Little Children—Saved or Lost?
In His busy ministry here on earth the Lord Jesus Christ took time out to pay attention to the little children. When His disciples rebuked those who brought the children for bothering the Lord Jesus with their precious little jewels. Jesus was sore displeased. He promptly responded that these infants were a part of His heavenly kingdom and were worthy of His time and His blessing (Matthew 19:13-15).
When the praise of little children shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David" was met with the sore displeasure of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus again silenced the complainers. He indicated His approval of the children's praises with another declaration that "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings" God receives perfected praise (Matthew 21:15,16).
The Lord Jesus further indicated the spiritual security of little children when He declared to a group of adults, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
The Bible also teaches that these little infants are born into this world with a sinful nature and with a tendency to "go astray as soon as they are born" (Psalm 58:3), and that by nature "there is none that doeth good, no not one" (Romans 3:12). "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
However, in spite of the Biblical fact of their having a sinful nature and their tendency to commit sin, Jesus paid the tenderest respect to little children. He used them as an illustration to challenge adults in their security in the kingdom of heaven. Never once did Jesus refer to little children as being under the condemnation, the displeasure, or the judgment of a holy God.
There are some differing views by religious groups on the spiritual status of infants and little children. The position of one church is that infants who die unbaptized go to a place called limbo. According to their theology, limbo is "a region for souls who die unbaptized..." (The World Book Dictionary, copyright 1985). The American College Dictionary defines limbo as "a supposed region on the border of hell or heaven, the abode after death of unbaptized infants...."
But there is no Scripture that teaches or even implies the necessity of infant baptism. Whenever baptism is taught or was practiced in the New Testament it is always preceded by faith, repentance, confession, prayer, and the surrender of the personal will to Christ and His church. No infant can do any of these Scriptural prerequisites for baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:37; 9:11-18; 16:29-33).
Some Protestant theologians teach that Christ provided only a limited atonement and that only those whom God elects to be saved can or will be saved. This position leads them to believe that there are many little children, even premature, stillborn babies, who are consigned to the fires of hell because they were not among the elect for whom Christ died. John Calvin, one of the prominent theologians of the 16th century religious reformation, promoted the theory of Christ dying only for the elect, and referred to his position on the damnation of the non-elect infants as "a dreadful decree" of God.
Both John Calvin's position and the limbo position are without Scriptural warrant and may well constitute an insult to the universal, impartial love of God and the unlimited atonement of Christ on the cross.
The Biblical record informs us that Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God. Originally they were sinless creatures. When Adam and Eve fell through disobedience they lost their God-likeness both in a spiritual and in a physical way. When they lost their God-likeness they became possessors of a corrupt and sinful nature. After their tragic falling away from God, Adam and Eve began to propagate a race of mankind who also possessed the sinful nature of their fallen parents (Genesis 3:3). Adam transmitted his sinful nature to his children, who in turn transmitted it to their children and their children's perpetually.
Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, sums up the calamity of Adam's sin on the whole human family in his declaration that "by one man's [namely Adam's] disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). The term "many" as used here doubtless means "the many" human beings of all time who are born into this world. (Jesus Christ, who was virgin born into this world, would be an exception because He was not conceived by an earthly father, but by the Holy Ghost.) This all inclusive concept of the term "many" is consistent with the phrase in Romans 5:15 "For if through the offense of one many be dead..." and the statement on the same thought in Romans 5:12 that "...death passed upon all men for that all have sinned." "Many" and "all men" in these two passages mean the same thing.
Romans 5:19 also gives us the key as to how all little children with a sinful nature are saved from the guilt of Adam's transgression even though they do have Adam's sinful nature. After stating the tragic consequence of Adam's disobedience affecting the whole human family, the Apostle Paul quickly affirms that "by the obedience of one [namely Christ] shall many be made righteous." If many being made sinners by the disobedience of one person means that all are born in sin and in a state of spiritual death (in their infancy) through Adam, then many being made righteous by the obedience of one man just as surely means that all are made or born righteous and free from spiritual death (in their infancy) through Jesus Christ.
