Why Babies Are Not the Subjects of Salvation:
Since babies who know neither good nor evil are totally ignorant, especially of law, and since the definition of sin is transgression of the law, they cannot be sinful (1 John 3:4; 5:17; Jas. 2:9-11). In view of this, salvation for babies is meaningless: they don’t need it.
It may be wondered, however, if they are saved in the sense that they go to heaven. The answer to this would appear to be a plain negative. Since they are flesh (John 3:6) and are born of the flesh (John 1:13) from perishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23), they cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50).
Since babies lack all knowledge, they therefore lack faith, which is built on knowledge. The author of Hebrews writes that without faith we cannot please God (11:6).
According to Genesis 2:17, Lev. 18:5, Luke 10:28, etc., life is promised to those who keep the commandment or law of God. Since infants do not know the law (cf. Rom. 3:19f.; 7:1,7), they cannot keep it in order to be justified (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7). Therefore, lacking both the ability to keep the law and to exercise faith, they have no way of attaining to justification, which is the indispensable prerequisite of life.
God requires us to be blamelessly righteous or perfect in his sight. Babies have no means of attaining to perfection until they develop moral consciousness and either obey the law or exercise faith. In the providence of God all who come to knowledge of the law are promised life if they keep it. If we say with Paul that the law which promised life proves in the event to be the instrument of death (Rom.7:9f.), nonetheless personal failure opens up the way for faith. It is reasonable to argue that Adam and Eve were justified by faith. Though they broke the law which led to death, they perhaps believed the promise (Gen.3:15). In other words, the very knowledge that makes for sin also provides a basis for faith.
When Paul says that he was, like Adam and Eve, ‘alive’ BEFORE he received the commandment (Rom.7:9), clearly that life was not eternal or it would not have been promised to him (cf. Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.). What he means is that he was not yet subject to death as a sinner (Rom.8:10). Like all human beings, he still had to be put on probation under the law (cf. Dt. 8:2,16) and in the event prove incapable of keeping it (cf. Romans 7).
So, while the death of an infant may be extremely distressing to its parents, its mother in particular, we must never forget that the child itself has no conscious existence. It cannot miss what it has never experienced.
It is sometimes said, especially by anti-abortionists using a bad argument to support a good cause, that babies are persons. It is difficult to see how such a view can be substantiated. If personhood, which differentiates us from animals, involves the ability to think, talk, feel, pray, classify, make choices and so forth, then babies are seriously deficient and can be regarded only as potential persons. They are imperfect (immature) by nature and, like the baby Jesus himself, have to be perfected (Heb. 5:8f., etc.).
On the assumption of a parallel or correspondence between Adam as both individual and community, it should be noted that no covenant was made with Adam. The inference from this would appear to be as follows: just as no covenant was made with Adam at his creation, so no covenant is made with babies and infants who know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39, etc.). On the other hand, just as God blessed Adam at his creation (Gen. 1:28), so Jesus blessed little children (Mark 10:16) as potential members of his kingdom Mark 10:14).
Why Babies Die
As one who denies the Augustinian dogma of original sin I am sometimes challenged to explain why babies die if they are not considered sinful at birth. Questioners seem to think they have got me over a barrel at this point, but they are a little premature. The answer is, in fact, quite simple.
Years ago when I first realised that original sin is not and cannot be taught in the Bible, I also realised that the death of babies required an explanation. At the time I argued on the basis of the covenant God made with Noah, which embraces both man and beast. Since men, like Noah himself, attain to understanding, they have the ability to put faith in God’s gracious promise respecting creation and thus be justified (cf Heb. 11:7; 2 Pet. 2:5). Babies, however, are like the animals in that they know neither good nor evil (Dt. 1:39; Ps. 32:9, cf. 73:22) and so cannot believe. The inference must therefore be drawn that both babies and animals, lacking law, sin, righteousness and faith, die in the ordinary course of nature, which has been subjected by God himself to futility irrespective of sin (Rom. 8:19-25).(1.)
