John Wesley’s Sermon “A Caution against Bigotry”: A Brief Summary

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John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 33rd sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“A Caution against Bigotry” is the 33rd sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon is written in the context of Wesley’s leadership of Methodism as a renewal movement within the Church of England and the tensions that were often just below the surface between his ordination as a priest in the Church of England and his leadership of Methodism. Wesley’s use of lay preachers, in particular, was controversial and is an important part of the background of this sermon [see III.5-12 of this sermon]. In other words, the sermon should be read in part as an appeal for not interfering with lay preachers whose ministry bears fruit [they are “casting out devils”] by leaders within the Church of England. The sermon has a variety of intriguing applications in the contemporary context.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “A Caution against Bigotry.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

‘But what is a sufficient, reasonable proof that a man does (in the sense above) cast out devils?’ The answer is easy. Is there full proof, first, that a person before us was a gross, open sinner? Secondly, that he is not so now; that he has broke off his sins, and lives a Christian life? And thirdly, that his change was wrought by his hearing this man preach? If these three points be plain and undeniable, then you have sufficient, reasonable proof, such as you cannot resist without willful sin, that this man casts out devils. [III.3]


One sentence summary:  

This sermon warns against interfering with the work of people outside of your own tribe whom God is using to bring sinners to repentance and from evil to good.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not us. And Jesus said, Forbid him not.”

– Mark 9: 38-39


Outline of “A Caution against Bigotry”

1. Wesley introduces the context of Mark 9: 38-39.
2. What is the relevance of this passage, “Seeing no man now ‘casts out devils”?
3. This sermon will show “first, in what sense men may, and do now, ‘cast out devils’; secondly, what we may understand by, ‘He followeth not us.’ I shall thirdly, explain our Lord’s direction, “Forbid him not,’ and conclude with an inference from the whole.”

I. First, “in what sense men may, and do now, ‘cast out devils.'”
1. “We should remember that (according to the scriptural account) as God dwells and works in the children of light, so the devil dwells and works in the children of darkness.”
2. The devil is one “who ‘ruleth the darkness’ or wickedness ‘of this world’, of worldly men and all their dark designs and actions, by keeping possession of their hearts, setting up his throne there, and bringing every thought into obedience to himself.”
3. “It is therefore an unquestionable truth that the god and prince of this world still possesses all who know not God… It was then his aim to drive mankind into superstition. Therefore he wrought as openly as he could. But ’tis his aim to drive us into infidelity. Therefore he works as privately as he can; for the more secret he is, the more he prevails.”
4. “There are countries even now where he works as openly as aforetime… But with you he is pursuing a different point. He is to make you idolize yourselves, to make you wiser in your own eyes than God himself, than all the oracles of God.”
5. “The prince of darkness therefore does not appear while he rules over these his willing subjects. The conqueror holds his captives so much the safer because they imagine themselves at liberty. Thus the ‘strong one armed keepeth his house, and his goods are in peace’: neither the deist nor nominal Christian suspects he is there; so he and they are perfectly at peace with each other.”
6. “He blinds the eyes of their understanding so that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ cannot shine upon them. He chains their souls down to earth and hell with the chains of their own vile affections. He binds them down to the earth by love of the world, love of money, of pleasure, of praise. And by pride, envy, anger, hate, revenge, he causes their souls to draw nigh unto hell; acting the more secure and uncontrolled because they know not that he acts at all.”
7. Wesley uses the example of “the admired, the virtuous Romans” to show how easily we can see the “cause from its effects.”
8. Dion Cassius is cited to illustrate the “gluttony and lewdness” of Rome.
9. “As gross and palpable are the works of the devil among many (if not all) the modern heathens.”
10. “It were to be wished that none but heathens had practised such gross, palpable works of the devil. But we dare not say so. Even in cruelty and bloodshed, how little have the Christians come behind them!… Our own countrymen, too, have wantoned in blood, and exterminated whole nations: plainly proving thereby what spirit it is that dwells and works in the children of disobedience.”
11. “These monsters might almost make us overlook the works of the devil that are wrought in our own country. But, alas! We cannot open our eyes even here without seeing them on every side. It is small proof of his power that common swearers, drunkards, whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, robbers, sodomites, murderers, are still found in every part of our land?”
12. “He less openly but no less effectually works in dissemblers, talebearers, liars, slanderers; in oppressors and extortioners; in the perjured, the seller of his friend, his honor, his conscience, his country.”
13. “If you consider this you cannot but see in what sense men may now also ‘cast out devils’; yea, and every minister of Christ does cast them out, if his Lord’s work prosper in his hand. By the power of God attending his Word he brings these sinners to repentance: an entire inward as well as outward change, from all evil to all good. And this is in a sound sense to ‘cast out devils,’ out of the souls wherein they had hitherto dwelt.”
14. “All this is indeed the work of God. It is God alone who can cast out Satan. But he is generally pleased to do this by man, as an instrument in his hand.”

II. What does Mark 9: 38-39 mean by “He followeth not us.”
1. At one level, it means it is someone we do not know.
2. At another level it may mean, “He is not of our party.”
3. Third, it may mean, “He differs from us in our religious opinions.” Given the variety of Christian traditions, it is not surprising that there are many different opinions in the Christian church.
4. Fourth, the phrase may refer to difference in practice (such as the administration of the sacrament). “Now the unavoidable consequence of any of these differences will be that he who thus differs from us must separate himself with regard to those points from our society. In this respect therefore ‘he followeth not us;’ he is ‘not (as we phrase it) of our church.'”
5. “In a far stronger sense ‘he followeth not us’ who is not only of a different church, but of such a church as we account to be in many respects anti scriptural and antichristian: a church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice.”
6. Once there is disagreement in opinions and practice, sharpness and bitterness often arise. “An almost necessary consequence of this will be, they will speak in the same manner as they think of us. They will set themselves in opposition to us, and, as far as they are able hinder our work, seeing it does not appear to them to be the work of God, but either of man or of the devil.”
7. Wesley thinks the Gospel of Mark means it in a lower sense, but he put it in the strongest terms possible so that “being forewarned of the temptation in its full strength we may in no case yield to it and fight against God.”

