Mark Karlberg Against Infant Salvation Conditioned on the Sinner

Reviewing Anthony Hoekema (Created in God’s Image) in his Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective, p328, Karlberg quotes Hoekema:

“To be sure, all infants are under the condemnation of Adam’s sin as soon as they are born. But the Bible clearly teaches that God will judge everyone according to his or her works. And those who die in infancy are incapable of doing any works, whether good or bad.” p165

Karlberg comments, “this view appears to be something less than consistent Calvinism. Is not the basis of salvation the sovereign, electing purpose of God in Christ, rather than any consideration of human performance either in the case of adults or infants?”

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11 Comments on “Mark Karlberg Against Infant Salvation Conditioned on the Sinner”

  1. Jared Myers Says:

    I have to agree with Mark Karlberg. Romans 9 makes it very plain that it is God’s choice alone, that “for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls”. It indeed “does not depend on the man running or the man willing, but upon God who shows mercy.”

  2. David Bishop Says:

    I don’t know that I would say Hoekema’s argument is less than consistent Calvinism. However, I would say it is less than biblical, and indeed less than consistent with the sovereign, electing purpose of God in Christ.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Perspectives on the Extent of the Atonement, p 181, John Hammet— I know of no Arminian or Amyraldian universal atonement proponents who see those who die in infancy as lost and I know very few of the definite atonement view….If those who die in infancy are exempt from judgment and in no danger of condemnation, why would God not strike down all those God foreknows will never accept his grace while they are still in infancy before they become able to make a choice that will damn them?

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Examining Mr. Fortner’s Biblical Proof of Infant Salvation

    Mr. Fortner appeals to II Samuel 12 and Deuteronomy 24.

    Regarding II Samuel 12:23, Mr. Fortner teaches that when David said that “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” David is referring to the supposed fact that his infant son is in Heaven. This is supposedly proven by the fact that David says “I will go to him”.

    What does this expression mean, then? Seen in the light of other similar statements in Scripture and in view of the view of death and the grave set forth in David’s own words in the Psalms, the expression is more properly understood to refer to the grave or Sheol, or the place of the dead.

    David is saying that his infant son is in the grave, the place of the dead, and he will go there, and his son will never return to him from that place. That is consistent with the point he makes in the first part of II Samuel 12:23: “’But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?”

    This is not about David’s son being in Heaven. This is about David’s son being dead in the grave, from whence he will not return, and is about the fact that David will himself go to the grave, the place of the dead.

    To see a similar expression used elsewhere in Scripture, consider the words of Jacob in Genesis 35:37 who says concerning the news of Joseph’s brothers: “…I will go down into the grave to my son…”

    The words of David in the Psalms contain these and similar statements concerning the grave, the place of the dead:

    “Will you work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise ad praise You? Shall your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall Your wonders be known in the dark? And Your righteousness in the place of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:10-12).”

    Mr. Fortner forces a meaning on the text and makes a conclusion from the meaning unsupportable by his own rendition of the text and contrary to the teaching of Scripture concerning the gospel of Christ.
    Regarding Deuteronomy 24:16, Mr. Fortner not only misinterprets the text, he applies his false interpretation to support a false teaching, i.e., that infants somehow can not be seen as having “their own sin” because they are not yet “responsible, reasonable, and accountable” beings, “morally responsible for their own actions”. Deuteronomy 24:16 says:

    “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin”

    Mr. Fortner’s misinterpretation of the text is seen in the fact that he uses this text to support the notion that babies who “only” have Adam’s imputed guilt are not condemned for it but rather saved because of it (i.e, because they have “solely” the imputed guilt of Adam and not the “actual” guilt of someone who commits “willful transgressions of the law of God”),- for Gods glory and by the “powerful operations of free grace”.

    This text has nothing whatsoever to do with the imputation of Adam’s guilt. (See passages like Romans 5:12ff for that). This text is a stipulation governing the civil affairs of the nation of Israel under the ceremonial law of Moses and is misapplied as somehow supporting the idea that Adam’s imputed guilt is not enough to condemn, only enough to warrant salvation.

    Seen in the overall context of the Scriptures, i.e., the gospel, this text magnifies the significance of the work of Christ on the cross, who identified with the sins of His elect and became their Substitute. It is certainly not referring to the fact that God will not condemn any based “only” on the guilt of Adam’s transgression being imputed to them.

    The false teaching is that there is a sense in which infants who die in infancy do not have the same corruption of sin as adults who die in adulthood and are thus seen as less sinful than adults due to the fact they do not yet have “their own sin”, or “willful transgressions” as “responsible, reasonable, and accountable beings”.

