The salvation of babies (and in view of a false interpretation of Psalm 51:5 even foetuses) has proved problematic in the history of the church. As the consequence of the patently unbiblical dogma of original sin the question has clearly spawned spurious theology, anthropology and worldview. So it is important for us to try and discover what the Bible actually teaches.
1. John 1:13 implies that babies, like animals, are born flesh and blood by the will of the flesh. This is in sharp contrast with being born of God (1:13, cf. 3:1-8; Heb. 12:9).
2. Jesus with his own ascension into heaven in mind tells his disciples in John 6:63 that the flesh is unprofitable by nature (cf. Isa. 31:1-3; Jer. 17:5; Rom. 7:18; 8:8, etc.). It should thus occasion no surprise that it cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5). Thus, a second or spiritual birth is indispensably necessary if we are to be saved (John 3:1-8).
3. Paul, seeking to answer the question regarding the nature of the bodies of the resurrected dead (1 Cor. 15:35), reminds us that we are, first, flesh or dust like Adam and have perishable, dishonourable, weak (Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 13:4), natural or physical bodies but need, second, spiritual bodies like the glorified Jesus (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21). He then states categorically that flesh and blood and the perishable as such cannot inherit the imperishable kingdom of God (15:50). In other words, transformation, like the new birth, is a ‘natural’ necessity irrespective of sin if we are to enter the presence of God who is a consuming fire (1 Cor. 15:51-54). (1* See further my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities)
4. It follows from this that we need to be born again, that is spiritually, in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-8; Heb. 9:14). Since it is the law that promises life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5), regeneration is necessarily preceded by righteousness (justification) gained either by keeping the law (Jesus, Mt. 3:13-17) or by faith (sinners). (2* It is vital to bear in mind the fact that faith which features almost throughout the Bible is necessarily relative as Hebrews 11 implies. Genuine faith whether of youth or adult is always valid. This holds true on the level of both the race and the individual who recapitulates it.) Neither is within the reach of babies that know neither the law nor good and evil (Dt. 1:39, cf. Rom. 9:11). They resemble Adam and Eve who initially did not know the law (commandment) which promised life if they kept it and death if they did not (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, cf. Rom. 7:9f.).
5. Like the animals that feed exclusively on perishable food like milk, babies, who do not know the law and hence good and evil, are therefore neither saved nor damned (cf. Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11). Like Adam prior to his receiving the commandment they are untested (cf. Ex. 15:25b; 16:4; Dt. 8:2,16) and therefore cannot receive the crown of life (James 1:12). (As the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it!) However, once the (parental, Prov. 1:8, etc.) commandment dawns on their developing minds (cf. Rom. 7:9f.), they have the potential to mature into persons and like Jesus to be perfected in the image of God (Heb. 1:3, cf. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). This is presumably what Jesus is implying when he blesses little children (Mark 10:13-16) as his Father had blessed Adam and Eve at creation (Gen. 1:28).
6. Jesus tells us that John the Baptist was the greatest born of woman (Mt. 11:11). Clearly he was not born again (of the Spirit, cf. Mt. 3:14) as was Jesus who had already received the Spirit and gained life by keeping the commandments (Lev. 18:5; Mt. 3:13-17). Despite this, John had faith like the OT saints before him (Heb. 11) and would therefore gain the inheritance (James 2:5). Like Abraham he obtained the promise (Heb. 6:15) but not its fullness since he died before the inauguration of the new covenant and the outpouring of the Spirit of God (Heb. 11:39f.). Faith is indispensably necessary since it precedes the new birth whose precondition is righteousness, and babies do not have it. (3* Pace those who embrace the traditional order of salvation on which see e.g. my Cart-Before-The-Horse Theology, The Order of Salvation in Romans, etc.)
7. Scripture tells us that no flesh will be justified or boast before God (John 6:63; Rom. 3:19f.; 4:2; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; 3:12, etc.). Since babies are flesh and do not know the law, they have neither works nor faith, and so are out of the reckoning.
