A Simple Explanation of Monergism
by John Hendryx
Monergism simply means that it is God who gives ears to hear and eyes to see. It is God alone who gives illumination and understanding of His word that we might believe; It is God who raises us from the dead, who circumcises the heart; unplugs our ears; It is God alone who can give us a new sense that we may, at last, have the moral capacity to behold His beauty and unsurpassed excellency. The apostle John recorded Jesus saying to Nicodemus that we naturally love darkness, hate the light and WILL NOT come into the light (John 3:19, 20). And since our hardened resistance to God is thus seated in our affections, only God, by His grace, can lovingly change, overcome and disarm our rebellious disposition. The natural man, apart from the quickening work of the Holy Spirit, will not come to Christ on his own since he is at enmity with God and cannot understand spiritual things. Shining a light into a blind man’s eyes will not enable his to see, since, as we all know, sight requires new eyes or some restoration of his visual faculty. Likewise, reading or hearing the word of God itself cannot elicit saving faith in the reader (or hearer) unless the Spirit first “germinates” the seed of the word in the heart, so to speak, which then infallibly gives rise to our faith and union with Christ. Like unto Lydia whom “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul,” (Acts 16:14) He must also give all His people spiritual life and understanding if their hearts are to be open and thus turn (respond) to Christ in faith.
Definition The Century Dictionary’s definition of monergism may be helpful: ”In theology, [monergism is] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration [the new birth] – that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated [born again], and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.”
Etymology The word “monergism” consists of two main parts. The Greek prefix “mono” signifies “one”, “single”, or “alone” while the suffix “ergon” means “to work”. Taken together it means “the work of one”.
Very simply, then, monergism is the doctrine that our new birth (or “quickening”) is the work of God, the Holy Spirit alone, with no contribution of man, since the natural man, of himself, has no desire for God and cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11,12; Rom 8:7; John 3:19, 20). Man remains resistant to all outward callings of the gospel until the Spirit comes to disarm us, call us inwardly and implant in us new holy affections for God. Our faith comes about only as the immediate result of the Spirit working faith in us in the hearing of the proclamation of the word. But just as God does not force us to see against our will when He gives us physical eyes, so God does not force us to believe against our will when giving us spiritual eyes. God gives the gift of sight and we willingly exercise it.
Application Monergism strips us of all hope to ourselves, reveals our spiritual bankruptcy, apart from Christ, and thus leads us to give all glory to God for our salvation. As long as we think we contributed something, even a little bit (like good intentions) then we still think God saves us for something good he sees in us over our neighbor. But this is clearly not the case. We are all sinners and can boast in nothing before God, including the desire to have faith in Christ (Phil 1:29, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 2:25). For why do we have faith and not our neighbor? Consider that. Did we make better use of God’s grace than he did? Were we smarter? More sensitive? Do some naturally love God? The answer is ‘no’ to all of the above. It is God’s grace that makes us to differ from our neighbor and God’s grace that gave rise to our faith, not because we were better or had more insight.
The fact is that when the Spirit enables us to see that we fail to live up to God’s holy law, man will utterly despair of himself. Then, as C.H. Spurgeon said:
“… the Holy Spirit comes and shows the sinner the cross of Christ, gives him eyes anointed with heavenly eye-salve, and says, “Look to yonder cross. That Man died to save sinners; you feel you are a sinner; He died to save you.” And then the Holy Spirit enables the heart to believe, and come to Christ.”
To conclude, “…no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) . …who is the deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5). Thus it should become plain to us that not everyone receives this redemptive blessing from Christ. God bestows it mercifully on whom He will according to His sovereign good pleasure (Rom 9:15-18; Eph 1:4, 5). The rest will continue in their willful rebellion, making choices according to their natural desires and thus receive the wrath of God’s justice. That is why it is called “mercy” – not getting what we deserve. If God were obligated to give it to all men then it would not longer be mercy by definition. This should not surprise us … what should surprise us is God’s amazing love, that He would save a sinner like me at all.