A Scriptural Review and Response to John MacArthur's, "Safe in the Arms of God: Truth from Heaven About the Death of a Child"By GraceGems.org
Part I. Introductory Remarks
Part II. What Is the Biblical Gospel?
A. How many gospels does the Bible teach?
B. The exclusivity of the gospel
C. The Scriptural view of salvation in three axioms
1. All people without exception are lost sinners and in need of salvation.
2. There is no salvation without conscious faith in Christ.
3. There can be no faith in Christ without first hearing the gospel message.
Part III. A Scriptural Response to "Safe in the Arms of God"
Part IV. Miscellaneous Thoughts
A. A summary of the gospel
B. Is God unjust?
C. Excerpts from other authors
D. Excerpts from Arthur Pink
E. God always preserves His elect alive until they hear and believe the gospel
F. Abortion, blessing or curse?
G. Excerpts from Pastor MacArthur's "Biblical Doctrine."
God's Decree of Reprobation
Part V. For Further Study
Part I. Introductory Remarks
I have been acquainted with Pastor MacArthur since the Lord was pleased to save me some forty-four years ago. At first, only his cassette tapes were available, and I listened to some two thousand of these. Then he started to write books, and I read many of these. Then the internet came along, and I was able to watch his sermons online. Lastly, I moved to California and was able to attend some of his church services in person. I also sent both of my children to "The Master's College" when Pastor MacArthur was the President there. I can honestly say that I highly respect and gratefully appreciate Pastor MacArthur. He has been one of the main instruments that God has used to shape my spiritual life. It is my opinion that Pastor MacArthur has been the most influential Christian in the church for good, during the past forty years.
I read Pastor MacArthur's "Safe in the Arms of God" shortly after it was published. I was anxiously looking forward to it, thinking, "Finally someone is going to give a Scriptural and straightforward answer to the question of what happens to infants, heathen and the mentally challenged when they die." Yet I must say that this book is perhaps the most disappointing book I have ever read. Instead of his usual careful exegesis and sound doctrine, there was a plethora of emotional and sentimental stories, which perhaps make up the majority of the book. He seemed to have a theory he wanted to prove, and went to great extremes in attempting to force Scripture into the mold of his theory. He would quote a Scripture passage, and then give his remarks on the passage. All the way through the book, I kept thinking: "No one would ever see that in this passage!" It was almost like some liberal theologian had written the book from a humanistic viewpoint. It was confusing to me that such a clear and theologically sound person such as Pastor MacArthur could, or would, ever write such an unbiblical and sentimental book.
Some may ask WHY we would attempt to critique a book which teaches that all dying infants go to heaven. The straightforward answer is this: Pastor MacArthur's "Safe In the Arms of God" teaches an "additional" way of salvation which is not revealed in holy writ. [In all of his other books and sermons, he correctly teaches that the only way of salvation is by hearing and believing the gospel.]
The apostle Paul actually commended the Christians in Berea for examining the Scriptures every day to make sure the apostle was teaching truth: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11. In the same way, we ask nothing more from our readers than this Berean spirit.
As you read this article please keep the following in mind: "All true doctrine entirely rests upon the Word of God—upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture; and not upon history, religious creeds, religious traditions; or human inferences, logic or reason of any kind. When sinful men make their reason the basis of believing something, there is no limit to the nonsense that will be passed off as Bible doctrine! Always be prepared to give up any doctrine or practice that is not found in holy Scripture; and to embrace anything revealed in the Book of God, no matter what the sacrifice, no matter what the consequence!" Don Fortner
1. When you see "child" or "children" below, we are usually referring to those children who die before the supposed "age of accountability."
2. All of Pastor MacArthur's excerpts below are verbatim, and highlighted in BLUE.
Italicized and bolded words are mine.
3. Not everyone whom I quote from below, comes to the same conclusions that I do.
4. In order to make this paper readable, I have purposely limited it to some fifty pages. This paper is not meant to be exhaustive, as much more could be said. I have only included the main points.
Before we start with our response to Pastor MacArthur, please take a moment to thoughtfully answer the following questions:
According to Scripture, is Jesus the only way to heaven?
According to Scripture, can a person be saved who has never heard of Jesus?
According to Scripture, is conscious faith in Jesus necessary to be saved?
According to Scripture, are those of other religions saved if they are good people and sincere in their beliefs?
How many ways of salvation do the Scriptures teach?
One? Two? Several? Many?
Are the Scriptures silent about the eternal destiny of those who never hear and believe the Gospel?
According to Scripture, is there such a thing as post-mortem salvation?
The Scriptures teach that all those who die without having heard and believed the Gospel are:
C. In Purgatory
D. In Limbo
Here are several examples concerning dying children:
Throughout history, there have been many views and theories on dying children, the mentally challenged, and the heathen.
Islam teaches that all children are born Muslim, and will therefore go to heaven when they die.
Mormons teach, "Because all children who die before the age of accountability are pure, innocent, and wholly sin-free, they are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven."
In the same way, most Protestants believe that all children who die before "the age of accountability" get a free pass to heaven.
In the past, the Roman Catholic Church taught that all children dying unbaptized go to a place called Limbo.
Dying Covenant children are all saved—but not the children of unbelievers.
Dying children are all regenerated by a secret operation of the Holy Spirit.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God is love.
In the "Left Behind" movie, all children are "raptured" and saved.
Dying children are all saved in a mysterious manner.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they are innocent.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God is merciful.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God is a saving God.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they have no conscious sin.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they can't understand the gospel (salvation by ignorance).
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they are too young to be lost (salvation by youth).
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they are a special case.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God is tender-hearted.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God loves children.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they are elect.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God grants them infant faith.
All dying children are given a second chance after they die.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God is good.
Dying children are saved, because of their infant baptism.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because of God's grace.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because Jesus died for all children.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they have a unique relationship to God.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because they are victims of a fallen world.
All dying children get a free pass to heaven, because God will show mercy to children.
I would ask, "Where are any of the above theories found in Scripture?"
Chapter and verse please!
Part II. What Is the Biblical Gospel?
A. How many gospels does the Bible teach?
You may be interested to see how the word "gospel" is used in the Bible:gospel, 86 times
this gospel, 3 times
my gospel, 3 times
our gospel, 3 times
Christ's gospel, 1 time
the everlasting gospel, 1 time
that gospel, 1 time
a different gospel, 2 times, both used to describe false gospels
any other gospel, 2 times, both used to describe false gospels
a gospel, 0 times
You will note that the expression "a gospel" is not found in the Bible. The Christian gospel is not "a gospel"—that is, it is not one of many. There is only one gospel! That is what we mean when we talk about "the exclusivity of the gospel." There is only one way to heaven—conscious faith in Jesus. There is not one gospel for children—and another gospel for adults. There is not one gospel for those who have heard it—and another gospel for all others. There are not different gospels for people in different religions. There is not one gospel for one group—and another for a different group. There is only one gospel!
In his excellent and Biblically based book, "Why One Way?" Pastor MacArthur rightly states:
"Why One Way?" clearly gives the clear Scriptural perspective on salvation: "We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."
The biblical message is clear. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). The apostle Peter proclaimed to a hostile audience, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The apostle John wrote, "He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
Instead, many Christians just pass over the exclusive claims of Christ in embarrassed silence. Even worse, some in the church, including a few of evangelicalism's best-known leaders, have begun to suggest that perhaps people can be saved apart from knowing Christ.
In his book "Biblical Doctrine" Pastor MacArthur rightly states:
Sinners are saved by grace through faith alone (Acts 15:11; cf. 15:9).
Christ's righteousness, which is graciously reckoned to their account through faith alone. As Paul says, "To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:5).
We may define justification as that instantaneous act of God whereby, as a gift of his grace, he imputes to a believing sinner the full and perfect righteousness of Christ through faith alone and legally declares him perfectly righteous in his sight, forgiving the sinner of all unrighteousness and thus delivering him from all condemnation.
God declares the believer to be righteous as a gift of his grace, which the believer receives by faith alone.
With an empty hand, the sinner lays hold of the righteousness of Christ through faith alone.
Scripture repeatedly indicates that divine forgiveness is granted on the basis of God's grace received through a repentant faith alone.
Yet in the book which we are presently considering, "Safe in the Arms of God" Pastor MacArthur is basically teaching that God has two ways of saving people:
1. Adults can only be saved by hearing and believing the gospel.
2. Children are saved by a different way.
B. The exclusivity of the gospel
Jason Allen: "By the exclusivity of the gospel, we mean that only those who personally, consciously, explicitly, and singularly confess Jesus Christ as Lord can possess eternal life."
John 10:9 I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Steve Lawson: "There is only one gospel! There is no other way of salvation. Any time, any where, any one that has ever been saved . . . they are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."
There is only one way of salvation taught in Scripture, as Pastor MacArthur rightly states in his book "Biblical Doctrine":
Salvation is a sovereign gift of God's grace that the sinner apprehends by faith alone (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8)
Salvation is God's righteousness imputed to the believer by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
In his sermon, "Is Jesus the Only Way?" Pastor MacArthur bewails the sad state of evangelicalism:
If you look at surveys that are done by these various groups that do that, you will find that somewhere between 45 percent and 65 percent of so called evangelical Christians are convinced that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. This goes counter to our tradition, our theology and Scripture as you know. But here we are as evangelical Christians defending the exclusivity of Christ; and this is a movement that's not diminishing, it is a movement that is escalating in a post-modern world where tolerance dominates everything and everybody has a right to his own opinion; there's no universal truth and no absolutes.
"The exclusivity of the Christian gospel is an unmistakable theme that runs throughout Scripture."
"There is no other way to heaven except through faith in the message of Jesus Christ and His cross."
"If you don't know the gospel, and if you don't believe in Jesus Christ, you aren't going to heaven."
"The only way you're going to get saved is by believing the message of the cross. That's the only way."
"Only the message of the cross can save, anything else is moronic."
"The biblical teaching that salvation only comes in response to faith in Jesus Christ is rejected as unreasonable and cruel."
"The only people who enter heaven do so because they believe in and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. They must know about God. They must know about Christ. They must know what He did. They must believe that and embrace that."
"You have to come to Christ; you have to believe in Christ, the only way of salvation."
"The exclusivity of the gospel. There's no salvation in any other. There's no other name under heaven given among men whereby you might be saved."
"Christians preach an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. Because of that, we are often accused of being narrow-minded, even intolerant. Many paths, it is said, lead to the top of the mountain of religious enlightenment. How dare we insist that ours is the only one?"
"There are people who are purveying this heresy within the amorphous boundaries of evangelicalism; that though Jesus is the only Savior, and He is the only sacrifice for sin—people will be saved without ever knowing about Him, or knowing about His sacrifice, or even knowing that He existed."
A.W. Tozer: "Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God—nor is He the best of several ways. He is the only way."
C. The Scriptural view of salvation in three axioms
Scripture teaches that all people without exception (including infants, the mentally challenged, and the heathen) are lost sinners and in need of salvation.
Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
Genesis 8:21 Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.
Psalm 14:3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Psalm 51:5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?
Romans 3:9-12 We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned
Ephesians 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins
Ephesians 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath.
In his sermon "Children, Obey Your Parents" Pastor MacArthur states:
"Our obedience is to be coupled with honor, respect, reverence, regard, love and affection for a parent. Now, let me give you some insight: your kids don't come hard wired to conduct their lives this way. They don't come ready-made to obey you or honor you, because they're little reprobates."
"Listen: I presumed that all four of my children were reprobate, unconverted, enemies of God, alienated from the life of God, and that I had a responsibility to teach them how to obey and honor their parents"
In "Biblical Doctrine" Pastor MacArthur rightly states the Scriptural concept of Original Sin:
The descendants of Adam are sinners because Adam sinned; the descendants of Adam die (Romans 3:23; 5:12–19; 6:23; see Psalm 51:5).
Infant death necessitates the doctrine of original sin, for there is no death apart from sin.
Transmission of Adam's Sin
How does the first man's sin affect all born after him? Theologians often refer to this reality as original sin, from the Latin peccatum originale. In one sense, original sin refers to the first sin committed by Adam. But original sin also encompasses the sinful state and condition of all people because of their relationship to Adam, which is the reason people are depraved and tainted with sin from conception.
Several verses support the concept of original sin, including Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," and Ephesians 2:3, "We . . . were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Also, Adam's sin is linked with man's sinfulness in Romans 5:12–21, the most detailed Scripture passage on this topic.
Romans 5:12 states, "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 . . ." Four truths are asserted here.
First, sin entered the world through "one man"—Adam.
Second, sin brought death.
Third, death spread to all people.
Fourth, the reason death spread to all people is "because all sinned."
But how have "all sinned" in Adam? Is Paul referring to the fact that all people commit acts of sin? Or does "all sinned" somehow connect Adam's sin with all people being sinners? In Romans 5:18–19, Paul explains that "one trespass led to condemnation for all men" and that "by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners." In Romans 5:15, he also states, "Many died through one man's trespass."
So a direct connection exists between Adam's sin and the sinfulness of Adam's descendants.
Inherited Sinful Nature
The idea of an inherited sinful nature affirms that all people do receive a corrupt and sinful nature from Adam. Adam's offspring are conceived with a disposition that is bent toward sin. This understanding makes a real connection between Adam and the transmission of sinfulness. Adam actually passes on a corrupt nature to the human race.
But how have "all sinned" in Adam? Is Paul referring to the fact that all people commit acts of sin? Or does "all sinned" somehow connect Adam's sin with all people being sinners? In Romans 5:18–19, Paul explains that "one trespass led to condemnation for all men" and that "by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners." In Romans 5:15, he also states, "Many died through one man's trespass." Plus, the aorist tense for "sinned" at the end of Romans 5:12 points to a specific historical event. So a direct connection exists between Adam's sin and the sinfulness of Adam's descendants. But what is this connection?
The most acceptable position is that Adam's sin is imputed to all who were united to him as the representative of humanity. Adam's guilt is our guilt. While affirming that a corrupt nature is passed down from Adam, representative headship teaches that all people are condemned because of their direct relationship to Adam.
The representative-headship view (often called federal headship) asserts that the action of a representative is determinative for all members united to him. When Adam sinned, he represented all people; therefore, his sin is reckoned to his descendants. Romans 5:19 adds, "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." Jesus' obedience is imputed to others as their righteousness. The logic here suggests that if the justification and righteousness of the Lord Jesus is imputed to those in him, so too the guilt of Adam's sin has been imputed to those he represented. As already stated, the Adam-Christ parallel in Romans 5:12–21 is best explained by the idea of representation. Just as Christians are considered righteous because Christ's alien righteousness (that is, righteousness that is external to the believer) is imputed to all who are Christ's, so too Adam's guilt is imputed to all his descendants, even though they did not personally sin when he did.
Adherents of this view also appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." This verse shows that death and life are linked with Adam and Christ as two representatives of mankind. In addition, Romans 5:14 states that "death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam." This verse explicitly teaches that Adam's offspring did not commit Adam's sin. So Adam relates to his offspring as their representative head, and thus the act of Adam is imputed to others, even though the others did not actually commit the sin that Adam did.
In sum, both men—Adam and Christ—are seen as representatives of humanity, and for both, the effects of their actions are placed on others. Adam is the representative of sinful humanity, and Jesus is the representative of righteous humanity. Significantly, while this view emphasizes imputation via headship with Adam, it also encompasses inherited corruption passed on from Adam to the whole of humanity.
Scripture teaches that there is no salvation without conscious faith in Christ.
John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
John 3:15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 5:24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
John 6:40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.
John 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;"
John 11:26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Acts 11:21 The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Acts 16:30-31 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
They replied, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Romans 10:9-10, That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Romans 10:13-14 "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
1 Corinthians 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.
Ephesians 2:8, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
1 Timothy 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Hebrews 4:3 Now we who have believed enter that rest
Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God
1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Scripture teaches that there can be no faith in Christ, without first hearing the gospel message.
John 5:24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
John 17:20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message
Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Acts 4:4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
Acts 11:13-14 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
Acts 13:38 Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you
Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Acts 14:1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.
Acts 15:7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.
Acts 18:9-10 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city."
Acts 26:17-18 I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes
1 Corinthians 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 15:11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 They (the persecuting Jews) displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.
2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 3:15 "From a child, you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus!"
In "Biblical Doctrine" Pastor MacArthur rightly states the necessity of hearing and believing the gospel message for all who would be saved:
The Necessity of the External Call
Romans 10:13 declares that the external call is essential for the sinner to be able to "call" on the Lord for salvation: For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13–17)
This text clearly indicates that proclaiming the message of the gospel is absolutely imperative to people being saved . . . For salvation to come to anyone, the gospel message of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God, sent from heaven to save sinners by grace through faith apart from works, must be proclaimed to them.Paul's chain of logic in Romans 10:13–17 is straightforward:
1. The only way to be saved is to call on Christ's name.
2. The only way to call on Christ's name is to believe the gospel.
3. The only way to believe the gospel is to hear the gospel.
4. The only way to hear the gospel is to be told the gospel.
Scripture teaches that where there is no hearing and believing the gospel, there can be no salvation. Scripture does not give any exceptions to this rule. Hearing of the gospel, and subsequent conversion (faith and repentance) are absolutely essential to salvation. All of the elect must and will hear the gospel and believe it—there are no exceptions. When God intends to save a particular person, He will preserve that person alive until they hear and believe the Gospel message. In other words, God's elect cannot and will not die until they hear and believe the gospel message. Those who never hear and believe the gospel are obviously not chosen by the Father, nor redeemed by the Son, nor regenerated by the Spirit.
Yet Pastor MacArthur's "Safe in the Arms of God" teaches that every person who dies before "the Condition of Accountability" goes immediately to heaven, even though that person has neither heard nor believed the gospel.
If this is true, then a person who dies a day before he reaches the condition of accountability goes directly to heaven. But if that same person dies a day after he reaches the condition of accountability, he goes directly to hell.
Is Pastor MacArthur saying that all people are born in a spiritually saved state, but those who live beyond "the Condition of Accountability" enter into a spiritually lost state?
Part III. A Scriptural Response to "Safe in the Arms of God"
For the sake of this "Scriptural Response" I will only deal with select portions of the book in which Pastor MacArthur attempts to prove his thesis that all children dying before "the Condition of Accountability" are saved and will assuredly go to heaven. To give a full response to every argument of the book would be beyond the scope of this short response.
Chapter 1. Where is My Child?
Like the doctrine of eternal hell, the question of what happens to those who never hear and believe the gospel, is an emotionally charged one. In this chapter Pastor MacArthur asks some foundational questions which he attempts to answer in the remainder of the book:
What about any baby that dies? What happens to an unborn child, an infant, a child, or even a physically mature but mentally handicapped adult with the mental capacity of a child after he dies? What is the fate of that "little one" as he or she enters eternity? The questions are agonizing ones for many parents, Christians and non-Christians alike . . . The great and sad reality is, throughout history, hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of unborn babies, newborns, and young children have died. Millions are dying in our era . . . If you begin to add up the millions over the years of history, there are countless billions of persons who have entered eternity prior to reaching maturity.
Where are the souls of these persons? They are either populating hell at an incredible rate, populating heaven at an incredible rate, or perhaps populating both heaven and hell at the same incredible rate. Which is it?
Pastor MacArthur then goes on to describe some of the answers people give to the above questions:
A universalist has a quick answer because he believes everyone goes to heaven at death.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that an unborn child has no soul and therefore has no eternal fate.
In between are those who hold a variety of opinions and beliefs. Some declare that only certain "elect" infants go to heaven, while the "non-elect" suffer endless punishment.
Others believe infant baptism inoculates a child against hell and secures a place in heaven, but they leave out the souls of those who die prior to birth.
Still others believe that all children who die go to heaven because God sovereignly chooses to extend His special grace to them.
Chapter 2. What Can We Say with Certainty to Those with Empty Arms?
In this chapter Pastor MacArthur starts off with a couple of emotional stories, and then proceeds to list:
Six Precious Truths About Your Life and Your Baby's Life.
1. God knows everything about you before your conception.
2. God is actively involved in your life.
3. God will never cease to have knowledge of you.
4. God is never limited in His understanding.
5. God is your personal Creator.
6. God personally planned your destiny.
All of the above are basic Biblical truths to any Christian who is familiar with the Scriptural concept of the nature of God.
Pastor MacArthur ends this chapter with another lengthy story.
Chapter 3. How Does God Regard Children?
This perhaps is the main chapter in the book, in which Pastor MacArthur attempts to prove his thesis that all dying children go instantly to heaven. He states:
Scripture reaffirms again and again two great truths:
1. God considers all babies to be His.
2. God loves all who are His "innocent little ones."
To prove these points Pastor MacArthur notes these verses:
Ezekiel 16:20-22 "Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? "You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire. "Besides all your abominations and harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare and squirming in your blood."
Jeremiah 2:34 "Also on your skirts is found The lifeblood of the innocent poor; You did not find them breaking in. But in spite of all these things,"
Jeremiah 19:4 "Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent
Jonah 4:11 "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"
Perhaps the main argument in the book for his premise that all dying children go instantly to heaven, is what most people would call "The AGE of Accountability." Pastor MacArthur prefers to call this "The CONDITION of Accountability."
"The condition of accountability is what matters. Every infant or child who dies before reaching a condition of moral culpability goes instantly to heaven at death.
A child who has not reached moral culpability is a child who has not reached sufficient mature understanding to comprehend convincingly the issues of law and grace, sin and salvation. Only God knows the time when a child becomes 'accountable.' "
He proceeds to explain:
A child who has not reached moral culpability is a child who has not reached sufficient mature understanding to comprehend convincingly the issues of law and grace, sin and salvation.
