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Adam Harwood


Your work on this series is outstanding. You found and interacted with almost-forgotten but important resources which yielded rich content.

I hope to see this essay--along with some of your previous writings on inherited guilt and infant salvation--included in a future book on the topic. I would happily buy a copy.

In Him,

William Marshall

Bro. Peter or Dr. Harwood,
In what sense does Christ's atonement apply to infants who die? If they are not guilty (not under condemnation), then how does Christ's death apply to them? As someone who affirms inherited guilt, I think I know how I would answer this (Christ's death atones for the guilt inherited from Adam), but I am not sure how a person who denies inherited guilt from Adam would answer it. Hope that makes sense. Thanks for taking the time,



Is anyone else seeing a major problem with definitions? Isn't Condemnation, death? The wages of sin is death. We are condemned to die because of Adam's sin. We are separated from God. The condemnation (death) is the consequence we all get for Adam's sin. That is the way I have always understood it. Infants are condemned because of the consequence of death. But they are not guilty of Adam's sin. How would they know if they have sinned?

I never put "guilty" OF Adams sin with the consequence of Adam's sin which is death.

We are all sinners, so please don't think I am saying that. I just think we need a glossery of terms when we communicate with the Reformed wing. :o)

peter lumpkins


Thanks for the question. Sorry to not get back sooner. We had a Senior Adult fellowship meal at the church. No frozen dinners! I'm sure you know what I'm talkin bout!

I appreciate the query and Dr. Harwood devoted a special section in his book to answer the anticipated question. I'll be glad to give you my take a bit later. Before I do though, I'd like you to tease something out about which you mentioned your own view. You wrote, "As someone who affirms inherited guilt, I think I know how I would answer this (Christ's death atones for the guilt inherited from Adam)..."

So, are you suggesting Christ's atoning cross-work paid for the original sin (or "imputed Adamic guilt") of all infants as well as all severely mentally incompetent persons as a class? Is this your meaning? If so, upon what biblical grounding do you hold such a view? If not, then what do you mean by "Christ's death atones for the guilt inherited from Adam" as applied to infants and the mentally challenged?

William Marshall

Bro. Peter,
Good questions and I admit that there are no explicit passages that deal with the salvation of infants who die or mentally challenged. The best answer I think I can give is that there are passages that seem to indicate that infants who die will be in heaven (David's child, Luke 18:16). Those who are in heaven are called the 'ransomed' (Rev. 5:9). You could argue that this only refers to adults, but it seems awkward for me to say that there will be people in heaven who have not been ransomed. If that is the case, then in what sense have infants who die and the mentally challenged been 'ransomed.' One answer could be taken from Romans 5:18, which says that 'one trespass (that of Adam) led to the condemnation for all men.' Thus, infants who die and the mentally challenged are ransomed from such condemnation by Christ's death.

Again, this issue is difficult because no passage addresses it explicitly. Perhaps I am making too many leaps as I move from passage to passage in my logic, but I struggle with concluding that there will be people in heaven who have not been redeemed because they were not guilty. Also, it just seems clear to me from Romans 5:18 that all are condemned in Adam (although I do understand how others interpret that passage). Hope that helps. Thanks for the dialogue.


peter lumpkins

Thanks so much William. I appreciate your humble spirit as you wrestle as do we with certain biblical texts. I only had time to scan, but will get back a bit later. It's Wednesday you know!!

Grace and peace, brother...

peter lumpkins


You and Dr. Harwood are on the same methodical page in cautiously approaching definitive conclusions from Scripture since, as you say, “there are no explicit passages that deal with the salvation of infants who die or mentally challenged.” Dr. Harwood confessed as much when he averred toward the close of his meticulous examination of the issue in The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal:

“If I were pressed to speculate how God might deal with people who die in their infancy, I would offer this suggestion: All people who die in their infancy will be included in God’s restoration of his fallen creation through Christ’s work at the cross. perhaps this is the time Jesus mentioned as “the renewal of all things” (Matt 19:28). Paul said that creation would be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8:19–23). Although infants are not guilty of sin, they have been stained by it. even though they have not knowingly acted in ways that would incur God’s judgment, they may be in need of God’s redemptive and renewing work. And it is Jesus who promises, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5)” (p.154, italics added)

I fully appreciate the caution you both express in pronouncing definitive theological conclusions based on few, if any, explicit biblical passages directly and/or specifically involving infant redemption; nonetheless, I am personally willing to be a bit less hesitant than either and actually state that though it may be true that few, if any, biblical texts deal with infant redemption in a straight-forward, direct sort of manner, it is not too much to conclude from what we do know about God and His redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, and from there, through good and necessary inference, confidently ascertain that no infant dying in infancy nor any mentally challenged person dying at any age will eternally suffer God’s wrathful judgment as the imputed eternal consequence of his or her supposed guilty relationship--either seminal, federal, or otherwise--with Adam, the head of the fallen human race.