    What makes this teaching so insidious at this point is that it declares at the same time that infants are depraved and have a sin nature, and even cites passages of Scripture appropriate to the point (see above), then denies what it affirms by stating that infants are not condemned “solely” because of the guilt of Adam’s transgression imputed to them.

    Because legal imputation and actual corruption exist in every son of Adam, every infant, from the moment of his conception has “his own sin”(In the terms of Deuteronomy 24). To teach otherwise is to teach what Arminians, Pelagians, and Romanists teach, namely, that there is an “age of accountability” to which a person must grow before he commits actual, personal transgressions of the law of God and is thus held responsible for his sin.

    This teaching amounts to a sentimental concession to the flesh, alleging that God saves babies because they are babies- not having their own sin like grown-ups, having “only” the imputed guilt of Adam, which God, because he is “just” and “righteous” removes by the application of Christ’s work to them all.

    The Bible teaches that salvation is not conditioned on the sinner, but on the good pleasure of God (Ephesians 1:5). Physical development, the “willing” or the “running” of the sinner, has nothing to do with it. Election is according to God’s mercy, not according to whether one is an infant dying in infancy (Romans 9:11-16).

    When asked if he had ever repented of his teaching concerning infant salvation, Mr. Fortner replied as follows:

    “I haven’t yet, to my knowledge, had reason to “repent” of anything I have written. My doctrine is the same now as it was when I began preaching the gospel 39 years ago.”

  5. markmcculley Says:

    1. ignore Spurgeon or anybody else who tries to teach something about infant salvation from that text

    2. I will go to him means ” I will also die”. That doesn’t mean that David has no hope for resurrection. But this text is not teaching that hope

    3. consult Peter’s sermon in Acts 2

    25 For David says concerning him,

    “‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
    26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    my flesh also will dwell in hope.
    27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One see corruption.
    28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
    29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    saying infants who die are saved will remove some of the offense, even if that’s not true
    The first is pastoral. Infant mortality may not be as common in developed countries in the 21st Century as it was in those same countries just a few centuries ago, but the pain of loss and questions about life and destiny it raises are just as real. In some respects they are even more real for Christian parents who believe that ‘faith comes from hearing the message and is heard through the word of Christ’ (Ro 10.17). Knowing something of God’s extraordinary grace for such extraordinary circumstances can only bring comfort.

    The fact the scope of this principle goes beyond ‘elect infants dying in infancy’ to ‘all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word’ is also pastorally significant. Not least in terms of how the church regards and cares for those who are mentally incapacitated. At a very basic level the questions must be asked, ‘Can they be accepted as members of the church?’ and ‘May they receive the Lord’s Supper?’ If a church turns ‘the ordinary means of grace’ into ‘the sole means of grace’, the answer must be ‘No!’.

    The other reason for raising this issue relates to the question Jesus was asked en route to Jerusalem: ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ (Lk 13.23). It is the question many have asked throughout the centuries. And it is significant that Jesus does not give a direct answer, but says instead the real issue is making sure we ourselves are in his kingdom (Lk 13.24).

    This does not mean the question in itself is wrong, or that it is wrong to ask it. Interestingly it was taken up by several 19th Century Reformed theologians, among them Charles Hodge and W.G.T. Shedd, in their consideration of the so-called ‘Larger Hope’.

    In his book, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed – A Defence of the Westminster Standards, Shedd deals with this question (following chapters on ‘Common and Special Grace’, ‘God’s Love and Credal Proportion’ and ‘Infant Salvation as Related to Original Sin’) in a chapter entitled ‘The “Larger Hope”‘.[1]

    There he discusses this issue in light of the relation between God’s glory and the number of the redeemed, but with cognizance of the extra-ordinary dimensions in the operations of grace.

    Charles Hodge also addresses the issue, notably in his comments on Romans 5.18-20, where he says,
    We have no right to put any limit on these general terms, except what the Bible itself places upon them…All the descendants of Adam, except Christ, are under condemnation; all the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved. This appears to be the clear meaning of the apostle, and therefore he does not hesitate to say that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, that the benefits of redemption exceed the evils of the fall; that the number of the saved far exceeds the number of the lost.[2]

    This issue has had extensive coverage by Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant and Evangelical Protestant authors from a range of differing perspectives and with correspondingly different conclusions. But all too frequently their concern has been to try to justify, at one end of the spectrum, ‘sincere’ faith in any religious context, or good works in all contexts as the basis of acceptance with God; or, at the other end, some form of universalism.It is significant, therefore, that the issue was raised in the way it was by the Reformed theologians cited above and on the theological foundation they build with the inferences they drew from it, but also those they did not.