At some point in a child's maturation, he or she comes to have an understanding of law and grace. In other words, the child begins to comprehend and understand these principles:
God has rules and commandments;
sin involves the violation or breaking of God's laws;
forgiveness of sin has been made possible through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross;
the grace of God allows for all who believe in and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and submit to Him as Lord to be cleansed of their sin and live in the newness of life and joyful obedience to Him.
Scripture clearly teaches that the children of idolatrous parents are also considered "innocent" in God's eyes until they reach a state of moral culpability.
Millions upon millions of babies and children in undeveloped countries and pagan cultures have died through the centuries. Millions upon millions of babies conceived by parents who were Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, or followers of any one of thousands of cults and false religions have died. These children are also "innocents" in God's eyes.
Some believe the age of accountability could have been 20 years old because this was the age when young men in Israel became accountable to serve in the army of Israel.
Others believe the age of accountability to be around 12 or 13 due to this being the age when Jesus went up to Jerusalem with his parents and was found in the temple discussing the Law and asking questions. This was also the normal age for being received into Judaism as a 'son of the law,' which would make him a full member of the religious community.
Then Pastor MacArthur has a section entitled, Babies Do Not Pay for the Sins of Their Parents; which we fully agree with.
He then addresses the the state of the heathen:
What About All Heathen People?
Let me digress for just a moment to cover an issue that is related to the innocence of heathen children.
It is very important to understand at this point what I am not saying. This innocence is limited to children (and the mentally deficient) and does not include anyone else.
Pastor MacArthur then has a section entitled,
Mercy for the Babies of God's Enemies
In fact, there are other passages in the Bible in which God seems to authorize the death of infants as part of His judgment on a wicked nation.
For example, when God called for judgment upon Babylon, He spoke through the prophet Isaiah: "Their children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes" (Isaiah 13:16).
Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, And their women with child ripped open. (Hosea 13:16)
Her young children also were dashed to pieces
At the head of every street. (Nahum 3:10)
O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,
Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9)
After Pastor MacArthur notes several similar passages to those above, he then asks this question:
So, how is it that we can square the argument that God loves and has compassion on His innocent ones, and at the same time accept the fact that God foretells of children being "dashed to pieces" as part of the conquest of those who come against His people?
He then proceeds to answer this question:
The only way these two seemingly opposite perspectives can be reconciled is this: Children experience a better life after their deaths than they would if they were allowed to mature to adulthood on this earth. The death of the innocent heathen may seem disastrous to the adults who live on this earth, but from God's point of view, their death is a blessing. The life they experience with Him in eternity so far surpasses any good they may have experienced on this earth that there truly is no comparison.
Next Pastor MacArthur has a section entitled,
Jesus Held Children in High Regard!
If we truly want to know how God regards children, we need look no farther than the lap of Jesus.
One day Jesus called a little child to Himself, set that child in the midst of His disciples, and then said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me" (Matthew 18:3-5).
Unfortunately Pastor MacArthur did not include the following verse, which clearly indicates who Jesus is referring to: "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:6
A little later Pastor MacArthur quotes, "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14).
Again the context is the same "one of these little ones who believe in Me."
It is interesting that in "The MacArthur Bible Commentary", Pastor MacArthur doesn't see child salvation in these verses at all:
Discourse 4: The Childlikeness of the Believer (Matthew 18:1-35)
This section's theme is the childlikeness of the believer.
1. A Call for Childlike Faith (18:1-6)
18:3 become as little children is how Jesus characterized conversion. Like the Beatitudes, this verse pictures faith as the simple, helpless, trusting dependence of those who have no resources of their own. Like children, they have no achievements and no accomplishments to offer or with which to commend themselves.
18:5 Whoever receives. one little child like this speaks not of literal children, but of children in the sense described in verses 3 and 4 (those who have humbled themselves like children), i.e., true believers (verse 6). See notes on 10:42; 19:14.
Here is the note on Matthew 10:42: little ones refers to believers.
A little later Pastor MacArthur quotes, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16).
Again, Pastor MacArthur does not give the contexts of these last two verses:
Luke 18:17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Mark 10:15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
The "MacArthur Study Bible" has the following note on this verse: like a child. With humble trusting dependence, and the recognition of having achieved nothing of value or virtue.
A little later in this section Pastor MacArthur states:
Jesus clearly saw innocent children as being openly and lovingly embraced by His heavenly Father . . .
God claims ownership of the little ones from every culture, tribe, nation, and people . . .
In certain circumstances, God's compassion on His innocent ones is expressed through death and their coming to dwell with Him in eternity, rather than in allowing their life to continue on this earth and perhaps end in eternal punishment.
This is confusing to me. Is Pastor MacArthur teaching that all children are saved; but when reaching the "condition of accountability," then all these same children become lost? If so, that is a strange doctrine indeed, and nowhere to be found in holy writ.
Chapter 4. What If My Child is Not Among the Elect?
In this chapter Pastor MacArthur starts with a prolonged story about a family in which two of their children suddenly died in accidents. One child was seven years old and the other was six. He then asks, Is there a biblical basis for believing that all persons who die in infancy are chosen for heaven by God?
He then goes on to list and explain four "Biblical Truths":
Biblical Truth #1:
All children are conceived and born as sinners.
The Bible states very clearly that all children are born as sinners from their conception. The principle of iniquity is embedded in the heart of every human being. Every person is born morally corrupt and born with an irresistible bent toward evil. Any notion that a child is born morally neutral, or that a baby is born without a predisposition to sin, is contrary to Scripture. When Scripture refers to infants as "innocent," it does not mean they are untainted by the fallenness or guilt we all inherit from Adam (Romans 5:1-19).
If infants were not sinful or morally corrupt, they would not die at all! If babies were born totally without sin or depravity, there could be no reason for their death. The Bible says very clearly, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23). Sin is the killer, the destroyer of life. The very fact that babies die at all bears evidence to the truth that sin is present in them—the disease of an inherited sin nature has within it the seeds of death.
Everyone has an automatic propensity or "bent" toward rebelling against God the very same way Adam and Eve rebelled against Him. The spirit of rebellion resides in every human heart—more blatantly and overtly in some, more subtly in others, but resident in all nonetheless.
Any child who lives to the point of making a responsible moral choice will make the choice to sin. It is in his or her nature.
Pastor MacArthur then lists numerous Scriptures which teach the total depravity of every person ever born. He commences:
The Scriptures cry out about the sinfulness of mankind! The Bible clearly states that we are "brought forth in iniquity" (Psalm 51:5). Thus, we all bear the stain of original sin. We are sinners from birth . . . the Bible declares that we all are sinners from conception and from birth because it is our nature as human beings to be sinners. Our sin nature is the result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. We are inheritors of the sin nature acquired by our first ancestors, Adam and Eve.
Sinfulness is not a condition that comes upon people when they are old enough to make choices and decisions for themselves. It is a condition that is present in every human being from before birth. It is what produces our sinful choices. Every conception brings into being a sinful life. Every person born since Adam and Eve arrives on this earth in a sinful state. The apostle Paul wrote, "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19).
Every child is conceived bearing a deadly "sin" virus. He is born with corrupt motives, ambitions, attitudes, desires, and objectives latent in his heart.
So we cannot say that babies who die go to heaven because they are "sinless." Rather, babies who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
Except for the last sentence we fully agree with Pastor MacArthur above, as it is the clear teaching of Scripture. Here is that last sentence again:
Rather, babies who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
Pastor MacArthur just finished quoting a myriad of Scriptures proving that all children are born sinful; yet he concludes this section with the statement,
"Rather, babies who die go to heaven because God is gracious."
He could just as well have stated:who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
All women who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
All teens who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
All Italian people who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
All Chinese people who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
All people who die go to heaven because God is gracious.
Biblical Truth #2:
The salvation of every person is a matter of God's grace, not man's works.
It is not an easy thing to think of babies as sinners, but it is true. The good news, however, is that babies who die are saved. And they are saved by the only means that anyone is saved: God's grace.
If infants are saved simply by "God's grace" without
faith, then we can also make the case for the salvation of all of the
heathen—they are saved simply by "God's grace", just like infants.
Universalism also teaches that all will be saved simply by "God's
grace"—and that conscious faith is not at all necessary. Some even teach
that Satan and all the demons will be saved simply by
"God's grace." No one needs to believe or repent. All are saved simply by
Pastor MacArthur then rightfully rules out POST MORTEM salvation:
Some in the history of the church have held to the
position that infants will have an opportunity to come to Christ after
death. This position is actually growing among many contemporary
theologians, who claim that all people, regardless of their age at death,
will have an after-death opportunity to confess Christ as Savior. While this
may seem like a comforting thought to some, the problem with that position
is, there is absolutely no basis in Scripture for believing such a thing.
According to Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed for men to die once, but after
this the judgment." The idea of a second chance after death is a figment of
someone's imagination, like the medieval idea that babies who died came back
Pastor MacArthur then rightfully rules out salvation by BAPTISM:
Others contend that babies are saved if they are baptized. Those who hold this opinion believe God extends grace to babies, but only to baptized babies . . . One of the early church teachers believed baptized infants went to heaven, while unbaptized infants did not, although he did declare that unbaptized infants receive immunity from the pains of hell. The truth is: Baptism cannot save any person. It is an ordinance clearly presented in the Scriptures as an act of obedient testimony for those who willfully believe the gospel—impossible for infants to do. . .
The fact is, there is no example of infant baptism in
Scripture and, therefore, no comment on what it might accomplish. Still, to
many, baptized babies are saved and unbaptized babies are not.
Pastor MacArthur proceeds:
Fallen, sinful, guilty and depraved children who die with no spiritual merit—no personal, moral, or religious merit—are welcomed by God into glory. On what basis? Solely by God's grace!
Again we point out the absolute necessity of justification by faith. Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Through faith!"
It is somewhat odd that in this book focused on salvation, Pastor MacArthur does not even mention the foundational truth of Christian salvation: "Justification by Faith."
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, "Justification is an act of God's grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone."
"Sola fide, which means 'faith alone,' is important because it is one of the distinguishing characteristics or key points that separate the true Biblical Gospel from false gospels. At stake is the very Gospel itself and it is therefore a matter of eternal life or death. Getting the Gospel right is of such importance that the Apostle Paul would write in Galatians 1:9, 'As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!' " (https://www.gotquestions.org/sola-fide.html)
The following is a list of VERSES shows which clearly show that justification is by faith alone:
Acts 13:38-39 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.
Romans 3:22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
Romans 3:26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Romans 3:30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Romans 4:3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Romans 4:5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ
Romans 10:4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Romans 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Galatians 2:16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Galatians 3:6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Galatians 3:8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith
Galatians 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
James 2:23 And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham
believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was
called God's friend.
The following is a list of QUOTES which clearly show the importance of justification by faith alone:
Jay Adams: "By grace, through faith, God justifies believers in an instantaneous act. They are declared just before God when they believe."
Easton's Bible Dictionary: "The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
John MacArthur, from his article "Justification by Faith": The Reformation doctrine of justification by faith is, and has always been, the number one target of the enemy's attack. It provides the foundation of the bridge that reconciles God and man—without that key doctrine, Christianity falls.