III. An explanation of Jesus’s command “Forbid him not.”
1. If we see someone we don’t know and is not a part of our Church, who differs from us in judgment, practice, and affection, “casting out devils” we should not interfere with their work.
2. Because of our own prejudices, it will be very difficult for us to believe someone who is not apart of us is indeed “casting out devils.”
3. What is the proof that someone has “cast out devils?” “The answer is easy. Is there full proof, first, that a person before us was a gross, open sinner? Secondly, that he is not so now; that he has broke off his sins, and lives a Christian life? And thirdly, that his change was wrought by his hearing this man preach? If these three points be plain and undeniable, then you have sufficient, reasonable proof, such as you cannot resist without willful sin, that this man casts out devils.”
4. If so, “forbid him not.” If you succeeded in interfering with this work and convinced the person to stop, “many souls might perish in their iniquity, but their blood would God require at your hands.”
5. Don’t forbid laity from “casting out devils.”
6. Wesley engages the concern “I do not know that he is sent of God.” He responds by citing John 9: 30, 33.
7. Wesley argues that it is “highly expedient” that preachers have and outward as well as an inward call. But he denies that it is “absolutely necessary.”
8. Wesley argues that the apostolic age gives warrant for lay preaching. [Wesley used lay preachers extensively, which was controversial within the Church of England.]
9. Before someone is ordained, their lives should be examined to see if they are “holy and unblameable.” And they should be given a chance to preach to see “whether they have such gifts as are absolutely and indispensably necessary in order to edify the church of Christ.”
10. “‘But what if a man has these? And has brought sinners to repentance? And yet the bishop will not ordain him?’ Then the bishop does ‘forbid him to cast out devils.’ But I dare not forbid him.”
11. “And whosoever thou art that dearest God, ‘forbid him not,’ either directly or indirectly.”
12. “Yea, if you would observe our Lord’s direction in its full meaning and extent, then remember his word, ‘He that is not for us is against us, and he that gatherers not with me, scattereth.’ He that gathereth not men into the kingdom of God assuredly scatters them from it. For there can be no neuter in this war: everyone is either on God’s side or on Satan’s.”

IV. “If we willingly fail in any of these points, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him ‘because he followeth not us,’ then we are ‘bigots.'”
1. “This is the inference I draw from what has been said. But the term ‘bigotry,’ I fear, as frequently as it is used, is almost as little understood as ‘enthusiasm.’ It is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party, opinion, Church, and religion. Therefore he is a bigot who is so fond of any of these, so strongly attached to them, as to forbid any who casts out devils, because he differs from himself in any or all these particulars.”
2. “You beware of this.” Do not directly or indirectly forbid anyone from “casting out devils.”
3. “Examine yourself: ‘Do I not indirectly, at least, forbid him on any of these grounds? Am I not sorry that God should thus own and bless a man that holds such erroneous opinions? Do I not discourage him because he is not of my Church?… Do I show no anger, contempt, or unkindness of any sort, either in my words or actions?”
4. Wesley puts it as strongly as he can by naming groups his audience would be most likely to despise if they were “casting out devils.”
5. “If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving.”
6. A final caution: someone else’s bigotry does not justify your own.


Resources:

Read “A Caution against Bigotry” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first thirty-one Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth

The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law

The Law Established through Faith, I

The Law Established through Faith, II

The Nature of Enthusiasm


I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “The Nature of Enthusiasm”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 32nd sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“The Nature of Enthusiasm” is the 32nd sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon describes enthusiasm, imagining you are someone you are not. Wesley applies this in a variety of ways, some of which will likely be surprising and convicting to many contemporary Christians.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Nature of Enthusiasm.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

But the most common of all enthusiasts… are those who imagine themselves Christians and are not… That they are not Christians is clear and undeniable, if we believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy. Christians love God; these love the world. Christians are humble; these are proud. Christians are gentle; these are passionate. Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently they are no more Christians than they are archangels. Yet they imagine themselves so to be; and they can give several reasons for it. For they have been called so ever since they can remember. They were ‘christened’ many years ago. They embrace the ‘Christian opinions’ vulgarly termed the Christian or catholic faith. They use the ‘Christian modes of worship’, as their fathers did before them. They live what is called a good ‘Christian life’, as the rest of their neighbours do. And who shall presume to think or say that these men are not Christians? Though without one grain of true faith in Christ, or of real, inward holiness! Without ever having tasted the love of God, or been ‘made partakers of the Holy Ghost’! [16]


One sentence summary:  

This sermon describes the dangers of enthusiasm: imagining you are someone you are not.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“And Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself.”

– Acts 26:24


Concise outline of “The Nature of Enthusiasm”