    The questions are real but Scripture is noticeably silent on them. Nevertheless the men of the Westminster Assembly offer a judicious response in what they say in relation to effectual calling. They enable us to focus on what the Bible makes clear – that the church’s duty is to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28.19-20) – while at the same time acknowledging that ‘the Judge of all the Earth’ will most certainly do what is right (Ge 18.25).

  7. markmcculley Says:

    2 Peter 1: 1 To those who have obtained a faith of equal privilege with ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
    Romans 8:10–”Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin,the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    Galatians 4:– And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Ursinus: At first view it seems absurd that we should be justified by anything without us, or by something that belongs to another. We explain how the satisfaction of Christ becomes ours. Unless Christ’s righteousness be applied unto us, we cannot be justified by it, . God himself applies Christ’s righteousness unto us, that is, God makes the righteousness of Christ over unto us, and accepts of us as righteous on account of Christ’s righteousness.

    A. A. Hodge–In Protestant Soteriology, there is– 1st. clear distinction between the change of relation signalized by justification, and the change of character signalized by regeneration. . 2nd. The change of relation, the remission of penalty, and the restoration to favor involved in justification, necessarily precedes, and makes certain the change expressed by regeneration. The continuance of judicial condemnation precludes the exercise of grace. Remission of punishment must precede the work of the Holy Spirit. We are pardoned in order to be good, never made good in order to be pardoned.

    Election is not the Atonement, but God’s election decided for whom Christ Atoned. (God does not love the elect because of Christ’s death, Christ’s death for the elect was because of God’s love). The atoning death is not the justification, but all for whom Christ died have been or will be justified.

    Romans 4: Righteousness will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

    ”Raised” is not the cause of the justification of the last elect person to be justified, but the justification of that last elect sinner is the cause of “raised”. Abraham’s justification while he was not yet circumcised is also the cause of “raised”

    One point of clarification. I deny that anybody is justified before God without believing the gospel, as I deny that any non-elect are in the new covenant. The elect are not born justified. The elect are not “eternally justified”. Christ’s righteousness is not justification. God’s imputation of righteousness results in faith. Nobody is justified (logically or temporally) before faith in the gospel. I do not teach two kinds of justification.

    Bavinck–Under the influence of…. Amyraldianism, there developed the neonomiam representation of the order of redemption which made forgiveness of sins and eternal life dependent on faith and obedience which man had to perform in accordance with the new law of the gospel. Parallel with this development, Pietism and Methodism arose which, with all their differences, also shifted the emphasis to the subject, and which either demanded a long experience or a sudden conversion as a condition for obtaining salvation.

    Bavinck–As a reaction against this came the development of anti-neonomianism, which had justification precede faith, and antinomianism which reduced justification to God’s eternal love. Reformed theologians usually tried to avoid both extremes, and for that purpose soon made use of the distinction between “active” and “passive justification.” This distinction is not found in the reformers; as a rule they speak of justification in a “concrete sense.” They do not treat of a justification from eternity, or of justification in the resurrection of Christ, or in the gospel, or before or after faith, but combine everything in a single concept.

    Bavinck–Efforts were made to keep both elements as close together as possible, while accepting only a logical and not a temporal distinction. However, even then, there were those who objected to this distinction inasmuch as the gospel mentions no names and does not say to anyone, personally: Your sins have been forgiven. Therefore it is not proper for any man to take as his starting point the belief that his sins have been forgiven.

    Bavinck– There is no reason to recommend speaking of eternal justification. If one says that “justification as an act immanent in God” must of necessity be eternal, then it should be remembered that taken in that sense everything, including creation, incarnation, atonement, calling, regeneration, is eternal. Whoever would speak of an eternal creation would give cause for great misunderstanding. Besides, the proponents of this view back off themselves, when, out of the fear of antinomianism, they assert strongly that eternal justification is not the only, full, and complete justification, but that it has a tendency and purpose to realise itself outwardly. This amounts really to the usual distinction between the decree and its execution. The counsel of God and all decrees contained therein as a unit are without doubt eternal “immanent acts”, but the external works of God, creation, preservation, governing, redemption, justification, etc., are in the nature of the case “transient acts.” As works they do not belong to the plan of God’s ordering but to the execution of it

  8. markmcculley Says:

    do they show “respect of persons” to the unbaptized children of professing Christians?

    Mark Jones —“I do not believe we can say that the infants of unbelievers will definitely go to hell. However, I do not believe, based on the above, that we can say they will definitely go to heaven. Personally, I am agnostic on that specific question. But I do not believe, contrary to some, that the biblical evidence requires us to say that all infants dying in infancy will go to heaven.”

    Mark Jones—“Nonetheless, we can speak more definitively to this issue when it comes to the children of believers. The Canons of Dort address the topic better, and certainly more pastorally, than the Westminster Confession of Faith, in my view: 1st Head of Doctrine, Article 17. Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.