8. Men and women who like animals (cf. Isa. 31:3) nurture the naturally corruptible flesh (Rom. 8:7; Gal. 6:8) and not the spirit (cf. Phil. 3:19; 2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10) will not inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 2:9). Neither will babies who also like animals nurture their own physical appetites since they can do no other. However, in contrast with those who like Adam and Eve eventually gain a degree of moral consciousness through knowledge of the commandment (cf. Gen. 2:17), they are not accountable since they do not know the law (Dt. 1:39, cf. Rom. 3:19; 4:15), and hence they are not subject to judgement (cf. Rom. 2). At this point the falsity of baptismal regeneration becomes obvious. There is no question of babies being damned as Augustine seemed to think.
9. As flesh, babies are profane (they belong to this world) not sacred (spirit, cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). Like Adam and Eve (and Paul, for example, Rom. 7:9f., cf. Dt. 1:39; Rom. 9:11) at the start they do not know the law and are neither holy nor righteous (cf. Lev. 11:44f.; 19:2). Since both righteousness and holiness are essential, they will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
10. In light of the above to go no further, the baptism of babies is theologically indefensible. It rides roughshod over biblical covenant theology which does not begin until Noah, that is, when mankind in general has already undergone some degree of development or evolution and gained a modicum of moral awareness (4* See further my Did God Make a Covenant with Creation?, Covenant Theology in Brief, Recapitulation in Outline) What is more, it makes nonsense of history, experience and the findings of science. Above all, it implicitly denies the progressive recapitulation of the race undertaken by Jesus who as the second Adam epitomizes the race (cf. Eph. 1:10) and who, as Gregory Nazianzen taught, had to assume what he healed (cf. Heb. 2; 1 John 2:2). Baptism, which signifies regeneration, is necessarily preceded by testing and maturation under both natural and moral law (cf. Dt. 8:2,16), and by faith and justification (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5, etc.). (5* See my Baptism Revisited, Regarding the Baptism of Jesus, Circumcision and Baptism, etc.)
So I conclude that the salvation implied by the baptism of babies who like Adam have never achieved covenant status of any kind must be denied. (6* It may of course be legitimately asked at this point how it was that Abel and Enoch were justified by faith before the covenant with Noah, Heb. 11:4-6. The answer surely lies in the fact that they in contrast with literal babies attained to the maturity that pertained to their generation.) By contrast, the salvation of many of the heathen (historically the majority of mankind) who are capable of faith (cf. Acts 14:17; 17:27; Rom. 2:14-16,26; 1 Cor. 13:10; Gal. 4:1-3; Heb. 11:1-22; James 2) must be accepted (contra Westminster Larger Catechism, Qu. 60, WCF, 10: 4, and some interpretations of “outside the church there is no salvation”, extra ecclesiam non salus). The latter is clearly implied by the order of salvation which places faith and hence righteousness before regeneration (cf. Hebrews 11 and Revelation 7:9). Though the ungodly Abraham (Rom. 4:5) could be justified by faith (Gen. 15:6), he manifestly could not be born again (eternally saved) before the coming of Jesus and the out-pouring of the Spirit. If he could, we are forced to conclude that he remained ungodly forever!
Additional Note on the Four Living Creatures
There seems to be some question as to the identity of ‘the four living creatures’ in the book of Revelation, 4:6, etc. Without going into unnecessary detail, I would suggest that since they are in heaven speaking, singing and praising God (4:8f.; 5:6ff.), they are people, as distinct from angels (5:11), epitomized, like ‘Adam’, as individuals (4:7). Since the identity of the twenty-four elders (4:10) with whom they are associated would appear to be fairly obvious, the inference is that the four living creatures are embodiments of the heathen from the four corners of the earth (cf. 7:9). Scripture clearly teaches that in accordance with the plan of salvation every knee will eventually bow before our Creator God (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13). While many will do so unwillingly and necessarily (7* To assume that these include all the heathen en masse who according to Augustine constituted an undifferentiated mass of damned people reflects failure to differentiate between good and evil people in all societies, cf. Gen 18:25; Job 8:3,20, and, in principle, to ignore the warning of Jesus in the parable of the weeds, Mt. 13:30, cf. 3:12.), on the assumption that grace triumphs over sin (Rom. 5:20) and mercy over judgement (James 2:13), many more will do so gladly. According to Peter, the promise is to both the Gentiles (heathen) and children (not uncomprehending infants) who together are ‘far off’ (Acts 2:39), and who, according to Paul, along with those who are near (the Jews), ultimately have access by faith to the Father (Eph. 2:18).
(See further my Concerning Infant Salvation)