Those with Excuse: Romans 1:18-20


“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, both His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Romans 1:18-20

My wife and I were recently informed that our family of four would soon become a family of five. At first, we were shocked, surprised, and very overwhelmed. As time passed, however, the initial shock and anxiety were replaced with genuine joy and excitement, as we began to make room in our lives for this new blessing. With two successful pregnancies behind us, it never occurred to us that this pregnancy might not come to fruition. But when my wife went in for her first checkup three weeks later, we were met with the somber words: “There is no heartbeat. The baby is dead.” Any anxiety or shock we felt upon discovering the pregnancy was nothing compared to the pain and grief we felt at that moment. The rollercoaster of emotions was too much to bear. But by God’s grace, we were quickly reminded that though the child has died, they yet live; and though we have missed an opportunity to know them in this life, we shall know them for eternity in the life to come.

Where does this hope come from? On what grounds can we believe that our unborn child lives now with the Lord? I have heard it argued by some that unborn children and infants who die are without sin, and are therefore blameless before the Lord, for they have never consciously sinned. Unfortunately, Paul clarifies in Romans 5:12 that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” In other words, one is not counted sinful simply through their actions, but by their very nature. Infants and unborn children, then, are conceived and born into a sinful state. Furthermore, Jesus tells us that “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). His point: unless one is regenerated by the Spirit and places their faith in Him for salvation, they will not be saved.

What hope is there, then, for parents who have lost unborn or young children, or even for those with mental infirmities that are unable to perceivably reason? How is it that king David, after losing his own infant son, could worship God and confidently state that he would see his boy once again (2 Sam. 12:20-23)? I believe that David placed his hope in his covenant with Yahweh. David believed that God would extend grace and mercy to his son simply because God loved David. In a similar sense, I believe that Christians today can have the same hope. God loves us; therefore He will love our children, especially those who die in infancy.

My hope in God’s election of unborn and infant children to salvation extends beyond the children of New Covenant Christians, however. I believe that God has mercy on all children who die in the womb or in infancy, whether they are from Christian households or not. 

This belief is rooted squarely within Romans 1:18-20. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks to the mechanisms by which God can justly condemn man. Paul reasons that every man knows God because God has made Himself known in creation (Rom. 1:20). Though man has clearly seen and beheld God, he has nevertheless refused to worship Him and has suppressed the truth in his sin (Rom. 1:18). For this reason, God justly finds fault in all mankind: even the island native who has only ever known his own myths and legends. 

Strangely, it is within this sound condemnation of humanity that we find mercy for some. If man’s condemnation is based on his faculties to reason, then it would also follow that man might find an excuse squarely within his lack of required reasoning facilities. Put simply, an unborn child or infant lacks the capacity to behold God in creation, and therefore lacks the ability to discern Him from it. This would also hold true for the individual who suffers from a severe mental handicap from birth. Along these lines, then, it can be argued that certain individuals are with excuse. Though they are born like all of mankind into a state of sin, grace and mercy are perfectly extended to them, for God pities them and chooses on His own accord to regenerate them into newness of life.

A second question might then arise: at what age does a child grow to be without excuse? This is admittedly a harder question to answer, and I understand that this position does open the door to an “age of accountability” debate. Perhaps it is best to simply note that a child gains his faculties to reason when the Lord grants it. When that is, I do not know. What I do know is that God loves children, and everything He does is wholly wise and wholly good.

As for me, I will continue to worship with my family in the house of the Lord. I am confident that I will see Seraph, my unborn child when I join him in the presence of our God.

For further reading
Calvin, Twisse, and Edwards on the Universal Salvation of Those Dying in Infancy by John Weldon Stagg
When a Baby Dies by Ronald H. Nash
Infant Salvation: The Passivity of Infants, the Key to This Perplexing Subject by Milton Jacob Firey
The Development of the Doctrine of Infant Salvation by Benjamin B. Warfield
Austin Rouse

Austin Rouse

Austin Rouse is the Pastor of Families and Students at Southern Heights Baptist Church in Russellville, KY, where he and his wife, Addie, reside with their two children, Naomi and Tommy. He will graduate from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this fall with his BA in Biblical Studies and is on track to graduate with his M.Div in the fall of 2024. Austin shepherds Southern Heights in the areas of family worship and discipleship, mission strategization, corporate worship, and student ministry, and co-hosts The Council podcast with a fellow elder of the church.

January 29, 2024

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