John MacArthur, from "Biblical Doctrine": Scripture is clear that faith is the condition of justification. Sinners are said to be justified "by faith" (Romans 3:28; 5:1; Galatians 3:24), "through faith" (Galatians 2:16), and "on faith" (Philippians 3:9). A sinner will not be declared righteous in God's sight unless he believes, and it is only through the instrumentality of faith that he will lay hold of the righteousness of God in Christ.
Perhaps the clearest affirmation of justification by faith alone comes in Romans 4, as Paul turns to God's dealings with Abraham to illustrate that his gospel has ancient roots. In verse 3, he cites Genesis 15:6: "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'" God imputed righteousness to Abraham by means of Abraham's faith. His works had absolutely nothing to do with it, for Paul goes on to say, "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:4–5) . . . With an empty hand, the sinner lays hold of the righteousness of Christ through faith alone.
The doctrine of justification runs straight to the very heart of the gospel. It offers the only hope of salvation to guilty sinners, who, apart from Christ, have no hope of a restored relationship with the holy God of the universe, yet who, in him, are clothed with the perfect righteousness of God's own beloved Son. The good news of the biblical gospel is that this blessing is offered freely to all who would receive it, apart from any works, through faith alone. The doctrine of justification is the very foundation of the gospel promise of John 3:16, that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life," and of Romans 8:1, that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
"What's so important about the doctrine of justification by faith alone? It is the doctrine upon which the confessing church stands or falls. Without it there is no salvation, no sanctification, no glorification—nothing."
"No doctrine is more important to defend than the biblical teaching that believers are justified by faith alone."
"We believe in justification by faith alone, and that it is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ."
"Salvation is by faith and faith alone. That is at the very heart of all of our understanding of the gospel."
"It would not be far from the truth to define evangelicals as those who believe in justification by faith alone."
"Salvation by faith alone is at the heart of true Christianity."
"You are not justified by works, but through faith and faith alone."
"The only way to be saved is by faith in Jesus Christ."
"Faith alone has always been the way of salvation."
"Sinners are justified not by their own efforts, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."
"Our salvation is by faith and by faith alone."
"Salvation is a work of grace alone through faith alone, apart from works. Galatians is the defense of the central New Testament doctrine of justification by faith alone."
"Christians are justified by faith alone."
"Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, on Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone."
"It is quite clear that Jesus taught justification by faith alone. To abandon this truth is to abandon biblical soteriology altogether. No doctrine is more important to evangelical theology than the doctrine of justification by faith alone—the Reformation principle of sola fide."
"If justification by faith alone is so crucial a doctrine, we would expect to find it clearly taught by our Lord. Indeed, that is precisely what we discover."
"We understand that salvation is by faith alone. That is a foundational truth in Christian teaching, a biblical truth, salvation is by faith alone."
"Paul laid out the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, in which God grants righteousness to the penitent sinner."
"The Bible always talks about salvation by faith alone."
"God declared us righteous by faith alone."
"Certainly if justification by faith alone is so crucial a doctrine, we would expect to find it clearly taught by our Lord. Indeed, that is precisely what we discover."
"Paul unfolds this great core doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is the article of faith that Luther said, "If it's lost, all true doctrine is lost, and the church is lost."
John Piper: "Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone."
Charles Simeon: "Justification by faith alone, is the hinge upon which the whole of Christianity turns."
R.C. Sproul: "I'm afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing doctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone. It is not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in our culture today is justification by death. All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die."
Charles Spurgeon: "Any church which puts in the place of justification by faith in Christ another method of salvation is a harlot church."
Charles Spurgeon: "Why, sirs, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the essence of Protestantism, and the soul of the gospel!"
Thomas Watson: "Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable."
Biblical Truth #3:
We are saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross—the supreme manifestation of God's grace.
The questions naturally arise: If infants are saved when they die, by what means are they saved? If adults are saved who are mentally disabled—those who are infants when it comes to understanding matters related to salvation—by what means are they saved?
The answer: by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. Our salvation is established by God's election of sinners to salvation through Christ. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior. Salvation comes only on the basis of His blood atonement.
Again Pastor MacArthur overlooks the necessity of hearing and believing the gospel in order to be saved (See verses under Axioms 2 and 3 above.)
Biblical Truth #4:
We are saved by grace, but "damned" by works.
Little children have no record of unbelief or evil works, and therefore, there is no basis for their deserving an eternity apart from God. As innocents, they are graciously and sovereignly saved by God as part of the atoning work of Christ Jesus . . .
I agree that a newborn infant has "no record of unbelief or evil works." But it is obvious to parents that shortly after birth, a child's sinful and depraved nature begins to exert itself. Few parents would call their children "innocents."
A newborn child can be likened to a newborn viper. Neither demonstrate their true natures, simply because they are unable due to lack of strength. Just give each of them a little time!
As mentioned previously, after the children of Israel rebelled against God in the wilderness, God sentenced that entire generation to die in the wilderness after forty years of wandering. The Lord said, "Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers" (Deuteronomy 1:35). But God exempted young children and infants from this decree, and He explained why He did so: "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 1:39, emphasis added).
The above verses from Deuteronomy chapter 1 occur some forty years prior to the narrative in Numbers 14:28-29, "Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me."
So actually, all who were from twenty years old and upward were sentenced to die in the wilderness—though some forty years earlier, Moses only mentions the young children in Deuteronomy 1.
This inability to know right from wrong was also the criterion for innocence in the story of Jonah. Also as discussed previously, when Jonah complained to God about His sparing Nineveh, the great enemy city of Israel, the Lord replied, "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?" (Jonah 4:11). The Lord was referring to the sparing of 120,000 children, little ones incapable of knowing right from left, much less right from wrong.
God had great compassion on those incapable of understanding truth.
Here is the whole of Jonah 4:11, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—as well as many animals?"
I wonder why Pastor MacArthur did not mention "as well as
many animals." God had pity on the city of Nineveh because of the many
children and the many animals.
Pastor MacArthur then addresses the fact that infants have,
No Suppression of Truth.
We read in the New Testament: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).
Divine judgment comes upon those who suppress the truth—who turn away from and deny the power of the truth of God in their lives and pursue the lies of the devil.
No infant suppresses the truth. A young child has no ability to perceive what God has revealed and made manifest and then reject it.
Yes, we agree that very young children cannot suppress truth. They are not guilty of that particular sin, and therefore will not be punished for that particular sin if they die as young children. Yet as soon as they are mentally able, they will suppress the truth.
A little later Pastor MacArthur states:
There is no statement in the Scriptures that indicates divine judgment comes to those who never have a knowledge of right and wrong, or who never have the opportunity to choose whether they will love or hate God.
May I ask: Did all the children who died in the divine judgment of the flood go directly to heaven? What do the Scriptures say?
Genesis 6:17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.
Genesis 7:4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made."
Genesis 7:20-23 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
With the exception of Noah and his family, WHY was all mankind, including all the infants and children, destroyed in the universal flood? Again, the Scriptures are clear:
Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
Genesis 6:11-13 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.
Genesis 8:21 Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.
The apostle Peter furnishes us with a bit of commentary as to WHY God destroyed all mankind, including infants, in the flood:
2 Peter 2:5 if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others
Yes, the flood was a divine judgment; and God here describes all whom He destroyed by the flood, including infants, to be UNGODLY PEOPLE!
May I ask: Did all the children who died in the divine judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah go directly to heaven? What do the Scriptures say?
Genesis 19:24-25 Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.
WHY did God burn up "all those living" in Sodom and Gomorrah?
Genesis 18:20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
Abraham pled to God to spare the people in Sodom in Genesis 18:15-33. God said that he would not destroy the city if only ten righteous people were found in it. But there were not ten righteous people in Sodom. What about the infants and children?
Again the apostle Peter furnishes us with a bit of commentary as to WHY God burned "all the inhabitants" of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes:
2 Peter 2:6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly
God here describes all whom He destroyed by burning
sulfur, including infants, to be UNGODLY! Apparently God did not consider
the infants to be righteous.
May I ask: Did all the children who died in the divine judgment of the firstborn sons in Egypt go to heaven when the Lord killed them? What do the Scriptures say?
Exodus 11:4-5 Thus says the LORD, 'About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
Exodus 12:29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well.
If all the firstborn sons in Egypt went to heaven when
God put them to death, then that would have been the greatest blessing ever
bestowed on the Egyptians. Was this a blessing from God—or a
judgment from God?
May I ask: Did all the children who died in the divine judgment on the Canaanites go directly to Heaven when God commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan? What do the Scriptures say?
Deuteronomy 3:3-6 So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og's kingdom in Bashan. All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children.
Deuteronomy 7:1-2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
Deuteronomy 20:16-17 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you.
1 Samuel 15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"
Joshua 10:40 When Joshua captured some of the cities of Canaan, "He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded."
Joshua 6:21 They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
Joshua 10:39-40 He captured it and its king and all its cities, and they struck them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed every person who was in it. He left no survivor. Just as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had also done to Libnah and its king. Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.
WHY did God command the wholesale slaughter of all the people in Canaan, including the infants and children?
Deuteronomy 9:5 It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you . . .
The Lord destroyed all who breathed (including children) on account of the wickedness of these nations.
Later in this chapter Pastor MacArthur states:
Infants who die do not have anything written in the record of heaven against them because they have never committed any conscious deeds of rebellion and iniquity against God. Young children are not yet responsible moral agents—in other words, they are not yet culpable for their actions because they simply do not fully know what they are doing and the consequences associated with their behavior.
In the same way, most adults in our atheistic society are unaware that they are committing "conscious deeds of rebellion and iniquity against God." Does this mean that most adults "are not yet culpable for their actions because they simply do not fully know what they are doing and the consequences associated with their behavior"?
A little later Pastor MacArthur states:
"the Bible does not teach that we will answer or be held accountable for Adam's sin."
Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." Here again we see the doctrine of Original Sin. Every infant is born with the taint of Adam's sin (the Lord Jesus being the one exception). In fact, if infants were "innocent" and without Adam's sin, they would never die, "For the wages of sin is death" Romans 6:23.
Because all are born with Adam's inherent sin nature, every young child commits conscious actual sin as soon as they are able!
L. Berkhof: Original sin is both a state and an inherent quality of pollution in man. Every man is guilty in Adam, and is consequently born with a depraved and corrupt nature. And this inner corruption is the unholy fountain of all actual sins.
Paul David Tripp: "As a parent you're not dealing just with bad behavior, but a condition that causes bad behavior. Our children are not just disobedient; they are disobedient because they are lost."
Again Pastor MacArthur states:
"when God takes the life of a little one, it is actually an act of mercy keeping that child from being hardened by a life of exposure to evil and a life of deliberate rebellion against God."
This is correct.
A two year old child has many more sins to be judged for, than a six month old child.
A ten year old child has many more sins to be judged for, than a two year old child.