While I still see nothing wrong with this argument, it can, I believe, be clarified and supplemented somewhat more directly and forcefully. According to A.A.Hodge (pp.122f.) followed by E.J.Young (p.115), Genesis 2:17, though cast in somewhat negative terms, is in actual fact a promise of life. On reflection, this is precisely the implication of what Paul says in Romans 7:9f. where he contemplates the early part of his own life. His contention is that so long as he was without (an understanding of) the law or more specifically the commandment, he was ‘alive’. But when the commandment came, even though it promised life (cf. Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.), it proved to be the instrument of his death as it had been in Adam and Eve’s case.
So babies who die, before they receive the law which promises (eternal) life (cf. Neh. 9:29; Rom. 2:13; 10:5; Gal. 3:12, etc.), do so in the same manner as the rest of creation (cf. Eccl. 3:19f.) which, not being eternal, is doomed eventually to pass away (Mt. 5:18; 24:35; 1 Cor. 7:31, etc.).
This conclusion points to something else. Traditional theology has usually taught, doubtless more on emotional than rational grounds, that all, or at least elect, infants are saved. However, this calls for comment: (a) babies being born of the flesh are initially flesh whatever their potential (John 1:13; 3:6, Cf. 1 Cor. 15:46)*; (b) since they have no understanding whatsoever and hence lack the commandment that promises life, they are inevitably devoid of faith apart from which they cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). So (c), unable by nature to do good or evil (cf. Rom. 9:11) and lacking all faith they cannot be justified. The only inference we can reasonably draw from this is that, if they die, their spirit returns to God who gave it (Job 34:14f.; Eccl. 12:7), and their bodies relapse into the dust from which they stem (Gen. 3:19; Eccl. 3:20; 6:3-6, cf. Ps. 49:12,20).
(* Animals are flesh (cf. Isa. 31:3, etc.) and without understanding (Ps. 32:9). Man too is flesh but he is also made in the image of God. In other words, he is an anthropological dualism, cf. Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp. 176ff.. As flesh he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50) but as spirit he is like God and hence salvable. As Paul says, he is first flesh and then as he develops under the power of the Spirit he is spirit, 1 Cor. 15:46.)
To sum up, infants, who lack all moral consciousness and knowledge of the commandment or law, cannot possibly be either sinful (Rom.4:15) or righteous (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7 ) and consequently go neither to heaven nor hell. They, like the animals as part of a transient creation (Ps. 49:12,20; Ecc. 3:19ff.), simply cease to exist (2 Cor. 4:18).
The WCF’s assertion that elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved … (see 10:3) is not only not taught in the Bible but cannot be if it is consistent with itself. A.A.Hodge, writes (p.174): “If infants … are to be saved, they must be regenerated and sanctified by God without means.” But this, first, begs the question; and, secondly, is contrary to biblical teaching, which underlines the use of means (and for a number of profound theological reasons). Election and predestination are never arbitrary and mechanical, nor is regeneration. Hodge is misled by Augustine’s view that sin in Adam must be rectified by regeneration in Christ (see e.g. the article on federal theology in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, p.218). But blood (the cross) NOT regeneration is the Bible’s answer to sin (though not the power of sin). The fact is there can be no regeneration apart from righteousness (Lev. 18:5, cf. Rom. 5:21). As Paul tells us in Romans 6, obedience leads to righteousness (v.16), righteousness to sanctification (v.19) and sanctification to eternal life (v.22). And since no one was righteous (Rom. 3:10) before Christ (Mt. 3:17), regeneration is exclusively a new covenant phenomenon (cf. 1 John 5:11-13).
Hodge goes on: “If God could create Adam holy without means … he can certainly make infants regenerate without means.” Again he begs a huge question. Where is it taught that Adam was holy? Surely holiness and righteousness were Adam’s goal not his starting point (cf. Gen. 17:1; Lev. 11:44; Eph. 4:23f.; Col. 3:10, etc.). Why else was he given the commandment? Hodge, like the Reformed in general, has put the cart before the horse. If Jesus, the second Adam, had to be perfected, how much more the first!
So, according to the Bible, the use of means is paramount.
