Original Sin  —  Infants

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
An article which appeared in Time magazine in the November 10, 1961 issue, which was headed, "Suffer the Little Children," emphasizes the great ignorance of Christendom from the days of the so-called Church Fathers until today. The article begins by quoting part of a verse from John 3 as it is found in the Catholic Douay Version: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." v. 5. The article says:
"These words of Jesus in John 3:55Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5), apparently slamming heaven's door on all who have never been cleansed of original sin by baptism, have made perplexing problems for theologians through the centuries."
The writer then discusses the subject of unbaptized adult heathen, and speaks of Catholic and Protestant thoughts on the subject, but he adds: "But the case of unbaptized infants is a more poignant matter."
All of this confusion stems from "not knowing the Scriptures." And the following part of the article, which quotes from Augustine and the great reformers, shows that none of them are trustworthy in many matters which require sound doctrine; and we quote:
"St. Augustine, for one, consigned them to the eternal flames of hell, though the thought distressed him. 'I am, believe me, beset by no small difficulties,' he wrote, 'and I am quite at a loss what to answer. Though I cannot define the nature of their damnation, yet I do not dare to say that it would have been better for them not to exist than to exist as they are now.' Martin Luther agreed with Augustine, John Calvin sidestepped the issue by stressing predestination; if an infant was elected for salvation, Calvin held, lack of baptism could not keep him from it, and if he was damned to hell, baptism could not save him."
Much of the above quotation is egregious folly. The last quoted statement is the error of Calvin's which carried him beyond anything in Scripture in his zealous devotion to an idea. But to return to the basic issue of the matter, What is meant by "original sin"? Another has written that, in general, "people do not know what they mean by 'original sin.' " Again this same writer (J. N. Darby) says, "Original sin is theology, and not Scripture, and the fruit of men's minds, which have not to be explained but refuted as not the expression of God's." (Collected Writings, vol. 23, pp. 559, 560.)
There is absolutely no basis for the expression found in this article, "cleansed of original sin." It is true that Adam sinned, and through his sin he pulled down the whole human race. When he begot a son, he was born after "his image," after the image of fallen man. Adam was created a perfect human being, but he rebelled against God and fell in every compartment of his being—"spirit, and soul, and body." In spirit he was estranged from God; in his soul, he fulfilled his own lusts; and in his body, death was at work. Every descendant of Adam—except of course that One who was the Seed of the woman and "God manifest in flesh"—has been born with a fallen nature. The beautiful and innocent babe has a nature that, if the child lives, will show the sad fruit of that nature. An infant that dies, dies because of Adam's sin; but to call that "original sin" and say that it can be cleansed is very contrary to the words and tenor of Scripture. God does not cleanse a fallen nature. God does distinguish in His Word between sin (the nature) and sins (the fruit of that nature). Sins are forgiven on the basis of faith in Christ's finished work on the cross, and the sinner's trust in that work. God was glorified by His perfect work of atonement and was fully justified in forgiving every poor sinner who accepts the Savior as his own. But when it comes to the matter of the sinful, evil nature—sin—it is not cleansed or forgiven. God condemns that as hateful. The sinner who believes has his sins forgiven, but does not have any improvement in the old nature. It is still there as long as he lives in this body, and it never gets better. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh"; it never becomes Spirit, It is not the product of the Spirit of God. He gives a new life and nature to believers, so that such become "a new creation." (See 2 Cor. 5:1717Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17); J. N. D. Trans.)
Then to refer to water baptism as that which cleanses from "original sin," is consummate folly. Water baptism never has and never will cleanse anyone—some theologian's words to the contrary, notwithstanding. Nor does that old Adam nature get cleansed. In fact, "born of water" in John 3 simply does NOT refer to baptism. The scripture there says, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"; but it does not say that "that which is born of water is water." If it does not mean water baptism, then some may ask, What does it mean?
Water is used as a figure of several different things. In John 7, it is used as a figure of the Spirit of God, and we are not left to our own devices to prove that it is so. Scripture plainly tells us, "This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive." But here in John 3 it simply cannot be used to describe the Spirit, for the "water" and "the Spirit" are carefully distinguished. Hence we must look elsewhere for the answer.
First, let us look at the Old Testament, where water was used in connection with cleansing the priests from defilement when they went about the service of God. Before they entered the holy place of the tabernacle, they had to stop as they passed the laver which contained water. There they had to wash their hands and their feet before entering the tabernacle, "that they die not." Next, in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus put water into a basin on that night before He was betrayed and then washed the disciples' feet. His comment was that if He washed them not they would have no part with Him; that is, no communion. Moral soil on saints interrupts communion, so the Lord washed their feet—that which touched this defiled world as they walked down here. Then let us go to Eph. 5 for the spiritual significance of this. There we read that "Christ... loved the church, and gave Himself for it"; that is now past. Then in the present, He is occupied with it that "He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." Now this gives us a clue to one use of the water—it is used as a symbol of that which cleanses saints (not sinners) from defilement as they traverse the wilderness; and the Lord Himself is at present occupied therein. This enlightens us on the use of the symbol of water, which is used here as the application of the Word of God to lead us to judge evil and to cleanse us. But evidently that is not the meaning of "born of water" in John 3.