We may get some further help on the subject from Old Testament types of cleansings which pointed forward to Christ's cleansing work on Calvary's cross. In Leviticus 12 we are told that when a mother gave birth to a child it was required that an atonement be made for both the mother and the child. Typically, that atonement took care of the problem of the parent transmitting the sinful nature and also the problem of the sin nature in the child that was born. Both mother and child, although retaining their sin nature were considered clean through that atonement. That atonement in Leviticus 12 typified the atonement of Calvary where Jesus fulfilled the type and made righteous every infant ever born into the world.
In the event of the birth of a "man child" the rite of circumcision was also to be administered early in the child's state of innocence. Circumcision involved the cutting off of the foreskin of the reproductive organ thus typifying "putting off the... sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11). On the cross of Calvary Jesus fulfilled all those Old Testament ordinances of typical cleansings, cutting off the responsibility of transmitted sin and removing the spiritual death related to being born in sin (Romans 7:9).
All saved adults who have received forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Christ still retain their natural depravity or sin nature (1 John 1:8). The flesh, which is never converted, continues to lust against the spirit (Galatians 5:17), but the atonement of Christ covers the sin nature for the saved person so long as he walks "in the light as He is in the light" (1 John 1:7). If the atonement of Christ covers the natural depravity of a saved adult surely the same atonement covers the sin nature of the innocent child. Paul's personal testimony was that in innocence he was alive spiritually but that when he came to years of understanding and accountability he died spiritually (Romans 7:9).
The true answer to the question asked in the title may be summed up affirmatively with the following scriptural finalities.
1) Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). Through His death the many who were made sinners by Adam's transgression were made righteous through Christ's obedience and sacrifice.
2) John the Baptist introduced Jesus Christ as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The atonement of Christ was unconditionally provided for the whole world and is unconditionally effective in all the little children of the world. Jesus actually took away the sin of the whole world of mankind for the time of their infancy and state of their innocence.
3) Paul declared that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men (in their infancy) and is a special Saviour to those (in accountability) who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). The atonement of Christ reaches just as far and rescues just as many, in innocence, as were ill-effected by Adam's sin. Atonement also is made for all accountable mankind but is effective only for those who will repent, believe in Jesus, confess Him and live faithfully for Him.
4) God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11). If He saves one in innocence He will save all in innocence.
5) Little children can offer perfected praises to God (Matthew 21:15,16) because they are made righteous by Christ and are guiltless before God. Although the sinful nature can and is transmitted from parent to child, no guilt can be placed on any child or anyone else because of specific crimes committed by their parents or by any one else.
Without doubt, just as Jesus received little children into His arms when He was here on earth and declared them to be a part of His kingdom, so now in heaven He is receiving the millions of little children all over the world who are dying from accidents, diseases, starvation, abortions or any other causes.
Just as little children can offer perfected praises to God so every little child can sweetly sing with confidence:
"Jesus loves me this I know, For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong." Loving Christian parents who must give up their sweet, little innocent children to the summons of death have the precious Biblical assurance that their little ones are in the eternal kingdom of heaven with Jesus their Redeemer and that some day they will also be able to share the glories of heaven with their Redeemer and their little darlings who have gone before them into eternity.
On the other hand, it may well be a dreadful and frightening reality that ungodly parents, many who have been the very destroyers of their own infants through abortion, infanticide, or otherwise, may some day face these little ones at the judgment bar of God who will doubtless be there as a testimony against them for their evil deeds and the moral corruption that motivated their destruction on earth.
The good news for such parents is that they can through repentance and acceptance of Christ as their Redeemer be forgiven and cleansed by the precious blood of Christ and then face no embarrassment or eternal banishment at the judgment. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Following this simple procedure these parents can also look forward to enjoying eternity with their gracious Redeemer and their little ones made righteous and saved through Christ.
Since children in their innocent stage are not accountable or guilty before God then are they free to follow their sinful inclination in childhood? The answer to this question is an emphatic "NO!" The Bible is clear that children are a gracious gift from God to parents (Genesis 33:5) and that parents are responsible to provide for, to protect, to correct, to administer discipline and to tenderly nurture them in their innocence (Ephesians 6:4) so that when they come to years of accountability they will have learned the lessons of surrender and obedience to Jesus Christ, receive Him as their Saviour and commit themselves to the way of truth that will make them noble men and women for God.
What an awesome opportunity and responsibility is parenthood!
"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalm 127:3).
"Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven" [Jesus Christ].
Aaron M. Shank
(This article was submitted to the Tract Committee and is being considered for printing in tract form.)