************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Article 17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 16, 2013
Canons, Head I, Article 17
"The Salvation of the Infants of Believers"
I What Happens to Children Who Die
A Thursday morning I opened the newspaper to a very heart-wrenching story: a grandma and her young grandson died in a swimming pool right behind my home. Right away I thought of my wife and my grandson and my heart went out to the family who suffered such a horrible loss.
"What happens to children who die?" That's one of the questions people ask in such a situation. But this is not the only time I have heard this question. I have heard this question from more than one woman who suffered a miscarriage. I have heard this question from families whose little infant died from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). I have heard this question from younger and older ladies who have had an abortion. I have heard this question asked about youth who die without ever having made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. So, what happens to children who die?
Parents, especially Christian parents, want to know the answer to this question as they struggle through their grief and pain. And, let me tell you congregation, the death of a child is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can ever have. It is not unusual for those who have had a miscarriage to think often of their child even years later, to give their child a name, to remember them on what would have been their birthday, and to imagine them growing up. It is not unusual for parents of SIDS babies to be devastated by the death of their little one; for years to come they relive the nightmare. Thirty years ago a young couple in the church I was serving lost their baby from SIDS. Ruth and I met them this past January and they were still talking about the loss. This is not unusual. Nor is it unusual for those who have had an abortion to be filled with grief and remorse at what they have done.
So we ask, what happens to children who die?
B A number of years ago there was an article in The Banner that answered this question. The article argued that every child who dies ends up in heaven; every child whom God calls out of this life in infancy is saved and redeemed and ends up in the arms of Jesus.
Is he right? Can we say that every child who dies ends up in heaven? Or, can we say that it is the children of believing parents alone who end up in heaven if they are called out of this life in infancy? Or, can we say nothing about this at all?
On this baptism Sunday we see that Article 17 of the First Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort deals with these questions. And, it tells us how we view all our children and why we baptize infants.
II Children Are Elect or Reprobate
A When the author of The Banner article states that every child who dies ends up in heaven, do you know what he is saying? He is saying there is no election or reprobation of infants. Or, to put it even more strongly, he is denying the sovereignty of God.
No one, of course, delights in the thought of a hell full of babies. What parent wants to even consider that their little child is reprobate? At the same time, no parent wants to say their grown up child is reprobate either. Is it ever easy for believing parents to consider that their own children, their own flesh and blood, are lost? For example, was it easy for Rebekah to carry Esau in her womb and to nurture him even though she knew he was reprobate (Gen 25:21-23; Rom 9:10-13)? Isaac and her must have spent many a sleepless night, tossing and turning, agonizing over God's ways.
Rather than think of a hell full of babies, the author of The Banner article chose to believe that no babies are reprobate, that all children are saved, that God is not truly sovereign in all His ways.
This author is not the only one who denies the full sovereignty of God. Consider the typical Christian's response to an Australian pygmy or African bushman or inner-city youth who has never heard of Christ. It is difficult to believe that the pygmy or bushman or youth will end up in hell. "It is not fair," is the normal response. "How can God send them to hell if they haven't been given the chance to repent and believe?" Never mind that general revelation leaves them "without excuse" (Rom 1:20). Never mind that Jesus is the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6). It is argued that somehow these pagans will still get into heaven.
Do you see what is happening? There is a denial of election or reprobation of infants and children. There is a denial of election or reprobation of one's own flesh and blood. There is a denial of election or reprobation of pagans. Pretty soon all are saved, none are lost, and God is not sovereign.
B When the Canons were written in 1618-1619 it was the Arminians who denied both the election and reprobation of infants. They denied this biblical teaching for two reasons.
First, the Arminians view babies and infants as innocent neutrals. This ancient belief, which goes by the name of Pelagianism, was condemned by the early church already. It argues that no faith or righteousness can be found within little children; and, no unbelief or sin can be found either. But I ask: what about original sin, the sin we are all born with, the sin from Adam and Eve we all inherit through our parents? As baptism shows us, we are polluted, not neutral, when born. We are guilty, not innocent, when born. Original sin means we are on the way to hell if we are not predestined to heaven. Original sin means that our children – however precious they are to us – are sinful from the time of conception. Like their parents, they are by nature children of wrath and therefore subject to the curse, which is death.
Second, the Arminians deny the election and reprobation of infants and children because of their "conditional theology." Their conditional theology says predestination is conditional upon faith or unbelief. Infants have not reached an age at which they are able to respond to the Gospel in faith or unbelief; so they cannot possibly be elect or reprobate. Our infants and children, they would argue, are not at the age of accountability.
Now, in America, it is pretty well accepted that there is an "age of accountability." When it comes to renting a car, the age of accountability is 25. When it comes to the consumption of alcohol, the age of accountability is 21. When it comes to our criminal justice system, the age of accountability is 18. When it comes to birth-control, the age of accountability is 14. And, when it comes to religion and faith, it is generally believed that the age of accountability is somewhere between 12-16.
