‘Since Jesus said, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin…” (Jn. 9:41), and since James said, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17); infants are, therefore, morally innocent. This is because they don’t yet know right from wrong and they cannot yet know right from wrong. They have “no knowledge between good and evil” (Deut. 1:39) and do not yet “know to refuse the evil, and choose the good” (Isa. 7:15-16). Consequently, infants haven’t yet made any moral choices. Infants have not yet “done any good or evil” (Rom. 9:11). Without moral knowledge, you cannot have moral obligation or make moral choices. And without moral obligation and without moral choices, you cannot have moral character. It is impossible for infants to have moral knowledge due to the undeveloped state of their minds. Therefore, in their case, ignorance does equal innocence. Their ignorant state is not criminal since it is unintentional and unavoidable.
Since infants are without moral knowledge, moral obligation, moral choices, and consequently without moral character, they are exempt from the wrath of God. Only those who have a developed mind or have enough knowledge are “without excuse” before God (Rom. 1:20). The “wrath of God” is coming upon those who “hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). That means that God’s wrath is against those who possess the truth and yet are sinning anyway. Infants, therefore, have an excuse for their behavior and are not under the wrath of God because they do not yet possess moral knowledge of right and wrong.
The moral accountability of each individual is proportionate to the knowledge that they have. “Very I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matt. 10:15). Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, were not under moral obligation to obey the gospel because they had no knowledge of the gospel. It was impossible for them to possess such knowledge. But as soon as the gospel was known to those cities that Jesus preached to, they became obligated to obey that knowledge. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Lk. 12:48). Since infants do not have any moral knowledge whatsoever, they are not accountable or responsible to God at all.
Since infants are without moral knowledge, without moral obligation, and without moral choices, this adequately explains why the Bible explicitly describes infants as morally “innocent” (2 Kin. 21:16; 24:4; Jer. 13:26-27; Ps. 106:37-38; Matt. 18:3). When Bible talks about the shedding of “innocent blood” (2 Kin. 21:16), the context of this passage is child sacrifices. It says that King Manasseh “made his son pass through the fire” (2 Kin. 21:16). That is, he sacrificed his innocent child upon the altar of a false god. God had commanded, “thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire of Molech” (Lev. 18:21).
That is why it says that King Manasseh did “after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel” (2 Kin. 21:2). King Manasseh practiced the same abominable rituals that the heathen, who used to occupy the land, did by sacrificing innocent children to Molech. God had specifically commanded, “When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire” (Deut. 18:9-10). It was the heathen practice of the former occupants of the land to sacrifice innocent children. It says of King Manasseh, “But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel” (2 Kin. 16:3).
Since King Manasseh sacrificed children, it says that he “shed” “innocent blood” (2 Kin. 24:4). Clearly, God views infants as morally innocent. According to the meaning of the Hebrew word “innocent” in this passage, God was literally calling infants “blameless,” “clean,” and “guiltless.” This means that children are not blameworthy, filthy, or guilty.
Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4). God’s law forbids selfishness or self-centeredness by forbidding us from loving ourselves supremely or loving ourselves above our fellow man. It commands benevolence supremely toward God and equally toward our neighbor (Lk. 10:27). Both selfishness and benevolence are choices of the will. They are the motives and intentions of the heart. Therefore, sin at its essence is the choice, motive, or intention of selfishness; while obedience at its essence is the choice, motive, or intention of benevolence.
All men naturally know that benevolence is morally right and that selfishness is morally wrong.
God’s problem with men is that they have freely and personally chosen to go their own way and to be sinners (Gen. 6:12, Ex. 32:7, Deut. 9:12, Deut. 32:5, Jdg. 2:19, Hos. 9:9, Ps. 14:2-3, Isa. 53:6, Ecc. 7:29, Rom. 3:23, Rom. 5:12). The Bible says, “All welike sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). The phrase “gone astray” and “we have turned” indicates individual volition or personal deliberation. Men are sinners because they choose to sin. Sinners are deliberate rebels against the moral government of God.
– A sinner is someone who chooses to sin.
– Men are sinners.
– Therefore, men are sinners by choice; men are sinners because they choose to sin.
(…) Only the morally innocent can become guilty, only the morally clean can “become filthy.” This description of the sinful state of man describes a degenerate state, one which they have “gone back” into. It is not a state that we were helplessly born into but a state that we have deliberately chosen to become or fall into. It says that they “become” this way. Men “become” sinners when they choose to sin.
Ignatius said, “If anyone is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice.”
Origen said, “The Scriptures…emphasize the freedom of the will. They condemn those who sin, and approve those who do right… We are responsible for being bad and worthy of being cast outside. For it is not the nature in us that is the cause of the evil; rather, it is the voluntary choice that works evil.”
Tatian said that because of “freedom of choice… the bad man can be justly punished, having become depraved through his own fault.”
Clement of Alexandria said about sinners, “…their estrangement is the result of free choice.”