1. “If you aim at the religion of the heart, if you talk of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, then it will not be long before your sentence is passed: ‘Thou art beside thyself.'”
2. “It is no compliment which the men of the world pay you herein. They for once mean what they say. They not only affirm but cordially believe that every man is beside himself who says the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him, and that God has enabled him to rejoice in Christ with joy unspeakable and fully of glory.”
3. The thing the world counts as madness is “the whole spirit and life and power of the religion of Jesus Christ.”
4. The “madness” Christians are accused of is of a specific kind and is called “enthusiasm.”
5. Enthusiasm is much used but seldom understood.
6. Wesley discusses the questionable Greek origins of the word.
7. The word may have been untranslated because it always had a “loose, uncertain sense.”
8. “It is not therefore at all surprising that it is so variously taken at this day, different persons understanding it in different senses quite inconsistent with each other.”
9. Others understand it to mean “uncommon vigour of thought.”
10. But most people use it to mean something “evil… this is plainly the sentiment of all those who call the religion of the heart enthusiasm. Accordingly I shall take it in the following pages as an evil – a misfortune, if not a fault.”
11. “As to the nature of enthusiasm, it is undoubtedly a disorder of the mind, and such a disorder as greatly hinders the exercise of reason.” An enthusiast “imagines himself to be what he is not.”
12. “Enthusiasm in general may then be described in some such manner as this: a religious madness arising from some falsely imagined influence or inspiration of God; at least from imputing something to God which ought not to be imputed to him, or expecting something from God which ought not to be expected from him.”
13. The sermon shifts to describing the most common forms of enthusiasm. The first is “those who imagine they have the grace which they have not.”
14. “The foundation of all their reveries is this: they imagine themselves to have faith in Christ.”
15. “There are many other enthusiasts of this sort.”
16. “But the most common of all enthusiasts… are those who imagine themselves Christians and are not… That they are not Christians is clear and undeniable, if we believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy. Christians love God; these love the world. Christians are humble; these are proud. Christians are gentle; these are passionate. Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently they are no more Christians than they are archangels.”
17. “Ah, poor self-deceivers! Christians ye are not. But you are enthusiasts in an high degree.”
18. “A second sort of enthusiasm is that of those who imagine they have such gifts from God as they have not.”
19. “To the same class belong those who in preaching or prayer imagine themselves to be so influenced by the Spirit of God as in fact they are not.”
20. It is also enthusiasm to attribute things to God in one’s private life that are without “any rational or scriptural ground.”
21. “To this kind of enthusiasm they are peculiarly exposed who expected to be directed of God, either in spiritual things or in common life, in what is justly called an extraordinary manner.”
22. The point is not that Christians shouldn’t want to know the will of God. The point is that the primary way they should seek to know the will of God is through Scripture.
23. What if Scripture doesn’t directly speak to a specific circumstance? “The Scripture itself gives you a general rule, applicable to all particular cases: ‘The will of God is our sanctification.’ It is his will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy; that we should be good and do good in every kind, and in the highest degree whereof we are capable.”
24. When faced with different choices in life, we ought to ask, “In which of these states can I be most holy, and do the most good?”
25. The assistance of the Holy Spirit is present throughout this process of discernment.
26. “This is the plain, scriptural, rational way to know what is the will of God in a particular case.”
27. A third sort of enthusiasm is when people seek to “attain the end without using the means, by the immediate power of God… Such are they who expect to understand the Holy Scriptures without reading them and meditating thereon.”
28. Some say enthusiasm is “imagining those things to be owing to the providence of God which are not owing thereto.” But Wesley argues everything that happens can be ascribed to the providence of God, so the charge of enthusiasm does not apply here.
29. “Don’t you see that he who believing this imputes anything which befalls him to providence does not therein make himself any more the favourite of heaven than he supposes every man under heaven to be?”
30. Enthusiasm leads to pride.
31. “Together with pride there will naturally arise an unadvisable and unconvincable spirit; so that into whatever error or fault the enthusiast falls there is small hope of his recovery.”
32. “Being thus fortified both against the grace of God and against all advise and help from man, he is wholly left to the guidance of his own heart, and of the king of the children of pride. Nor marvel then that he is daily more rooted and grounded in contempt of all mankind, in furious anger, in every unkind disposition, in every earthly and devilish temper.”
33. Take care that you do not talk of enthusiasm without knowing what you are talking about. “Know the meaning of this hard word; and then use it if need require.”
34. Second, “beware of judging or calling any man an enthusiast upon common report.”
35. “If enthusiasm be so great an evil, beware you are not entangled therewith yourself.”
36. “Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast.”
37. “Beware you do not run with the common herd of enthusiasts, fancying you are a Christian when you are not.”
38. Do not fall into the snare of “fancying you have those gifts from God which you have not.”
39. “Beware, lastly, of imaging you shall obtain the end without using the means conducive to it. God can give the end without any means at all; but you have no reason to think he will… Thus expect a daily growth in that pure and holy religion which the world always did, and always will, call enthusiasm; but which to all who are saved from real enthusiasm – from merely nominal Christianity – is the wisdom of God and the power of God.”


Resources:

Read “The Nature of Enthusiasm” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first thirty-one Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth

The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law

The Law Established through Faith, I

The Law Established through Faith, II

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “The Law Established through Faith, II”: A Brief Summary

Tags

, , , ,

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 31st sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“The Law Established through Faith, II” is the 31st sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon builds on the previous sermon, “The Law Established through Faith, I” and outlines a more positive vision for how the law is established in the lives of followers of Jesus Christ.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Law Established through Faith, II.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

Can you say, ‘Thou art merciful to my unrighteousness; my sins thou rememberest no more’? Then for the time to come see that you fly from sin, as from the face of a serpent. For how exceeding sinful does it appear to you now! How heinous above all expression! On the other hand, in how amiable a light do you now see the holy and perfect will of God! Now, therefore, labour that it may be fulfilled, both in you, by you, and upon you. Now watch and pray that you may sin no more, that you may see and shun the least transgression of his law. You see the motes which you could not see before when the sun shines into a dark place. In like manner you see the sins which you could not see before, now the sun of righteousness shines in your heart. Now, then, do all diligence to walk in every respect according to the light you have received. Now be zealous to receive more light daily, more of the knowledge and love of God, more of the Spirit of Christ, more of his life, and of the power of his resurrection. Now use all the knowledge and love and life and power you have already attained. So shall you continually go on from faith to faith. So shall you daily increase in holy love, till faith is swallowed up in sight, and the law of love established to all eternity. [III.6]


One sentence summary:  

The moral law of God is established in our lives through sound doctrine, faith in Christ, love of God and neighbor, and holiness of heart and life.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.”

– Romans 3: 31


Concise outline of “The Law Established through Faith, II”

1. A summary of the previous sermon. This sermon asks, positively, “How do we establish the law through faith?”
2. Establishing the moral law is not the condition of our justification. And yet, “we still, in the Aposle’s sense, ‘establish the law.'”

