God at Work
Friday of Easter 4
17 May 2019
Augustine of Hippo has the theory that infants do not have actual sin. So, even though Scripture attributes original sin and its guilt to the tiniest infant, he thinks that they have not committed any actual transgressions of the law. On the basis of this opinion, it is perfectly clear that Augustine never had the responsibility of caring for a newborn. Who, after caring for an infant, comes to the conclusion that children are perfectly innocent; that they commit no sin? Think of the incessant and self-centered demands made by a newborn child and made at all hours of day and night. In his pre-Christian days, Augustine did father a child by a woman who was not his wife. Shockingly, Augustine never mentions her name in his voluminous writings, but his son's name was Adeodatus. Adeodatus must have remained in the exclusive care of his anonymous mother until his childhood was over. If Augustine had done the work of a proper father, he would have had no doubt about infants perpetrating actual sin.
Not only does Augustine's opinion fail at the level of human experience, but it also fails to account for the biblical data about the sinfulness of all persons. He presumed that there is a time of innocence during which, though being a sinner, the infant does not sin. The infant then is for some time caught in the limbo between original sin and actual sin. He is a sinner, but has not yet sinned. While this is theoretically possible, such a quasi-neutral position in not having yet sinned is deemed impossible by the divine Word. A bad tree bears bad fruit (Mt 7:18). That which is not of faith is sin (Rm 14:23). There is no neutrality possible. Despite Augustine's strange opinion about neutrality between sin and righteousness, he recognized that there could be no reason to baptize infants if they did not partake of original sin. Only sinners who receive the divine righteousness enter the kingdom of heaven. This alone demanded that infants be baptized.
Augustine posited the necessity of infant baptism because the Lord Himself had said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32). The Lord has built his kingdom only for sinners, only for those who are incapable of entry to it on the basis of their own righteousness or their alleged freedom from sin. The Lord calls into His kingdom only those who are sinners and has pronounced the blessed (Ps 32:1). If, according to Augustine's theory, infants have not yet sinned, then they need to be baptized because they are sinners, that is, through the inherited sin and guilt of Adam. In this he is only half right. They need to be baptized for both reasons. Children are the paradigmatic case of salvation because they are incapable of contributing anything to their salvation. They are the truly humble of which the Bible speaks, when it says that God exalts the humble (Lk 1:52). This is the grace of God at work.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Augustine of Hippo
"Let no one suppose that infants ought to be brought to baptism, even though they are neither sinners, nor righteous. How then do some remind us that the Lord commends this tender age as meritorious; saying, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven' (Mt 19:14)? For if this ['to such'] is not said because of likeness in humility (since humility makes [us] children), but because of the laudable life of children, then of course infants must be righteous persons. Otherwise, it could not be correctly said, 'To such belongs the kingdom of heaven,' for heaven can only belong to the righteous. But perhaps, after all, it is not a right opinion of the meaning of the Lord's words, to make Him commend the life of infants when He says, 'To such belongs the kingdom of heaven;' inasmuch as that may be, their true sense of these words, which makes Christ sets forth the tender age of infancy as a likeness of humility. Perhaps we must revert to the principle which I mentioned just now, that infants ought to be baptized, because, although they are not sinners, because they are not yet righteous. But when He had said as if responding to this: 'I have not come to call the righteous' (Lk 5:32), whom, then, did He come to call? Immediately He goes on to say: 'but sinners to repentance.' Therefore it follows, that, however righteous they may be, if also they are not sinners, He came not to call them, who said of Himself: 'I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.' They therefore seem, not vainly only, but even wickedly to rush to the baptism of Him who does not invite them, an opinion which God forbid that we should entertain, He calls them, then, as a Physician who is not needed for those that are whole, but for those that are sick; and who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Now, inasmuch as infants are not held bound by any sins of their own actual life, it is the guilt of original sin which is healed in them by the grace of Him who saves them by the font of regeneration."

 Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and the Baptism of Infants, 1.24
Titus 3:3-11

We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have shared the power of Your life and death in the washing with water through the Word. Lead us to be faithful to You that we might bring to Your font infants, whom Your Word has pronounced to be sinners, that they might receive Your abundant grace and the forgiveness of sins according to Your promise. Free us from all doubt, that we might trust your extraordinary grace and not our own opinions. Amen.
For Michael Koutsodontis, that he would be blessed by God with strength and confidence in His gracious God
For the faculty of Memorial Lutheran School, that they would be strengthened in their vocation

For those who have been taught to despise the gifts given by God through holy baptism, that they would learn and find hope in the extraordinary grace of God given through the water connected with God's Word and promise
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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