Theodore of Mopsuestia denied the concept “that men sin by nature, not by choice.”
Gregory of Nyssa said, “For that any one should become wicked, depends solely upon choice.”
We see then that men are sinners, not because they have a corrupted and ruined nature which makes them sin or which is sinful itself, but because free will is a faculty of their nature and they use that faculty to choose to sin. (…)
A sinner has nobody to blame for his sinfulness but himself. God has made sin avoidable by giving us a free will and God has influenced us not to sin by making conscience part of our nature; but despite the efforts of God, mankind has sinned anyway. “God hath made men upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc. 7:29). God’s problem with men is not with their constitutional abilities but with how they are using their constitutional abilities. Our sin cannot be blamed on anything behind our will, outside of our will, or independent of our will. Our will itself is the cause of sin. It is in our will that sin originates.
The Bible says, “And the Lord said… they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Jesus taught, “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, we WILL NOT have this man to reign over us” (Lk. 19:14). These citizens had rebellious hearts against their ruler. They had disobedient wills. Their problem was not their nature or with their constitutional abilities. Their problem was their will. It is not that they could not obey God, but that they would not obey God. It was a moral problem, not a constitutional problem. Men are sinners through the liberty of their will, not through a necessity of their nature. Again Jesus taught, “But those mine enemies, which WOULD NOT that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27). Jesus said that their problem was their will, not their nature. Their problem was not inability, but how they were using their ability. Jesus didn’t say that they “could not” but that they “would not.” That is precisely why it is just for Jesus to slay them. They could submit to His reign but refuse to. Therefore, they rightly and justly deserve punishment.
If they could not obey, however, it would not be right or just to command them to obey or to punish them for not doing so. It would be as cruel as punishing the lame for not walking or to punish the blind for not seeing. Sinners are objects of God’s wrath for sinning because they choose to sin when they don’t have to. God does not punish sinners because they couldn’t obey Him, which would be a fault of their nature, which they have no control over. God punishes sinners because they wouldn’t obey Him, which is a fault of their will, which they themselves cause. God told Israel, “As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye WOULD NOT be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:20). Sinners are punishable, not because they were not capable of obeying God, but because they were not willing to obey God.
Justin Martyr said, “We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishment, chastisement, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is our own power. For if it is predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise and the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions – whatever they may be … for neither would a man be worthy of praise if he did not himself choose the good, but was merely created for that end. Likewise, if a man were created evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.”
Walter Arthur Copinger said, “If we were shut up, so to speak, by a moral necessity, our actions would lose their quality of moral or immoral. Praise and blame, reward and punishment uniformly imply that we consider the individual who is the recipient of such to be a free and responsible agent – that we deem it quite possible he might have acted otherwise than he did: and so soon as we discover that he acted under compulsion, whether arising from a physical or moral necessity, we no longer estimate his conduct or judge his actions by the standard of duty. All just ground of punishment… would be gone…”
God had seen so much wickedness from mankind because of the influence of the devil that it is no wonder that when Job was an upright and perfect man, God took the occasion to boast about him to the devil (Job 1:8). But when God was boasting to the devil of the moral purity of Job, the devil knew that Job’s uprightness and moral perfection was volitional and, therefore, he sought to bring about circumstances which would influence Job to choose to curse God and die (Job 1:9-12). The devil knew that Job was living holy by choice. Therefore, he thought to influence Job to change his choice. It would make no sense for God to praise Job for his character or for the devil to try to influence him to change his character, unless his character was determined by his free choice. But just as it would make no sense to praise a being for being holy and righteous unless he was voluntarily holy and righteous by choice, unless he was free to be otherwise, so also it makes no sense to punish a being for being wicked and evil unless he was voluntarily wicked and evil by choice and was free to be otherwise.
Theodorite said, “For how can He punish [with endless torments] a nature which had no power to do good, but was bound in the hands of wickedness?”
Irenaeus said, “Those who do not do it [good] will receive the just judgment of God, because they had not worked good when they had it in their power to do so. But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for they were created that way. Nor would the former be reprehensible, for that is how they were made. However, all men are of the same nature. They are all able to hold fast and to go what is good. On the other hand, they have the power to cast good from them and not to do it.”
John Fletcher said, “As to the moral agency of man, Mr. Wesley thinks it cannot be denied upon the principles of common sense and civil government; much less upon those of natural and revealed religion; as nothing would be more absurd than to bind us by laws of a civil or spiritual nature; nothing more foolish than to propose to us punishments and rewards; and nothing more capricious than to inflict the one or bestow the other upon us; if we were not moral agents.” ‘
Source: Jesse Morrell, “Are Babies Sinful or Innocent?” (biblicaltruthresources)
I cut out certain parts because I do not agree with the general idea of Moral Government Theology that all human beings became sinners when they reached the age of accountability. If this were true, it seems like that committing the first sin would be an unavoidable voluntary choice, which to me seems to be a contradiction of terms.