(The whole subject of infant salvation is intriguing and provides an interesting insight into the faith of our forefathers. Apart from Hodge, it is worth consulting Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 143ff. and Webb’s The Biblical (sic!) Doctrine of Infant Salvation.)
A.A.Hodge, The Westminster Confession of Faith, London, 1958.
E.J.Young, In the Beginning, Edinburgh, 1976.
Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids.
Though Reformed (federal) theology has frequently argued for a covenant with Adam, there is no biblical evidence for one. In light of this it is perhaps not surprising that John Murray, for example, denies that what he calls “the Adamic administration” has covenantal status (Collected Writings 2, pp. 47ff.). This raises the question of why this is so. The point seems to be that Adam, though an individual is also a corporate personality. In other words, there is a parallel between Adam, the individual, and his posterity, the race. Though Adam, the individual, is portrayed as a physical adult, since he at first does not know the law (or commandment) and hence knows neither good nor evil, he is spiritually a child (cf. Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15f.; Heb. 5:12-14, etc.). Since then he represents mankind in its infancy, no covenant, which implies a degree of mutuality or reciprocity, is made with him. Once, however, childhood is attained, a covenant which is capable of being understood and responded to, as in the case of Noah, from whom the filth of infancy is cleansed by the flood (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21), becomes a real possibility. Otherwise expressed, children, but not infants who know neither good nor evil, are capable through faith of becoming covenant children and as such the subjects of salvation.
It is worth noting that nowhere is it suggested a la Augustine that infants who are ignorant of (the) law and hence know neither good nor evil are capable of sin (cf. Dt. 1:39; 1 K. 3:7-9, etc.). On the other hand, it is frequently asserted that we all sin from our youth (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:25, etc.) and it was with Noah, the sinner, that the first covenant was made. In light of this, it would appear that, the first man Adam apart, a covenant relationship is first struck up with children who are capable of responding to simple commands, naming animals and recognising rainbows. In other words, no covenant operates until the onset of rationality. Looked at the issue from a racial standpoint, even the heathen who have knowledge and reason are capable of faith. And the Augustinian idea that they are all damned en masse (cf. Westminster Larger Catechism, Qu. 60) is to be firmly rejected. Human beings, even under the covenant with Noah, are differentiated by their works (Rom. 2:1-11, etc.). Babies can only be differentiated physically.
The Implications of Infant Salvation
If God deals directly with and regenerates infants who lack all moral consciousness, means are excluded. In contrast the Bible tells us that in order to gain life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Mt. 19:17, etc.) we either keep the law or believe in Christ (Heb. 11:6, cf. Rom. 7:18; 8:8). Righteousness whether by faith or law is the indispensable prerequisite of entry into heaven.
The Bible also teaches us that without holiness we shall not see God (Heb. 12:14). So by what means, it must be asked, do infants acquire holiness when they are born, like Adam and Eve, knowing neither good nor evil? (It must be said here that our forefathers, following Augustine, believed that Adam and Eve being part of God’s ‘good’ creation, were holy and righteous by nature. (Logically, this means that all babies are righteous and holy since Paul maintains that creation is still ‘good’, 1 Tim. 4:3f. Pushing logic still further we end up believing in universalism since the prerequisite of eternal life is holiness and righteousness!) This notion was clearly based on a palpable misunderstanding. The word ‘good’ in Genesis 1 almost certainly means, as the LXX’s ‘kalos’ implies, suited to its purpose (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:6, and see e.g. Wenham, Genesis, 1-15, p.18. Moral goodness, righteousness, holiness and indeed sinfulness all have to be acquired.)
The Bible also tells us that babies are born by the will of the flesh (John 1:13) and are in fact flesh (John 3:6), that is, in the same image as Adam (Gen. 5:1-3) who epitomises flesh (1 Cor. 15:21f.,45ff.).