I. We Establish the Law by Our Doctrine
1. We establish the law by offering “the whole counsel of God” with “great plainness of speech.”
2. The law is established by our doctrine when “we declare every part of it, every commandment contained therein, not only in its full, literal sense, but likewise in its spiritual meaning; not only with regard to the outward actions which it either forbids or enjoins, but also with respect to the inward principle, to the thoughts, desires, and intents of the heart.”
3. The law must be established through doctrine because “as important as these things are, they are little considered or understood.
4. “The law of God, as to its inward spiritual meaning, is not hid from the Jews or heathens only, but even from what is called the Christian world.”
5. Even though it is offensive to many who hear it, “All that is written in the Book of God we are to declare, not as pleasing men, but the Lord. We are to declare not only all the promises but all the threatenings, too, which we find therein. At the same time that we proclaim all the blessings and privileges which God had prepared for his children, we are likewise to ‘teach all the things whatsoever he hath commanded.'”
6. “It is our part thus to ‘preach Christ’ by preaching all things whatsoever he hath revealed… We are not ourselves clear before God unless we proclaim him in all his offices.”

II. We Establish the Law by Preaching Faith in Christ in a Way that Leads to Holiness of Heart and Life
1. Even faith in Christ is not the end result God aims at. “God hath given this honor to love alone. Love is the end of all the commandments of God.”
2. Faith “is the great temporary means which God has ordained to promote that eternal end [love].”
3. Faith cannot be preached so as to “swallow up all things” and become more important than love.
4. “Nor is it certain… that faith, even in the general sense of the word, had any place in paradise.”
5. Faith was necessary before the fall. “It was only when love was lost by sin that faith was added, not for its own sake, nor with any design that it should exist any longer than until it had answered the end for which it was ordained – namely, to restore man to the love from which he was fallen.”
6. “Faith then was originally designed of God to re-establish the law of love.”

III. The Most Important Way of Establishing the Law Is by Establishing It in Our Own Hearts and Lives
1. It would serve no purpose to preach the law through our doctrine and preach Christ in all of his offices if it “were not established in our hearts.”
2. “How may we establish the law in our own hearts so that it may have its full influence on our lives?… This can only be done by faith… Faith in general is the most direct and effectual means of promoting all righteousness and true holiness; of establishing the holy and spiritual law in the hearts of them that believe.”
3. “There is no motive which so powerfully inclines us to love God as the sense of the love of God in Christ.”
4. “Nor does faith fulfill either the negative or positive law as to the external part only; but it works inwardly by love to the purifying of the heart, the cleansing it from all vile affections.”
5. “Let us thus endeavor to establish the law in ourselves; not sinning ‘because we are under grace’, but rather using all the power we receive thereby ‘to fulfill all righteousness.'”
6. Can you say, ‘Thou art merciful to my unrighteousness; my sins thou remeberest no more’? Then for the time to come see that you fly from sin, as from the face of a serpent…. Now use all the knowledge and love and life and power you have already attained. So shall you continually go on from faith to faith. So shall you daily increase in holy love, till faith is swallowed up in sight, and the law of love established to all eternity.”


Resources:

Read “The Law Established through Faith, II” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first thirty Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth

The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law

The Law Established through Faith, I

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “The Law Established through Faith, I”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 30th sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“The Law Established through Faith, I” is the 30th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon outlines ways that Christian leaders nullify or void the moral law of God through the doctrine of justification by faith. Wesley shows the ways this happens and warns against these mistakes. Faith in Christ empowers one to obey the law, rather than making it irrelevant. Faith in Christ enables us to live the kind of life God intends for us to live out of loving response to God’s love for us.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Law Established through Faith, I.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

This, it must be acknowledged, comes home to the point, and is indeed the main pillar of antinomianism. And yet it needs not a long or labored answer. We allow, (1), that God ‘justifies the ungodly’, him that till that hour is totally ungodly, full of all evil, void of all good; (2), that he justifies ‘the ungodly that worketh not’, that till that moment worketh no good work – neither can he: for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit; (3), that he justifies him ‘by faith alone’, without any goodness or righteousness preceding; and (4), that ‘faith is’ then ‘counted to him for righteousness’, namely, for preceding righteousness; i.e., God, through the merits of Christ, accepts him that believes as if he had already fulfilled all righteousness. But what is all this to your point? The Apostle does not say either here or elsewhere that this faith is counted to him for subsequent righteousness. He does teach that there is no righteousness before faith; but where does he teach that there is none after it? He does assert holiness cannot precede justification; but not that it need not follow it. St. Paul therefore gives you no color for ‘making void the law’ by teaching that faith supersedes the necessity of holiness. [II.7]


One sentence summary:  

This sermon warns of voiding the law through faith in Christ, when faith actually empowers one to obey the moral law.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.”

– Romans 3: 31


Concise outline of “The Law Established through Faith, I”

1. Justification is by faith, without the works of the law.
2. It is easy to anticipate that someone might then ask, does justification by faith abolish the law? Paul replies, “God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.”
3. It is the moral law that is established by faith.
4. But many disagree with this.
5. Have those who disagree that the law is established by faith “observed the connection between the law and faith?”
6. This sermon observes the ways people wrongly void the law through faith. Secondly, the sermon teaches “how we may follow the Apostle, and by faith ‘establish the law.'”

I. The Usual Ways the Law Is (Wrongly) Voided by Faith
1. A preacher can void the law by faith by not preaching the law at all.
2. Not preaching the law “proceeds from the deepest ignorance of the nature, properties, and use of the law; and proves that those who act thus either know not Christ, are utter strangers to the living faith, or at least that they are but babes in Christ.”
3. They argue that preaching the gospel “answers all the ends of the law. But this we utterly deny. It does not answer the very first end of the law, namely, the convincing men of sin, the awakening those who are still asleep on the brink of hell.”
4. Some argue that there are Scriptural precedents for offering Christ to the “careless sinner” but Wesley does not believe there are any.
5. Paul should serve as our example for preaching. And Paul preached Christ crucified.
6. Wesley uses the example of Acts 13:39-45. “He first reminds them that they could not be justified by the law of Moses, but only by faith in Christ; and then severely threatens them with the judgments of God, which is, in the strongest sense, ‘preaching the law’.”
7. Paul then preaches that they should “turn from those vain idols unto the living God.”
8. Wesley gives further evidence from Scripture of Paul preaching in different ways based on the state of his listener.
9. To those who argue that Paul preached Christ differently in the epistles, Wesley responds that the epistles are 1. not preaching at all; 2. directed to Christians in various places, not unbelievers; and 3. every epistle is full of the law.
10. “Doubtless St. Paul judged himself to be preaching Christ both to Felix, and at Antioch, Lystra, and Athens: from whose example every thinking man must infer that not only the declaring the love of Christ to sinners, but also the declaring that he will come from heaven in flaming fire, is, in the Apostle’s sense, ‘preaching Christ.'”
11. “To ‘preach Christ’ is to preach all things that Christ hath spoken: all his promises; all his threatenings and commands; all that is written in his Book.”
12. Preaching the merits and sufferings of Christ can sometimes lead to a great blessing, but so can preaching that cuts to the heart and humbles to the dust.

