The doctrine of Original Sin as expressed in Reformed theology has an underbelly whose consequences have most likely not been considered by the average Calvinist layperson. If one looks closely at the Reformed confessions, they will clearly begin to wonder what happens to children dying in infancy. What kind of answers are given? As long as the infant is elect, they can be saved by Christ’s work through the Spirit . This clearly means what it appears to mean. As Chad Van Dixhoorn, an expert on the minutes of the Westminster Assembly writes:
Often there is a tendency to drop the qualifying word ‘elect’ from the word ‘infants’, with the suggestion that all babies go to heaven. The scriptures do not allow us to draw this conclusion. Apparent innocence does not rise to the height of an eternal entitlement. Second, the confession is not saying that infants and the mentally handicapped are saved or elected because they are infants, or because they are handicapped .
It follows that
If one were to be elect on the basis of foreseen faith or obedience, what parents could have hope for their dying baby, or for their aging, but mentally inhibited child? 
Don’t miss what he is saying here. The reason that election is good news is because without it, dying babies deserve to wake up for the first time in God’s eternal torture chamber . To put this concept more forcefully, if a dying baby were to wake up for the first time to millions and millions of unending ages of the omnipotent floodgates of the fierce wrath of God that is vastly disproportionate to her strength to bear it, this would be fair. A confessional Reformed Christian must believe this, and does not even have the authority to claim that this does not in fact happen some of the time. After all, this is the historical Reformed view. Regarding Augustine, J.V. Fesko at Westminster Seminary California writes:
Augustine was willing to hold to his view even in the face of what were difficult consequences. Unlike his predecessors, who taught that infants were born free of sin but were mortal because of Adam’s sin, Augustine believed that infants ‘are held in bondage by original sin alone, and because of this alone go into damnation.’ In other words, because infants bore the guilt of original sin they would be damned to hell if they died unbaptized. Baptism, according to Augustine, removed the stain and guilt of original sin, and without this remedy infants were subject to damnation even if they had committed no personal sins .
Calvin writes in his commentary on Deuteronomy 13:15
We may rest assured that God would never have suffered any infants to be slain except those who were already damned and predestined for eternal death .
Jonathan Edwards concurs that this ghastly vision is “most just, exceeding just”:
One of these two things are certainly true, and self-evidently so: either that it is most just, exceeding just, that God should take the soul of a new-born infant and cast it into eternal torments, or else that those infants that are saved are not saved by the death of Christ. For none are saved by the death of Christ from damnation that have not deserved damnation .
Modern Calvinist writer Tim Challies agrees:
The teaching of Scripture is clear: even if I never committed a sin throughout my entire life, I would still be justly condemned to hell because of the original sin of Adam…If we are to believe that Christ stands as our representative in the act of redemption, we must also believe that Adam stands as our representative in the act of becoming a fallen people. We cannot have one without the other. 
After doing much study and reflection on this topic, I find myself simply shaking my head and realizing I am unable to know from Scripture what happens to all infants who die. While I would like to believe that all children are immediately ushered into heaven, I simply do not find Scripture to support the idea that God will categorically overlook the imputation of Adam’s sin that is held against all humanity, and even the tiniest child. It seems to me that those who adhere to the view that all children are saved must gloss-over or downplay original sin, and that is something I cannot do. Children who die in infancy are as fully implicated in Adam’s sin as I am and are thus fully deserving of hell. 
Unlike Challies, many (not all) modern Calvinists are unwilling to bite the bullet and accept the implications of their theological system. Many Calvinists might concede what we have discussed so far (they would have to), but would seek to defang the doctrine by essentially claiming that “God would never do that”. Challies is right to argue that there is no historical or biblical* precedent to argue this way. The only precedent in the Reformed tradition is to offer hope to Christian parents that their children dying in infancy are part of the “elect” group of infants (See WCF Chapter 10 and The Canons of Dort article 1/17). The Canon’s of Dort comforted Christian parents who lost a child not by arguing that babies never go to hell, but by claiming that their children are distinct from the children of unbelievers by virtue of connection to the covenant.
And even if you take the view that all children dying in infancy are elect, you would still have to conclude that it would be fair for infants who die to be tortured forever upon waking up for the first time to God’s presence, even if he decides not to do it. This is just one example among many of the moral and logical dilemmas in the Calvinist system (I have written on these dilemmas extensively, for more see here and here). But this specific dilemma brings together the implications of meticulous divine sovereignty, original sin, God’s freedom in election, and hell (seen as eternal conscious torment) in a particularly unsettling way. It is no wonder so many people are inconsistent on this point, and I don’t blame them. However, it may be more fruitful to question the integrity of the theological system than to maintain such inconsistencies. After all, if it doesn’t make sense to you to hang a serial killers 7 year old daughter along with him for his crimes, why would you think that guilt can transfer from one person to another? Isn’t this as illogical as a square circle? 
*If Calvinism is the theological system through which you interpret the Bible
- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 10 – As a side note, when I mention “Reformed Theology” and “Calvinism” I am referring to theology that adheres to the historic confessions of Calvinism, or at a minimum to the soteriology expressed in the Canons of Dort.
- Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 155
- Ibid, p. 154
- For why this is not an uncharitable misrepresentation of the “eternal conscious torment” view of hell, see here.
- J.V Fesko, Death in Adam, Life in Christ: The Doctrine of Imputation. Loc 401 (Kindle)
- Quoted by Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape, Chp 3
- Source (Entry N)–I originally saw this referenced here
- See here
- See here
- David Bentley Hart attacks inherited guilt using similar terms in this lecture, though I don’t remember the exact minute/second.