We further learn from the Bible that the flesh, which is born of corruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23), is perishable or corruptible by nature (1 Cor. 15:45ff.) apart from sin (Rom. 8:18-25; Gal. 6:8; Heb. 1:10-12). This is evident from the animal world, which is governed not by the law but by nature or instinct. Thus man is like the beasts which perish (Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18-20). In other words, he is physically, as opposed to spiritually, incapable of regeneration (John 3:4-6; 1 Cor. 15:50). So, to say that babies, who are flesh, go to heaven is: (a) to deny the explicit teaching of Scripture which tells us that we are physically corruptible by nature because we spring from a corruptible earth (Heb. 1:10-12. In the Bible heaven and earth stand in stark contrast to eachother, cf. Mt. 5:34f.;6:19f., etc. Our beginning is earthly but our goal or destiny is heavenly.); (b) to fill heaven with flesh! What do I mean? Writing in his “The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit” in 1843 James Buchanan commented that “one half of all children that are born into the world die in early life”. If his observation was correct and babies go to heaven as he believed, we are forced to infer that, since according to Reformed orthodoxy (Larger Catechism, Qu.60; WCF 10:4, etc.), all the heathen, non-Christians, Jews and most Catholics are not born again, heaven is largely made up of babies! John and Charles Wesley, whose mother had some 20 babies most of whom died, will now be acquainted with a large number of brothers and sisters they never knew here on earth. The problem with this is that Paul tells us flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50).
Another unavoidable implication of infant salvation is that Pharaoh and Herod were the great benefactors of mankind because they killed infants who went to heaven. Had they lived the latter might well have lost their salvation on account of their sin like the heathen and non-believing Jews and Gentiles who happen to be the majority of the human race.
Furthermore, if babies go directly to heaven without enduring any of the trials, tribulations and suffering that is the common lot of those who live (cf. no cross no glory), no wonder that Job (3) and Jeremiah (20) are caught wishing that they had never been born! The same must go for many more of the human race who, Augustinian orthodoxy tells us, will inevitably be damned despite having endured appalling pain, oppression and deprivation all their lives. I suggest that the Bible with its emphasis on diminished responsibility (e.g. Luke 10:12ff.) presents a different picture (see e.g. Luke 16:20; Mt. 22:9f.; 25:34-40). Regrettably this line of reasoning prompts the question as to why, if unconscious babies can go to heaven without being subjected to testing, the same is not true of the rest of us. Well might we ask, why suffering? To put the issue another way, if infants can be regenerated apart from means, why was the plan of salvation involving moral consciousness and probation ever implemented? Logic would surely lead us conclude that it was wholly unnecessary and the incarnation and atonement superfluous. God could have created us perfect from the start. Strange though it may seem, this is precisely what traditional Augustinian thought holds to be true. No wonder that its devotees find Adam’s sin a profound mystery and a complete enigma!
If God acts apart from means (repentance, faith, etc.), there is neither responsibility nor accountability. See further below.
Since babies are incapable of performing works of any kind and are never subjected to trial and testing (Dt. 8:2,16; Jas. 1:12, etc.), the judgement, which is based on works (Rom. 2:6-11), is redundant. Yet Paul tells us that the judgement is universal (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10).
If babies are regenerated and go to heaven, they are perfected even before they have begun the process of perfection. The donkey is in front of the carrot again. According to the Bible, perfection (Eph. 1:4; Phil. 3:12ff.) or conformity to the image of Christ, who himself as man had to be perfected or conformed to the image of his Father (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3; 2:10, etc.), is the goal of our creation (Rom. 8:29f.; Eph. 1:4-6). This being so, babies who die are clearly in the providence of God never intended to attain that goal. Since they never receive the promise of life through the commandment (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 7:9f.) God is under no obligation to fulfil it. As flesh they die in the ordinary course of nature from disease for disaster apart from sin (unless one believes in original sin, of course).
Regeneration in the womb is a semantic and logical absurdity. How can one be regenerate before one is generate? This again is part of the cart-before-the-horse theology which the Bible specifically denies when it insists that flesh precedes spirit (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. Gal. 3:3).
