to reject God and His grace. Children are incapable of this kind of conscious rejection of God. Where such rebellion and willful disobedience is absent, God is gracious to receive.

Second, when the baby boy who was born to David and Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:15-18), David did two significant things: 1) He confessed his confidence that he would see the child again and, 2) he comforted his wife Bathsheba (vs. 23-24). David could have done those two things only if he was confident that his little son was with God. Any other explanation does not do justice to the text.

Third, in James 4:17, the Bible says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” The Bible is clear that we are all born with a sin nature as a result of being in Adam (Roman 5:12). This is what is called the doctrine of original sin. However, the Scriptures make a distinction between original sin and actual sins. While all are guilty of original sin, moral responsibility and understanding is necessary for our being accountable for actual sins (Deuteronomy 1:30; Isaiah 7:16). It is to the one who knows to do right and does not do it that sin is reckoned. Infants are incapable of such decisions.

Fourth, Jesus affirmed that the kingdom of God belonged to little children (Luke 18:15-17). In the passage he is stating that saving faith is a childlike faith, but He also seems to be affirming the reality of children populating heaven.

Fifth, Scripture affirms that the number of saved souls is very great (Revelation 7:9). Since most of the world has been and is still non-Christian, might it be the untold multitude who have died prematurely or in infancy comprise a majority of those in heaven? Such a possibility ought not to be dismissed too quickly. In this context Charles Spurgeon said, “I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them.”

Sixth, some in Scripture are said to be chosen or sanctified from the womb (1 Samuel 1:8-2:21; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15). This certainly affirms the salvation of some infants and repudiates the view that only baptized babies are assured of heaven. Neither Samuel, Jeremiah or John the Baptist was baptized.

After surveying these arguments, it is important for us to remember that anyone who is saved is saved because of the grace of God, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the undeserved and unmerited regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Like all who have ever lived, except for Jesus, infants need to be saved. Only Jesus can take away their sin, and if they are saved it is because of His sovereign grace and abounding mercy. Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). We can confidently say, “Yes, He will.” When it comes to those incapable of volitional, willful acts of sin, we can rest assured God will, indeed, do right. Precious little ones are the objects of His saving mercy and grace.

CONCLUSION

On September 29, 1861, the great Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, preached a message entitled “Infant Salvation.” In that message he chastened some critics who had “. . . wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinists that we believe that some little children perish.” Similar rumblings have been heard in some Baptist circles of late. Spurgeon affirmed that God saved little ones without limitation and without exception. He, then, as was his manner, turned to conclude the message with an evangelistic appeal to parents who might be lost. Listen to his plea:

Many of you are parents who have children in heaven. Is it not a desirable thing that you should go there too? And yet, have I not in these galleries and in this area some, perhaps many, who have no hope hereafter? . . . . Mother, unconverted mother, from the battlements of heaven your child beckons you to Paradise. Father, ungodly, impenitent father, the little eyes that once looked joyously on you, look down upon you now and the lips which had scarcely learned to call you “Father” ere they were sealed by the silence of death, may be heard as with a still, small voice, saying to you this morning, “Father, must we be forever divided by the great gulf which no man can pass?” If you wilt, think of these matters, perhaps the heart will begin to move, and the eyes may begin to flow and then may the Holy Spirit put before thine eyes the cross of the Savior . . . if thou wilt turn thine eye to Him, thou shalt live . . .

Little ones are precious in God’s sight. If they die, they go to heaven. Parents, who have trusted Jesus, who have lost a little one, if they have trusted Jesus, can be confident of a wonderful reunion someday. Are you hopeful of seeing again that little treasure God entrusted to you for such a short time? Jesus has made a way. Come to Him now and someday you will see them again.

[Note: This article and hundreds of other resources are available at http://www.danielakin.com.]

I Have a Problem

I Have a Problem

By: Alvin Reid

I have a problem…

I have a problem with Martin Luther. Oh yes, I know he started the Reformation and we owe him much. Yes, he gave us great hymns, Sola Scriptura, and other important contributions. But he did not come far enough theologically for my tastes. And he liked beer too much.

I have a problem with John Wesley. Sure, he led a great awakening and helped to spare England from much the French experienced in the French Revolution. He led a missional movement that resulted in thousands and thousands of new believers and churches. But he quite frankly was a terrible example as a husband.

I have a problem with George Whitefield. Whitefield, that young, bold evangelist who came to the American colonies seven times during the Great Awakening, preaching to multiple thousands while only in his twenties, did much good for the gospel. He even started an orphanage in the colony of Georgia which is still in existence today. But he also had slaves at that orphanage. Though he treated them well and preached Christ to them, I have a real problem with that.

I have a problem with Jonathan Edwards. Sure, he helped lead a Great Awakening. Pretty impressive. He wrote some of the greatest writings on revival in history. He was a pastor, leader, missionary, and thinker. But he is just a little too Reformed for my tastes in his treatise Freedom of the Will.

I have a problem with Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon stands as one of the great Baptist preachers in history and is likely the most quoted. A pastor, leader, church planter, and soul winner, Spurgeon did much good. But he smoked a cigar, and I have a problem with that.

I have a problem with W.A. Criswell. The famous pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, did so much good for the gospel and the SBC during his time. Criswell was more innovative than many know in evangelism, and had a constant burden to see people saved. He played a vital role in the conservative resurgence. But Criswell allowed his numbers to be inflated, particularly in church membership, which has not been a good precedent.

I have a problem with Mark Driscoll. Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and recent speaker on our campus, has seen possibly more hardcore unchurched young adults come to Christ in the last decade than any church in the US. He has led a church planting movement as well. But sometimes his language is a little edgy for my tastes, and I interpret the Bible differently than does he on the place of alcohol.