II. A Second Way of ‘Making Void the Law through Faith’ Is Teaching that Faith Supersedes the Necessity of Holiness
1. There are many who void the law through faith by teaching that faith supersedes the necessity of holiness.
2. Those who make this mistake suppose that 1. holiness is “less necessary now than it was before Christ came; or, 2. that a less degree of it is necessary; or, 3. that it is less necessary to believers than to others.”
3. The first group teaches that “we are now under the covenant of grace, not works.” But only Adam was under the covenant of works.
4. “The case is not therefore, as you suppose, that men were once more obliged to obey God, or to work the works of his law, than they are now.”
5. We are justified by faith, without the works of the ceremonial or moral law.
6. But works of the law “are an immediate fruit of that faith whereby we are justified. So that if good works do not follow our faith, even all inward and outward holiness, it is plain that our faith is nothing worth; we are yet in our sins.”
7. That holiness does not precede justification does not mean that it does not need to come after it.

III. The Most Common Way of “Making Void the Law through Faith” Is Living as if Faith Was Designed to Excuse Us from Holiness.
1. Paul warns us against this in Romans 6:15.
2. Being ‘under the law’ may mean four things: “1. being obliged to observe the ceremonial law; 2. being obliged to conform to the whole Mosaic institution; 3. being obliged to keep the whole moral law as the condition of our acceptance with God; 4. being under the wrath and curse of God, under the sentence of eternal death; under a sense of guilt and condemnation, full of horror and slavish fear.”
3. From the moment someone believes in Jesus, they are not under the law in any of the preceding senses. “He obeys, not from the motive of slavish fear, but on a nobler principle, namely, the grace of God ruling in his heart, and causing all his works to be wrought in love.”
4. Shall we be less obedient to God as accepted and beloved children than as fearful servants?
5. Are you as careful to please God now that you have faith in Christ as you did when you were convicted of your sin and separation from God and seeking forgiveness and pardon?
6. How about in regards to being praised and the risk of pride?
7. “God forbid you should any longer continue thus to ‘turn the grace of god into lasciviousness!”
8. What about sins of omission, not doing what you know you ought to do (such as attending worship services)? Do not be less zealous for God now than you were before you received saving faith.


Resources:

Read “The Law Established through Faith, I” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-nine Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth

The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon: “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 29th sermon in this series. I hope the break between the 28th and 29th sermon summary is the longest we will have in this series! Thank you for your patience with me. I intend to get back into the routine of publishing one sermon summary each Tuesday morning. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Thank you to those of you who reached out and told me you were missing these. I appreciate the encouragement!

Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law” is the 29th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon addresses the argument that the moral law is unnecessary or unhelpful for Christians. Wesley shows the origin of the law and why it is essential for our salvation. The law is not to be feared. Sin is to be feared. The law is holy, just, and good!

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

The law of God… is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature; yea, it is the fairest offspring of the everlasting Father, the brightest efflux of his essential wisdom, the visible beauty of the Most High. It is the delight and wonder of cherubim and seraphim and all the company of heaven, and the glory and joy of every wise believer, every well instructed child of God upon earth. [II.6]


One sentence summary:  

The law of God is holy, just, and good.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

– Romans 7:12


Concise outline of “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law”

1. The law is often misunderstood or ignored.
2. Paul is referring to the moral law, as can be seen from the beginning of Romans 7.
3. “The Apostle having gone thus far in proving that the Christian had set aside the Jewish dispensation, and that the moral law itself, though it could never pass away, yet stood on a different foundation from what it did before, now stops to propose and answer an objection. ‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin?’… ‘God forbid!… The law is an irreconcilable enemy to sin, searching it out wherever it is.'”
4. This sermon will I. Show the original of this law. II. The Nature of this law. III. The properties of this law (holy, just, and good). IV. The uses of this law.

I. The Original of the Moral Law
1. The moral law goes back even before creation “even beyond the foundation of the world.”
2. The moral law was given to angelic minds “to make way for a continual increase of their happiness; seeing every instance of obedience to that law would both add to the perfection of their nature and entitle them to an higher reward, which the righteous Judge would give in its season.”
3. When God created humans, he gave them the same law, written “in the inmost spirit both of men and of angels.”
4. When humans broke the moral law “God did not despise the work of his own hands; but being reconciled to man through the Son of his love, he in some measure re-inscribed the law on the heart of his dark, sinful creature.”
5. God then chose a particular people “to whom he gave a more perfect knowledge of the law. And the heads of this, because they were slow of understanding, he wrote on tables of stone.”
6. Today we hear the law of God with our ears, but it must be revealed by the Spirit of God. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

II. The Nature of the Law
1. The law and the commandment are sometimes taken to be different things, but they are the same. And neither is the same thing as the ceremonial law.
2. The law mentioned in Romans 7 is not the Mosaic dispensation.
3. “This law is an incorruptible picture of the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity. It is he whom in his essence no man hath seen or can see, made visible to men and angels.”
4. The law is “divine virtue and wisdom assuming a visible form.”
5. From another vantage point, the law is “supreme, unchangeable reason; it is unalterable rectitude; it is the everlasting fitness of all things that are or ever were created.”
6. “The law of God… is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature.”