According to Scripture righteousness is the indispensable prerequisite or precondition of life or regeneration (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Ezek. 20:11,13,21, Rom. 10:5, etc.). Righteousness is impossible apart from (a) keeping the law (Dt. 6:25; 1 John 3:7), or (b) faith in Christ. If we accept original sin (which of course is impossible since it requires that sin occur before law, cf. 1 John 3:4, cart before horse again), then ‘sinful’ babies are regenerated in their sin and hence eternally cemented into it. What a contrast this is to Adam and Eve who, once they had sinned, were deprived of access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24). Infant salvation apart from faith and righteousness implies antinomianism on the one hand and the redundancy of justification and sanctification on the other. Again we must ask, why the cross?
If babies who are flesh can go to heaven, then so can our cats and dogs. Those who hold church services for their pets are not so wide of the mark as we thought! The only problem is that the entire animal kingdom, which the Bible insists is perishable (Ps. 49:12,20; 1 Cor. 15:50), will be there too. If it is said in reply that babies are made in the (potential) image of God, it must be countered that behavioural conformity to that image is also required (Rom. 8:29, etc.).
Infant salvation implies that man is static rather than dynamic, a flat uniformity in fact. It lacks appreciation of what theologians nowadays call salvation history (heilgeschichte) or the forward movement or development of both the race and the individual. Above all, it fails to understand biblical covenant theology, and this is a prime source of much confusion.
Finally, while my point could be vastly elaborated, I would argue that God’s elevation of infants, who are flesh and know neither good nor evil, to heaven, is, biblically speaking, impossible on the one hand (1 Cor. 15:50) and hardly calculated to glorify God on the other. How different from, say, Paul’s assertion in Ephesians 1:5-7, for example, and his claim that before God no flesh will boast (Rom. 3:19f.; 1 Cor. 1:29; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:9).
See further below.
Ruminations on Infant Salvation
by Dr. Alan Clifford in ‘Evangelicals Now’, March 2001.
Dr. Clifford’s brief biblical survey with its various references is to all intents and purposes useless. He virtually admits this at the start of his article when he says that the Bible does not speak directly, or indirectly and inferentially, on the subject.
This means almost inevitably that if his understanding of the Bible in general is at fault, so will be his inferences. That Dr. Clifford’s worldview is more Augustinian than biblical soon becomes evident in the course of his article.
At the start of his section entitled ‘The Salvation of Infants’ he says that the basis of their salvation is the same as that for adults, i.e. God’s free, unmerited favour alone. He then uses Ephesians 2:8 as a reference. The problem here is that grace is exercised through faith of which infants have none.
He then denies that infants are innocent but fell in Adam. The hurdle to be overcome this time is that Romans 5:12ff., unlike Augustine, (cf. Vulgate’s ‘in quo’, ‘in whom’), fails to mention that we are ‘in Adam’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:21f. and note Lloyd-Jones’ ‘essential difference’, Romans 5, p.227, which implicitly contradicts p.217) as we are ‘in Christ’ BY FAITH.
He then informs us that infants are potentially disposed to sin, reminding me of the feminist charge that all men are potential rapists. But potential sinners are not guilty and he rightly says that eternal damnation is based on actual sin (though note, Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians 2, p.57).
The problem here, however, is that he has departed from Augustinian orthodoxy which decreed damnation (Art. 1X of the C of E and WCF, V1). To his credit Lloyd-Jones was somewhat uncertain, though he tells us, contrary to the text, that we are under condemnation because we are ‘ children of wrath’
(Ephesians 2, p.57).
Dr. Clifford then informs us on the basis of his admittedly inconclusive evidence that infants must (sic) be saved!
We then learn that regeneration is necessary* but this can occur in the womb. In other words we can be regenerate before we are generate! In support of this he cites Jeremiah and John the Baptist as examples of prenatal regeneration. Three points must be made here. First, since regeneration or eternal life is a promise of God to law keepers (Gen.2:17; Lev. 18:5, etc.) and no one in the OT kept the law, Jeremiah (like David before him, Ps. 51:10) was manifestly not born again but looked forward to a time when many would be (31:31-34). Secondly, John the Baptist confesses his own need to be baptised by Jesus (cf. Mt. 3:11) when he is called on to baptise him (3:14).
Thirdly, Jesus insists (a) that fleshly rebirth is out of the question (John 3:4-6), and (b) that spiritual rebirth depends on either keeping the law or having faith in him (see Mt. 19:16-21; Luke 10:25-28; 18:18).