I have a problem with Alvin Reid. Yes, I have a problem with myself. I am pretty sure I really love Jesus and my main motive in life is to bring glory to God. I love my family, my students, and my convention. But sometimes I have added to the institutionalism and programmatic ministry that plagues us now. And I have a problem with that.

Finally, I have a problem with my convention. I am a Southern Baptist. I have blogged before on why I am a Southern Baptist. But I have a problem with my convention, when we seem more intent on witch hunts than on contextualizing the gospel in our time, when we love to pick at each other’s differences than unite for the sake of the gospel, when we are more concerned about our total receipts than we are the lostness of our nation, when we continually confuse personal preferences with unchanging truth, and when we castigate younger men who love Jesus and His truth for simply doing what we taught them to do: study and honor the Word (when they come to different conclusions than some of us on secondary issues, they scratch their heads at the response they get). I was a supporter of the conservative resurgence before it was cool. But the resurgence I supported did not include a Pharisaical legalism that expects conformity in nonessentials. I supported a resurgence to stand on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, one that now has led me and many others to see the need for a Great Commission Resurgence to be built on the foundation laid by the conservative resurgence. I am tired of talking good younger men off the ledge from leaving the SBC.

So, I have a problem. I have many heroes. I did not name them all. But none of them are perfect. None of them are Jesus. I can live with that. I can honor people who may be more Landmark on the one hand or Reformed on the other than I am. I can learn from and respect people who love the Word and the Gospel yet who may do things a bit differently from me.

I wonder if I am the only one….

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 18: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part F

Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood well what God anointed preaching is:

What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. . . . A theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire . . . I say again that a man who speaks about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 97).

Any theology that does not compel you to plead with men to be reconciled with God is not a theology worth having. Any preaching that does expect the living and powerful Word of God to produce results and usher in conversions is preaching that should be retired to the graveyard where it rightfully belongs. “On one occasion a young student of Spurgeon came to the great preacher complaining that he wasn’t seeing conversions through his preaching. Spurgeon inquired, ‘Surely you don’t expect conversions every time you preach, do you?’ The young man replied, ‘Well, I suppose not.’ Spurgeon then said, ‘That’s precisely why you are not having them'” (Roy J. Fish, Giving a Good Invitation, 221).

William Willimon, former Dean of the chapel at Duke University, said some years ago, “today’s conservatives sound like yesterday’s liberals.” In a fascinating article entitled “Been there, preached that,” (Leadership, Fall 1995), Willimon sounds a prophetic warning to evangelicals that they might not be seduced by the sirens of modernity and follow the tragic path of insignificance which mainline denominations have trod.

I’m a mainline-liberal-Protestant-Methodist-type Christian. I know we are soft on Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale has exercised a more powerful effect on our Preaching than St. Paul. . . . I know we play fast and loose with Scripture. But I’ve always had this fantasy that somewhere, like in Texas, there were preachers who preached it all, Genesis to Revelation without blinking an eye. . . . I took great comfort in knowing that, even while I preached a pitifully compromised, “Pealed” – down gospel, that somewhere, good ole Bible-believing preachers were offering their congregations the unadulterated Word, straight up. Do you know how disillusioning it has been for me to realize that many of these self-proclaimed biblical preachers now sound more like liberal mainliners than liberal mainliners? At the very time those of us in the mainline, oldline, sidelined were repenting of our pop psychological pap and rediscovering the joy of disciplined biblical preaching, these “biblical preachers” were becoming “user friendly” and “inclusive,” taking their homiletical cues from the “felt needs” of us “boomers” and “busters” rather than the excruciating demands of the Bible.

I know why they do this . . . it all starts with American Christians wanting to be helpful to the present order, to be relevant (as the present order defines relevance). We so want to be invited to lunch at the White House or at least be interviewed on “Good Morning America.” So we adjust our language to the demands of the market, begin with the world and its current infatuations rather than the Word and its peculiar judgments on our infatuations. If you listen to much of our preaching, you get the impression that Jesus was some sort of itinerant therapist who, for free, traveled about helping people feel better. Ever since Fosdick, we mainline liberals have been bad about this. Start with some human problem like depression; then rummage the Bible for a relevant answer. Last fall, as I was preparing in my office for the Sunday service, the telephone rang. “Who’s preaching in Duke Chapel today?” Asked a nasal, Yankee-sounding voice. I cleared my throat and answered, “Reverend Doctor William Willimon.” “Who’s that?” asked the voice. “The Dean of the Chapel,” I answered in a sonorous tone. “I hope he won’t be preaching politics. I’ve had a rough week and I need to hear about God. My Baptist church is so eaten up with politics, I’ve got to hear a sermon!” When you have to come to a Methodist for a biblical sermon, that’s pitiful.

Walt Kaiser would concur with Willimon:

It is no secret that Christ’s Church is not as all in good health in many places of the world. She has been languishing because she has been fed, as the current line has it, “junk food;” all kinds of artificial preservatives and all sorts of unnatural substitutes have been served up to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giant steps to make sure its physical health is not damaged by using foods or products that are carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to their bodies. Simultaneously, a worldwide spiritual famine resulting from the absence of any genuine publication of the Word of God continues to run wild and almost unabated in most quarters of the Church (Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 7-8).

Luther, in a different day to be sure, saw the church in a similar condition. However he did not despair, for he saw, as we must see, the antidote that will cure the patient. In his “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” he throws down the gauntlet and gives us final words to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate (Martin Luther, “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” in Three Treatises, 23).

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints: this is an absolutely essential component for a true and lasting Great Commission Resurgence.