As I mentioned in Part I, I felt it necessary to set the record straight because some “Reformed” brothers claimed I did not take the time to rightly understand “reformed theology” and consequently was butchering it. And, one of the supposed outrageous claims I made pertained to Calvinism’s darker side in assigning all reprobate infants to hell.
I began with John Calvin’s “horribile decretum”; so horrible, in fact, that Calvinism’s 19th century Princeton champion, B.B. Warfield hid Calvin’s view from plain sight, burying it in a footnote, when he offered his otherwise worthy historical development of the church’s view on Infant Salvation.
Not all historical theologians were hardly as embarrassed as perhaps Warfield. For example, 19th C. Reformed theologian Dr. H. J. Van Dyke openly asserted, "Now let us be candid with ourselves, and even with our opponents. Historic Calvinism does include what Calvin himself calls the horribile decretum, that by the election and predestination of God many nations, with their infant children, are irretrievably doomed to eternal death” (all bold mine, Variations within Calvinism, pp.39-40).
Hence, it’s clear John Calvin embraced the view that at least some infants dying in infancy are reprobate. Following Augustine, Calvin simply deduced his conclusion of reprobate infants as the necessary implication of Original Sin and Absolute, Unconditional Predestination. Indeed consistent Calvinists have an excruciating time usurping Calvin’s tight logic. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons Warfield, being the sparkling logician he was, had to avoid dealing with Calvin’s view directly.
Let’s move on from Calvin himself into developed Calvinism.
Perhaps the Synod of Dort is as good a place as any. And what was Dort’s view of Infant Salvation? Listen carefully to Warfield’s summation on the Dort doctors:
“No synod probably ever met which labored under greater temptation to declare that some infants, dying in infancy, are reprobate, than the Synod of Dort. Possibly nearly every member of it held as his private opinion that there are such infants…” (Works, Vol 9, p.284).
Now, while Warfield goes on to praise the Synod for not rushing head-long into speculative conclusions by making their “private opinions” credal—note: one wonders if their “private opinions” included their individual views on absolute, unconditional predestination—what’s noteworthy is, the ones who were adamantly against reprobate infants were the Remonstrants, Remonstrants whose view was flat out rejected! Arminian scholars apparently brought an objection against unconditional predestination resting upon the injustice it imposes upon infants dying in infancy, a strategic move Warfield calls “shrewd” and “irritating.”
Of this, Dr. Phillip Schaff writes:
"In the Synod of Dort (1619) the Calvinists, including the delegates of the Church of England, asserted in various shapes infant reprobation and infant damnation against the Arminians, who at first admitted a sort of negative hell for some infants (the poena damni, as distinct from the poena sensus), but afterwards positively maintained the salvation of all infants dying in infancy" (bold mine, Creed Revision in the Presbyterian Churches, p. 19; quoted in Elect Infants, John Vant Stephens, p.61).
Hence, the post-Reformation view of all infants dying in infancy are saved is distinctively an Arminian contribution to Reformed Christianity, definitively not a Calvinist contribution.
From the Synod of Dort to the Westminster Confession there remains little to no dissent among the Reformed. How Warfield can suggest that most Calvinists have held the view that either all infants dying in infancy are elect (following Zwingli) or that the Bible is silent on the issue is incredible. Even more incredible is, Warfield also makes this statement pertaining to the Westminster divines and their view on Infant Salvation:
“What has been said of the Synod of Dort may be repeated of the Westminster Assembly. The Westminster divines were generally at one in the matter of infant salvation with the doctors of Dort, but, like them, they refrained from any deliverance as to its negative side” (bold mine, Works, p.284).
In other words, virtually all the Westminster theologians privately held that some infants dying in infancy are reprobate. However, they only publicly affirmed the positive side of predestination; that is, all elect infants dying in infancy are saved.
I’m wondering if my “Reformed” brothers who claimed I was misrepresenting “reformed theology” are willing yet to concede that Infant Reprobation is embedded within historic, mainstream Reformed theology.
Okay. Let’s go one more step.
Below are a few other noteworthy examples of Reformed theologians who embraced Infant Reprobation (Stephens, pp.102ff).
- William Twisse, the Prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly: “If many thousands, even all the infants of Turks and Sarazens dying in original sinne, are tormented by him in hell fire, is he to be accounted the father of cruelties for this?…dares he censure God, as a Father of cruelties for executing eternall death upon them that are guilty of it?" And, again: “Many infants depart from this life in original sin, and consequently are condemned to eternal death on account of original sin alone; therefore from the sole transgression of Adam condemnation to eternal death has followed upon many infants" (all bold mine here and following)
- Anthony Burgess, influential member of the Westminster Assembly: “We must necessarily make a distinction between such as are born under the Covenant, and such whose parents and their seed are strangers from it, and therefore with the Remonstrants to conclude, That all Infants, though born of Pagans, are surely saved, is to put no difference between being in the Covenant of Grace, and to be without, which yet the Scripture doth…”
- Richard Baxter, author of The Reformed Pastor: “…all the infants of true believers who have right to the covenant and baptism in foro eoeli, as well as in foro ecchsiae, have also thereby right to the pardon of original sin, and to adoption, and to heaven, which right is by baptism sealed and delivered to them”
- Jonathan Edwards, Revivalist, Philosopher, and Contemporary icon of Neo-Calvinism: “We may well argue from these things, that infants are not looked upon by God as sinless, but that they are by nature children of wrath, seeing this terrible evil comes so heavily on mankind in infancy. But besides these things, which are observable concerning the mortality of infants in general, there are some particular cases of the death of infants, which the Scripture sets before us, that are attended with circumstances, in a particular manner giving evidences of the sinfulness of such, and their just exposedness to divine wrath…" And, after giving a series of illustrations of God’s destruction of Old Testament cities like Sodom and peoples like the Midianites, Edwards concludes: “And here it. must be remembered, that these very destructions of that city and land are spoken of in those places forementioned, as clear evidences of God's wrath, to all nations which shall behold them. And if so, they were evidences of God's wrath towards infants; who, equally with the rest, were the subjects of the destruction” (Doctrine of Original Sin Defended)
In summary, nineteenth century Lutheran scholar, C. P. Krauth, in his mammoth historical compilation of views on Infant Salvation among the Reformed bodies entitled, “Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation in the Calvinistic System" offered a modest proposal to Calvinist scholarship:
"We request any and all defenders of [Westminster] Calvinism to produce a solitary Calvinistic standard or divine, from the First Helvetic Confession to the Westminster Confession, or from Calvin to Twisse, the prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, in which, or by whom, it is asserted or implied that all who die in infancy are certainly saved."
And according to Stephens, the request was made in 1874, but at the time Stephens prepared his monograph (1900), no one had yet furnished the information desired (Stephens, p.116).
I wonder yet if my “Reformed” brothers who implied I was misrepresenting “reformed theology” by suggesting that classical “reformed theology” is thoroughly drenched with the dreadful doctrine that non-elect infant babies dying in infancy justly, and for the glory of God alone, burn in hellfire and brimstone for all eternity are ready to crawl back into their Sproul-Piper-Mahaney-White-Founders lala land where historic Calvinism remains the beautiful, beaming, baby-loving doctrine it’s always been. Or, will they spread their wings and read more comprehensively from their own self-professed theological heritage?
I do not know.
But I do wonder.
With that, I am…