What happens to children who die before they can accept the gospel?


Tough Questions with RC Sproul

What happens to children who die before they can accept the gospel?
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In
my own theological tradition, we believe that those children who die
in
infancy are numbered among the redeemed. That is to say, we hope and have
a
certain level of confidence that God will be particularly gracious
toward
those who have never had the opportunity to be exposed to the gospel,
such as
infants or children who are too disabled to hear and
understand.

The New Testament does not teach us this explicitly. It does
tell us a lot
about the character of God—about his mercy and his grace—and
gives us every
reason to have that kind of confidence in his dealings with
children. Some
will make a distinction between infants in general and those
who are children
of believers, the reason being that when God made a covenant
with Abraham, he
made it not only with Abraham, but with Abraham’s
descendants. In fact, as
soon as God entered into that relationship with Abraham, he brought Isaac into
it—when Isaac was still an infant and didn’t
have an understanding of what was
going on. This is the reason, incidentally,
that a large number of Christian
bodies practice the baptism of infants; they
believe that children of
believers are to be incorporated into full
membership in the church. We see
this relationship within the family in
biblical history.

We also see David’s situation in the Old Testament when
his infant child dies.
Yet David is given the confidence that he will see
that child again in heaven.
That story of David and his dying child gives a
tremendous consolation to
parents who have lost infants to death.

Now the point that we have to make is that infants who die are given a special
dispensation of the grace of God; it is not by their innocence but by
God’s
grace that they are received into heaven. There are great controversies
that
hover over the doctrine of original sin. Lutherans disagree with
Roman
Catholics, who disagree in turn with Presbyterians, etc., on the scope
and
extent of what we call original sin. Original sin does not refer to the
first
sin that was committed, but rather to the result of that—the entrance
of sin
into the world so that all of us as human beings are born in a fallen
state.
We come into this world with a sin nature, and so the baby that dies,
dies as
a sinful child. And when that child is received into heaven, he is
received by
grace.

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