Do Infants of Believers who die in Infancy go to Heaven?

With the recent loss of an unborn child Rick Philips wrote a blog post offering comfort and help to those who have experienced a similar loss. Rick offers some helpful thoughts to grieving parents. One woman commented that she had lost two babies at the 11th week and had not had much sucess in coming to a settled position about what the Bible says about where they would spend eternity. Rick responded with an interesting post that can be found here. He asserts that the Bible teaches that the infants of believers who die in infancy are “justified by the blood of Christ” and therefore go to heaven when they die. The support he gives for this is not all that convincing, and, I would argue, creates more problems with the explanation of the covenant promises and the doctrine of reprobation.

In response to his first point that “Just as we teach our little children to call God ‘Father’, we believe that our infant children belong to God by virtue of the covenant of grace, which says, ‘I will be your God and the God of your children.’ Likewise, Paul says that the children of believers are “holy” unto the Lord (1 Cor. 7:14). All this indicates that by virtue of our faith, we should understand that our children begin life in fellowship with our God,” Rick fails to explain the difference between covenant children being “internally holy” and “externally holy” (For a good treatement of the history fo this debate I would recommend John Gersner Jr.’s doctoral dissertation). Rick also seems to be making the claim that we should presume that our children are believers from infancy. This is not necessarily the veiw shared by all who embrace the biblical teaching of the covenant of Grace. Many would say that we do not presume that they are or are not yet regenerate. The best way I have had it explained is to say is that the children of believers are Federally Christian (a term that denotes what they are legally by virtue of the covenant of grace, i.e. they are under the Kingship of Christ in the visible church). This is not the same as saying that they are born again.

“But how can infants who die be saved without personal faith? I agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says, “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit” (X.3). In other words, faith is for those in this life. But for those cases in which God has sovereigntly ordained that they will either never enter this life or never possess the faculties for faith, we should understand that upon their deaths elect children are immediately regenerated into glory. We know for a fact that at least some covenant infants who die are elect (see below, re: David’s son), and the only way such a child could enter heaven is by immediate regeneration apart from faith. But I will happily go further and say again that I see no biblical reason to believe that any covenant children who die in infancy or before birth are not elect. The only thing Jesus ever says about them is “Let them come to me, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Therefore, we should believe that our children who die in or before infancy are elect and were regenerated through the Spirit by our Savior into glory”

In response to Rick’s second point, I would first of all commend his use of the confession to show that if any elect infants die in infancy they will be saved because God first regenerates them and then gives them saving faith in Jesus Christ. But I can not agree with his use of the account of the death of David’s son. We have no reason to believe that David meant he would be with his son in heaven as over against going to be with him in the grave (or the place of the dead, “Sheol”). We do not know whether David meant heaven or the grave, therefore, we ought not appeal to this vague example. Finally, Rick seems to go further than the confession when he says, “I will happily go further and say again that I see no biblical reason to believe that any covenant children who die in infancy or before birth are not elect.” The confession says, “all elect infants who die in infancy…” I am not saying that Rick is misinterpreting the confession, but I am saying that we should not go further than the Assemblymen on this issue since the Bible does not give us more reason to do so.

I only raise these concerns because I think that we make a mistake leading people to think that they should view all their children as elect simply because they are part of the covenant community. God has given us promises to be a God to us and our descendants after us, but He has also conditioned those promises with the demand for personal (not parental) faith. I realize that Rick is not saying that it is based on parental faith, but this is a question of how we are to view our children (not just infants who die in infancy) by virtue of the Covenant of Grace. Even though the children of Abraham had the covenant sign didn’t mean that they had the thing that the sign pointed to. The best comfort we can give grieving parents is to tell them that our God has given us promises and we should trust His sovereign will in the fulfillment of those promises to everone to whom they are due. If we say that He fulfills them to all our infants we must go further and say He will fulfill them to all our children. When all our children are not converted who has failed? It seems to me that the answer would have to be God if we believe that these promises are made unconditionally to our children.

5 Responses

  1. Joshua

    Funny you mentioned about Dr. Gerstner (are you speaking about the son or father? As the son of The Dr. John Gerstner is not a junior and I was confused.), as the son is with us this weekend and provided a lecture this morning on the Doctrines of Grace, particularly Election and what the Scriptures say about it. He used the Golden Chain diagram and Romans 8:28-30.
    He will provide during SS tomorrow a lecture of Covenant Theology, particularly Covenant Family.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. As a parent, I want to believe that they are justified, but as a Thinker, I am not sure because if they are justified then at what age are they no longer and then “on their own”?

  2. Nicholas T. Batzig


    Thanks for the correction. I was mistaken. I somehow thought that because John Gerstner’s son was Jonathan Gerstner that made him a Junior. That’s pretty interesting that he is at your church this weekend doing a conference. Ask him to explain the controversy over internal verse external holiness in the Dutch churches of the 17th Century. You can access what I believe was his dissertation here . I would love to hear what he has to say this weekend. Maybe you could post further if you have anything else to add.

    P.S. This post was by no means an attempt to belittle Rick Philips, who I admire more than I can express. I also was hesitant to put this up knowing the loss that he has just suffered.

  3. Joshua

    Thanks for the clarification. So it is the son, whom I assume you are writing about. I’ll ask him if I get the opportunity. Not exactly sure what his plan is for SS, but you can access the recording by Monday afternoon at this link, http://www.christchurchofthecarolinas.org/Archived_Audios.Reformation_Sunday_School

    I am sure the Pastor Phillips would understand your view and that your post and his post was placed in order to equip His people to be a thinking people and for us to be Bereans and come to a resolve ourselves.

  4. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I also wanted to say thank you for understanding the point of my arguement. I think you stated it much better when you asked, “at what age are they on thier own?” It seems almost like some solid Reformed men, who are not presumptive regenerationsists, bring an “age of accountability (or you may prefer “age of responsiveness”) arguement to the table. This is a very difficult subject and as a father I too want to believe that my son is justified, but that is in God’s hands. It is my part to raise him to look to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. God must, of His own freedom, give that faith to my son as He gave it to me (Phil. 1:29).

    I also wanted to let you know that Jonathan Gerstner starts his discussion of the holiness of covenant children on page 5 of the link I added to my last comment. BTW, Joel Beeke was the one who informed me of Gerstner’s work. He said it was a fine treatment of the hostorical development in Dutch covenant theology.

  5. I wonder if Psalm 16 could be used to understand what David meant by “I shall go to him, but he shall not come to me.” I too have wondered whether or not David simply meant that he would join him in Sheol or death. But David in Psalm 16 speak of himself when he writes, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). So David implicitly saw the resurrection of the dead even though he died (Acts 2) and this psalm points ahead to Christ. David saw a different fate for himself than for the godless, and he believed he and his son would be joined in the same fate. But I suppose David could’ve spoken in 2 Samuel out of a spirit of despair and resigned himself to knowing that his son was and would be dead, and that is what he meant in saying he would go to his son.

    I love your blog. I consider myself a Reformed Baptist a la 1689 LBCF (though I belong to a PCA church) so I don’t always agree with everything you write, but I learn so much about biblical theology from your posts (esp. the piece about the Trees of Eden).

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