In Part 1, I reprinted an article from The Baltimore Sun, May 26, 1908, an article reflecting the turmoil between Presbyterians who desired to change the Westminster Confession because it taught the eternal damnation of some infants and those Presbyterians who insisted the Confession should remain as it was originally written. One of the leaders was J.B. Mack, a well-known Presbyterian pastor, theologian, church planter and evangelist appointed by the Synod of Georgia.
Below is an article written by Mack and originally published in The Atlanta Constitution, December 23, 1900. Entitled "DR. MACK ON INFANT SALVATION: Strong Communication from This Distinguished Divine Accompanied by One from John E. Donaldson." Mack shows the reasonable case many Presbyterians had assembled against their own confession's language concerning infant damnation.1
My Dear Brother-
Inclosed find my view concerning the action of our synod which unintentionally and indirectly affirmed that some infants dying in infancy are lost, vlz:
In A.D. 1613 the English parliament, a civil power, summoned the Westminster assembly, and its members received their appointment from the same civil power. When this assembly of divines had prepared Its celebrated confession of faith it was submitted unto and approved by said parliament of England. It has since been adopted by the Presbyterian churches in Great Britain and America.
One of the things prepared by that assembly and approved by that parliament was the statement that "elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the spirit." Now, concerning this Calvinism there are five points.
1. For the past one hundred years, in the United States, this statement has been Interpreted by all outside of the Presbyterian church, and by some in that church, as affirming that some infants are "not elect" and hence that some infants are in hell. This has caused thousands of persons to join other churches that would otherwise have preferred the Presbyterian church.
2. In May, A. D. 1900, the Southern Presbyterian assembly, in session in Atlanta, Ga.., was overtured to amend that part of the confession so as to state that "All infants dying in infancy are elect, and, therefore, saved."
The assembly peremptorily refused to do so, giving ns their reason that "the present language of the confession cannot, by any fair interpretation, be construed as teaching that any of those who die in infancy are lost." They afterwards ordered that this answer be put in as a foot note in all copies of the confession hereafter printed by their publication committee.
3. The synod of Georgia, according to the printed minutes just sent to the churches, during its meeting in Mllledgeville, adopted the following, viz:
"Whereas, The last general assembly Instructed the committee on publication in all future editions of the confession of faith to publish a foot note explanatory of the Confessional statement concerning elect infants,
"Resolved. That the synod of Georgia does hereby respectfully overture the general assembly to meet in Little Rock, Ark., in May, 1901, to rescind such action on the ground that our venerable confession of faith, which now, as heretofore, is so complete and satisfactory an expression of our faith, should be left Intact to bear Its solemn testimony in behalf of the truth of God's word, and against the prevalent errors of the day."
4. The venerable confession teaches that some dying in infancy go to hell. This is its solemn testimony in chapter 10. That such is the case is easily proven:
(a) The language used implies it for elect infants implies "non-elect infants," as ripe fruit implies green fruit, and white men Implies men of some other color. The phrase is not *infants dying in infancy," but "elect infants."
(b) The Westminster divines so Intended it to teach. The Rev. Dr. Twisse, the moderator or president of that venerable assembly, solemnly said: "Many infants depart from this life in original sin, and consequently are condemned to eternal death on account of original sin alone."
(c) All outside of the Presbyterian church have interpreted the sentence as teaching that some dying in infancy are not elect and therefore damned.
(d) Many in the Presbyterian church believe that such Is the proper interpretation. A prominent minister in North Carolina lately took the ground that the children of unbelievers dying in infancy are lost. Out of 180 presbyteries in the Northern Presbyterian church 145 voted for a change in the confession, and this was one point that they want changed.
As one of the leading divines in that church said, even though arguing against revision: "As to the clause in the confession relating to elect infants, it hardly seems worth while to put forth labored explanations to wrest it from Its plain meaning. It was in all probability meant to express what to the general mind it does express; and the implication of 'nonelect' infants stands clearly on the surface of It. The true explanation is found in the historical facts of the case. Following the Romlsh church from Augustine, the Westminster divines probably held that infants inherited the future of their parents."
The phrase "elect infants" clearly means that some dying in infancy are lost. This is the idea conveyed by the words themselves; this is what the men who made the confession believed; this is the interpretation given by all outside of the Presbyterian church, and this is admitted to be its proper meaning by thousands in that church, who want it changed because they condemn such a horrible Idea.
5. Does the Presbyterian synod of Georgia indorse that statement of our "venerable confession" that "some dying in infancy may now be in hell?" Do they mean to denounce as one of the prevalent errors of the day that precious truth that "all dying in infancy are saved?" If not, let them like honest men rescind their action.
There are certainly two opinions find parties in our church--those who indorse the statement made by the Westminster divines in chapter 10, section -, and those who do not. Those who believe some infants are lost, and those, who believe that all dying in infancy are saved. The former are called I. D. P.'s, or "Infant Damnation Presbyterians." The latter are I. S. P.'s, or "Infant Salvation Presbyterians." I belong to the latter class, accepting as true the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew xvlll, 14: "Even so It Is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." Yours very truly,
J. B. MACK
Allow me a little liberty in redundancy to conclude identically as did I in Part 1.
Given Gerald Harris’ recent rhetorical wrangle concerning Frank Page’s Calvinism Advisory Team (here and here), perhaps we should form our own categories to reflect those in the convention who embrace either a) the belief that all infants dying in infancy are safe in the grace of God; or b) only elect infants dying in infancy are safe in the grace of God (implying, of course, that non-elect infants burn in hell).2 Using Mack’s model, we could categorize them like this:
I.D.S.B.’s = Infant Damnation Southern Baptists
I.S.S.B.’s = Infant Salvation Southern Baptists
Personally, I will break my normal aversion to aligning with any group-think category—Southern Baptist or otherwise--and instead dine with those Southern Baptists who will resist anyone or any theological ideology which entertains the monstrous theological notion that the God of the Bible burns babies in the flames of hell because of inherited sinful guilt.
1The file from which I worked was a bit blotchy thus some small but insignificant errors (like periods and commas, etc) may be present in the reproduction above. In addition, Donaldson's short introductory essay was in the original article, but I chose to leave it out since it was not a counter-point piece and possessed no real contribution beyond Mack's essay.
2some Reformed theologians haved argued that the souls of infants are annihilated upon death