See also Gal. 1:15 and Romans 9:11. Predestination, like regeneration, though a unilateral act of God, is never mechanical and arbitrary: means are always involved.
*At this point Dr. Clifford appears to desert the orthodox Reformed order of salvation when he tells us, quite correctly, that adults are born again through hearing and believing the word of God. No horse before the cart here!
Dr. Clifford argues from God’s kindness to animals and birds to his kindness to children – a strange form of argumentation if ever there was one. Perhaps he has forgotten as a famous Lincolnshire poet once put it that ‘nature is red in tooth and claw’, and that all the beasts perish (Ps. 49:12,20).
He then proceeds to ask another strange question: “At what age does this comforting teaching re infant salvation cease to apply? Hasn’t he put the cart before the horse? In light of the Genesis account of the experiences of Adam and Eve his question should surely be: At what age does salvation become a real possibility? If man is created, first, flesh (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46), which by nature even apart from sin cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor. 15:50; John 3:5), it is the latter question that requires an answer. It is not until moral consciousness dawns and the law (or better, the parental command) promising life is given that the door to eternal life, as opposed to mere biological existence, opens up. In the event, we all know what happens (Gen. 3 and Rom. 7:7ff.). But while the law promising life brings death, it also makes faith, which is also based on knowledge, a real possibility.
At this point we can refer to Dr. Clifford’s prison population analogy from which he also rather strangely deduces the salvation of infants. A better analogy would surely be God’s chosen people Israel. The Jews remained part of the community until they were exiled or excommunicated for gross transgression. The truth is, however, that this teaches us nothing about infant salvation, only that the children are not punished, though they may well suffer for the sins of their parents (Num. 14:18,33, etc.). (Dr. Clifford alluded to Deuteronomy 1:39 at the start of his piece but failed to note that it undermined the dogma of original sin which is often the mainspring of concern about infants. Conversely, infant death is the foundation of the dogma (see espec. Lloyd-Jones, Romans 5, pp. 203, 205f.; J. Murray, Romans, p.189ff., etc.).
Dr. Clifford ends up picturing the salvation of aborted children which contrasts strangely with the possible damnation of their parents. He would have done better either to have resorted to ‘the inscrutable wisdom of God’ (Lloyd-Jones, Romans 5, p. 249) or realised that the salvation of infants who, like the animal creation, have experienced no moral life whatsoever (cf. Ps. 32:9; Is. 31:3), is an impossibility. Since they have never begun the process of perfection, their unperfected spirit returns to God (Job 34:14f.; Eccl. 12:7), while their bodies lapse back into the dust from which they were taken (Gen.3:19; Eccl. 3:20).
My conclusion is that those who die in infancy, having experienced no moral life whatsoever and not having taken on or even begun their conformity to the image of God, are neither condemned nor saved. They are simply one further illustration of the fact that the material world has been subjected by God himself to death and decay apart from sin (Rom. 8:18-25).
Letter (unpublished) to ‘New Life’ (Australia) following correspondence on the issue of abortion.
The Editor of New Life,
PO Box 267, BLACKBURN 3130.
While Dr Gawler’s letter on abortion (NL,3/9/98) has much to commend it, especially as ammunition against abortion on demand (cf. W.L.James in the same issue), she goes much too far.
She argues that “a fertilised ovum, an embryo or foetus’ is not a potential human life but a human life with great potential, and then goes on in the next paragraph to move from the fertilised ovum to embryo to baby to person who is ‘now with the Lord’. I should be more than a little interested to know how she would support such ideas from Scripture.