A twenty year old man has many more sins to be judged for, than a ten year old child.
An eighty year old man has many more sins to be judged for, than a twenty year old man.
The apostle Paul puts the matter this way in Romans 2:5-6, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds."
Paul pictures each one of us as "storing up wrath" all our lives. For example, let's say that I have stored up 10,000 sins by the time I was four years old. By the time I was twenty years old, I had stored up a million sins. By the time I was sixty, I had stored up some thirty million sins, etc.
If I died unsaved at the age of sixty years old, I would have stored up some thirty million sins, and would be accountable for, and subject to God's wrath for each particular sin!
Do you catch the drift of my thinking? The earlier an unbeliever dies, the less sin and punishment that person has. A newborn infant has only Original Sin—whereas a four year old would have an additional 10,000 conscious sins stored up!
The Scripture talks about the concept of "degrees of punishment":
Matthew 10:15 Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
Matthew 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
Luke 12:47-48 "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Hebrews 10:29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Pastor Al Martin sums up this concept: "The all-knowing God will assess each individual life, counting exactly the extent of abandonment to sin, the influence of others to sin, and the light and privilege abused, and he will assign punishment accordingly—exactly fitted to each person." You can read Pastor Martin's excellent four page article here: "Degrees of Punishment in Hell".
Tim Challies: "All who are condemned will not receive the same degree of punishment. It may well be that children, should they be condemned, will receive a much lighter degree of punishment than those who have committed many more and many greater sins."
Anthony Burgess, 1600-1663: "Original sin in the nature of it is very great and heinous, so great that none are able to express the loathsomeness thereof. Yet because infants have no conscious sins, therefore we may conclude that they have lesser torments in Hell, then adult persons. For that there are degrees of torment in Hell, some punished more extremely then others, is acknowledged by all."
Near the end of this chapter Pastor MacArthur summarizes:
I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die in infancy—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These little ones experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace.
This does sound quite good on the surface—but notice carefully what Pastor MacArthur is saying. He might just as well have said, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die as heathens—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
Or, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die after living a moral life—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
Or, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die in non-Christian religions—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
Or, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die before the age of twenty—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
Or, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who have had a hard life—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
Or, "I cannot help but conclude that our Lord graciously and freely receives all those who die—not on the basis of their innocence or their worthiness, but by His grace, made theirs through the atonement He purchased on the cross. These experience salvation grounded in absolute sovereignty and comprehensive grace."
You see that what Pastor MacArthur says about dying children going to heaven, could be equally said about any other group or individual.
What did Pastor MacArthur leave out of his concluding statement above? The Gospel! Justification by faith! Salvation by faith! Ephesians 2:8, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."
Chapter 5. Will I See My Child Again?
In this chapter Pastor MacArthur writes about King David's statement in 2 Samuel 12:23, "But now he (David's child) has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
Pastor MacArthur concludes that David was saying that he would meet his dead child in heaven:
David was able to say, "I shall go to him," because David knew where both he and his infant son were going! He knew that their eternal future was with God.
David knew that at his death he would be going into the near presence of the Lord, and he also knew that this was the eternal home for his baby.
It is not probable that David was speaking about how both he and his child are going to heaven, because this concept is not even hinted at in the context. It is more likely that David was speaking about how he will join his child in death. Notice the context of the incident in 2 Samuel 12:13-23:
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die." So Nathan went to his house.
Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died.
And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, "Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!"
But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?"
And they said, "He is dead."
So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate.
Then his servants said to him, "What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; 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, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
How many times do you see the concept of "heaven" in the context? Sorry, but I don't see it at all. One could read "heaven" into the text if they wanted to prove a point, but it is simply not there.
How many times do you see the concept of "life/death" in the context?
Since the baby died, there was no longer any need for David to continue fasting. Perhaps after fasting for seven days, and the child still died, David was simply submissive to God's severe chastening. Arthur Pink rightly comments on these verses: "This is beautiful, reminding us of Job's bowing beneath God's chastening rod and worshiping Him when he received tidings of the death of his children. How different was this from the disconsolate grief and rebellion against God which is so often displayed by worldlings when their loved ones are matched away from them."
Pastor MacArthur seems to base his supposition that David is talking about heaven from verse 23: "But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
1 Kings 2:1-2 When the time drew near for David to die,
he gave a charge to Solomon his son. "I am about to go the way of all the
earth," he said.
David said that he "about to go the way of all the earth." That is just another way of saying that he was going to die.
1 Kings 2:10 tells us where David himself went after he
died: "Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City
That is, David died and was buried. At this point in the history of Israel, the nature of the afterlife is somewhat hazy, compared to the clear light that the New Testament sheds on the subject. They saw the afterlife as being gathered to my people, or fathers:
Genesis 35:29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years.
Genesis 25:8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.
God told Abraham in Genesis 15:15 "As for you,
you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a
good old age."
That is, God told Abraham that he was going to die and go to his fathers—not that he was going to heaven. It is interesting that Abraham's fathers were idolaters—so they would not be in heaven. "From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods." Joshua 24:2
We see similar language with Jacob when he thought that his son Joseph had died. Genesis 37:35 "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." That is, Jacob said that he was going to Sheol, the place of the dead—not that he was going to heaven.
In 1 Samuel 28 there is an unusual account of King Saul going to the witch of Endor and inducing her to bring up the prophet Samuel from the dead. Here is one of the things that Samuel said to Saul: "Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me." 1 Samuel 28:19
Now was Samuel telling Saul that tomorrow he and his sons would be in heaven—or that they would die? The answer is clear from Scripture: "So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day." 1 Samuel 31:6
We are not to automatically infer that David's son or Saul's three sons were in heaven, as they were wicked. The Scripture is simply talking about death in all of these instances.
As punishment for his heinous sins, God had told David that his child would die. Thus after the child died, David was sweetly submissive to the will of God.
We see a similar reaction to great tragedies in the life of Job: Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:20-21,
We also see a similar reaction from Eli, when
Samuel told him that the Lord would put Eli's wicked sons to death:
"So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said: It is
the LORD; let Him do what seems good to Him." 1 Samuel 3:18
To sum up my impression of the first five chapters above, I find Pastor MacArthur trying to prove a theory that is more sentimental than Biblical.
What Pastor MacArthur says of the doctrine of "reprobation" below, we say of the doctrine of the "exclusivity of the gospel":
Nevertheless, the doctrine . . . is taught in the Bible,
and we are therefore obliged to reverently submit our minds and our emotions
to the infinite wisdom of God's revelation, trusting that what he says and
does is right and just (Romans 3:4).
Chapter 6. What is My Child's Life Like in heaven?
Chapter 7. Why Did My Child Have to Die?
Chapter 8. How Shall We Minister to Those Who are Grieving?
Chapter 9. Let Me Pray with You
Aside from the emotionally charged stories, I found most all of this content to be Biblical and very helpful when applied to believers alone.
Part IV. Miscellaneous Thoughts
A. A summary of the gospel
No one is saved apart from the hearing of the gospel.
Let no one deceive you in this matter. The issue is not whether or not God can save His people without the use of means. The issue is whether or not He will. We know that He will not, because He has revealed it plainly in His Word, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Romans 10:17. It pleased God to save His elect by the foolishness of gospel preaching. All who are begotten of God, are begotten of Him by the gospel. All who are born again, are born again by the incorruptible seed of God's Word, which is preached to them in the gospel.
These things are so plainly revealed in holy Scripture that there is no excuse for error regarding them (1 Corinthians 1:21; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25). Those who teach that God saves sinners apart from the preaching of the gospel, fly in the face of holy Scripture! It is therefore no surprise to see them favor emotionalism, experiences, dreams, custom, and religious tradition above the Word of God.
The preaching of the gospel is God's chosen, ordained means of grace, by which He calls chosen, redeemed sinners to salvation in Christ by the irresistible power and grace of His Holy Spirit. The New Testament universally declares that the preaching of the gospel is vital to the salvation of God's elect.
Our message is always the same.
We do not have one message for children, and another for adults.
We do not have one message for one group, and another for another group.
The preaching of the gospel is a proclamation . . .
of the unsearchable riches of Christ,
of salvation by His grace,
of peace with God,
of pardon of sin,
of righteousness and life and salvation by Him.
The Scriptures plainly declare that no one will ever be
saved who does not . . .
hear the gospel (Romans 10:17),
believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16),
acknowledge and confess his sin (1 John 1:9),
repent of his sins (Luke 13:5), and
persevere in the faith (Matthew 10:22).
B. Is God unjust?
Pastor MacArthur sees the death of children as tragedies. But if all dying children are automatically saved, and if the eternal salvation of one's child is the greatest blessing known to parents—then it is not a tragedy at all to Christian parents, but their greatest blessing. Ask any sincere Christian parent the following question, and you know what their answer would be: "Would you rather have your six year old child die and go straight to heaven forever—or would you rather have your child live to old age and go to hell forever?"
Most would say that for God to damn infants, the mentally challenged and the heathen, would be unfair and unjust of God.
But as you know, God did not save any of the
Was that unjust of God?
What if God determined to save only a thousand sinful people—would that be unjust of God?
What if God determined to save only a hundred sinful people—would that be unjust of God?
What if God determined to save only ten sinful people—would that be unjust of God?
What if God determined to save only one sinful person—would that be unjust of God?
What if God determined not to save any sinful people—would that be unjust of God?
Not at all! He could have easily determined to save all or some of the sinning angels—and not save any sinning humans. Would that be unjust of God?
What if God determined not to save any sinful angels or any sinful people—would that be unjust of God?
If God determined to save some, none or all sinful beings, it would be perfectly just for Him. None deserve salvation. Every sinful being deserves damnation.
What right have we puny sinful worms to question God's rectitude in anything?
Romans 9:21-24 "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?"
C. Excerpts from other authors
9Marks: "Conscious faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. The only way to be saved is to believe in the Son—to hear the message about Jesus, turn from your sin, and trust in him for salvation."
Randy Alcorn: "Scripture makes no reference to an age of accountability, nor does it even seem to imply one. In and of themselves, certainly children are not qualified for Heaven. They are not innocent. The teaching of Scripture is that we are conceived sinners (Psalm 51:5), born sinners (Psalm 58:3), and to be a sinner is to be lost and unqualified to enter Heaven.
Logically and Biblically, you would then expect a child to remain lost until he becomes saved, wouldn't you? But infant salvation seems to require that we believe children are conceived saved and stay saved until they reach a certain age, at which point they become lost. Where does Scripture teach any such thing? A logical case can be made that if God allows some people to go to hell without ever hearing the gospel, why would it be any more unjust to let babies go to hell without ever being old enough to hear the gospel?"
Joel Beeke: "You need to be born again children. You need to come to personal repentance and faith. And if you die before you come to personal repentance and faith, you are not going to heaven; you are going to hell. That's the warning we must give to children. We must not presume they're regenerated. We must tell them: You must be regenerated; you must come to faith and repentance."
Belgic Confession: "We believe that by the disobedience of Adam, original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature—an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces every sort of sin in man. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race—seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring."