In addition, for me, pastorally speaking, I think a healthy confidence about infant redemption remains necessary when dealing with those who suffer the tragic loss of a baby, whether the loss is due to natural or unnatural causes, whether it’s a prenatal or postnatal loss. Similarly could be said about those who have mentally challenged children (Note: please know this is not a criticism of Dr. Harwood’s approach nor either is it a suggestion his work is cold-hearted or “unpastoral,” if you will. But we must recall Dr. Harwood’s excellent monograph is the rendition of an academic scholar written as a biblical-theological treatise not a pastoral counseling manual).

Not that we should “make up” theology to offer false hope to the emotionally troubled. Rather I am convinced, given what I know about God and His overall redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, I possess virtually the same level of confidence to assure a grieving couple who just lost their firstborn in a tragic crib-death that their little one remains under the heavenly care of his or her Creator and Redeemer that I have to confidently assure a grieving widow at a memorial service that her husband, who was one of our finest deacon-servants of our church, has entered the gates of heaven and remains joyous and content in the forever-community of saints gathered around the throne of God.

Were someone to ask me, “Do you absolutely know the deacon is in heaven?” Says I in response, “Well, I’d have to confess, no, I don’t absolutely know he is in heaven, if you mean to imply by absolutely know a sort of mathematical type of certainty of it. After all, anyone can and sometimes they do “fake” a conversion. But, from everything I know about God, His redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, along with everything I know about our deacon-servant, I remain unwaveringly confident he sits joyously in unsurpassed contentment in the forever-community of saints gathered around the throne of God.” Similarly, I think I may confidently infer from what I know about God, His redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, and the nature of infancy (including the nature of the mentally challenged) to sufficiently, legitimately assure grieving families their little one (or mentally challenged one) remains safely and eternally under the merciful and loving care of his or her Creator and Redeemer.

I gave you more than you asked and perhaps didn’t even touch what you asked, William. Even so, it is where I stand on the particular issue before us.

Allow me, if I may, to express what I think is a difference not in conclusion concerning infant salvation you and I, along with Dr. Harwood, and every commenter on the thread thus far virtually agree upon in outcome; namely, together we believe (some perhaps more tentatively than others) babies go to heaven if they die in infancy. We're glad most of us may agree here.

On the other hand--and here's the difference--the Calvinist like yourself who insists on inherited Adamic guilt—original guilt in the classic Reformed sense that is positively and eternally damning to all people in itself--has the onus to demonstrate how Scripture teaches all infants are redeemed by the blood of Christ (assuming, of course, one embraces universal salvation of infants dying in infancy). This is particularly a mammoth task for those Calvinists who also embrace particular atonement not to mention the complications G.W. Northrup rehearsed for strict Calvinists who embrace a hardened form of unconditional election. Granted those like Dr. Harwood (and others including me!) are obligated to answer good and necessary questions against their position like “What does it mean to have a sinful nature but not also have what seems an obvious corollary—sinful guilt?” as well as some other good questions implied by your own words (e.g.”…but it seems awkward…that there will be people in heaven who have not been ransomed….in what sense have infants who die and the mentally challenged been 'ransomed.' ”).

Know we concede these questions among others are good questions but frankly, Harwood anticipated and offered lengthy answers in his book to every question thus far raised against his position--at least questions against his position about which I am aware, including the fair and honest questions you raise, William. 

In the end, for my part, the level of difficulty on infant salvation the strict Calvinist faces cannot be matched. I think this issue to be a genuine Achilles Heel and may prove fatal so far as system is concerned. It surely is not an accident that many, many Reformed today simply do not wish to engage this subject. I think a major reason is, they lose exegetically, theologically, morally, and/or pastorally. That’s me speaking, of course, and only me.

Grace to you, William.  May our Lord rescue us all from this body of death.              

William Marshall

Bro. Peter,
Thanks for the response and dialogue. I agree with your pastoral concerns and conclusions for this issue: we need to have a "healthy confidence" that infants who die and the mentally challenged will indeed be shown grace and granted to enter glory (your example was helpful in understanding what this practically looks like).

As for this issue being the Achilles Heel for the Calvinist, I am still not convinced that the Calvinist's explanation is all that different (in strength or weakness) from that of the non-Calvinist. Yes, they are different, but both are attempting to do the best they can to answer difficult, sensitive questions that are not explicitly dealt with in the text. Dr. Harwood sees infants as "stained" by the Fall and thus in need of Christ's redemption and renewal. I view them as "condemned" in Adam (Romans 5:18) and thus in need of Christ's redemption and atoning death. These views are not that different in my mind and neither seem to be an Achilles Heel for their different understandings of soteriology. Thanks again for the response and discussion. O for grace to better understand the weight and glory of God's redemption of a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation through the blood of His Son!


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