III. The Properties of the Law
1. The law is holy, just, and good.
2. It is holy: “‘pure religion and undefiled’; or the pure, clean, unpolluted worship of God.”
3. Because the law is holy, it is enmity to sin.
4. This is why Paul objects so strongly to the suggestion that the law is sin or causes sin. Rather, the law reveals sin.
5. The law is just, rendering each their due.
6. Wesley acknowledges the question of whether the will of God causes the law and creates right and wrong. “Is a thing therefore right because God wills it? Or does he will it because it is right?” Nevertheless, this question is “more curious than useful.”
7. The difficulty of the question comes from thinking about God’s will as something distinct from God. “But the will of God is God himself.”
8. The point above is reinforced.
9. It may be granted that “in every particular case God wills this or this… because it is right, agreeable to the fitness of things, to the relation wherein they stand.”
10. “The law then is right and just concerning all things. And it is good as well as just.” The law is good because it comes from God.
11. The law is “mild and kind; it is ‘sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.’ It is winning and amiable.”
12. The law is good “in its effects, as well as in its nature.”

IV. The Uses of the Law
1. The first use is to convince the world of sin.
2. The second use of the law is to bring us back to life, through faith in Christ, so that we may live.
3. The third use of the law is to “keep us alive.”
4. The law is “of unspeakable use, first, in convincing us of the sin that yet remains both in our hearts and lives, and thereby keeping us close to Christ, that his blood may cleanse us every moment; secondly, in deriving strength from our Head into his living members, whereby he empowers them to do what his law commands; and thirdly, in confirming our hope of whatsoever it commands and we have not yet attained, of receiving grace upon grace, till we are in actual possession of the fullness of his promises.”
5. The law shows every true believer the truth more and more clearly.
6. Illustrated using “Thou shalt not kill.”
7. “Therefore I cannot spare the law one moment, no more than I can spare Christ; seeing I now want it as much to keep me to Christ as ever I wanted it to bring me to him.”
8. Who are you, then, to judge or speak evil of the law?
9. If you are convinced that the law is holy, just, and good, cling to it all the more.
10. “And if thy Lord hath already fulfilled his word, if he hath already ‘written his law in thy heart’, then ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made thee free.'”


Resources:

Read “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-eight Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

Spirit & Truth Hosts Class Meeting Workshop

I am excited to participate in a workshop hosted by Spirit & Truth on class meetings. The workshop is tomorrow January 14, 2021 from 2:00 – 4:00 pm EST.

I will give a brief introduction to the role class meetings played in early Methodism and why we should retrieve them today. What is most valuable about this workshop is that you will have the chance to hear from John Wayne McMann and Will Leasure. John Wayne and Will are pastors who have both successfully launched class meetings in their churches. You will get to hear their testimonies to how they have seen God use class meetings to change lives in their churches. There will also be practical concrete suggestions on the nuts and bolts of launching new class meetings.

Here is the description of the workshop from Spirit & Truth’s website:

Small group accountable discipleship is the heartbeat of disciple-making. In recent years many churches are discovering the power of reclaiming the class meeting model which served as the fuel for the Wesleyan revival of the 1700s. If you want to get far more intentional with your discipleship strategy as a church, invest in your small groups, or launch a small group ministry from scratch…this workshop is for you. If you’ve been wanting to implement class meeting style small groups, but you’re not sure how to practically get started…this workshop is for you. It’s time to start investing in the Great Commission more than just talking about it. Join us for this online interactive workshop led by two pastors who have been implementing this discipleship system with great success.

Schedule: 2:00-4:00pm ET on Thursday, January 14 via Zoom

Cost: This training is FREE! (But pre-registration is required.)

The workshop will be recorded, so you will also be able to view the recording after the event if you can’t be with us tomorrow.

To register and learn more, go here.

Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.

John Wesley’s “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth”: A Brief Summary

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John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 28th sermon in this series. I have been publishing one sermon each Tuesday. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth” is the 28th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 13th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

I am, secondly, to show the wisdom of him that doth them, that ‘buildeth his house upon a rock.’ He indeed is wise who ‘doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ He is truly wise whose ‘righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.’ He is poor in spirit; knowing himself even as also he is known. He sees and feels all his sin, and all his guilt, till it is washed away by the atoning blood. He is conscious of his lost estate, of the wrath of God abiding on him, and of his utter inability to help himself till he is filled with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. He is meek and gentle, patient toward all men, never ‘returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing’; till he overcomes evil with good. His soul is athirst for nothing on earth, but only for God, the living God. He has bowels of love for all mankind, and is ready to lay down his life for his enemies. He loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind and soul and strength. He alone shall enter into the kingdom of heaven who in this spirit doth good unto all men; and who, being for this cause despised and rejected of men, being hated, reproached, and persecuted, ‘rejoices and is exceeding glad,’ knowing in whom he hath believed; and being assured these light, momentary afflictions will ‘work out for him an eternal weight of glory.’ [II.1]


One sentence summary:  

This sermon outlines the difference between building a house on sand or on rock in following Jesus.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock;

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.

And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand;

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

– Matthew 7:21-27


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth”

1. Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with these words, “setting his seal to his prophecy, and impressing his whole authority on what he had delivered, that it might stand firm to all generations.”
2. There is no other way than the way outlined by Jesus.
3. This sermon will, first, “consider the case of him who builds his house upon the sand; secondly, to show the wisdom of him who builds upon a rock; and thirdly, to conclude with a practical application.”

I.The case of the one who builds a house upon the sand.
1. Wesley emphasizes the serious consequences of building upon sand, regardless of good intentions or good works.
2. Doing no harm also does not guarantee that you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
3. Doing good works does not guarantee that you will enter the kingdom of heaven.
4. “If any man marvels at this, let him acknowledge he is a stranger to the whole religion of Jesus Christ; and in particular to the perfect portraiture thereof which he has set before us in this discourse.”
5. None will enter the kingdom of God unless they have this kingdom within them. Jesus reemphasizes this in this passage.
6. Those who “rest in anything short of that religion” which Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount built their house on sand.

