One of my congregation members submitted this question:
What happens to miscarried babies/stillborns or little children that die too young to profess their faith?
The question has to do with Christians and early infant loss. This something many of us (including my wife and I) have experienced. Many of us have lost covenant children before they ever took a breath outside the womb. Some of us have lost covenant children after they were born, too. All these losses are painful. When you have a child in the womb, or a newborn in the crib, you have hopes and dreams for him or her. An early infant loss is often difficult, both for mothers and fathers.
What happens to the souls of these babies? What will happen to them at the resurrection when Christ returns? Christians ought to remember that God has a covenant of grace with them — this covenant includes our children. The Holy Spirit says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the child of even just one believing spouse is holy. That is covenantal language (cf. Deut. 7:6). When such children are taken out of this world in their infancy, Christian parents need not doubt their final destiny. We ought not to doubt their election and salvation. In fact, we can and should be confident like David in 2 Samuel 12. When the little child died who had been conceived in that adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, David expressed his confidence that this child went to be with God. He said in 2 Samuel 12:23, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David was sure that when he died, he would be reunited with his son. That solid confidence comes from the covenant of grace that God makes with believers and their children.
The Canons of Dort speak to the issue as well. This is what Reformed churches confess from the Scriptures:
We must judge concerning the will of God from his Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents. Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy. (Canons of Dort 1.17)
To be clear, we do not teach that salvation is an automatic thing for all the children of believers. Under normal circumstances, a covenant child grows up and reaches an age of accountability (which varies from child to child). They then become responsible for believing God’s gospel promises for themselves and, if they do not, they will face God’s covenant judgment. Canons 1.17 is speaking about the (for us) exceptional circumstance where a child does not grow up and is never faced with the personal responsibility to repent and believe. In that circumstance, because of God’s covenant mercies, we believe that the faith of the parents covers for the child.
What a comfort that gives us when we face the tragedy of early infant loss! Our children belong to God and if they are called out of this life in their infancy, in his grace he takes them home to himself. That little child you lost is now in the presence of God, praising him with his angels and waiting for the day of the resurrection. When Christ returns, that child will be raised perfect and glorified, to spend eternity in the new heavens and new earth. God took your child directly to himself, sparing him or her from having to bear the brokenness of this world under the curse. It was a loss to you and it hurts. Death is an enemy and it does not belong in this world. Yet here too we can say that Christ has conquered death and removed its sting. We can and will grieve, but we ought not to grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in God and in his gospel promises for us and our children.
Recommended reading: Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, Glenda Mathes, Grandville: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 2012.