Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy. 

Especially the words “have no reason to doubt” are not a very exact rendering of the original Latin of this article. The original has: dubitare non debent. And this might better be rendered by the simple words: “ought not to doubt.” The Dutch version, with its “moeten niet twijfelen,” is more correct here. We may add that this is a rather important change in the meaning of the article. The words “no reason to doubt” introduce into the article a certain objective note which the original does not express. A comparison with the original will reveal further that our English is correct in leaving off the Scriptural references which the Dutch version adds. The original does not insert these, although it may be admitted that the passages are pertinent to the thought of the first part of the article. It must be remembered, however, that these passages from Scripture do not furnish any objective proof for the main proposition of the article, that “godly parents have no reason to doubt (or: ought not to doubt) of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.” With these corrections made, we may proceed to discuss the article itself.

For a correct understanding of this article, it is first of all necessary to bear in mind the occasion and background of it. It must be admitted that this particular subject of the salvation of infants who die in infancy seems to appear here rather suddenly and without warning. It does not seem to fit in smoothly with the previous trend of thought of the First Head of Doctrine, but is rather arbitrarily inserted at this juncture. In fact, if one puts aside all feelings and all emotions that are very easily stirred by this question of the salvation of infants, and views the question with what might be called a “cold” objectivity, one might well ask, “Why were the fathers concerned about infants that die in infancy, and not about all infants of believers? What reason was there to think that God dealt in His sovereign predestination any differently with children that die in infancy than with children that grow to maturity?” This question can only be answered in the light of the Arminian controversy itself. The Arminian denied both the election and the reprobation of infants, in the first place. This was, of course, a necessary consequence of their “conditional theology.” It stands to reason that if predestination depends on the condition of foreseen faith or unbelief, then one cannot speak of the predestination of infants who are as yet incapable of the act of faith or unbelief. And, it may be added, that the Arminian must also necessarily exclude all infants from any covenant relation on the same basis. Consequently he must also deny infant baptism. And this also explains why in the history of the church it is so extremely difficult to cling to the doctrine of infant baptism in any more than a mechanical and traditionalistic manner. Logically considered, Arminianism excludes the baptism of infants, just as it excludes any organic view of a covenant of grace. It is individualistic. Strange to say, however, while the Arminian denied the possibility of election and reprobation of infants, he did not deny the salvation of infants, but rather insisted on it. Instead the Arminians charged the Reformed with maintaining a monstrous and cruel conception, namely that God would eternally destine little babies to everlasting destruction. They pictured Reformed men as having delight in the idea of a hell full of small, innocent babes. And it is in this light that we can understand that the fathers were virtually compelled to say something about this subject and inserted this brief and rather incomplete and unsatisfying article. 

It may also be helpful, in view of the difference of interpretation that have arisen with this declaration of Dordrecht, as well as in view of its unquestioned lack of the desired measures of clarity, to consult the “Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht,” in order to gain, if possible, some idea of what the fathers themselves thought of this question, and thus some idea as to how this article found a place in the Canons

Of the foreign delegates to the Synod, we may notice, in the first place, that the British delegates expressed themselves extensively on the subject. In treating the seventh proposition of what are called “unscriptural propositions concerning election, which we reject,” this proposition reads: “There is no election of little children who die before reaching the use of reason.” Concerning this proposition they writes: “A false doctrine having been proposed, many other false doctrines come along with it. This one arises out of the fact that in all election they require foreseen faith, upon which this election is founded. Such faith can, indeed, not be foreseen in little children. But we prove, on the contrary, that these things are in conflict with orthodox theology.” The British theologians then go on to point out that those who enter into eternal life are certainly chosen unto eternal life from eternity. Otherwise the number of those who would be glorified would exceed the number of those who are predestinated; but these two must be equal to one another. For whom He did predestinate, them He also glorified. Then they go on to state:

“Scripture presupposes that the names of some little ones are written in the book of life, and that they shall appear before the throne of God, Revelation 20:12; and shall be admitted into the new Jerusalem, Revelation 21:27. Similarly Luke 18:16 teaches that of such is the kingdom of heaven. Now those who out of mere grace are admitted in the kingdom of heaven were before chosen unto the kingdom of heaven according to God’s unmerited good pleasure. Now as many of the children enter into heaven, to them eternal life is a gift through Jesus Christ, Romans 6:33. Hence they were chosen unto this in Christ. Or, if this be the sense of this (unscriptural) proposition, that there is no election of children, that is, no choice of the one rather than the other, as though they were all, without distinction, saved, assuredly also this proposition has no foundation . . . .” The opinion then goes on to maintain that “of the little children who as yet have no active will and no deeds of their own, some are adopted as heirs, and some are held to be debtors.” And the opinion concludes: “The little children whom He wills, He saves, even though they neither will nor run, whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world in Christ.

The British theologians offer here a rather extensive and clear statement of position. In it, without saying much specifically about children of believers die in infancy, they nevertheless insists that the lines of election and reprobation are carried through also in regard to infants.

The Swiss theologians devote the following proposition to the subject (Paragraph 8, on Predestination):

“That there is an election and reprobation of children, as well as of adults, we cannot deny before God, who mercifully loves and irreprehensibly hates those who are not yet born. But as concerns the children of believers, since God by virtue of the covenant of grace is their God, and since Paul calls them holy who are born of a believing father and/or mother, and since the Lord of heaven declares them heirs of the heavenly kingdom, if they die in their infancy, before the years of discretion, we hope the best of them. And we doubt not that the angels of such children, who are ministering and very loving spirits from their tender youth, who always behold the face of God, are especially sent out for their sake, and faithfully serve in their office.”

In this opinion we find something said directly about children who dies in infancy. The Swiss theologians, while they insist that the line of election and reprobation also carries through in regard to children, do not dare to say anything positive and objective about the children of believers who die in infancy. They say only: “We hope the best of them.” And then they add that interesting word that they “do not doubt” that their angels are sent out mostly for them, and serve faithfully in their office.

The Wetteravian theologians also express themselves very carefully, and, again, subjectively: “Although it be true that God may condemn children because of original sin, nevertheless Christian parents must in no wise doubt concerning the salvation of their children; for the promise is to them and their children, Gen. 17:17,Mark 10:16Acts 2:39.”

Here we find the idea that “de erfzonde,” original sin, is sufficient ground for the condemnation of children, even if it be so that they are not yet capable of actual sin. But, while a connection is established here between believers and their children in relation to the promise, we still find no definite statement that all such children are saved. Besides, we find no distinction here between children who die in infancy and children who grow to maturity. Christian parents are in no wise to doubt of the salvation of their children,—any of their children, we may conclude. 

The Bremen theologians are apparently a bit bolder: “Concerning the children of believers only who die before they are able to understand the doctrine, we judge that God loves them, out of that same good pleasure for Christ’s sake, through Christ, and in Christ, out of which He loves the adults; therefore they also, with a view to the covenant, are holy. In order to confirm this, they are initiated by holy baptism, and put on Christ.”

They speak directly of the children who die in infancy. They define these children as those who are not yet able to receive the doctrine. And they “judge” that God loves them out of “the same good pleasure, for Christ’s sake, through Christ, and in Christ, out of which He loves the adults.” And they make mention in this connection of the seal of baptism.