the Christ Child but also what was avoided in the process. While
Jesus did indeed become human in the flesh, He also maintained
His ability to become the perfect substitute.
Toby Jennings masterfully defends the implications of original
sin in his dissertation “A Biblical Portrait of Death as the Qualifier of Both the Ethic and Value of Human Life.” In this work
he rightly points out that “the church’s understanding of paedo-soterism [child salvation] has been influenced by the doctrine
of original sin, more than any other doctrine; and the church’s
understanding of the doctrine of original sin has been influenced
by Augustine, more than any other teacher.” 3 This is significant
because Augustine, along with many other church fathers and
reformers, believed that what is commuted from Adam to the
rest of humanity is not just depravity but also condemnation; not
just a sin nature but also guilt.
The infant who is lost is punished because he belongs to the mass of
perdition, and as a child of Adam is justly condemned on the ground
of the ancient obligation. 4
Everyone, even little children, have broken God’s covenant, not indeed
in virtue of any personal action but in virtue of mankind’s common
origin in that single ancestor in whom all have sinned. 5
The words “and death by sin” show clearly that he is speaking of
original sin; for if death comes by sin, then also the little children
have sinned who die. So this must not be understood in the sense
of actual sin. 6
Rotten branches came forth from a rotten root, which transmitted
their rottenness to the other twigs sprouting from them. For thus were
the children corrupted in the parent, so that they brought disease upon
their children’s children. That is, the beginning of corruption in Adam
was such that it conveyed in a perpetual stream from the ancestors
into their descendants. For the contagion does not take its origin from
the substance of the flesh or soul, but because it had been so ordained
by God that the first man should at one and the same time have and
lose, both for himself and for his descendants, the gifts that God had
bestowed upon him. 7
3. Toby Jennings, “A Biblical Portrait of Death as the Qualifier of Both the
Ethic and Value of Human Life” (PhD Dissertation, The Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary, 2012), 261.
4. Joe M. Easterling, “Defending the Defenseless,” (Doctoral Essay, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), 12, quoting Henry E. Robins,
The Harmony of Ethics with Theology: An Essay in Revision (New York: A. C.
Armstrong & Son, 1891), 63–64.
5. Easterling, 12–13, quoting Gerald Bray, Ancient Christian Commentary on
Scripture: New Testament, vol. 6 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 137.
6. Easterling, 16, quoting Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J.
Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), 93.
7. John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion; ed. John T. McNeill
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), vol. 1, 250.
To suppose, God imputes not all the guilt of Adam’s sin, but only some
little part of it, relieves nothing but one’s imagination. To think of poor
little infants bearing such torments for Adam’s sin, as they sometimes
do in this world, and these torments ending in death and annihilation,
may sit easier on the imagination, than to conceive of their suffering
eternal misery for it. But it does not at all relieve one’s reason. 8
Ironically, many of these same theologians still support the
salvation of children, but they do so as an exception to the rule.
In other words, even though they do believe that original sin condemns children, they posit an alternative way out. Both Augustine
and Luther believed that infant baptism, in some form or fashion,
alleviated the problem. John Calvin’s explanation is election, and
Edwards concludes that a child’s salvation is based upon his or
her inevitable decision. 9 Regardless of their ultimate conclusion,
the previous statements make it clear that the effect of original
sin upon humanity is all-encompassing, and that is the point that
needs to be made. The sin of Adam has infected every single child
at the point of conception—enough so that even an infant cannot
be considered innocent and is thus deserving of God’s wrath and
judgment (Romans 5: 18).
Undoubtedly the argument against babies going to Heaven
when they die comes across as harsh and unloving. However,
there is a softer explanation that should be considered as well. The
easier of the two views to accept is obviously that all babies go to
Heaven when they die; this provides hope for grieving parents.
Still, the opposing view is not void of hope either. If nothing
else, the book of Job teaches that sometimes things go on behind
the scenes of which humanity is kept unaware. Mankind has a
one-dimensional view of life and can see realities only from that
perspective. In Job’s case, all of his friends attempted to explain
life’s circumstances without understanding the full picture of
what was taking place. For parents who have lost a child, they
can be confident that nothing catches God by surprise. Though
grief and loss are very real, parents can also have hope that there
is an explanation in the overall plan of God. The book of Job ends
with the implication that he never was given an explanation for
the deep pain and suffering he had experienced.
Similarly, in John 9 the disciples pass by a blind man and
inquire who had sinned—the blind man or his parents—as the
cause of the blindness. Verse 3 says, “Jesus answered, ‘It was not
that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God
might be displayed in him’” (ESV). Here a man had faced the
incredible hardship of going through life without his sight, and
it is discovered that it was not a punishment but rather filled with
purpose. Even more than that, God had prepared this man to be
used by Him in a specific way that would not have been possible
otherwise. This could also be said of the Old Testament patriarch
Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Yet years later, in
spite of being mistreated and imprisoned, he was able to see the
8. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards, vol. 2 (Ne w York: Robert
Carter & Brothers, 1881), 494.
9. Joe Easterling has written an extremely helpful essay that compares these
viewpoints in “Defending the Defenseless: What Happens to Children and the
Mentally Impaired Who Suffer an Untimely Death?” (Southeastern Baptist
Theological Seminary, 2007).
God’s plan is not always
understood but is best. Humanity
is not always privy to what God
is attempting to do behind the
scenes, but the untimely death of
a child is not untimely to God.