Warfield, Infant Salvation, And The Logic Of Calvinism -- By: David K. Clark

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:4 (Dec 1984)
Article: Warfield, Infant Salvation, And The Logic Of Calvinism
Author: David K. Clark

Warfield, Infant Salvation, And The Logic Of

David K. Clark*

What eternal destiny awaits infants who die? This question taxes those who confront it pastorally. But the issue also poses an interesting theoretical question: What is the relation between the issue of infant salvation and the inner logic of Calvinism as B. B. Warfield understood it?

Warfield, the Princeton Presbyterian, in an article concerning the issue of infant salvation1 outlined three generic views. The “ecclesiastical” view holds that salvation comes only through membership in the visible Church. Baptism is the means for achieving this membership. Thus infants who are baptized will be saved. This view will quickly be recognized as the Roman Catholic view.

The “gracious” view asserts that humans cannot in any way contribute to their salvation. Therefore God, entirely by grace, chooses those who will be saved. Thus infants who are elected by God will be saved. Warfield commits himself to this obviously Reformed position.

The “humanitarian” view holds that the application of salvation depends on a decisive action of the individual. Human beings will be judged according to their choice. Do they choose to follow God (by using a “free will”), or do they resist God’s offer? What of infants who obviously cannot take the necessary, decisive step? Though Warfield does not mention this, later Wesleyan/Arminian advocates of this view posit a distinction between infants and adults. The so-called “age of accountability” separates the two groups. Since infants cannot be held accountable for their predicament because of their inability to act so as to choose him, God graciously acts to save all infants who die.2

Of interest is Warfield’s assertion that “the thinking of the Christian world has been converging” on the view that all infants who die will be saved. Though Warfield does not affirm this view explicitly, he implies that he takes this as the correct position. Strictly speaking, his conclusion is as follows: If one affirms the salvation of all infants who die, one must hold it on Reformed principles—i.e., the gracious view. This is not of course the same as saying that if one holds to the gracious view, one must also affirm that all infants who die will be saved.3

In order to analyze Warfield’s arguments and the inner logic of his Calvinism, let “free will” mean a power that a person exercises by taking an

*David Clark is associate professor of theology and philosophy at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia.

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