Do stillborn, miscarried, or aborted babies go to heaven?
This is a question that is answered by one of our church confessions—the Canons of Dort.
In the First Head of Doctrine, Article 17, (which is about divine election) we confess this: “Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.”
Stillborn, miscarried, or aborted babies could be included in this answer.
Rev. Jerrold Lewis taught a course on the Canons of Dort in his congregation, and what follows is a summary of the comments he made on this article:
There are three camps in this (on this question of children going to heaven if they die):
- There is the camp that says that all children who die in infancy, throughout the world and history, go to heaven. Charles Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and many others taught this.
- There is the camp that goes as far as our confessions go—that is has to do with the covenant: That we can be sure that all covenant children who die in infancy go to heaven. The Westminster Confessions and the Canons of Dort teach this.
- And there is the third camp who say, “We just don’t know.” So they say nothing.
Now our confessions do not speak to those who are born in the world, it speaks to those who are born in the covenant.
Our children are in the covenant of grace. Not in the “sphere” of the covenant, not “close” to the covenant, but in the Covenant of Grace. They are comprehended (included) in the covenant. Our forefathers say, because of the virtue that our children have been born into the Covenant of God’s Graciousness (physically), that those who die in infancy (not children who don’t die in infancy—those children that do die in infancy), are saved. Our children, when they’re born into the church, are covenant members: But they still need the blood of Christ. Our forefathers simply taught, that to those infants who die, that blood was applied to them in the womb. They would say that there is a special dispensation to children who die in infancy, that God the Holy Spirit gives.
John Calvin says that when children die in infancy, it is a “sure sign of their election.”
The Swiss delegation (many European counties had delegations who were present at the Synod of Dort) went beyond and indicated that all children who die in infancy, go to heaven. But they pulled it back, when it came to writing Article 17 of the Canons of Dort, and said, we’re not going to go beyond what Scripture teaches (though they had their own private opinions, as many of us do).
English Delegation to Dordt: “We determine about the children of believers only that those who die before the age of doctrinal understanding are loved by God and are saved by the same good pleasure of God on account of Christ, through Christ, and in Christ as the adult: therefore they are holy from the relation of the covenant, the reality of which is confirmed by grace when they are initiated by sacred baptism and put on Christ.”
Wilhelmis a Brakel taught, “All children of members of the covenant (irrespective of whether these members are converted or unconverted) who die in infancy—be it prior to or after the administration of baptism—must be considered as saved by virtue of God’s covenant in which they were born and in consequence of which they are children of the covenant. If the parents are unconverted and unfaithful to the covenant, this will not be imputed to their account, for the son will not bear the iniquity of the father” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, p. 506).
The Bible ultimately, is what give us this comfort. In 2 Samuel 12:15-24, King David pleaded with the LORD to spare his son. But the LORD takes his child. Why does David then wash, put on fresh clothes, eat and go to the house of the LORD to worship? Because he knew that the child was with the LORD. “I shall go to him, but he shall not to me.”
Matthew Henry emphasizes in his commentary on this passage, how much comfort this should give to parents who have a child die in infancy: “The child died on the seventh day (2 Sam. 12:18), when it was seven days old, and therefore not circumcised, which David might perhaps interpret as a further token of God’s displeasure, that it died before it was brought under the seal of the covenant; yet he does not therefore doubt of its being happy. For the benefits of the covenant do not depend upon the seals. Godly parents have a great reason to hope concerning their children that die in infancy, that it is well with their souls in the other world; for the promise is to us and to our seed, which shall be performed to those that do not put a bar in their own door, as infants do not. God calls those His children that are born unto Him (in the covenant); and, if they be His, He will save them. This may comfort us when our children are removed from us by death, they are better provided for, both in work and wealth, than they could have been in this world. We shall be with them shortly, to part no more.”
And let’s end with the Puritan Thomas Boston, “Let godly parents, who have sometimes laid their infants in the grave, for whom they took hold of God’s covenant, know for their comfort, that, though the names of the babes are forgotten in this world by all but them, because they were so short while in it, they have the good name, a shining name in the other world, that will never be forgotten there. And the day of their death, however heavy it was to you, it was really better than the day of their birth; much sin and misery being hid from their eyes that you have felt.”