One of the biggest problems that Christians (and non-Christians) have with the conquest of Canaan is that even the Canaanite children were killed by the Israelites, who did so at the command of God. Last time we looked at the biblical case for believing that those who do not have the mental capacity to either reject God or repent and believe go to heaven. We touched almost exclusively on Old Testament passages. But can the case be made from the New Testament? I believe so.
Romans 1:18-23 tells of the culpability of all those who willfully reject God:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Those who suppress the truth are without excuse before God. Those who by the faculty of reason can recognize the evidence of God within them and in creation are without excuse before God. Those who clearly see the invisible attributes of God through what has been made are without excuse. Those who by general revelation know God but do not honor Him or give thanks are without excuse. Those who exchange the glory of God for the idols of the earth are without excuse.
None of those things are true of infants or young children or the mentally disabled. These basic truths seen in creation must be understood before they can be rejected. But these people don’t have the mental ability to discern the existence of God from the things that have been made. Therefore, they are not able to willfully reject God.
This is reminiscent of the passage in Deuteronomy 1 that we looked at last time. There Moses explained that even though the first generation who sinned against the Lord were sentenced to death in the wilderness, the children who were alive at the time did not die, because they had “no knowledge of good or evil.” God takes into account the ability of a person to apprehend truth, and the case of the Israelite children in the wilderness is an excellent example. They were not capable of grasping who God is, nor of willfully rejecting Him, and for that reason, their lives were preserved.
Consider Revelation 5:9-10: And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
Who did Christ ransom by His blood, and who has He made a kingdom and priests to reign on the earth? People from every tribe and language and people and nation. How can this be if there are tribes in parts of the world today, and certainly nations and tribes prior to the death of Christ, who never heard the gospel? How can people from every tribe and language and people and nation be saved if the whole human population during the time of Noah was so evil that God drowned everyone but Noah’s family? Every person of every nation perished in the Flood because “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ). The only way that representatives from every tribe, language, people, and nation will sing a new song to Christ, as told in Rev 5:9-10 is because Christ saved those who died in childhood or did not have the ability to understand.
Then we have Mark 10:13-16 (with parallel passages in Matt 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17): And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. John MacArthur comments on theses verses, “A child can do nothing for himself to be saved. A child can earn no salvation. A child can offer no accomplishment, no merit, no achievement, totally dependent on sovereign grace. That's the way we come. The Kingdom is full of people just like them, saved purely on the basis of sovereign grace.”
In Matt 18:1-14, Jesus again uses a child as an analogy of the humility with which one must come to Him. In v14, He says, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” The Lord is talking about believers, but the analogy only makes sense if little ones are saved. He doesn’t want believers to perish any more than He wants little ones to perish.
I said in the beginning that this case was a circumstantial one. We have no explicit, golden proof-text telling us that all infants, children, and mentally disabled persons go to heaven. But for me, the circumstantial case is persuasive. All people are conceived in sin, but God graciously saves those who are unable to understand truth and either reject Him or believe.
This has been a brief look at this subject. If you are interested in a more thorough resource, I highly recommend John MacArthur’s book, Safe in the Arms of God: Truth From Heaven About the Death of a Child. This is a great book to help answer your own questions or to comfort those who have lost a child.
I stand by the comment that I made in the sermon on the conquest a couple of weeks ago. The deaths of the Canaanite children represented their rescue from a nightmarish existence on earth, and their instantaneous delivery to eternal joy and peace in the presence of the Lord. God is just, gracious, and deserving of our worship.
Posted by Greg Birdwell