ARTICLE QUOTE: "There is a mercy which a gracious God offers to little children who die before their time. Probably millions of small children are included in this. We may think of the victims of wars, earthquakes, epidemics, cot deaths, tragic accidents, child exposure, abortion and tragically conjoined twins too. Indeed, we will soon begin to realise - as Charles Hodge did - that we are speaking of an incredibly large number of children!!"

T his has long been a source of worry and concern for those parents who have tragically lost small children.
Does the Bible offer any clues as to the fate of such small children? Can we hope that they are somehow saved despite never having grown to an age of responsibility?

The Christian denominations have differed here. Those who accept Baptismal Regeneration would not - at least theoretically - accept that any unbaptized infants could be saved. This is the Catholic position, whether we speak of Anglo-Catholics or Roman Catholics. Sacramental theology sees the action of church sacraments as of pivotal importance in indicating one's salvific state.

Many others, however, would reject this approach, seeing the actions of the sacraments as only being meaningful where grace and faith are already present. But in the case of children, many would say that baptism is either completely meaningless in their case (Baptist), or a symbol of bringing them under the covenant of grace (Presbyterian).

In fact, most Baptists, Presbyterians and others too would say that small children are saved if dying before an age of accountability. C.H. Spurgeon was typical here, believing that all such children are saved. But some rather more strict Protestants would only apply this to the children of believers, refusing to be drawn on others.

But what does the Bible say about this matter?

Perhaps a good place to start is Deuteronomy Chapter One. The children of the Israelites who rebelled in the wilderness were not barred from the Promised Land because of their parent's failings:

"Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it and they shall possess it." (Deuteronomy 1: 39).

The Lord recognised that there is a certain age at which children can hardly be held accountable for their actions. Neither should we suppose that these were exceptionally perfect children, they were just children, but the point is they were too young to be considered of an age of accountability. Now, it has been pointed out that the Promised Land was a very clear type of God's eternal kingdom. So, in typology, we here see children being accepted into God's kingdom prior to an age at which they could make a responsible decision with regard to obedience to God. This is surely significant! We read this in Hebrews 11: 13-16;

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." (Hebrews 11: 13-16).

Another Scripture which we might consider is in 2 Samuel 12:22-23. David appeared to have little doubt that when his new little baby died, that child was safe,

"So he said, 'While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." (2 Samuel 12: 22-23).

David had little doubt that - in some future state - he would meet up with his baby again. It is inevitable that we might compare this to David's reaction to the death of Absalom in 2 Samuel 18: 32-33. Now we see David deeply grieving at the death of this rebellious son. Was this simply because Absalom had been part of his family for so much longer than the little baby? Or do we suspect that David believed that eternal hope for his son was now lost? I leave the question open.

But there are still more Scriptures which we may consider.

There is the case of the Shunammite woman whose son died. She raced to Elishah the prophet, but when the prophet's servant asked her if things were well with herself, her husband and her child, she replied,"It is well" even while knowing that her son had just died (2 Kings 4: 26). Of course, she was in deep grief and, in this case, Elishah miraculously raised the child back to life (verses 34-37). By the way, we really should note that we don't even know if that child was an Israelite, though the indications are that he was not, neither therefore would he presumably have been circumcised, and circumcision was a type of baptism!

It is worth noting such points since one of the main arguments which people produce for 'Restrictivism' (the majority of mankind are destined for hell), is that in the Old Testament we see no salvation outside of Israel; but this is a patently flawed argument. In fact, we see many non-Israelites joining the path of the faithful in the Old Testament, including Ruth.

Then there is the fate of those little children who were so cruelly sacrificed to Moloch. Most Bible commentators believe (although there is some disagreement) that these poor little tots were literally burned alive as a cruelly confused act of pagan worship. God's anger at the practise is made very clear in several Scriptures; See Ezekiel 16: 20-21 for instance. But the interesting thing in verse 21 is how, after these poor tragic liitle ones had already died, God called them, 'My Children' Is that significant? Did God know that those children were safe with Him?

