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.
Since faith is infinitely beyond all the power of our unregenerated human nature, it is only God who can give the spiritual ears to hear and eyes to see the beauty of Christ in the gospel. God alone disarms the hostility of the sinner turning his heart of stone to a heart of flesh. So the problem of conversion is not with the Word or God's Law but with man's prideful heart. The humility required to submit to the gospel (which is beyond man's natural capacity) is, therefore, not prompted by man's will but by God's mercy (John 1:13; Rom 9:16) since no one can believe the gospel unless God grants it (John 6:63, 65). The Spirit must likewise give all His people spiritual life and understanding if their hearts are to be opened and thus respond to Christ in faith.
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."
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 and without the cooperation of fallen 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.
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 alone for our salvation. As long as we think we contributed something, even a little bit (like good intentions) then we still think deep down that God saves us for something good he sees in us over our neighbor. But this is clearly not the case. Only Jesus makes us to differ from anyone else. We are all sinners and can boast in nothing before God, including the desire for faith in Christ (Phil 1:29, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 2:25). For why do we have faith and not our neighbor? Please 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 in Christ that makes us to differ from our neighbor and God's grace alone that gave rise to our faith, not because we were better or had more insight. No other element but Jesus mercy alone.
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, by definition, it would not longer be mercy. This should not surprise us ... what should surprise us is God's amazing love, that He would save a sinner like me at all.
For those who want to dig deeper into monergism, study the following essays:
Two Views of Regeneration by John Hendryx (See this helpful chart for clarity)
What is Monergism? by John Hendryx
Monergism vs. Synergism by John Hendryx
This is a full-length in-depth essay on the biblical doctrine of monergistic regeneration as compared with synergism.
Regeneration by J.I. Packer
Biblical Regeneration and Affectional Theology by John Hendryx
Responding to Critics of Monergism: Passages Which Show Receiving the Sprit After Faith by John Hendryx
A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine
A Sermon by Jonathan Edwards
God's Great Mercy and Our New Birth by John Piper
A Defense of Monergistic Regeneration by Gannon Murphy
A Prayer That a Synergist Won't Pray by John Hendryx
The Necessity of the Spirit's Work (1859) by C. H. Spurgeon
The New Genesis by R.C. Sproul
Ordo Salutis @monergism
Which Christians believe this? historical and contemporary references
Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther (who considered this doctrine the heart of the Reformation), John Calvin, John Owen, the Puritans of the 17th century, Augustine, George Whitefield, and some contemporary pastors and theologians such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, J.I. Packer, James Montgomery Boice, and signatories to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.