Louis Berkhof: "Scripture also teaches that all men are under condemnation and therefore need the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Children are never made an exception to this rule."
Louis Berkhof: "In virtue of their connection with Adam, all men are born in a sinful state and condition. This state is called original sin and is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man. This means that the guilt of Adam's sin is imputed to us. Since he sinned as our representative, we are guilty in him. This means that we are therefore by nature liable to sin's punishment—death. All of the descendants of Adam are not only burdened with his guilt, but also inherit moral pollution from him. They are not only deprived of original righteousness, but also have an inherent disposition toward sin. This inherent corruption extends to every part of man's nature. There is in him no spiritual good in relation to God at all, but only moral perversion."
L. Boettner: "In accordance with these verses, we find that even infants, who have no personal sin, nevertheless suffer pain and death. Now the Scriptures uniformly represent suffering and death as the wages of sin. God would be unjust if He executed the penalty of death on those who are not guilty. Since the penalty falls on infants, they must be guilty; and since they have not personally committed sin, they must, as the Scripture says, be guilty of Adam's sin."
Reb Bradley: "Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered: he wants what he wants—his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmate's toys, his uncle's watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty; he has no morals, no knowledge and no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, but all children are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want—every child would grow up a criminal, a killer, a thief, and a rapist!"
Tim Challies: "To deny that Jesus Christ is the only Savior is to deny the utter seriousness of the human condition and the gravity of the offense against God. To deny that faith is the only way by which we may apprehend Christ's riches is to deny the uniqueness of the person and work of the Savior and to deny the clarity of His Word. At stake when we consider Jesus' claims to exclusivity is the gospel itself. The stakes could not possibly be any higher."
Tim Challies: "When MacArthur says that the unregenerate are damned because of 'a conscious, willful, intentional choice to disbelieve,' he also does not seem to reconcile the fact that Adam made a conscious, willful, intentional choice on our behalf and that this is imputed to us. And thus Adam's sin is held against us."
Tim Challies: "While I would like to believe that all children are immediately ushered into heaven, I simply do not find Scripture to support the idea that God will categorically overlook the imputation of Adam's sin that is held against all humanity, and even the tiniest child. It seems to me that those who adhere to the view that all children are saved must gloss-over or downplay original sin, and that is something I cannot do. Children who die in infancy are as fully implicated in Adam's sin as I am and are thus fully deserving of hell."
Vincent Cheung: "The popular position that all infants are saved is wishful thinking, and continues as a groundless religious tradition. Those who affirm the doctrine of election have never been able to establish that all those who die as infants are elect. Their arguments are forced and fallacious. And those who reject the Biblical doctrine of election lack even this to fabricate a doctrine of infant salvation. Thus the invention deceives the masses and offers them hope based on mere fantasy. The way to comfort bereaved parents is not to lie to them, but to instruct them to trust in God. Whatever God decides must be right and good. It may be difficult due to their grief and weakness at the time, but if the parents cannot finally accept this, that God is always right, then they are headed for hell themselves and need to become Christians.
"The possibility in consideration does not apply to mentally aware infants, teenagers, and adults who have never heard the gospel—they will all surely go to hell. The Bible is clear on this. If someone dies without hearing the gospel, it just means that God has decreed his damnation beforehand. Although he will still burn in hell, the punishments that he receives will probably be less extreme than one who hears and rejects the gospel, since the Bible teaches that those who know more but disobey will suffer more.
"I have no problem with the idea that all who die as embryos, infants, and mentally retarded would burn in hell. If this is what God has decided, then this is what happens. I am not like that idiot who thinks that no one ends up in hell because love wins."
Ligon Duncan: "The age of accountability is conception. There is no time in a human being's life when he or she is not accountable to God. Really, the idea of an age of accountability arose in the 19th century and the 20th century amongst non-Calvinistic Protestants who were attempting to address the issue of infant mortality and explain on the basis of Arminianism and freewill why all children who had been unable to exercise their own unaided faith by freewill didn't go to hell. That's really where the idea of an age of accountability came from. And of course, Reformed theology has never had to have recourse to that in order to answer the question. The age of accountability is conception. We're all accountable."
Jonathan Edwards: "It is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments."
Don Fortner: "Salvation is obtained by faith alone, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone."
Thomas Goodwin: "They are children of wrath in the very womb, before they commit any actual sin."
Michael Gowens: "If one must believe and repent to be saved, then the infant cannot be saved."
James Janeway: "Parents! Your children are not too young to die; they are not too young to go to hell!"
There is no salvation outside of the gospel of Christ.
Faith in Jesus Christ alone is the only way of salvation.
God does not have many plans of salvation.
Any other gospel is false and damning.
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—period; end of paragraph, end of discussion.
John MacArthur: "Saving faith is an adult issue. Saving faith is an adult experience. Saving faith is an adult decision. Am I saying that a child cannot be saved? I'm saying that salvation is a conscious turning from sin to follow Jesus Christ with an understanding of something of the sinfulness of sin, its consequences and something of who Jesus Christ is, what He has provided and that I'm committing my life to Him. At what point can a child understand that? I tell parents that salvation is an adult decision. There is no illustration in Scripture of childhood salvation. There is none. People want to throw in the Philippian jailer and his household; well, that's talking about his servants, so there is no reference there about his children. So there is no such thing as a childhood conversion." September 25, 1990
John MacArthur: "Jesus never saved any without faith, never will."
"The Bible is absolutely crystal clear that all children are sinners from conception...all children. The principle of iniquity is embedded in the human race. Children are born morally corrupt. They are born with an irresistible bent toward evil. And any notion that children are born morally neutral and free from a predisposition to sin is absolutely contrary to Scripture."
"All humans are born in sin. If infants were not sinful, if they were not morally corrupt, then they wouldn't die. If they were born innocent or pure or morally neutral there would be no basis for their death. The very fact that they die indicates that the disease of sin is there in them because sin is the killer. It is in their inherited sin nature that the seeds of death are planted."
Asahel Nettleton: "Those who deny that infants are sinners, have the gigantic task of defending the justice of God in bringing suffering and death upon millions of beings who are perfectly innocent. Those who admit the doctrine of infant depravity, have no difficulty on this subject."
New Hope Primitive Baptist Church: "If infants, the feeble-minded, and the heathen must hear the gospel and actively repent and believe the truth, then there is no hope for them."
Orthodox Presbyterian Church website: "The Bible teaches that we are all conceived and born in sin and are by nature deserving of God's wrath (Psalm 51:5, 58:3, Ephesians 2:1-3, etc.). Infants are not innocent; they simply have not yet the ability to express their sin-nature noticeably. But from the first opportunity they demonstrate a natural bent to rebellion against godly authority and sinful self-centeredness. No parent has to teach or encourage her children to sin, they just do it (like water running downhill); but we have to work diligently to teach them obedience to the Lord.
"Romans 5:12-21 teaches not only that Adam's sin-nature has passed to each of us as an inheritance, but that in Adam we are all (all mankind, including infants) under condemnation for his one act of disobedience. By nature all human beings, including infants and mentally incapacitated people, are sinners in Adam and in themselves, and as such we all deserve the wrath and curse of God."
John Piper: "You have to hear the gospel and believe in order to go to heaven. If you don't hear the gospel and believe, you don't go to heaven. If you don't go to heaven, you weren't among the elect."
Ken Pulliam: "Since infants are sinners and since faith is the means through which one receives forgiveness and salvation, and since infants obviously are not capable of faith, how then can infants be saved? You will often hear evangelicals talk about the 'age of accountability.' The fact is, that it is not a Biblical term but one invented by evangelicals to try to explain how God can allow children into heaven even though they are born sinners. The simple fact is that the Bible nowhere states that children who die in childhood automatically go to heaven."
Philip Ryken: "Christianity is the most exclusive religion imaginable. It insists that belief in Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation."
J.C. Ryle: "Remember that children are born with a decided bias toward evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong. The mother cannot tell what her tender infant may grow up to be—tall or short, weak or strong, wise or foolish—all is uncertain. But one thing the mother can say with certainty—he will have a corrupt and sinful heart! It is natural for us to do wrong. Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread—let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds!"
J.C. Ryle: "The fairest child who has entered life this year and become the sunbeam of a family, is not, as his mother perhaps fondly calls him, a little "angel" or a little "innocent"—but a little "sinner." Alas! As that boy or girl lies smiling and cooing in its cradle—that little infant carries the seeds of every kind of wickedness in its heart! Only watch it carefully, as it grows in stature and its mind develops, and you will soon detect in it an incessant tendency to that which is bad, and a backwardness to do that which is good. You will see in it the buds and germs of deceit, evil temper, selfishness, self-will, obstinacy, greediness, envy, jealousy, passion—which, if indulged and let alone, will shoot up with painful rapidity! Who taught the child these things? Where did he learn them? The Bible alone can answer these questions! Of all the foolish things that parents say about their children, there is none worse than the common saying: 'My son has a good heart at the bottom.' The truth, unhappily, is diametrically the other way. The first cause of all sin lies in the natural corruption of the child's own heart!"
Thomas Schreiner: "Believing in the gospel isn't optional. It is imperative. Believing that Jesus is the Christ and God's Son is necessary to enjoy eternal life."
Charles Simeon: "There is no way of escaping condemnation, but by believing in Christ."
R.C. Sproul Jr: "All humans, from conception, are sinners and stand guilty before a holy God. Their only hope is the work of Christ applied to them. That work is applied always and only through faith, and that only the faith of the one saved."
Sam Storms: "The Bible is clear about the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus for salvation. That God should provide even one way for the salvation of hell-deserving sinners is remarkable."
Andrew Willet, 1562-1621: Though infants actually in their life showed no evil purpose, will, or intent—yet it is sufficient to their condemnation, that they had an evil inclination by nature, which would have showed itself if they had lived to years of discretion. The only cause why their evil inclination does not immediately appear, is that their mind is not mature enough to exercise its faculties; like as the young cubs of foxes and wolves are killed, and destroyed when they are yet young, though they have yet done no harm; because it is certain that if they should be allowed to grow, they would follow their nature. So the Scripture says, "every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood." Genesis 8:21
D. Excerpts from Arthur Pink
The doctrine of total depravity is an exceedingly
illuminating doctrine. It may be a melancholy and humiliating one,
nevertheless, it throws a flood of light upon mysteries which are otherwise
insoluble. It supplies the key to the course of human history, and shows why
so much of it has been written in blood and tears. It supplies an
explanation of many problems which sorely perplex and puzzle the thoughtful.
It reveals why the child is prone to evil, and has to be taught and
disciplined unto anything that is good.