Let us also note God's compassion towards the children of Nineveh in Jonah 4: 11. Those who 'Cannot discern between their right hand and their left' are the small children!

But one of the strongest Scriptures for assuring us that those countless thousands of children who have died before the age of accountability, are safe in God's hands is in Jeremiah 31! Let us consider it,

"Thus says the Lord:
A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border." (Jeremiah 31: 15-17)

This prophecy was fulfilled by Herod's cruel slaughter of the innocents, of course, as Matthew 2:16-18 points out. But the prophecy includes a promise that those little children are presently safe! They are not lost! They shall indeed 'return from the land of the enemy.' If this should apply to those children, it will surely have also applied to those who 'passed through the fire' too. I also maintain - with very little doubt - that this also applies to those tiny babies who are aborted in the womb!!

Now we just need to remind ourselves of Jesus' attitude towards small children. The Scriptures to consider here are; Matthew 18: 1-6, Matthew 21: 15-16 and Mark 10: 13-16. These verses speak of young children. Now in the first of these Scriptures, while we certainly recognise that Jesus was using small children as an example of meekness and what we might call 'teachableness,' is there not a deeper implication? He said this,

"...unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18: 3).

It is, perhaps, speculation but let us ask whether Jesus uttered those words knowing full well that many, many thousands of little children are indeed assured of a place in His eternal kingdom. After all, lets remind ourselves that for a very large part of human history the mortality rate for small children has been extremely high! Certainly, the great reformed theologian Charles Hodge had no doubt that when Revelation 7: 9 speaks of the saved being, 'A great multitude which no one could number,' this was largely because of the huge number of small children who would inevitably be included in the saved. But, in any case, rather strict Calvinist or not, Hodge was not a Restrictivist, that is, he did not believe that the majority are going to hell, and Revelation 7: 9 is undoubtedly one of the Scriptures which he would have pointed to.

There is nothing strange in any of this; let us all remember that none of us can - in any case - earn salvation. It is within God's power and scope to extend His loving grace and favour to small children just as He does to the committed believer! But they are not saved because they are innocent, since original sin has been imputed to all, yet God can extend His loving grace wherever He will. Indeed, should God so will it, regeneration can occur in the womb! We know that this happened with Jeremiah and also John the Baptist. (Carefully note Jeremiah 1: 5 and Luke 1:44).

The final question then is, At what age has a child reached an age of accountability? There would appear to be no hard and fast answer here. Certainly Jewish children were not usually considered to come under the law until age 12, but it would probably be wrong to infer too much from that. One could, I suppose, point out how early today's children 'mature' although I am very unconvinced of that; today's children may well be maturing physically earlier, but not necessarily emotionally or in other factors of development. But this is a thing we just need to leave in God's capable and just hands.

There seems no reason to restrict this mercy which a gracious God offers to little children who die before their time. We may think of the victims of wars, earthquakes, epidemics, cot deaths, tragic accidents, child exposure, abortion and tragically conjoined twins too. Indeed, we will soon begin to realise - as Charles Hodge did - that we are speaking of an incredibly large number of children!! This will be very comforting for parents to know, but, of course, in order for any bereaved parent to see their child again, they need to respond to Jesus Christ if they are living in a time and place where the name of Christ can be known and learned of (just about 99% of the world in our day).

And any parent who willingly agreed to abortion (surely as horrendous in God's sight today, as the sacrificing of children to Moloch was in another day), will need to deeply repent of their action before God in order to finally be reunited with their little ones. We are all personally accountable before God, there will be little point in blaming the advice of a misguided, liberal, politically-correct, 'women must have control over their own bodies' so-called "family planning advisor" in that day!

So, let us rejoice; those poor unfortunate little children dying before the age of accountability throughout the ages are safe in God's hands, God says that they are, "MY CHILDREN!"
Robin A. Brace.