When a Baby Dies

What does Calvinism teach about infant death? Do newborn babies go to heaven when they die because they haven't committed sins yet, or do they go to hell because they, like everyone else, have a sinful nature?
Actually, Reformed theologians have not been entirely unified on this issue.

Some, particularly the old Princeton theologians, have argued that while imputed sin from Adam is sufficient to make someone a sinner and to render him spiritually dead, it does not merit punishment. Because infants have not committed any sins (e.g. Rom. 5:14), there is nothing for which they can be punished. Because there is nothing for which they can be punished, they cannot go to hell. Finally, since there are only two options (heaven and hell), God regenerates infants who die so that they may enter heaven. A shortcoming of this position is that while infants gain heaven through God's mercy and grace, they seem to escape hell by virtue of merit.

Others have argued that imputed sin entails real imputed guilt, and that imputed guilt is real guilt (the infant is really guilty of having sinned, even though he has not actually sinned). Because the infant is really guilty of sin, he may be justly punished for this sin. If it were not just to punish someone for imputed sin, then Jesus could not justly have suffered for the sins of men. Thus, infants who die may justly be sent to hell.

Most who believe that infants may justly be sent to hell, however, do not believe that all infants who die actually go to hell. Rather, most believe in the existence of elect infants -- infants whom God sovereignly regenerates and saves, despite the fact that they deserve hell. That people can be regenerate and saved from infancy, and even from the womb, appears to be demonstrated by John the Baptist in Luke 1:44. This does not necessarily imply that all infants who die are elect, though some Reformed theologians have also held this position.

Further, a good argument can be made that God shows particular favor upon covenant children who die, so that believers may have more confidence than others that their children who die in infancy are among the elect. This idea is implied by the fact that God does not treat his covenant people with the same strictness with which he treats others. Rather, with his covenant people, he is slow to anger and quick to show mercy. He also has a special love for the children of believers (Ps. 103:17). Further, God's love for believers inclines him to be good to believers, and the Bible tells us that children are God's gift to believers (Ps. 127:3). This implies that one way that God blesses covenant members is by treating their children with mercy (compare Gen. 26:24; 1 Kings 11:12). Moreover, the ideal blessing which God describes for his people includes the lives and blessing of their children (Isa. 65:18-23), creating for us an expectation that God will be good to our children even when they die in infancy (i.e. that he will save them). This also happens to be my own position.

Related Topic:

When an infant dies?

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.