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When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents

Ronald Nash

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999, 120 pages.

Nash, who is a professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, tackles a painful subject, the death of infants, which of necessity brings up the issue of infant salvation. The first four chapters deal with four wrong approaches to the question of infant salvation: Chapt 1-that infants are saved because they are innocent of sin; Chapt.2-universalism; Chapt. 3-the teaching that the issue of salvation can be postponed until after death for those who die before they are mentally and morally responsible for their actions; and Chapt. 4-the view that baptism saves. Having dealt with these false, non-Biblical bases of hope, Chapt. 5 presents “A Case for Infant Salvation”, and begins by setting forth the author’s position: “I will argue that all children who die in infancy and all mentally handicapped persons whose intellectual and moral judgment cannot exceed that of children are saved” (pages 59-60). He emphasizes that the correct position on this issue must take into account original sin (therefore infants need salvation), must be based on Christ’s atonement, must be because infants have been regenerated and sanctified, and the salvation must take place before death. In support of his case, he says that whatever sinful inclinations they are born with, infants are incapable of moral good or evil; yet divine judgment is administered based on sins committed in the body. As a result, they cannot be judged on the criterion set forth in 1 Corinthians 5:10. He then looks at several passages that tell of unborn infants that God has blessed with a special relationship with Himself while they were still in the womb (Jeremiah in Jere. 1:5, and John the Baptist in Luke 1:15). And Chapt. 5 closes with a look at earlier supporters of the position he advocates in this book, such as Charles Hodge, John Newton, Augustus Toplady, and B.B. Warfield. To further develop his case, in Chapt. 6 Nash deals with the theological issues of infant salvation, and specifically the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. For Arminians, active repentance and faith are necessary conditions of salvation. But can this be possible for infants and mental incapables? In the Arminian scheme, nothing must supersede the free will of the saved person. If Arminians allow that God might save even one human without its consent, then they have abandoned the central core of their theology. Unless they adjust their theology by denying original sin, or posponing salvation to an event after death, then the only way they can accept infant salvation is to believe that the depravity of deceased infants and mental incapables is dealt with exclusively as an act of God’s grace. As Nash says: “But this is the Calvinist answer, not an Arminian one” (page 82). So Nash then sets forth the Reformed view of infant salvation, which says that “if Christ died specifically for those whom God chose or elected, then infant salvation becomes possible, because God in His grace is fully capable of electing infants as well as adults. As long as we think that salvation depends on our doing something that only a rational adult can do, it should be obvious that infants who cannot perform those actions are beyond the reach of God’s salvation” (pages 82-83). And he ends the chapter with a quote from B.B. Warfield: “The doctrine of infant salvation can find such a place in Reformed theology. It can find such a place in no other system of theological thought” (page 84). Chapter 7 then sets forth the Reformed position on infant salvation more fully, and makes much use of J.I. Packer’s introduction to a reissue of John Owen’s classic work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. It was Packer’s introductory essay that helped to turn Nash from an Arminian to a Calvinist. The book then closes with chapters on “Some Final Questions” and a brief anecdote.

Nash’s book is not only comforting to parents who might have suffered such a loss, but also leads to a greater appreciation of God’s sovereign grace.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Comfort

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