II. The wisdom of the one who builds a house upon rock.
1. “He alone shall enter into the kingdom of heaven who in this spirit doth good unto all men; and who, being for this cause despised and rejected of men, being hated, reproached, and persecuted, ‘rejoices and is exceeding glad,’ knowing in whom he hath believed; and being assured these light, momentary afflictions will ‘work out for him an eternal weight of glory.'”
2. The wise person knows her true state before God and she knows the way to the kingdom of heaven: “even now to know, to love, to imitate God, and to believe in Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.”
3. It is wise to build upon the rock, which is Jesus Christ himself.
4. This does not mean the Christian is done with trials or temptation. “It still remains for God to prove the grace he hath given: he shall be tried as gold in the fire.”

III. Practical Application
1. Do not mistake things that help one grow in holiness (such as right doctrine or an excellent church) with holiness itself.
2. Avoiding harm is necessary but not sufficient. “When all this harmlessness flows from a right principles it is the least part of the religion of Christ. But in you it does not flow from a right principle, and therefore is no part at all of religion.”
3. Attending all the ordinances of God is important, but still not sufficient. “Faith, mercy, and love of God; holiness of heart; heaven opened in the soul” are essential.
4. Do not rely on your good works. “Learn to hang naked upon the cross of Christ, counting all thou hast done but dung and dross.”
5. Real faith produces inward and outward holiness. “That faith which hath not works, which doth not produce both inward and outward holiness, which does not stamp the whole image of God on the heart, and purify us as he is pure; that faith which does not produce the whole of the religion described in the foregoing chapters, is not the faith of the gospel, not the Christian faith, not the faith which leads to glory.”
6. “Now, therefore, build thou upon a rock. By the grace of God, know thyself.”
7. “Now weep for your sins, and mourn after God till he turns your heaviness into joy.”
8. “Learn in every state wherein you are, therewith to be content… Be angry at sin, as an affront offered to the majesty of heaven; but love the sinner still.”
9. Hunger and thirst for eternal things, not things that perish.
10. “Now, seeing thou canst do all things through Christ strengthening thee, be merciful as thy Father in heaven is merciful. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Love friends and enemies as thy own soul. And let thy love be long-suffering, and patient towards all men.”
11. “Now be thou ‘pure in heart’; purified through faith from every unholy affection, ‘cleansing thyself from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God.'”
12. “In a word: let thy religion be the religion of the heart… And as sure as thou now walkest with God on earth, thou shalt also reign with him in glory.”


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Thirteenth” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-seven Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 27th sermon in this series. I have been publishing one sermon each Tuesday, but missed last week. (We got a puppy, which has been wonderful. But it has also thrown my schedule off quite a bit!) Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth” is the 27th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 12th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

Upon all occasions you may easily apply this rule. In order to know whether any who speak in the name of God are false or true prophets it is easy to observe, first, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to themselves? What effect has it had upon their lives? Are they holy and unblameable in all things? What effect has it had upon their hearts? Does it appear by the general tenor of their conversation that their tempers are holy, heavenly, divine? That the mind is in them which was in Christ Jesus? That they are meek, lowly, patient lovers of God and man, and zealous of good works? [III.2]


One sentence summary:  

Jesus warns of the dangers of false prophets, who can be recognized by their fruit.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

– Matthew 7:15-20


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth”

1. Many people “run on to destruction” because they would not walk in the narrow way.
2. To try and prevent this, the Lord has sent watchmen to warn people of their danger. But what happens when they themselves go astray?
3. Sadly, this is not uncommon. And so Jesus wisely warns us to “Beware of false prophets.”
4. This sermon will: First, inquire who false prophets are. Second, what appearance they put on. Third, How we may know what they really are, regardless of their appearance.

I.1. Who are these false prophets?
2. “By ‘prophets’ here are meant, not those who foretell things to come, but those who speak in the name of God.” False prophets, then, teach a false way to heaven, a way which does not actually lead there.
3. Every broad way is a false one. And those who do not teach us to walk in the narrow way, “to be singular, are false prophets.”
4. “The only true way to heaven is that pointed out in the preceding sermon [the Sermon on the Mount]. Therefore they are false prophets who do not teach men to walk in this way.”
5. It doesn’t matter what any of these other ways are called. If what they teach is different from the Sermon on the Mount, they are false prophets.
6. “How much more do they fall under that condemnation who speak evil of this good way!”
7. False prophets are those “who encourage the proud, the trifler, the passionate, the lover of the world, the man of pleasure, the unjust or unkind, the easy, careless, harmless, useless creature, the man who suffers no reproach for righteousness’ sake, to imagine he is in the way to heaven.”

II. 1. They are not obviously false prophets, or no one would follow them. They come in disguise as those leading to the way to life.
2. They appear harmless, mild mannered, and inoffensive.
3. They seem useful. They have been set apart “to watch over your soul, and to train you up to eternal life.”
4. “They come, thirdly, with an appearance of religion. All they do is for conscience’ sake! They assure you it is out of mere zeal for God that they are making God a liar.”
5. “Above all, they come with an appearance of love. They take all these pains only for your good.”

