This Week's Focus Passage

Luke 6:10 ‘Stretch forth thy hand.’

Luke 6:10 ‘Stretch forth thy hand.’

And it came to pass on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man there, and his right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the Sabbath; that they might find how to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man that had his hand withered, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. And Jesus said unto them, I ask you, Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to destroy it? And he looked round about on them all, and said unto him, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored. —Luke 6:6-10

We are rather accustomed to the illustration regarding ‘man taking that last step.’ In other words, as part of the invitation system, men (women and children also) are taught that, in sending His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world, God has done all that he can. He gave His only-begotten Son to satisfy His justice which stood against sinners. Christ obediently went to the cross and was slain, the Just for the unjust, in order that we might be saved. Christ has done all that He could.

‘The rest is now up to you,’ the hearers are told. ‘You must make the right decision.’ ‘You must take that last step.’

George Smeaton, in showing how Semi-Pelagianism (the forerunner of Arminianism) originated, states that “Augustine’s unanswerable polemic had so fully discredited Pelagianism in the field of argument, that it could no longer be made plausible to the Christian mind. It collapsed. But a new system soon presented itself, teaching that man with his own natural powers is able to take the first step toward his conversion, and that this obtains or merits the Spirit’s assistance. Cassian….was the founder of the middle way, which came to be called SEMI-PELAGIANISM, because it occupied intermediate ground between Pelagianism and Augustinianism, and took in elements from both. He acknowledged that Adam’s sin extended to his posterity, and that human nature was corrupted by original sin. But, on the other hand, he held a system of universal grace for all men alike, making the final decision in the case of every individual dependent on the exercise of free-will.” speaking of those who followed Cassian, Smeaton continues, “they held that the first movement of the will in the assent of faith must be ascribed to the natural powers of the human mind. This was their primary error. Their maxim was: ‘it is mine to be willing to believe, and it is part of God’s grace to assist.”

The above underlines the essence of Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. It may enable us to understand that, rather than the biblical teaching of monergism in salvation, both the system of Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism are synergistic. That is to say that they hold that salvation is a co-operative work between God and man. They contend, as we have written above, that God has done His part, and man must take the final step of faith to actually be saved. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in referring to this teaching in a sermon, used an illustration. He spoke of a particular ‘saint’ of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church who was martyred for his faith; he was beheaded. Rome’s fantastic claim is that he picked up his head and walked with it the nearly one thousand miles to the Vatican. Spurgeon’s astute observation was to simply say, ‘If you could convince me that he took the first step, I could then believe your tale.’

  1. H. S. was bringing to bear the glaring, insuperable, difference between the Arminian teaching that man has only been ‘wounded’ by the fall of Adam, and the Reformed doctrine of ‘total depravity’ that man is completely and absolutely depraved. He is unable to take even that first step. Man is not simply wounded and in need of repair, but Paul insists, in Ephesians 2:1, upon the biblical fact that man is dead in sins and trespasses. His need is not that of some form of prescription given for healing, but the need of mankind is that spoken to Nicodemus by Christ Himself. Ye must be born anew, again, from above. Can the Ethiopian change his skin? No! Can the leopard change his spots? No! Can man regenerate his heart? No! Can he enter his mother’s womb and be born again? No! But:

The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.—John 3:8.

But how was this crippled man in our focus passage able to ‘stretch forth his hand’? The common axiom of the Arminian against the teaching that man is totally depraved is that ‘God cannot justly command what a man cannot do.’ Augustine of Hippo had responded to this in the 5th century when responding to Pelagius, and saying pithily:

“Lord, grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.” Does this not perfectly apply to what we read in Luke 6? There was a man in the synagogue with his right hand withered. When and where it became withered we are not told. It may have been so from birth, but the point is that he had not the ability to stretch it forth. Yet that is the very thing that Christ required him to do. And he did so is all that we are told. God gave him what he commanded and commanded what he willed. How could Christ command what the man could not do? He knew it would be given.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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