According to my one-time hero John Calvin, infants by nature are “odious” and “an abomination to God, their very natures being a seed-bed of sin” (Institutes of the Christian Religion: Second Book Chapter 1 para 8). That supported the so-called “Doctor of Grace” Augustine’s assertion that mankind’s will is united in evil intent from his birth, having been turned to the will of Satan [cf. Confessions – F J Sheed Book7/ XXI]. Children dying without baptism, he believed, must endure sensual pain (Latin:paena sensus) for all eternity, albeit of a mild variety (cf. New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: “Unbaptised infants” – Para 2 ). If you check out this observation taken from his autobiographical account (“Confessions”), you will note that Augustine derived his assertion concerning fallen man’s nature being united in evil (i.e. both in action and intention) in the context of Romans7:15-23, which I now understand to be teaching quite the contrary, namely a form of anthropological dualism arising from the disparate immediate origins of body and soul/spirit.
This in turn relates to the nature of “original sin”, which is certainly a reality according to Scripture (Rom5:14) – the contention being whether Adam’s guilt is imputed to the new-born such that they are created in a state of condemnation (as the Western Church has largely taught) or, as I now understand Paul to be indicating, whether the spirit/soul is derived from God, pure but violable and planted within a procreated intellectual vessel contaminated (indeed governed) by sin, resulting in an inner conflict between the light of Christ influencing the conscience pertaining to the spirit or inner man (cf. Rom7:22, Jn1:9) and the concupiscent impulses of the human senses processed through the brain pertaining to the “flesh” or “body of this death” as Paul refers to the temporary vessel / tent discarded at death (2Cor5:1; 1Thes4:4 cf. 2Pet1:13,14 )
In terms of Jesus’ regard for little children (whom in the context of Mt18:1-6 cannot be referring to adult believers), He would appear to have a quite different perspective from the aforementioned spiritual masters: “Except you turn and become as little children you shall not enter into the rule of the heavens” (v3 Greek).
So what would be the distinctive features of a young child which the Lord would have His disciples emulate? It is surely a humble acknowledgement of one’s need for guidance, provision and discipline from Father God and Mother Church; a sweet and intuitive simplicity, credulity, a sense of wonder and a keenness to please. What a young child certainly does not possess is a sense of self-loathing or conviction of moral impotency. And nor should he, for looking intently into the eyes of an infant one is observing the windows of a soul newly supplied by God and enlightened by Christ; not one who is odious and an abomination to God or one whose will is in accordance with the will of Satan. Nevertheless, that child, except he goes on to receive the grace of Christ through the gospel will soon have to acknowledge that though he instinctively admires in others what is good (compassion, kindness, sacrificial love, courage etc.) and desires to do what is right himself, “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members”.
Of course he is unlikely to express the matter in such Pauline terms but that will be the reality: an admiration for what is good and a desire to do some good but failure consistently to practice it. Such is not “total depravity” but neither is it the Life that God intends for those beings made in His image: “For THIS is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3 NKJV). That is to be made free indeed by the Son to serve the living God. Such are the exclusive privileges of those baptized into Christ and faithful to their calling. Yet all children are precious in God’s sight, their angels forever beholding the face of my Father which is in Heaven (v10).
Much of the above is almost diametrically opposed to what I was brought up to believe and will appear heretical to many, but it is what I believe I have been shown by the Spirit and it coheres seamlessly with the rest of my interpretations set out in “The Fellowship of the Secret” (free PDF HERE)