As a sinful being the new-born infant is not in the Way of Salvation. By its natural birth, from sinful parents, it is not in the kingdom of God, but in the realm and under the dominion of sin, death and the devil. If left to itself -- to the undisturbed development of its own nature, it must miserably and hopelessly perish. True, there is a relative innocence. The Apostle exhorts: "Be ye followers of God, as dear children." "In malice be ye children." Our blessed Saviour, on several occasions, rebuked the vain, ambitious spirit of the disciples by contrasting it with the spirit of a little child. He said: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," and "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."
These passages are generally quoted by those who refuse to believe the doctrine of Original Sin, as though they taught sinlessness and entire fitness for the kingdom. But if we accept this interpretation, then the Scriptures contradict themselves; for we have seen that, in many places, they clearly teach the opposite. These passages can only mean that children are relatively innocent. Compared with the forbidding, haughty, loveless disciples, little children are much better subjects for the kingdom. While the roots of sin are there, that sin has not yet done its hardening work.
They do not wilfully resist the good. They are much more tender, docile, trustful and loving. The Grace of God has less to overcome in them. They are more easily reached, and thus are fit subjects to be brought into the kingdom of God. In this sense only can it be said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," that I may touch them, bless them, impart my Grace to them, and thus make them partakers of my kingdom. "Of such is the kingdom" because I desire and purpose to bring them into the kingdom.
Thus far we can safely go. This much in favor of the child, over against the adult, we freely admit. But this does not say that the child is innocent, pure and holy by nature. The undeveloped roots and germs of sin are still there. Its nature is evil. It must be saved from that moral nature. How?
Here again we meet those who have a very easy solution of the difficulty. They say: "Admitting that the child has sin, this will in no way endanger its salvation, because Christ died to take away sin. They have no conscious sin. Therefore, the atonement of Christ covers their case, and, without anything further, they pass into heaven, if they die in their infancy."
This view seems to satisfy a great many well-meaning people. Without giving the matter any further thought, they dismiss it with this easy solution. Surely, did they stop to consider and examine this theory, they would see it has no foundation.
Christ's atonement alone, and in itself, never saved a soul. It removed the obstacles that were in the way of our salvation, opened the way back to our Father's house, purchased forgiveness and salvation for us. But all this profits the sinner nothing, so long as he is not brought into that way; so long as the salvation is not applied to him personally. Neither can we speak of salvation being applied to an unrenewed, sinful nature. We cannot even conceive of forgiveness for an unregenerate being. This would, indeed, be to take away the guilt of sin, while its power remained. It would be to save the sinner in and with his sin.
The position is utterly groundless. It is even contrary to reason. It assumes that a being who has in his heart, as a very part of his nature, the roots and germs of sin, can, with that heart unchanged, enter into the kingdom of God. It makes God look upon sin with allowance. It does violence to the holiness of His nature. It makes heaven the abode of the unclean.
No, no. It will not do. When men try to avoid what seem to them difficult and unwelcome doctrines of God's Word, they run into far greater difficulties and contradictions. That child is conceived and born in sin. It is a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and in sins. Its nature must be cleansed and renewed. Otherwise, if it can be saved as it is, there are unregenerate souls in heaven!
Better abide by what is written, and believe that every one, infant or adult, who has been born of the flesh, must be born of the Spirit. Listen to the earnest words of Jesus as he emphasizes them with that solemn double affirmation, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." He repeats this sweeping declaration a second time. In the Greek it reads, Except any one be born again. The assertion is intended to embrace every human being. Lest this should be disputed, Jesus further says, "That which is born of the flesh" -- i.e., naturally born -- "is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Wherever there is a birth of the flesh, there must be a birth of the Spirit. The flesh-born cannot even see the kingdom of God, much less enjoy it, still less possess it. There must be new life, divine life, spiritual life breathed into that fleshly, carnal nature. Thus will there be a new heart; a new spirit, a new creature. Then, and not till then, can there be comprehension, apprehension and appreciation of the things of the kingdom of God. This is the teaching of the whole Word of God. Gal. vi.15: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" -- i.e., neither Jewish birth nor Gentile birth, without the new birth.
Here also then our Church confesses the pure truth of God's Word, when, in the second Article of the Augsburg Confession, as quoted above, she goes on to say: "And this disease, or original fault, is truly sin, condemning and bringing eternal death upon all that are not born again."
Here then we take our stand. No child can be saved unless it be first reached by renewing Grace. If ever an infant did die, or should die, in that state in which it was born, unchanged by divine Grace, that infant is lost. There are, there can be, no unregenerate souls in heaven. Where there is no infant regeneration, there can be no infant salvation.
Here also we remark, in passing, that this doctrine, of the absolute necessity of infant regeneration, is not held by the Lutheran Church alone. Even the Romish and Greek Churches teach that it is impossible for any human creature, without a change from that condition in which he was born, to enter heaven. All the great historic confessions of the Protestant churches confess the same truth. Even the Calvinistic Baptists confess the necessity of infant regeneration.
In short all churches that have paid much attention to theology, and have been careful to have consistent systems of doctrine, agree on this point. However much those who call themselves by their names may deny it, in their preaching and in their conversation, their own confessions of faith and their greatest and best theologians clearly teach it.
Yes, there must be infant regeneration. But is it possible? Can the Grace of God reach the helpless infant? Will He reach down and make it a new creature in Christ Jesus? Has He made provision for this end? Yes, thanks be to his abounding Grace, we believe He can and will save the child, and has committed to His spouse, the Church, a means of Grace for this purpose. He, of whom it was prophesied long before He came, that He would "gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom;" who made it the first duty of the reinstated apostle to feed His lambs, must have a special care for them. It is not His or His Father's will "that one of them should perish." He has made provision for these sin-stricken ones, whereby His Grace can reach down to renew and heal them. There is Balm in Gilead. The Great Physician is there. The Church need only apply His divine, life-giving remedy. Of this we will speak in the next chapter.