Among the most sensitive issues with which pastors must deal is the question of salvation regarding babies and very young children that die, whether in utero, infancy, or prior to conscious awareness of sin. (I would also include here the mentally impaired/special needs person, but for the sake of this article I will simply use the terms baby/babies.) Because of the deeply personal sensitivity of this issue, I will make four clear and concise statements that I believe are plainly supported by God’s Word.
1. Babies are not innocent: This is harshest of the four, but the Bible teaches that there is no such category as an innocent person. Not only are we born sinful, but we are conceived in the womb as sinful (Jn. 3:1-12; Eph. 2:1-5; Ps. 51:5). Sin was imputed to us through our ancestor Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). Physical death, no matter how early or late in life, demonstrates we are connected to the guilt of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13-14).
Psalm 51:5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Psalm 58:3—The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
Romans 5:12-14— Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Romans 9:10-13—And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born
2. Babies are incapable of seeing the revelation of God through conscience: Babies have Adam’s sin-nature, but at least two passages of Scripture in the New Testament give us hope for babies. Both John 9:41 and Romans 1:20 teach that people will be judged for their sin because they are naturally capable of seeing God’s revelation yet reject this knowledge of God. Thus, we may safely conclude that because babies are incapable of seeing or knowing God’s revelation through conscience, God will extend His grace to them in the same way that He extends grace to conscience sinners, delivering them from spiritual blindness.
John 9:41—Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
Romans 1:20—For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse
3. Babies that die will be saved by grace: While there is no proof-text verse that we can turn to in the Bible that babies that die will go to heaven, I do believe they will be saved based on principles found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The following verses lend themselves in support of this conviction (bold type is added for emphasis).
2 Samuel 12:21-23— Then his servants said to him [David] , “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Psalm 22:9-10—Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breast. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
Luke 1:15—“For he [John the Baptist] will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”
4. Those who never hear the gospel will be damned eternally: I have added this fourth statement because talking about babies as being “ignorant” of their need for salvation inevitably leads some to conclude that people who never have an opportunity to hear the gospel will either be saved or at least given a future opportunity to believe.
This category of the “ignorant”, however, is different than babies. People who never hear the gospel are not ignorant of God’s existence or their sin against Him (Rom. 1). Although these people are ignorant of God’s saving work through Jesus, they are guilty and accountable because both creation and their own conscience bear witness of God and His righteousness (Rom. 1). The evidence of their judgment is physical death (Rom. 5:14).
Death’s reign over mankind spares no one. The good news is that babies are covered by the blood of Jesus by God’s grace. The bad news is that people who never hear the gospel aren’t. Why? Because those who sinned between Adam and Moses are examples of what happens to people who never hear God’s truth. They are held accountable for their sin even though they do not sin in the same way as Adam, that is by disobeying a direct command (Rom.5:14). Yet, they are held accountable because they have a universal God-consciousness written on their hearts.
Romans 2:12a, 14-15—For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, . . . For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
By no means do I think I’m an authority on the issue of what happens to babies that die, but I do believe the Bible gives enough clues to conclude that in God’s mysterious providence they are a part of God’s elect and precious in His sight. It is my prayer that families who have faced the loss of a baby would find hope and peace in the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.19:13).
Soli Deo Gloria,