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By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
January 23, 2013

The fundamental issue between monergism and synergism is as to why some persons are recipients of grace and others are not. This is the high mystery of divine election. The mystery as to what determines the divine preference (not due to human worth, merit or potential) cannot be penetrated by the human mind, but the fact can be stated. It is plain in Scripture.

Some individuals are brought into union with Christ and others, equally undeserving, with no claims on God and not desirous of fellowship with him, remain separated from him.

Monergism asserts that regeneration is a prerequisite to inclusion in Christ. Synergism avers a co-operative process whereby grace and human effort (or willing) jointly succeed in connecting the sinner to the Saviour. Monergism emphasizes the absolute and sole efficacy of the divine will in the exercise of divine power in bringing the soul to faith or divine favour.

Synergism attributes the attainment of or failure to gain salvation to the human will and its independent and crucial determination. We have only two options. Grace makes persons to differ, or man makes himself to differ i.e. the human will may endorse or frustrate the divine exertion of grace. Either grace or human choice differentiates between the redeemed and the lost. Synergism can only prevail as the true Christian answer if the two following considerations are viable.

a) That fallen man, spiritually dead, wholly opposed to God and righteousness, still retains the native capacity to overcome total spiritual inertia, successfully counter the natural tendency to be attracted by the allurements of sin that capture the affections, break the bonds of slavery to evil and Satan, and replace hatred for the Lord with fervent love and eager submission. Man has to crash through multiple barriers to return to God, and yet each one singly is an insuperable obstacle for a creature utterly helpless to muster up any strength to perform spiritual good: I am ruined (Isaiah), There is no health in us (BCP). Man cannot will his own salvation by a nature that is irreversibly biased to perpetual waywardness: The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" Genesis 6:5, The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any that understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside , they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one Psalm 14:2, We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way Isaiah 53:6a. You cannot freely will what you despise and dislike. Aversion to God cannot be altered to affection for God by any human effort, strain as we might, we do not care to. It would mean a drastic denial of self, a voluntary death to self, that the sinful ego cannot for a moment entertain. We are compelled to preserve ourselves as we are and as we want to be. Only grace takes us out of ourselves and the illusory normality to which we are accustomed. We are stranded on the precipice of doom because of our ingrained bias to serve self, sin, and the devil. This unholy Trinity has us totally tied up, with the likeness of the devil stamped upon our souls, and his likes fuelling ours.

b) That the Lord restores a universal liberty of choice to man which some employ to their benefit and others to the baneful consequences of eternal alienation from the favorable presence of God. In other words, the will is thought to be in a state of equipoise between righteousness and wickedness and some incline freely to the former and some to the latter. But the puzzle persists: what makes them to differ? Manifestly this donation of prevenient grace as possibility of choosing Christ is not decisive. The difference has to be in men. Why do some, in that case, have the good sense to tilt in favor of fellowship with God (a choice impossible to nature), while some foolishly fall into perdition. From where does spiritual talent for the right choice ultimately come?

The Wesleyan and current Lutheran contention, in contradiction of Martin himself, that all have power to refuse and nullify the purpose of God does not resolve the mystery of election (which it attempts to explain - who is probing the divine motivation here?) and does not alleviate the supposed problem of election in any way. It only staves it off very temporarily and it makes a nonsense of the doctrine propounded in Scripture which teaches us that God elects unconditionally and not with reference to qualities in man. The schema in Romans 8:29 happens to be foreknowledge [prior personal love], predestination [marking out the beloved, Acts 13:48], and effectual calling [ laying claim to the beloved, cf Genesis 18:19, For I have known, or chosen, Abraham].

Of course, grace can be refused by all, and is, up to a point, but not by the elect ultimately. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me (John 6:44-45, human response to set purpose).

Monergism does not deny free will but fully accepts that before regeneration it will turn only in the direction of evil rebellion against the living God. Those taught by God are those caught by God and dragged (see G.C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, pages 47-8) into the kingdom by the gospel net, the sense of the quotation from John (cf James 2:6), a likely image from a fisherman who dragged and pulled many nets. Monergism accepts free will in conversion because the grace of the Lord Jesus liberates the sinner and imparts an appetite for God. Grace releases the will from bondage to sin and Satan and now, in its supernaturally conferred freedom of choice, the grace of disposition, it pivots and proceeds toward God. Unregenerate man freely sins by preference for evil. Newborn man freely consents to salvation in Christ because, equipped with a new inclination, he sees Christ arrayed in the irresistible beauty of holiness and mercy revealing himself before a sinner who is granted the wholesome desire for holiness. There is now health in the soul healed by the compassion of God. Freedom is restored by grace not restricted. Our freedom is actually infringed by the evil one who threatens, bullies and seduces us. Our liberty is generously donated to us by Christ (Ephesians 4:7-8) who, in the manner of his raising of Lazarus (incapable of choice, action, or initial co-operation until infused with new life), opened our tomb of spiritual death (complete deadness), removed the bands that held us (captivity even restraining the freedom of a living being let alone reinforcing the immobility of a cadaver), and bade us move in his direction with the gift of his own enabling power. God elicits our concurrence by the lovely and life-giving words of the gospel. His "come" is the sweetest and most compelling drawing of a soul now entranced by his winsomeness.

Who makes you to differ? The synergist honestly has to say, "Why, it is myself". The monergist delights to say, "It is God alone", and the essence of his creed is, "Salvation is of the Lord." John Donne would have to say this is the "super-sola" of the gospel, the best truth made known to men without hope. Here Calvin and Aquinas achieve a synthesis. Here Bernard and Luther agree. Here Augustine raised his banner and Calvinists, Bucerians, Zwinglians, Cranmerians, rally to it. And so, unwittingly, do those many believers who follow their heart's inclination to praise the Lord with gratitude and affection without recourse to ratiocination. In praise and prayer, as A.A. Hodge has opined, all believers are Calvinists. Heart and mind are not always in unison.

If Anglicanism is to come to its rights, and its resurgence, its renewal has to be radical. Its original theology has to be thoroughly restored and not tempered by hesitancy and loss of nerve. Abuse of a theological position does not warrant its absence or avoidance. The Spirit will bless the truth he has inspired and prevent bellicosity and belligerence in its well-intentioned and prayerful advocates. Past occasions of animosity and insult need not recur if we all simply want to know the mind of the Lord in order to know him better and acknowledge his worth - the weight of his glory.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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