Does the Covenant Keeper Save Dying Infant Children?

Originally published on March 27, 2008. 

The sign of the covenant does not save us. However, the Covenant Keeper does.

Don’t know much about the theology: reminds me of a premature daughter many years ago. She was in dire straits and the neonatal staff offered: “If a chaplain is not available, or if death is imminent, a nurse or physician may baptize the child. A small amount of water should be placed on the child’s head with these words: “I baptize you (give the child’s full name) in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” An entry should be made in the chart.” ..this little girl did not last the day and I’m glad we did the emergency baptism. What are the ramifications of ‘original sin’, premature birth & death and the place of baptism (by a medical practioner) in this not uncommon circumstance?

BB, I’m sorry for your loss and that you had to go through this. I hope the following is helpful and will strengthen your faith in our LORD.

I think there are two questions that need to be answered here. The first is: was this a legitimate baptism since it was done by the doctors and nurses?

Secondly, is the child saved through this process?

The first question is a bit easier than the second question. There was a controversy in church history over what makes baptism effectual because during the early persecution by the Romans, there were those men who turned away from Christ in a time of great peril. Later they came back to the church and the question given was: do we need to re-baptize all those who were baptized by these men? The answer was in the negative because church leaders rightly came to the conclusion that it is NOT the person that gives the baptism that makes it effectual, but the Holy Spirit that makes it effectual.

This being the case, we in Reformed Presbyterian circles will accept other baptisms as long as they are done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, since it is God who makes it effectual, not the one giving it.

However, let me add that I don’t believe this opens the door to just anyone performing the sacrament. Yes, the doctors were faced with a dire situation and I believe they did the right thing. But we should still leave the performance of the sacraments, both baptism and communion, to those who are ordained in the gospel ministry.

The harder question is whether or not the child is saved? If we base it on the fact that the child was baptized, then the answer is no. But there is more to our beliefs than just getting baptized. Let me start with words from Christ: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.” I start here because of the appeal to Christ’s mercy and grace. He is concerned for our children. God always has been. Even when He made the covenants with Abraham and Moses, our children were a part of those covenants. Children have never been second-class citizens in the covenant-keeping community because of God’s grace and mercy.

This is where we take our comfort in knowing that God is concerned with our children. He has a vested interest in them. Therefore if they do die at an early age, we appeal to His mercy and grace that He moved in their hearts when and where and how He pleased.

But a greater appeal is to God’s election. I know that many shun this doctrine, but it is actually the best defense for dying infants because it forces us to realize that anyone who is saved, child, adult or teen, is done so based upon God’s election first, the Son’s atonement second and the Spirit’s movement in the heart of the elect to bring them to salvation. This doctrine really helps us see how rich and deep His grace and mercy are because His decision to save us is NOT based upon anything in us. Because of total depravity and original sin, we are by all rights, doomed to destruction. But His grace intervenes on our behalf and He chooses us before the foundations of the world were laid, in order to be His. This emphasizes and rests in His grace, love and mercy.

This election, which is based in He eternal decrees of grace, love and mercy, can apply just as much to an infant as it does to anyone else. In fact, we really see the gospel being played out in its reality, in that, just as the child cannot exercise his will to believe and be saved, neither could we without God’s movement in our lives. That is the beauty of election. It’s not based upon us, but on His decision and that decision doesn’t exclude infants.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:

I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,[1] by His Word and Spirit,[2] out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ;[3] enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,[4] taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh;[5] renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good,[6] and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ:[7] yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.[8]

II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man,[9] who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,[10] he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.[11]

III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit,[12] who works when, and where, and how He pleases:[13] so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.[14]

Our hope is found in God’s mercy, grace and in the doctrine of election. Just as He chose me because of nothing in me, so too, can He save those infants who die at an early age. My hope for those children rests upon His eternal decrees and His goodness. So yes, the Covenant Keeper does save dying infants of believers. The basis for this belief is found in His decrees of election and His goodness.