Did My Baby Go to Heaven?
by Jerry Priest
"Mommy! Mommy! Look at me! Please, Mom, please look."
Four-year-old Jennifer pulled on her mother's limp arm. Margaret Whitten mechanically turned her head toward her daughter and tried to focus her eyes on Jenny's wobbly headstand. An unopened magazine slid from her lap to the floor.
Two long weeks had passed since she and Dennis had found three-month-old Scott unbreathing in his crib. "Sudden infant death syndrome" their doctor had called it. He had done his best to assure the shocked and grieving couple that Scott's crib death was in no way caused by their mistake or neglect. "It's still a medical mystery," he said. "There is nothing you could have done to have predicted or prevented it."
But the sympathetic physician's words hadn't calmed other raging questions in Margaret's mind. Where was Scott? Was their son with the Lord Jesus? Are there any Scripture verses to prove that since he had died before the "age of accountability" he is in Heaven? What is the "age of accountability" anyway?
It is the almost instinctive hope of any grieving parent that their child is in Heaven But instinct, inclination, sentiment--these are not enough to conclusively prove the doctrines of accountability and young child salvation. Scripture alone must decide the answer to these questions.
The term "account" or logos as found in Scripture simply means "word," "speaking," or "reckoning." It is used six times in the New Testament with reference to a future judgment before God where every man must give an intelligent explanation for his responsible conduct. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:12 that Christians are not to condemn one another because the Lord, the Chief Justice, will weigh all motives and actions when we must all, individually, "give account of [ourselves] to God." Christ declares that even the thoughtless words we say require a future word of accountability (Matthew 12:36). Peter teaches that every man will one day render what is due to God, an account of his actions (I Peter 4:5). All these passages apply only to those capable of making an intelligent and conscious reckoning before God--in other words, those who have reached the age of accountability.
While this age is not the same for all persons, Charles Hodge's emphatic statement of the 1870's is still valid: "the common doctrine of evangelical Protestants is . . . all who die in infancy are saved." This doctrine has been held by leaders of several different denominations such as Presbyterian Lewis Chafer: "It may be definitely asserted . . . that infants who die before accountability begins are saved"; Baptist William L. Pettingill: "I am convinced that unaccountable children are saved by the blood of Christ", Brethrenite Harry Ironside: "Little ones who die go to be with Christ"; and independent M. R. DeHaan: "Little children who die in infancy are [never] lost." Conservatives from other denominations have made similar statements.
More important than the testimony of Bible scholars, however, the Bible itself teaches that children, before reaching accountable age, are saved and therefore subjects of God's heavenly kingdom.
Romans 5:12 says: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Every child is born with a sinful nature, proven from the simple fact that all men, including some infants, suffer the consequences of original sin--death. Thus, little children are born depraved and are under condemnation because of the sin of Adam. But if they die before reaching accountability, they are forgiven on the basis of the death of Christ.
God condemns to Hell only those who have personally and consciously transgressed. I say "consciously" because transgression involves the conscience. Every man is born with what has been called the "voice of God to the soul of man." This voice bears witness to God's law written in man's heart, as explained in Romans 2:15: "Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." Conscience is what Wordsworth calls "a light to guide, a rod to check the erring, and reprove." Conscience reveals oughtness. As commentator Augustus Strong says, "It points to something higher than itself." He also notes that "conscience . . . with its continual and supreme demand, that the right should be done, furnishes the best witness to man of the existence of a personal God." Now, when a child reaches the age when his conscience is awakened to the moral distinction between right and wrong, when his wrong acts bring a conviction to his mind that they are transgressions against a holy God, then and only then is that child held morally responsible and therefore personally accountable to God for his sins.
Little children (whether physically or mentally) are not only incapable of personal awareness of their transgressions, they are also incapable of fulfilling the condition of personal faith in Christ for salvation (see John 3:36 and Acts 16:31). Christ made atonement for original sin, and since a child has no conscious awareness of sin, He acts directly in behalf of those who die in infancy and redeems them. This atonement is remedial even for children of the Old Testament, for David was consoled, after mourning the loss of his infant son, by the knowledge that he would "go to him" (II Samuel 12:23). David undoubtedly believed his child would go to Heaven where he knew he himself would go one day.
While we would agree that children are not saved by any natural holiness, they nevertheless are chosen as special objects of Christ's atonement and examples of heavenly citizenship. In Matthew 18:14, Christ uses the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate that "it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." This passage along with Jesus' statement, "Of such [little children] is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14), gives convincing proof that little children are under God's special protection until they reach the age of accountability.
The question of just when, or at what age, a person is accountable to God must still be answered.
The incident in the first six
verses of Matthew 18 provides a clue at least to the unaccountable age
of a child. John Broadus comments that the child called unto Jesus was
able to walk and sit by His side, yet was small enough to be naturally
taken in His arms, and so young as to be an appropriate pattern, an object
lesson of innocency.
Reprinted from FAITH for the Family (1976).
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