Now let us go to 1 Pet. 1:2323Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:23): "Born again... by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." Here we get the word of God (that of which water is a type) used to produce "new birth." From this let us go to Jas. 1:1818Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18): "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth." Here it is the will of God and the word of truth linked together. Without doubt, the Spirit of God is the One who uses the Word of God—not the Word as used for cleansing saints, as in Ephesians 5, but as that instrument used in. His power to produce a new life in a dead soul. Now dare anyone challenge this meaning as applied to John 3, where new birth is by water and the Spirit? The key that unlocks the seemingly difficult passages of Scripture is not always in the same chapter; but the Word of God does contain the answers, so that we need not go away uninformed.
Another key to being born of water and of the Spirit in John 3 is to be found in John 15:33Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. (John 15:3): "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you." It is again new birth that is referred to, and this is produced by the word of the Lord Jesus—the word of Him who was God manifest in flesh. Previously, in John 13:1010Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10) and 11, He had said to the twelve apostles, "Ye are clean, but not all. For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean." Judas was not "born again"; he never was. After Judas had gone out, He said to the eleven, "Now ye are clean"; there was no exception. While blood is necessary for cleansing from sins before God, there is another sense in which the new birth gives a sense of moral cleansing. The Apostle John never mentions Christian baptism.*
Therefore, we affirm, and do so without fear of contradiction, that being born of water and of the Spirit in John 3 has not the smallest connection with water baptism, but is symbolic of being given a new life by the power of the Spirit of God using the Word of God.
This will also be true of the restored remnant of Israel
*For further elucidation on the subject of baptism, see a 50-page pamphlet, entitled: Alexander Campbell and His Christian System Today, by C. H. Brown. It is obtainable from the publishers at 20 cents a copy, plus postage.
in the future day, and it accounts for the Lord's words to Nicodemus, "Art thou a [literally, the] master [or, teacher] of Israel, and knowest not these things?" As a teacher of God's Word of the Old Testament, he should have been familiar with Eze. 36 We herewith quote verses 25 through 28:
"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God."
Beyond all question this refers to Israel and the future, for it has not yet taken place. They have not dwelt in the land with God acting as their God since the days in which Ezekiel wrote. In the day that is coming, a remnant of Israel is to be born again of water and of the Spirit. Both water and the Spirit are here specified as being used together to give them "a new heart" when they will walk in His statutes and do them. Therefore, new birth is a positive requisite for a restored Israel in their land under their Messiah in the future. It is also true of people now who are brought to God. John 3, however, goes beyond merely new birth, for the Lord speaks of "heavenly things" after having spoken of that which will be true of the earthly people. He speaks in the 16th verse of eternal life and how it is received now.
But to return to the general question. God will never cast an infant into the lake of fire because of Adam's sin, nor will that be the portion of anyone who never developed mentally and did not have the power of decision—of one who could not understand that he needed a Savior. Such are not accountable. The lake of fire, the second death (which is the separation of the whole man, spirit, soul, and body from God for all eternity) is a never-ending night of despair for those who reject or "neglect so great salvation."
When the Lord Jesus was here and took up little children, He said, "The Son of man is come to save that which was lost." Matt. 18:1111For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. (Matthew 18:11). Whereas, when He was speaking of adults, He said, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1010For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10). Infants and little children have not departed from God by wicked works, and if they die before they reach an age of accountability, the death of the Lord Jesus fully takes care of them who were born with a fallen nature and died because of the fall. No one will ever be punished for Adam's sins, but for his own, and not then if he accepts Christ as his personal Savior. We quote the words found on a tombstone of some infants. They express the truth.
"Bold infidelity, turn pale and die! Beneath this stone four infants' bodies lie.
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death's by sin, they sinned, for they lie here;
If heaven's by works, in heaven they can't appear.
Reason—ah! how depraved!
Revere the Bible's sacred page, the knot's untied;
They died for Adam sinned, they live for Jesus died."
But let us keep it unmistakably clear that water baptism is not meant in John 3, nor does water baptism ever save anyone. All the religious rites performed over an unbelieving adult who dies will avail nothing. And rites done over infants who die avail nothing. The former is lost forever; the latter is saved and saved for an eternity with Christ in glory.