Every man, woman and child is adjudged guilty before God. If we are not born under the condemnation of Adam's offence, then why are we "by nature the children of wrath?" Ephesians 2:3
Mankind guilty in Adam . . . tells us why infants die, why they are estranged from God from the womb (Psalm 58:3), and why each of us is born into this world with a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
Romans 5:14 "Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam". The word "even" here implies that there was a particular class who it appears ought to have been exempted from the dominion of sin, namely infants. Thus the death of infants supplied a conclusive proof of the doctrine here inculcated. Physical death is a penal infliction, and falling as it does on infants, it must be because of Adam's sin. On no other ground can their demise be accounted for. They furnish the climacteric demonstration that all sinned in Adam, and suffer the penal consequences of his offence.
Infants die because of Adam's offence. That proves they are adjudged guilty of it, and therefore that God imputed it unto them, for He never punishes where there is no sin. Death could have no dominion over infants unless they were charged with Adam's sin.
Infants would not be punished if innocent—if Adam's sin were not legally theirs. The guilt of the federal head (Adam) was imputed unto all he represented—evidenced by so many dying in infancy, for since even physical death is part of the wages of sin and infants having not personally committed any, they must be suffering the consequences of the sin of another.
That terrible indictment, "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be" (Romans 8:7), is an unqualified statement which applies to every individual. The undeveloped mind of the infant is "enmity against God."
Infants possess a relative innocence in that they are guiltless of personal transgressions, yet that they partake of original sin is clear from Psalms 51:5; 58:3; Proverbs 22:15.
The corruption of human nature reveals itself in little children. And at what an early age does it do so! If there were any innate goodness in man, it would surely show itself during the days of his infancy, before virtuous principles were corrupted, and evil habits formed by his contact with the world. But do we find infants inclined to all that is pure and excellent, and disinclined to whatever is wrong? Are they meek, compliant, yielding readily to authority? Are they unselfish and magnanimous, when another child seizes their toy? Far from it. The unvarying result of growth in human beings, is that as soon as they are old enough to exhibit any moral qualities in human action, they display evil ones! Long before they are old enough to understand their own wicked tempers, they manifest self-will, greediness, deceitfulness, anger, spite and revenge. They cry and fret for what is not good for them, and are indignant with their elders on being refused, often attempting to strike them.
Those children born and brought up in the midst of honesty, are guilty of petty pilfering before ever they witness an act of theft. These blemishes are not to be ascribed to ignorance, but to that horrible change which sin has wrought in the human constitution. Human nature is seen to be tainted from the beginning of its existence. The universal prevalence of disease and death witnesses unmistakably to the Fall of man. All the pains and disorders of our bodies, whereby our health is impaired and our passage through this world rendered uneasy, are the consequences of our apostasy from God.
This carnal mind is in every fallen creature: not even excluding the infant at its mother's breast. How many who had the best of parents, have turned out to be the worst of sons and daughters! This carnal mind is in each of us every moment of our lives.
That description is true at all times, though it is not equally so evident. The wolf may sleep, but it is a wolf still. The snake may slumber amid the flowers, and a child may stroke its back, but it is a snake still. The sea is the house of storms even when it is as placid as a lake. And the heart, when we perceive not its ebb and flows, when it belches not forth the hot stones of its corruption, is still the same dread volcano!
"Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath." Ephesians 2:3. "This verse speaks of not simply 'children of corruption,' but 'children of wrath'—obnoxious to God, criminals in His sight. Thus 'children of wrath' connotes those who are deserving of wrath, heirs of wrath, fit for it. They are born to wrath, and under it, as their heritage. They are not only defiled and corrupt creatures, but the objects of God's judicial indignation. In consequence of Adam's sin, all of his children are delinquents, warped from the beginning. Their very being is polluted, for evil is bred in them. Their nature is inclined to wickedness only; and if God leaves them to themselves they will never turn from it.
Many have insisted (contrary to the facts of common experience and observation) that children are corrupted by external contact with evil—that they acquire bad habits by imitation of others. We do not deny that environment has a measure of influence. Yet if any baby could be placed in a perfect setting and surrounded only by sinless beings, it would soon be evident that he was corrupt. Had Adam never sinned, neither he nor any of his descendants would have become subject to death. Had not the guilt of Adam's offense been charged to all of his posterity, none would die in infancy."
E. God always preserves His elect alive until they hear and believe the gospel
"To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ." Jude 1
What a mercy it is for God's people, that before they
have a 'vital union' with Christ, before they are grafted into Him
experimentally—they have an 'eternal union' with Him before all worlds. It
is by virtue of this eternal union, that they come into the world . . .
at such a time,
at such a place,
from such parents,
under such circumstances
—just as God has appointed.
It is by virtue of this eternal union, that all the circumstances of their lives are ordained. By virtue of this eternal union, they are preserved in Christ before they are effectually called.
They cannot die—until God has brought about a vital union with Christ!
Whatever sickness they may pass through, whatever injuries they may be exposed to, whatever perils assault them on sea or land—die they will not, die they cannot—until God's purposes are executed in bringing them into a vital union with the Son of His love.
Thus, this eternal union watched over every circumstance of their birth, watched over their childhood, watched over their manhood—watched over them until the appointed time and spot, when "the God of all grace," according to His eternal purpose, was pleased to quicken their souls, and thus bring about an experimental union with the Lord of life and glory!
N.B. Philpot is saying above, that God preserves all of His elect and
redeemed people alive until they hear and believe the gospel.
I have met a number of Christians who had almost died
before God converted them, and are thankful to God for preserving them
until they heard and believed the gospel. They knew that otherwise they
would have died and gone to an eternal hell with every other person who has
never heard the gospel!
"And He must needs go through Samaria." John 4:4
Why did Jesus need to go through Samaria—when Jews viewed the Samaritans as enemies, and would not travel through their land?
Because He had many elect Samaritans (including this immoral Samaritan woman who had five husbands, and now had another man who was not her husband) who must hear and believe the gospel, and thus be saved.
John 4:39 "Many of the Samaritans from that town
believed in him because of the woman's testimony . . ."
We see another very insightful situation when the apostle Paul was in Corinth.
Acts 18:6 "But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them: Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles."
But note what happens three verses later:
Acts 18:9-11 "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.' So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the Word of God."
Do you see what was happening? Paul was planning to leave Corinth because he was being treated abusively. But God told him to stay in Corinth "because I have many people in this city." Why didn't God allow Paul to leave his abusive situation as he had planned?
Because God never saves any of His elect and redeemed people without their hearing and believing the gospel! "So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the Word of God."
F. Abortion, blessing or curse?
Something to think about. Many view abortion
as mercifully sending babies to heaven. The logic goes
something like this: Had all those millions of aborted children been allowed
to live, perhaps most of them would have later died and gone to hell.
Randy Alcorn: "I was shocked years ago to have several pastors independently tell me that they thought civil disobedience to stop abortion was wrong because 'after all, if these babies die now it's the most merciful thing; if they grow up in these nonchristian homes most of them, after reaching the age of accountability, will end up going to hell. But if they die today, they'll go to Heaven.' "
If all dying children are saved, I would venture to guess that the most successful soul winners in virtually every city in the world are the abortionists.
Is heaven really being filled faster by murderous abortionists, than by the
preaching of the gospel?
G. Summary statement on the importance of treating our children as lost sinners in need of salvation
"Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?" Galatians 4:16
What has more especially given offence to many, and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their conduct were intolerable—is their frightening poor children with talk of Hell-fire and eternal damnation. But if those who complain so loudly of this, really believe the Scriptures that all by nature are children of wrath and heirs of Hell—and that every one who has not been born again, whether he is young or old, is exposed every moment to eternal destruction—then such a complaint and cry as this betrays a great deal of sentimentality and inconsideration.
As innocent as children seem to us—yet if they are out of Christ, they are not so in the sight of God; but are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown up persons. They are naturally senseless and stupid, being born as the wild donkey's colt, and need much to spiritually awaken them.
Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children who have been dealt overly tender in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery till they come to feel it in Hell, ever thank parents and others for their tenderness in not letting them know their danger? If parent's love towards their children were not blind, it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings, and yet senseless of their doom; than to see them suffer the distress of that awakening which is necessary in order to escape from Hell, and which tends to their being eternally happy as the children of God.
A child that has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance, as well as grown persons; that would be a foolish pity in such a case, which should hold back the lance, and throw away the life!
I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls, without sparing them at all. I never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance!
H. Excerpts from Pastor
MacArthur's "Biblical Doctrine."
N.B. The reason I am including this section is to show that hearing and believing the gospel is the only instrumental means God uses to regenerate His redeemed people. In other words, God does not regenerate anyone apart from them hearing and believing the gospel.
As the Father is the ultimate agent of regeneration and the Spirit is the efficient cause of regeneration, Scripture identifies the word of God itself—specifically the gospel message—as the instrumental cause, or means, of regeneration. James highlights the roles of the Father and the word when he says, "Of his [that is, the Father's] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth" (James 1:18). The Father's will is the ultimate cause of our new birth, but he has accomplished this miracle by means of the word of truth. Peter says that the children of God "have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Then, two verses later he identifies this living and abiding word as "the good news that was preached to you" (1 Peter 1:25). Similarly, Paul says that God's effectual call unto regeneration is accomplished "through our gospel" (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
Thus, it is by means of the preached gospel that the Spirit of God powerfully works to open the eyes of our hearts to the glory of Christ. To be clear, the external call is not efficacious in itself; though the preached gospel is the means of regeneration, it is not efficacious unless it is united with the Spirit's work in the internal call. Nevertheless, while the external call is insufficient for regeneration, it is absolutely necessary, for the external call of gospel preaching is the vehicle for the internal call of regeneration. For this reason Paul says, "So faith," which is the immediate result of regeneration, "comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17), that is, the gospel message concerning Christ.
God's Decree of Reprobation
N.B. The reason I am including this section is to show that all those who are not elected to salvation (that is, the reprobate) God simply passes over them, "choosing not to set his saving love on them but instead determining to punish them for their sins unto the magnification of his justice." God allows many of the reprobate to hear the gospel; while many of reprobate such as the heathen, infants, and the mentally challenged, never hear the gospel at all.
The saving blessings that flow from God's sovereign election are not enjoyed by all who are made in his image. The Lord Jesus says that few will enter the narrow gate that leads to life but that many will travel the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). He teaches that there will be sheep as well as goats—those who inherit eternal life and others who go away into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). Most succinctly, he declares that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Thus, Scripture instructs that in his inscrutable wisdom, God has not chosen to save all men. His election is particular, not universal. Given this, we must inquire as to the destiny of those whom he has not chosen to save.
Because God's decree is exhaustive, the doctrine of predestination extends not only to his decision to elect some unto salvation but also to his decision not to elect others and thus to leave them to the destruction that their sins deserve. Just as God has determined the eternal destiny of those sinners who will eventually be saved, so also has he determined the destiny of those sinners who will eventually be lost. The former is the decree of election; the latter is the decree of reprobation.
The Statement of the Doctrine
The decree of reprobation is the free and sovereign choice of God, made in eternity past, to pass over certain individuals, choosing not to set his saving love on them but instead determining to punish them for their sins unto the magnification of his justice.
