Monday, September 09, 2013

Calvin on the Death of Non-Elect Infants and the Age of Accountability

I recently came across the following citation in Lorraine Boettner's The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination:
It is sometimes charged that Calvin taught the actual damnation of some of those who die in infancy. A careful examination of his writings, however, does not bear out that charge. He explicitly taught that some of the elect die in infancy and that they are saved as infants. He also taught that there were reprobate infants; for he held that reprobation as well as election was eternal, and that the non-elect come into this life reprobate. But nowhere did he teach that the reprobate die and are lost as infants. He of course rejected the Pelagian view which denied original sin and grounded the salvation of those who die in infancy on their supposed innocence and sinlessness. Calvin's views in this respect have been quite thoroughly investigated by Dr. R. A. Webb and his findings are summarized in the following paragraph: "Calvin teaches that all the reprobate 'procure' — (that is his own word) — 'procure' their own destruction; and they procure their destruction by their own personal and conscious acts of 'impiety,' 'wickedness,' and 'rebellion.' Now reprobate infants, though guilty of original sin and under condemnation, cannot, while they are infants, thus 'procure' their own destruction by their personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. They must, therefore, live to the years of moral responsibility in order to perpetrate the acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion, which Calvin defines as the mode through which they procure their destruction. While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches that they will be lost as infants, and while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate 'procure' their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself), that no reprobate child can die in infancy; but all such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin." 37
37. Calvin Memorial Addresses, p. 112.
As typical of a book from Boettner, the reference is vague. In this instance though, through the help of Google, "Calvin Memorial Address" by Dr. R.A. Webb is available: Calvin's doctrine of Infant Salvation. Dr. Webb points out that the information on Calvin's view is controversial, in that various extracts from his writings are marshaled together to indict him of teaching certain infants dying in infancy are damned. He goes through a number of these quotes. Webb argues as Boettner summarized above. Webb's form of argument appears to me to be similar to those who argue Calvin held to a limited atonement. That is, without direct and lengthy statements from Calvin on a particular issue, his position is arrived at by evaluating controversial or vague quotes, and then plugging them into his system.  

 What interested me about Webb is that if he's correct, Calvin in essence taught a form of the age of accountability. While I can think of a few specific Reformed theologians that held (or hold) a type of "age of accountability," I'm not familiar with any major Reformed confession teaching it. The popular notion of an "age of accountability" is more of an Arminian concept- that children reach a particular age in which they are culpable for their sins. That is, if they haven't accepted Jesus Christ (or even heard of him) before this particular age, and if they die before that particular age, they go to heaven. I've often wondered why Arminian parents would ever want to take the chance of allowing their child to reach the age of accountability and risk having that child potentially lost for eternity.


Lothar Lorraine said...

Hello folks.

One basic belief every Christian ought to have is a belief in God's absolute goodness.

How can one call God "good" if he predetermined babies to eternally burn in the lake of fire?

Given the truth of Calvinism, words such as "love", "goodness" and "justice" completely lose their meaning.

For God's sake, I urge you to give up this devilish doctrine.

I hope my post will be published for I don't despise you in any way, I'm just sad.

Lovely greetings from France and Germany.
Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

Katy said...

The best answer I've heard (this was about still-born babies and those who died before baptism) was there were three options 1) all babies of Christian parents were heirs of salvation 2) some were and some weren't according to God's predestination and 3) all were lost in their sin and damned. I've always felt uncomfortable with the modern assumption that miscarried or stillborn (and aborted) are automatically in heaven, since we do confess that "into sin my mother conceived me." Rev. Jonathan Fisk has suggested all three could be faithful interpretations of Scripture, and parents do best to cling to God's promises, leaving the unknown to Him, who works everything to good.

(I'm Lutheran, and practically, pregnant mothers are encouraged to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament often, not only for their own spiritual welfare, but for their unborn baby as well, trusting in God for the fetus's physical and spiritual safety. Not sure how other traditions view this.)

Rhology said...

pregnant mothers are encouraged to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament often, not only for their own spiritual welfare, but for their unborn baby as well


Nicholas Leone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas Leone said...

And if Rhology thinks himself a "Calvinist", then let him read what the real Calvinists believed about Holy Baptism:

Rhology said...

I'm not all that young. ;-)
But I take "zealous" as a compliment - thank you. I call 'em like I see 'em. If the early Calvinists believed in magic too, so much the worse for their infallibility. Fortunately, they didn't claim infallibility.

Rhology said...

I do not know why Mr. Swan allows you to be a blog contributor here.

Well, that makes two of us.

Michael Taylor said...

Hi James,

Fascinating find as usual. I'm not sure, however, that an age of accountability follows from the data--at least no specific age.

All we would be able to safely conclude is that *at some point in time* the reprobate procure their own reprobation and are thereby held accountable. There is no way to infer from this a specific, one-size-fits-all age of accountability. It is quite possible that the exact point in time (known but to God alone) varies from person to person unlike a specific "age" of accountability.

The flip side must entail some sort of belief in the non-imputation of Adam's guilt to the elect infant.

For my money, any view that says God *must* save one group and/or *can't* save another runs headlong into the Potter's freedom. I much prefer to leave it up the God of the universe who will do right in each and every case.

Mike Taylor

JoeyHenry said...

It seems that Dr. Webb argued that Calvin taught that no reprobate can die as infants. The reprobate infant's original sin must be actualized first. Consequently, every infant who dies is considered elect.

Personally, the assertions above need to be supported by biblical exegesis. Haven't seen how the belief above can be derived from the Bible. Anyone?

TomiPad said...

Federal Headship is the issue! 

My 24 year old daughter was born normal and suffered seizures at 6 months and has permanent brain damage. She has no verbal ability and functions cognitively on the level of an 18 month old. 

Lutheran baptism by parental Monergism is not settling for us being Reformed Baptist. Covenantal Baptism does not assure inclusion.

She has attended church with us on a regular basis since infancy. We can only leave her in the hands of the one who judges with all righteousness. 

Hananiah Chew said...

Westmister Confession of Faith sums it up concisely and precisely Ch 10:3 - Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit. The sin of Adam is imputed at conception (Ps 51:5), and as the wages of sin is death, we see miscarriages and stillbirths. Who exactly are saved? The elect infants. Who are they? Humble yourselves O ye sinner man. Let the Sovereign God be thy LORD God, and He saves Whom He pleases (remember Jacob and Esau in Romans 9). Infants can be quicken in their mothers'womb as proven in Jer 1:5 and Luke 1:41. So all ye pregnant mothers of the faith, bring your children to hear true preachings and sing unto them. Who knows if the blessed Holy Spirit would quicken and sealed them for all eternity.