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The development of the doctrine of infant salvation online

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those, of whatever name, who make man's

* Cf. Progressive Orthodoxy, p. 76.
t Vol. ii., pp. 91 sq.


own undetermined act the determining fac-
tor in his salvation.*

8. The drifts of doctrine which have come
before us in this rapid sketch may be reduced
to three generic views. 1. There is what
may be called the ecclesiastical doctrine, ac-
cording to which the Church, in the sense
of an outwardly organized body, is set as the
sole fountain of salvation in the midst of a
lost world ; the Spirit of God and eternal
life are its peculiar endowments, of which
none can partake save through communion
with it. Accordingly to all those departing
this life in infancy, baptism, the gateway to
the Church, is the condition of salvation.
2. There is Avhat may be called the gracious
doctrine, according to which the visible
Church is not set in the world to determine
by the gift of its ordinances who are to be
saved, but as the harbor of refuge for the
saints, to gather into its bosom those whom
God himself in his infinite love has selected
in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the
world in whom to show the wonders of his
grace. Men accordingly are not saved be-

* The Rev. D. Fisk Harris, himself a Congregational
minister (Calvinism Contrary to God's Word and Man's Mor-
al Nature, p. 107), tells us that a view not essentially differing
from Dr Kedney's " seems to be the prevailing view of Congre-
gationalists. 11 This he states thus : "All infants become mor-
al agents after death. Exercising a holy choice, they 'are
saved on the ground of the atonement and by regeneration.' "


cause they are baptized, but they are bap-
tized because they are saved, and the
failure of the ordinance does not argue
the failure of the grace. Accordingly to
all those departing this life in infancy,
inclusion in God's saving purpose alone
is the condition of salvation ; we may be
able to infer this purpose from manifest
signs, or we may not be able to infer it,
but in any case it cannot fail. 3. There is
what may be called the humanitarian doc-
trine, according to which the determining
cause of man's salvation is his own free
choice, under whatever variety of theories
as to the source of his power to exercise this
choice, or the manner in which it is exercis-
ed. Accordingly whether one is saved or not
is dependent not on baptism or on inclusion
in God's hidden purpose, but on the decisive
activity of the soul itself.

The first of these doctrines is character-
istic of the earlv, the mediaeval, and the
Koman churches, not without echoes in those
sections of Protestantism which love to think
of themselves as " more historical" or less
radically reformed than the rest. The second
is the doctrine of the Reformed churches.
These two are not opposed to one another
in their most fundamental conception, but
are related rather as an earlier misapprehen-


si on and a later correction of the same basal
doctrine. The phrase extra ecclesiam nulla
sal us is the common property of both ; they
differ only in their understanding of the
* *' ecclesia, " whether of the visible or in-
visible church. The third doctrine, on
the other hand, has cropped out ever and
again in every age of the Church, has dom-
inated whole sections of it and whole ages,
but has never, in its purity, found expression
in any great historic confession or exclusively
characterized any age. It is, in fact, not a
section of Church doctrine at all, but an in-
trusion into Christian thought from with-
out. In its purity it has always and in all
communions been accounted heresy ; and
only as it has been more or less modified and
concealed among distinctively Christian ad-
juncts has it ever made a position for itself
in the Church. Its fundamental conception
is the antipodes of that of the other doc-

The first step in the development of the
doctrine of infant salvation was taken when
the Church laid the foundation which from
the beginning has stood firm, Infants too are
lost members of a lost race, and only those
savingly united to Christ are saved. In its
definition of what infants are thus savingly
united to Christ the early Church missed


the path. All that are brought to him in
baptism, was its answer. Long ages passed
before the second step was taken in the cor-
rect definition. The way was prepared in-
deed by Augustine's doctrine of grace, by
which salvation was made dependent on the
dealings of God with the individual heart.
But his eyes were h olden that he should
not see it. It was reserved to Zwingli to
proclaim it clearly, All the elect children of
God, ivho are regenerated by the Spirit who
worheth when, and where, and how he pleas-
eth. The sole question that remains is,
Who of those that die in infancy are the
elect children of God ? Tentative answers
were given. The children of God's people,
said some. The children of God's people,
with such others as his love has set upon to
call, said others. All those that die in in-
fancy said others still ; and to this reply Re-
formed thinking and not Reformed thinking
only, but in one way or another, logically
or illogically, the thinking of the Christian
world has been converging. Is it the Scrip-
tural answer ? It is as legitimate and as
logical an answer as any, on Reformed postu-
lates. It is legitimate on no other postu-
lates. If it be really conformable to the
Word of God it will stand ; and the third
step in the development of the doctrine of


infant salvation is already taken. .But if it
stand, it can stand on no other theological
basis than the Reformed. If all infants
dying in infancy are saved, it is certain that
they are not saved by or through the
ordinances of the visible Church (for they
have not received them), nor through their
own improvement of a grace common to all
men (for they are incapable of activity) ; it
can only be through the almighty operation
of the Holy Spirit who worketh when and
where and how he pleaseth, through whose
ineffable grace the Father gathers these lit-
tle ones to the home he has prepared for

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldThe development of the doctrine of infant salvation → online text (page 4 of 4)