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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"Children in the Hands of the Arminians" (Part One)

B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) is widely hailed as one of America's greatest theologians.  I certainly think so.  His books have remained in near-continuous publication since his death in February, 1921.  Although dead for nearly 100 years, Warfield remains a theological force with which to be reckoned.

As professor of polemical and didactic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary--a fancy title, which translates into "if it is worth discussing or needs to be refuted, go for it"--Warfield published 781 book reviews over his long and exceedingly productive career.  This is an amazing feat when one considers that many of these reviews are often quite substantial and the book under review often times was a German, French, or (dare I say it) even a Dutch publication.

Some of Warfield's reviews are published in his collected works, while many are not.  There are other gems from the "Lion of Princeton" that remain hidden away in obscure journals and publications.  I thought it might be of interest to bring some of these to light (as my time allows and your interest in them dictates).

I will break up these Warfield essays and reviews into "bite-size" pieces with my own annotations (limited to where I think a comment is necessary or interesting).

The first of these gems I have chosen is Warfield's "Review" of The Child as God's Child, by Rev. Charles W. Rishell, Ph. D., Professor of Historical Theology in Boston University School of Theology. New York: Eaton & Mains. Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham (1904). 

Warfield's review of Rishell's book was originally published in vol. xvii of the Union Seminary Magazine, 1904.  Warfield entitled his review, "Children in the Hands of the Arminians.


Prof. Charles W. Rishell, of Boston University, has written a very interesting little book on the relation of little children to Christianity and to the Christian Church [see bibliogrphical details above]. The object he has set before him is the very laudable one of pleading for the religious education of children. In order to give force to his pleading he argues the possibility of religion in children of the tenderest years. He insists on the importance for them of religious instruction and example. He demands of the church recognition of their church membership and provision for their care and development as children of God with the same right to the privileges of God's Church as other members. As he expresses it, he pleads with the Church "to count the children in, not out."

The inclusion of children in Reformed worship is a near-universal practice.  Children of believers are considered to be baptized, but not professing members (as are their parents).  Often times Reformed churches provide nurseries or "cry-rooms" for those little ones still too young to sit through an hour long (or longer) worship service.  As soon as children are physically able, they should be included and involved when the people of God assemble for Lord's Day worship.  This includes their participation in the singing of God's praises, the hearing of God's word, and corporate prayer.  They should also witness (until they are properly catechized and make a credible profession of faith) the members of the church participating in the Lord's Supper.

One of the most unfortunate practices found throughout today's evangelicalism is to exile children to "children's church" (or similar).  This is done, we are often told, so they do not disrupt the worship service.  I once heard a prominent local pastor complain that the presence of children in worship interferes with the Holy Spirit's work.  He claimed the noise and confusion generated by children make evangelism or "getting into the Spirit" nearly impossible.  I fully agree with Dr. Robert Godfrey, when he refers to the noise and sound of children in worship as "sounds of the covenant." 

Warfield agrees with Rev. Rishell's stress upon church's role in reaching children in "their tenderest years."  We can only imagine what BBW would say in response to today's wide-spread practice of excluding children from Lord's Day worship.

The significance of the book is that it emanates from Arminian circles and reasons from Arminian postulates. This is its significance; and this is its weakness. There is no other system of belief of widespread influence in the churches to which it is not a commonplace and mere matter of course that children are capable of religious life from their very earliest years, and ought to be recognized from their infancy as members of Christ's Church and brought up in its fold and under its fostering care. There is no other system of belief of widespread influence in the churches to which these principles are logically so unconformable. Professor Rishell has undertaken a most important task in pleading for them in Arminian circles. He has undertaken a task difficult to the verge of impossibility in pleading for them on Arminian principles.

Elsewhere, Warfield describes the Arminian language of "allowing the Holy Spirit to work upon the heart, say, as one employs a carpenter to do work for you" as terribly problematic (see Warfield's "Review" of L. S. Chafer's "He That Is Spiritual").  Warfield appreciates the author's candor in approaching the topic from his Arminian perspective, which, as Warfield chides, is an almost impossible task upon Arminian presuppositions, for reasons spelled out below.

The children certainly must be a source of gravest concern to a consistently Arminian reasoner. The fundamental principle of Arminianism is that salvation hangs upon a free, intelligent choice of the individual will; that salvation is, in fact, the result of the acceptance of God by man, rather than of the acceptance of man by God. The logic of this principle involves in hopeless ruin all who, by reason of tenderness of years, are incapable of making such a choice. On this teaching, all those who die in infancy should perish, while those who survive the years of immaturity might just as well be left to themselves until they arrive at the age of intelligent option.

Since Arminian theology is grounded in a supposed universal prevenient grace, Warfield points out the inconsistency in applying this notion to children not yet mature enough to respond to the gospel.  Many in our time solve this dilemma through the invention of a so-called and mythical age of accountability, in which children must be considered "innocent" before God until they reach that moment of maturity and spiritual development in which they can take advantage of this prevenient grace and then decide for themselves whether or not to "follow Jesus," and accept him as one's personaLordandSavior. 

But if children are not "innocent" because they participate in Adam's fall with its guilt and corruption, then they must be in grave peril of eternal loss until the presumed age of accountability (whatever that might be) is reached.  The Arminian problem is that saving grace is not universal, but human sinfulness and guilt are.  Here is the dilemma--if salvation depends upon an act of the human will, how can children be expected to "choose" Jesus during these "tender years?"  The only recourse is to delcare them "innocent."  But if they are not, then what? 

As he is apt to do, Warfield fleshes this out further by pressing the Arminian to be faithful to the consequences of his or her own position.

Let no one suppose that we are insinuating that our Arminian brethren live on these principles. They are far from doing this. They people heaven with infants who die in infancy; infants who are saved by the sovereign grace of God operating quite independently of co-operation on their own part. Infants dying in infancy certainly cannot "improve grace." And that is to say, those who die in infancy, if they are saved at all, must be saved on the Calvinistic principle of monergistic grace. And it is not to be believed that our Arminian brethren neglect the religious training of their children more than other Christians.

The Armianian who suffers the tragic loss of a child will do as all Christians do--trust the grace and Mercy of God (specifically, the merits of Jesus) to save their children.  While thankful for it, Warfield points out the striking inconsistency.  Rev. Rishell too senses the tension here and urges Arminian parents to devote themselves to the instruction of their children--apparently an issue in the churches with which he was affiliated.

It must be confessed, however, that Professor Rishell brings grievous charges against what, from his representations, may be a considerable party in his church. He charges that they prosecute the religious training of their children with some degree of listlessness, on wrong presuppositions, and, in wide circles, with no firmly-grounded expectation that it will bear particularly rich fruit.

Thankfully, many evangelical parents are faithful in their efforts to instruct their children in the Christian faith.  Sadly, too many Reformed Christians are not.  But Warfield's reminder of the inconsistency in the Arminian system means (as we will see) that children ought to be "counted out," until "they count themselves in."  When Arminians treat their children as church members and participants in the covenant they do not have the proper theological categories to do so.  No wonder Rev. Rishell laments the widespread neglect of the spiritual development (catechesis) of the children of believers.

End of Part One -- More to Follow

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