    Mark Jones—The basis for having this hope is not merely the goodness of God, but the goodness of God as revealed in his covenantal promises towards his people. The children of believers are holy, and thus their identity is NOT, as far as we are to judge, “in Adam”. They have been set apart, with a new identity (i.e., they are holy)…. God’s Word seems to give us some grounds to make these judgments, which, as a pastor, I am glad to offer to bereaved parents in my congregation who have lost an infant.

    Mark Jones—The WCF (10.3) says, “elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit…” – a view that could still allow for all infants, without exception, to receive salvation, but also allows that not all infants will necessarily be saved. Certainly the Westminster divines, based on the public directory for worship, which calls the children of believers “Christians”, would have likely been in agreement with the Canons of Dort on this issue. Pastors have grounds for giving real comfort to Christians who have to deal with the tragedy of losing a child, especially infants . I cannot offer that same comfort to an unbeliever.

    mcmark—Since Reformed paedobaptists (not Missouri Synod Lutherans) are so generous about the Lord’s Supper that they welcome baptists to the table
    (these ignorant baptists think they are doing something there, when really it’s God),

    why don’t Reformed paedobaptists trust God’s sovereignty instead of fencing the table against their baptized children until those children learn the catechism?

  9. markmcculley Says:

    big laugh, David told Bathsheba that he David also was going to die . Would that comfort Bathsheba,? That can’t be true

    Dordt FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 17. Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14).

    I Cor 7:14 is obvious in teaching that even though the covenant is not governed by election, any kind of holiness including covenantal holiness, will save children who have been baptised and who were born to godly believing parents—How godly are the parents now, and how certain is it that these parents will continue to have true faith and be godly, or does it matter?

    We would never say that the infants who died were elect but then they didn’t die, that they they rejected the covenant and became non-elect. Because the covenant is not governed by election. The covenantal status comforts us with certainty that if our children die, their death will be evidence not only of the covenantal status of the dead infant but also of their election. .

    Even though no depraved sinner is better than another, not all things re equal. God promises the gift of faith to the children God has given faith. Water baptism is God’s effectual gift.

    Was Judas was in the new covenant? If “covenant grace” did not keep Judas in the covenant, what did “common grace” do for Judas ? (sarcasm alert)

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Vos–. According to Davenant, all children baptized into the covenant are not only adopted and justified but also regenerated and sanctified. But Davenant distinguishes this justification, adoption, and regeneration from the benefits of salvation, incapable of being lost, that adults share in at their regeneration. For the children, he says, those gifts are sufficient to place them in a state of salvation. If they die in childhood, then on that basis they go to heaven. But for adults it is not sufficient. When a baptized child grows up, it may not be regarded as a living member of the church on the basis of the grace of baptism alone. Not that it has lost its initial grace, but it has lost its status as a child, and thereby its condition is changed. If no true conversion follows, then a baptized person who dies as an adult is lost.

    Vos—Baptism does not exist to effect regeneration, justification, and sanctification. In Davenant baptism becomes, in a Lutheran sense, the means ordained by God for begetting new life. Further, that there would be a partial forgiveness of sins and a partial justification is irreconcilable with Reformed principles. It will not do to say that original sin is taken away but the guilt of actual sin remains. Also, it cannot be that the merits of Christ would be applied to someone for regeneration, justification, and sanctification without the one to whom they are applied being included in election. There is no application (though certainly an offer) of the merits of the Mediator except for those who have been given to Him by the Father. Finally, with the subsequent loss of these gifts of grace one comes into the greatest difficulties. Christ has suffered for that forgiven guilt, for on that basis it is forgiven. But now that forgiveness is lost again, and the person in view is punished for it personally. There is then a double retribution, first borne by Christ and then by the person himself.

    Vos: As far as regeneration, justification, and sanctification are concerned, a child can do with nothing less than an adult. The true spiritual life that is given in regeneration is sufficient for an adult to live for God. It cannot be made insufficient by the development of natural life. One would then have to assume that regeneration was really lost again, and that would be equivalent to teaching an apostasy of the saints. Davenant’s view is not tenable for one who is Reformed.

    Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Warfield– “If only a single infant dying in irresponsible infancy be saved, the whole Arminian principle is traversed. If all infants dying such are saved, not only the majority of the saved, but doubtless the majority of the human race hitherto, have entered into life by a non-Arminian pathway.”

    Mark McCulley—I know non-Reformed folks are basically too stupid to do inferences, but should we conclude from this that a minority of sinners enter the kingdom of God by means of one of the five falsehoods of Arminianism? Does it really show the holiness and truth of God that God saves so many by “the Arminian pathway”?

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