The truth is that Dr Gawler is begging a very large question. Writing in his “The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit” in 1843, James Buchanan commented that “one half of all children that are born into the world die in early life” (BoTT ed. 1966, pp.114f.) and went on to speculate about what provision had been made for their spiritual life and eternal welfare. He concluded on the basis of some rather questionable theologising that even infants are fit and capable subjects of divine grace. Dr Gawler apparently has no doubts either, but I wonder if she has followed the logical consequences of her belief. For if infants and even embryos are to find a place in heaven, there will be an awful lot more of them than there will of ‘born again’ believers, especially when we have excluded, as tradition requires us to exclude, the heathen, non-Christians, Jews and perhaps all Catholics or Protestants, certainly of the nominal variety, according to one’s stance (see e.g. Larger Catechism, Qu. 60; WCF 10:4, etc.). This is not the picture painted in the Bible. And while I can entertain the belief that my wife’s mother, who was a good woman and a believer in God but not a Christian, will find a place in heaven, I hold no hope at all for her twin-sister who died when she was ten days old. Salvation for her would be meaningless.
What is my problem? The Bible makes a strong distinction between flesh and spirit. Foetuses and even infants, who know neither good nor evil, are clearly morally innocent and have not yet begun (or at best barely begun) to take on the image (or likeness) of God which is their potential if they live. If they succumb to the futility that God himself has imposed on nature (note Gen.1 and Rom. 8:19ff.), they go neither to heaven nor hell (certainly not the latter as Augustine falsely taught). It is only when they are capable of exercising faith that they are in a position to please God (Heb. 11:6), and until then they cannot be justified.
Though there are doubtless many valid arguments against abortion on demand, we really must keep things in perspective and recognise that foetuses are at best only potential human beings in spite of what Dr Gawler would have us believe. (I would argue that the new Archbishop of Sydney, speaking on TV in April, 2002, is simply wrong to call foetuses persons). It is only when children gain a knowledge of good and evil through law or commandment, like Adam and Eve, that their prospects of being like God, i.e. taking on his image, are of real significance. Until that time the difference between man and animal is purely physical or one of kind (cf. Gen. 1:24. Note how Scripture refers to ‘all flesh’, for example, in Gen. 6:17. See further Psalm 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:18ff.). In other words, Scripture posits a fundamental distinction between the seed and its fruit (pace Dr Sarfati who tries to undermine Mr McHarg’s point by resorting to a false comparison. There is a world of difference between a seed (sperm) and a five-year-old boy, and it is quite illegitimate to compare the two. The plain fact is that the embryo is non- sub- or pre-human and has none of the features which differentiate it from an animal in contrast with a child who has developed some understanding, cf. Ps. 32:9; Isa. 31:3, or, if you like, taken on some spiritual significance).
In the last resort, there are clearly times when abortion is permissible, perhaps even necessary. To deny this seems to me to undermine the entire medical enterprise and to deny in principle the cultural mandate of Gen. 1:26,28. For if one is not at liberty to save a mother’s life at the expense of a foetus (cf. Dt. 22:6f.) or, in these days when serious problems with foetuses can be detected, even abort one, then, if we are to be consistent, it is illegitimate to act (“interfere with nature” or exercise dominion) in other areas too. And it is surely wrong to appeal to Exodus 21:22f. and other verses like 2 Kings 8:12; 15:16 and Amos 1:13, to undermine the case for abortion per se. So much of what Andrew Lansdowne wrote hardly applies to abortion undertaken for adequate reasons but to the wanton destruction of God’s handiwork. Where this is deliberately undertaken for personal convenience or for some other frivolous reason, the perpetrators can hardly expect to be treated with impunity.
But it hardly enhances the anti-abortion cause if we fail to make necessary distinctions between foeticide and culpable homicide even if both are wrong. The plain fact is that the foetus is not yet in the image of God, while the person, as a reasoning, thinking, speaking, moral creature certainly is.
The reason why there is so much dispute over matters such as abortion and millennialism, for example, is that too little attention is paid to the context which is in fact the whole Bible. The abortion issue must be seen in the light of what is said about man as a whole. He is a dynamic not a static creature with his physical origins in the dust: he is first flesh and then spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-50). And according to Jesus, as well as Paul, it is his spirit, not his flesh, that is saved (John 3:3-7)!
In conclusion then, we must beware of trying to support good causes with bad arguments. What Christians should be fighting is not abortion as such but the wholesale slaughter of potential human beings for frivolous reasons in defiance of the preceptive purpose of God.
Yours faithfully, HKS.