In the area of religion and faith the belief that there is an age of accountability is an Armenian doctrine that has no support anywhere in Scripture. Consider, for a moment, what this belief means for our children. It means there is a time when they are not responsible for their sins and any possible rejection of Christ. It means infants are not in the covenant; nor are they outside of the covenant; they are in a kind of covenantal purgatory until they reach the age when they are capable of declaring themselves either for or against Christ.
Now, according to this view, what happens to those infants and children who die? The Arminian viewpoint is that such children are saved – don't forget, they are innocent and they are not accountable.
What a false promise and what a false gospel. I say this because the Arminian viewpoint means children are saved apart from Christ. So, even though the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way to the Father, somehow children are the exception. They can be saved without Jesus. What, then, is the basis of their salvation? The basis, the only basis, is the sheer horror of babies in hell. We should shudder and cringe about such heresy – that anyone can be saved apart from Christ.
C The fact is, congregation, we have to maintain the election and reprobation of infants, and not just of adults. We have to maintain the complete sovereignty of God over all people.
In Romans 8 the Apostle Paul tells us about God's golden chain of salvation: those God foreknew He also predestined; those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. This is a chain that cannot be broken. Therefore, the number of those who are glorified cannot exceed the number of those who are predestined. Or, to put it another way, everyone of those who end up in heaven must be predestined for heaven. Heaven cannot be populated by babies or pagans who have not been foreknown, predestined, called, and justified.
Think also of what Scripture says about Jacob and Esau. Before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, God could announce, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (see Romans 9:10f; Gen 25:23; Mal 1:2-3). Again, we are told about the election and reprobation of infants.
Let me also mention the Lamb's Book of Life that we read about in Revelation 20 & 21. Anyone whose name is not written in the Book is thrown into the lake of fire, the second death; but anyone whose name is written in the Book gains entrance into the glory of the New Jerusalem. The Lamb's Book of Life is Revelation's way of telling us about predestination. If you are predestined for heaven, your name is written in the Book.
Let there be no mistake about it, congregation: there is election and reprobation of infants. No one is excluded from God's sovereignty. No one, whether young or old, gets to the Father except through the golden chain of salvation He forges in and through Christ. All who are saved are saved because God foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies them.
III The Children of Ungodly & Godly Parents
A Keeping this background in mind let me ask again the question I asked earlier: "What happens to children who die?"
Article 17 tells us, "we must make judgment about God's will from his Word."
What judgment can we make about the children of unbelievers who die? Children of the ungodly are considered to be "unclean" (1 Cor 7:14). Because of original sin they are objects of wrath, separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship, foreigners to the covenant, without hope and without God (Eph 2:3,12). So they perish. We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament. The children of the ungodly perished in the flood. The little children of the ungodly perished in Sodom. The infants of the ungodly perished in Jericho.
Yet, we must always remember that it is God, not us, Who makes the final judgment. It is not for us to say who is or is not in hell!
B What judgment can we make about the children of believers who die? Listen to these passages which are cited in our Baptism Form:
(Gen 17:7) I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.In the Old Testament children of believers are in the covenant. But this is also true for the New Testament. Children of believers are part of the covenant that God made with Abraham and are heirs to the covenant promise. In the New Testament we are told that even the children of those who are "far off" – a phrase used to designate Gentiles – are put in a covenant relationship with God, but only because of Christ and His atoning sacrifice.
(Acts 2:39) The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.
Now consider what we read in our Scripture reading about Jesus and the little children:
(Mk 10:14) When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."Jesus is talking about children who were brought to Him. These parents recognized in Jesus Someone Who would be a blessing to their children. The Lord Jesus declares these children to be partakers of the kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
(1 Cor 7:14) For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.Children of believing parents – even if only one of the parents is a Christian – are holy.
Children of believing parents are holy. What is meant by this? This holiness is not the holiness of God's image. It is not a holiness of character and thought and word and deed for that ends up being a denial of both original sin and total depravity. Rather, this holiness consists of being separated from other children by being part of the church and in the covenant of grace.
What did we say in baptism this morning? "We are ... always to teach our little ones that they have been set apart by baptism as God's own children."
Furthermore, children of believers are to be viewed as being separate or holy until they clearly mark themselves as being covenant breakers. In other words, they are not to be viewed as little heathens waiting to be converted; rather, they are to be viewed as little Christians unless or until their life indicates they are not.
As baptism shows us, children of godly parents are in the covenant and the covenant promise of eternal life in and through Christ belongs to them. They are considered to be part of the kingdom of God. So, we can say with the Canons, "godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy." We don't say this on the basis of an innocence they don't have. We don't say this because they are not yet accountable. We say this because of God's covenant promise. God's grace in Christ triumphs over human sin.
Though we have been talking about the children of believers what we really have been talking about is God and His wondrous and gracious ways. For what do we see when we look at our little ones? We see undeserving sinners. We see little people conceived and born in sin. We see original sin and total depravity. Yet, we also see them being elect and saved in Christ even though they, like the thief on the cross, show little faith and have no works of gratitude. Apart from faith and apart from obedience they are taken into the covenant relationship and counted as one of God's children. Isn't that marvelous?! Isn't that wondrous?! Isn't that gracious?!
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