But besides, also the latter is not a valid conclusion. It is very much a question whether this child was so young that he had not already manifested in his life that good which was found in him before the Lord. We get the opposite impression when we read that all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him. We would much rather say, therefore, that this child had already reached the age at which he plainly revealed that by his piety he distinguished himself from the house of Jeroboam. And thus, also in this passage of Scripture there is no proof for the position that all the children of believers are elect and saved if they are taken away in their early childhood.
Hence, we are of the conviction that such a general proposition cannot be expressed. If it is expressed, then it does not mean much, for the simple reason that the question always remains up to what age children may be counted with those who die in infancy, of whom it cannot yet be expected that in their life they might reveal something either of the grace of God or of the opposite. But this position can never be maintained. It cannot be based on being in the covenant in the outward, historical sense of the word: for all who are born in the sphere of the covenant do not belong to spiritual Israel, and therefore the possibility always remains that also some of the carnal and reprobate seed die in infancy. And on the fact of children’s dying in infancy one can at best base a judgment of love, but never a positive and explicit item of confession. And also from the examples which are sometimes cited from Scripture nothing can be concluded with certainty.
As far as the objective confession of the church of Christ is concerned, as that confession is founded on the Word of God, the matter must certainly be presented differently. By reason of the fact that the Lord establishes His covenant in the line of successive generations, believers will confess in gratitude before the Lord that He counts them worthy to bring forth the true seed of the covenant. This true seed of the covenant, however, does not consist of all children who are born of them, but only of the children of the promise. Certain it is that believers also bring forth another seed. Now, on this side of death and the grave fleshly ties may draw us, so that we say that we wish to see all our children saved, and do not wish that our own flesh and blood goes lost. But in the final analysis, also in this respect the righteous must live out of their faith, not from their flesh. If one lives out of faith, then he will say: “Lord, I thank Thee that Thou hast counted me worthy to bring forth children for Thy eternal covenant. From Thy grace I desire to receive my children. According to Thy covenant I want to bring them up in the fear of Thy name. For the sake of Thy name and Thy covenant, it is also the desire of my heart that all my children walk in the ways of Thy covenant. But ultimately I desire to serve nothing else than Thy good pleasure. And bowing before Thy divine majesty, I thank Thee when Thou dost save Thy children out of my children and dost receive them in glory.”
With objective certainty, therefore, there is nothing more to be said of children who die in their infancy than that the Lord saves His seed out of our seed.
Whether, therefore, there is no room whatsoever for that which the fathers declared in Article 17 of the First Head of the Canons is an entirely different question. Notice that the fathers here express themselves very cautiously. They do not assert that all children of the covenant who die in infancy are also saved, but thatgodly parents ought not to doubt concerning the election and salvation of their children. Now this is, in the first place, subjective; and, in the second place, it is negative. The expression “godly parents” says something different than all parents who have their children baptized. Those who have sought an explanation of this article have always called attention to this distinction. Godly parents are such as live a god-fearing life with their children. They bring forth their children in the consciousness that the Lord has counted them worthy to bring forth children for His covenant. Thus they live already before their children see the light of day, in expectant prayer and supplication before the Lord. They desire to serve the Lord, also in the bringing forth of their children. For those children they pray. Those children they consecrate to the service of the Lord. In behalf of those children they also beseech the Lord for the grace of His covenant, in order that they may live to the glory of the covenant God in the midst of the world. If those children may grow up, then they instruct them in the fear of the Lord, in order that they may know the ways of His covenant and walk therein. Such are godly parents!
And if, now, from the midst of such a family children are taken away, children who certainly could not yet consciously assume any attitude toward the covenant of the Lord, then such parents ought not to stand at that death and that grave of their children doubting. They do not say, “My child is baptized, and therefore it is saved.” But they say indeed, also at that grave: “Lord, in Thy name I have brought forth a child. And from Thy hand I have received it. I have consecrated it to Thee, in order that it should be a child for Thy covenant. And now Thou hast taken the child away from me. In that same faith wherein I consecrated him to Thee, I leave him with Thee, without being filled with anxious doubt concerning the salvation and election of this child, but knowing that Thou, according to Thy good pleasure, which by faith to me is always good, dost save Thy children out of my seed!”