By Dick Blackford
I was in New Madrid, Missouri in a gospel meeting one spring. While taking an early morning walk, I passed a small cemetery and stopped to read epitaphs on some of the old tombstones. One spoke of hard times for a couple who lost four daughters within six years. The first died in 1845 at three years, four months. The second died in 1848 at two years, eight months. The last was in 1851 at the age of three months. It would be difficult to imagine the degree of grief the parents must have experienced. Their epitaph, which we will notice in a moment, demonstrated the faith of the parents as to where their children would spend eternity.
Their grief would surely have been multiplied if some preacher had told them their children died in sin. As a quick look at most major creed books, disciplines, and manuals will attest, the majority of “Christendom” holds to the view that babies are born in sin. Check the Catholic Catechism, Methodist Discipline, Baptist Manual, Presbyterian Confession, etc.
Concerning the conception of Jacob and Esau, Paul said, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or evil . . .” (Rom. 9:11). Children are innocent and are in a safe condition until they grow to a point of maturity and become accountable. If one is too young to fully understand about good and evil, he is not yet responsible.
Some say all are guilty of Adam’s sin. If one inherits the sin of Adam it must come through his or her parents. Perhaps foreseeing that some would teach this false doctrine, Ezekiel said “the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father . . .” (18:20). In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul said “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body . . .” not Adam’s!
Since sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), how can a transgression be transmitted? Either one sinned, or he did not. God is a God of fairness and justice. He does not attribute sin to one person that was committed by someone else. What transgression has a baby committed?
We have a choice whom we will serve (Josh. 24:15). Sin involves intent. If babies are born in sin then they had no choice or control in the matter. Then who does that make responsible? God! This doctrine teaches that God caused a corrupted, sinful nature to pass on to innocent babies. Surely this doctrine of “hereditary total depravity” bears much closer examination.
Jesus taught that little children are innocent (Matt.18:1- 3; 19:13-15). He said unless I become like a little child, I can’t go to heaven. How can that be if children are born sinful and corrupt? It can only mean they are not born that way!
I doubt that this couple who lived before the Civil War believed in total depravity, nor that they would provide an occasion near 150 years later to teach the truth on this subject. The epitaph on the tomb of their daughters read,
Sweet were the flowers
But short their bloom.
They blossomed for an early tomb. But faith forbids a rising sigh,
They withered here to bloom on high.
That is exactly what the Bible teaches. Such parents have hope.