The doctrine of reprobation is a difficult teaching to accept. It is not pleasant to contemplate the miseries of eternal suffering in and of themselves, let alone to consider that the God who is love and is by nature a Savior has sovereignly determined to consign sinners to such a wretched end. Because it so easily offends fallen man's sensibilities, many Christians who embrace the doctrine of election nevertheless reject the doctrine of reprobation altogether. That is also the case because the doctrine is so easily and so often misunderstood . . .
In the case of the elect, he actively intervenes—setting his love on them, determining to appoint Christ as their Savior and to send the Spirit to sovereignly quicken them from spiritual death unto new life in Christ. In the case of the non-elect, however, he does not intervene but simply passes them by, choosing to leave them in their state of sinfulness and then to punish them for their sin . . . Thus, the elect receive mercy, for they are not punished as their sins deserve, but the non-elect receive justice, for they are rightly condemned as their sins deserve. On neither ground can God be charged with unrighteousness, because all are guilty and because he is not obligated to show grace to any.
The Vindication of the Doctrine
Having understood what is and is not meant by reprobation, it is essential to prove the rightness of this doctrine from Scripture. Once again, it is acknowledged that reprobation is a difficult doctrine, one that Calvin himself called a decretum horribile, "a fearful decree." Nevertheless, the doctrine of reprobation is taught in the Bible, and we are therefore obliged to reverently submit our minds and our emotions to the infinite wisdom of God's revelation, trusting that what he says and does is right and just (Romans 3:4).
In the first place, reprobation is a necessary implication of the biblical teaching concerning election. If God has chosen only some sinners unto salvation, he has necessarily not chosen to save others. The very existence of a category of persons called elect (Matthew 24:22; Luke 18:7; Romans 8:33; 11:7; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 1:1) necessarily implies a category of persons who are non-elect. The decision not to choose is in itself a determinative choice.
Not only is reprobation implied in the biblical doctrine of election, it is also taught explicitly in the New Testament. In his first epistle, the apostle Peter speaks of unbelievers who "stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do" (1 Peter 2:8). Significantly, Peter does not merely say that their stumbling or disobedience was destined, though of course that is true. Rather, using a third-person plural verb, he says that these people themselves were destined to disobey and stumble. When one asks, by whom were they thus destined? the only reasonable answer is that they were destined by the only One who destines anything: God himself. Similarly, Jude speaks of the false teachers who troubled the church with their teaching that salvation by grace permits licentiousness and sensuality. He describes them as "certain people . . . who long ago were designated for this condemnation" (Jude 4). The Greek term translated "beforehand marked out" . . . literally means "to write beforehand." Jude pictures God's reprobation of these false teachers as the writing of a Script in eternity past that was to come to pass in time, the end of which is their condemnation. They are among those "whose name[s] ha[ve] not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb" (Revelation 13:8; cf. 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).
The clearest portion of Scripture affirming the doctrine of reprobation is Romans 9, in which Paul discusses God's sovereign freedom in unconditional election. Just as God has loved Jacob (election), he has also hated Esau (reprobation) (9:13). Paul goes on to use God's dealings with Pharaoh to illustrate the truth that "he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills" (9:18), and that he does so in order to demonstrate his power and proclaim his name throughout the earth (cf. 9:17, 22). Having taught, then, that God inviolably determines the destiny of both the saved and the lost without respect to human will, effort, or merit (cf. 9:11, 16), Paul anticipates this objection: "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'" (9:19). If no one can resist God's sovereign will or decree, how can he justly hold people accountable for that which they are unable to do? Paul answers those who would reproach God by reminding them that mere mortals are in no position to call God to account: "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (9:20). Paul then continues with this analogy and pictures God as a potter, likening the election of some to fashioning a clay vessel for honorable use and likening the reprobation of others to fashioning another clay vessel for dishonorable use (9:21). In defending God's freedom to do what he wishes with what is his own (Matthew 20:15), Paul then goes on to describe the elect as "vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" and the reprobate as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Romans 9:22–23). These vessels could only have been "prepared" by the potter himself, and Paul clearly indicates that those whom he hardens (9:18) are those whom he has fitted for destruction.
While these passages are enough to vindicate the doctrine of reprobation, Scripture also speaks clearly concerning the means God employs to bring about the destruction he has decreed for the reprobate. Because Paul himself used God's dealings with Pharaoh to illustrate reprobation, it is appropriate to consider God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart as evidence of the means of reprobation (Exodus 4:21; 8:19; 9:7; 10:1; 11:10; 14:4, 8). The Lord's purpose was to display the glory of his redeeming power in the deliverance of Israel from slavery, and in order to do so, he hardened Pharaoh's heart on numerous occasions (cf. also Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 11:20; 1 Samuel 2:25). In the same way, his purpose in reprobation is to justly punish the sins of those he has not chosen to save, hardening their hearts as the means to achieving that end. Paul explicitly teaches this idea in 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12: "Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." Because God had decreed the condemnation of these unbelievers, he also ordained the means by which that condemnation would be brought about, in this case by purposefully deceiving them. Elsewhere he is said to have blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of the unbelieving precisely so that they would not see, understand, and repent (John 12:37–40; cf. Isaiah 6:9–10). Jesus's own response to this reality is to publicly thank the Father for hiding truth from the wise and understanding and yet for revealing it to little children, which he attributes to no other basis than the good pleasure of the Father's will (Matthew 11:25–26). Thus it is plain that God has ordained both the ends and the means of reprobation.
The Justification of God
As mentioned, the chief charge leveled against the doctrine of reprobation is that it is incompatible with the justice of God. Yet it must be remembered that God is not subject to fallen notions of fairness, nor will he be tried at the bar of human reason. To those who would bring such charges, Paul's rebuke is apropos: "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Romans 9:20). All such accusations are born of the erroneous presumption that if God gives grace to any of his creatures, he must give grace to all. Boettner says, "Many people talk as if salvation were a matter of human birthright. And, forgetful of the fact that man had lost his supremely favorable chance in Adam, they inform us that God would be unjust if He did not give all guilty creatures an opportunity to be saved." Yet it undermines the very nature of grace to suppose that it is owed to sinful human beings. Truly, the question concerning God's decree of predestination is not, why did God not choose everybody? but rather, how can it be that this supremely holy God would choose anybody? It is the marvel of marvels that the King of kings, whose glory is exalted above the heavens, should lift a finger to rescue even one of such vile traitors as the sons of Adam. Then to learn that this infinitely worthy King has purposed to redeem not one but countless multitudes at the cost of the life of his own dear Son bows the sinner's heart in humble wonder. For those with eyes to see, all the objections to these difficult doctrines are answered in the revelations of such glory.
And this is precisely the defense that Paul gives in Romans 9:22–23. The arrogant objector is rebuked severely and told to put his hand over his mouth. But to the submissive, inquiring worshiper for whom the furthest thing from his mind is to find fault with God, who simply wants to know his God and worship him for who he is, Paul gives another answer as to how God can still find fault with those who cannot resist his will. He says, "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" God has ordained sin and evil—even the eternal punishment of the wicked—to display to the elect the full glories of his name.
God has ordained whatever comes to pass—even the preparation of vessels of wrath unto destruction—in order that his people might enjoy the fullest display of his glory . . . Our knowledge of God would be imperfect if we did not see the full expression of his attributes: grace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, and the rest of the panoply of his perfections. And yet none of those attributes could be expressed fully if there was not sin to punish and to forgive or sinners to whom to be gracious or on whom to exercise justice. God is not less glorious but more glorious because he has ordained evil, and the more he magnifies his glory, the greater is his love to his people. Surely God cannot be charged with unrighteousness for doing that which amounts to the greatest benefit for those who are his.
Neither do the doctrines of election and reprobation undermine the reality that all are commanded to repent and believe the gospel. Those who suppose that God's sovereign choice is incompatible with man's responsibility to believe fail to do justice to the whole of God's revelation . . .
Scripture never teaches that God's absolute sovereignty obviates the sinner's responsibility to turn from his sins and trust in Christ. Neither is the sinner exhorted to determine whether God has chosen him for salvation or not. The sinner's responsibility is not to discern the secret counsels of God's decree but rather to heed the clear commands of Scripture to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15; Acts 17:30).
Paul concludes his treatment of the doctrines of election and reprobation by bowing in worship before the magnificence of this sovereign God: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33). Meditating on these truths caused him in the opening verses of his letter to the Ephesians to erupt in praise of the God who "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ephesians 1:3–4). The same must be so for us who are the beneficiaries of such glorious grace. Above all else, the doctrines of sovereign election and reprobation should lead us to bow our minds in humble wonder of the God whose wisdom is inscrutable and whose grace is so bountiful as to save such wretched rebels as ourselves. We are graced with every spiritual blessing, not because of any commendable or redeemable quality in ourselves but because of the free and sovereign mercy of the God who delights to set his love on the undeserving. Such truth must evoke praise from the depths of our souls: "To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36).
Perhaps it would be best for all of us to take John Newton's advice to a friend concerning the death of their child:
My dear friend,
I must leave a line to tell you that we sympathize with you and your wife in your severe trial. But, at the same time, I rejoice exceedingly in the Lord's goodness, enabling you to be resigned and satisfied with His will, despite all the feelings and pinchings of flesh and blood.
If you can now believe and say, "He does all things well"—with what transport would you say it, if the whole plan of His wisdom and love was unfolded to your view! He will condescend to unfold it to you hereafter, and it will fill you with admiration. It is an affliction to be cordially rejoiced in—when the Lord, who cares for us intimates His will by the event.
Healing and wounding are equally from His hand, and are equally tokens of His love and care over us! "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!" Job 1:21
You are in the wise and merciful hands of One who prescribes for you with unerring wisdom, and has unspeakably more tenderness than can be found in all human hearts taken together! He weighs all your painful afflictions with consummate accuracy! You shall not have a single grain of trouble more, nor for a single moment longer—than He will enable you to bear, and will sanctify to your good.
We know all things are dispensed to us by infinite wisdom—in number, weight, and measure; with a far greater accuracy than any doctor can adjust his medicines to the state and strength of his patients.
The flesh will feel the sharp affliction—but faith and prayer will lighten the burden, and heal the wound. Daily your sense of the Lord's goodness will increase, and the sense of pain will abate—so that you will have less sorrow, and more joy, from day to day.
What a blessing to be a Christian—to have a hiding place and a resting place always at hand! To be assured that all things work for our good, and that our compassionate Shepherd has His eye always upon us—to support and to relieve us.
I am affectionately and sincerely your friend, brother and servant,
"After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments!" Revelation 19:1-2
Part V. For Further Study
Curtis Knapp, "The Bogus Age of Accountability" AUDIO
Steve Lawson, "Why
Preach the Intolerant Message of the Exclusive Gospel?" VIDEO
John MacArthur, "For
the Exclusive Claims of Christ" VIDEO
John MacArthur, "Biblical
Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth" BOOK
Al Mohler, "Is the Age of Accountability Scriptural?" VIDEO (4 minutes)
To those who believe that their "covenant children" are saved or should be baptized, I refer you to my page on Infant Baptism.