III. 1. How may we know what they really are? You shall know them by their fruits.
2. “In order to know whether any who speak in the name of God are false or true prophets it is easy to observe, first, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to themselves? What effect has it had upon their lives? Are they holy and unblameable in all things? What effect has it had upon their hearts?
3. Second, what is the fruit of their teaching on those who hear them?
4. A false prophet brings forth evil fruit “always, and of necessity.”
5. Beware of false prophets! They cannot lead you in the way to heaven.
6. Wesley wrestles with whether we should ever hear false prophets. Jesus directs his followers at times to hear those who are known to be false prophets.
7. This applies not only to hearing them read Scripture but to expounding it.
8. False prophets also administer the sacraments. To direct people to not hear them, when they are leading churches would be to cut them off from the sacraments. “This we dare not do, considering the validity of the ordinance [sacrament] doth not depend on the goodness of him that administers [the officiant], but on the faithfulness of him that ordained it [Jesus].”
9. “All, therefore, which I can say is this: in any particular case wait upon God by humble and earnest prayer, and then act according to the best light you have.”
10. Wesley concludes by addressing false prophets directly: “How long will ye lie in the name of God, saying God hath spoken, and God hath not spoken by you? How long will ye pervert the right ways of the Lord, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness? How long will ye teach the way of death, and call it the way of life? How long will ye deliver to Satan the souls whom you profess to bring unto God?”
11. “Woe unto you, ye blind leaders of the blind!”
12. “If the Lord had sent you, the ‘work of the Lord’, would ‘prosper in your hands.’ As the Lord liveth, if ye were messengers of God he would ‘confirm the word of his messengers.’ But the work of the Lord doth not prosper in your hand: you bring no sinners to repentance. The Lord doth not confirm your word, for you save no souls from death.”
13. “Your speaking as from God has only confirmed them that heard you in the tempers, if not works, of the devil. O take warning of him in whose name ye speak, before the sentence he hath pronounced take place. ‘Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.'”
14. “My dear brethren, harden not your hearts. You have too long shut your eyes against the light. Open them now, before it is too late; before you are cast into outer darkness. Let not any temporal consideration weigh with you; for eternity is at stake.”


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-six Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

Thoughts on Theological Education (And Three Practical Suggestions)

There are a handful of books I hear about over and over, intend to read, but for one reason or another have a hard time getting to. When I finally do get to a book like this, it is almost always rewarding.

Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith was such a book. It was published more than a decade ago and has been widely read. I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. And now I can see why I’ve heard so much about it. This is not intended to be a review of the book, but my initial reflection on theological education that was prompted by it. (I do recommend reading it, if, like me, you haven’t gotten to it yet.)


Here are some key questions towards the beginning that drew me in:

What if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires?

What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut – what the New Testament refers to as kardia, “the heart”?

What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions – our visions of ‘the good life’ – and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking?….

And what if it had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds?

What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” (17-18)


These are fascinating and important questions!

My interest was further piqued by his summary of the purpose of the book on the next page:

This book is out to raise the stakes of Christian education, which will also mean raising the stakes of Christian worship. The goal is to get us to appreciate what’s at stake in both – nothing less than the formation of radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God.” (19)

In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith seeks to correct the misunderstanding of people as primarily thinkers or believers that is prevalent in many parts of American Christianity. In this problematic approach, formation is aimed at the head and not at the heart. It  is primarily cognitive, rather than embodied and affective. Smith uses a variety of avenues to try to help the reader see that the culture understands the role of desire. This is why advertising, for example, targets our hearts and not our heads.

And this is why the culture is so much more successful in forming people than the church.


Smith turns to Christian higher education in the final chapter of the book. Let me set the table with two key quotes from the beginning of the chapter:

If Christian education is not merely about acquiring a Christian perspective or a Christian worldview, what is its goal? Its goal, I’m suggesting, is the same as the goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation – but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s cruciform cultural labor….

If something like Christian universities are to exist, they should be configured as extensions of the mission of the church – as chapels that extend and amplify what’s happening at the heart of the cathedral, at the altar of Christian worship. In short, the task of Christian education needs to be reconnected to the thick practices of the church.” (220)


As I read Desiring the Kingdom, I found myself trying to apply Smith’s ideas to theological education, particularly the training of clergy for full-time service and leadership within the church.

It seems to me that much of so-called mainline theological education fails to do what Smith envisions, not so much because it continues to be overly concerned with the life of the mind in a way that ignores the heart or the cultivation of desire. Seminaries seem to me increasingly concerned with forming desire. The problem is that it is not always clear what informs values about what we ought to desire. Put differently, Smith’s goal: “the formation of radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God” requires a degree of clarity regarding theological commitments. (This may be a difference between my own context and that of Smith’s. While I agree with him about the ultimate importance of forming radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God, I also see a need for greater clarity and coherence in theological commitments for this to be possible.)

Mainline theological education largely exists to prepare people to be pastors in Christian churches. This is a very specific purpose. And it is unavoidably connected to a host of values, beliefs, and convictions. But this is also not the only reason that mainline seminaries exist. Someone who wants to get a PhD in Religious Studies, for example, will often start by pursuing a Master’s degree. These students may or may not be Christians. As a result, in many mainline seminaries there is something of an ambivalent relationship between Christian commitments that are unabashedly designed to form radical disciples of Jesus and academic work.

One way seminaries address this tension is by creating extracurricular offices and programming that provides spiritual formation for students who elect to participate in it. And this is a logical approach given the dominant assumptions for much of contemporary theological education. My purpose here is not to be dismissive of these efforts. Rather, I want them to be lifted up as essential and centered in the curriculum itself.


It is strange to me that the church would require a specific degree for ordination and also accept so little control over how students are formed while in seminary. This is all the more odd when you remember that these institutions were themselves founded and funded by these churches.


If Christian education is best thought of as Christian formation, and if the task that is most needed is shaping our hearts and teaching us to love rightly, how might this change the way that students are prepared for ministry during their time in seminary?

First, if seminaries put discipleship at the center, there would need to be careful thinking about the places where there is overlap across denominational or confessional lines where fruitful formation within the Body of Christ can happen.

Second, there would need to be clearly demarcated denominational or confessional spaces where overlap would not be fruitful. The key is that there would be distinct space for different denominations or confessional traditions to gather and seek to cultivate desire for this distinctive embodiment of the Christian life. This should be integrated within the curriculum. There are already examples of this happening in many seminaries with denominational “Houses of Study” that are largely led by denominations that require that seminaries allow them more input in how their students’s are formed in seminary.


What would this look like practically speaking?

My sense is that few people would actively resist bringing greater attention to formation of the heart within seminary life. In fact, most seminaries already recognize that this is an area that can be improved and have worked hard to address this deficiency. But, again, my sense is that these are almost always activities that occur on the periphery. They are voluntary and tangential or entirely outside of the curriculum.

To give one example: Generally speaking, learning how to pray is not generally seen as a core competency in order to graduate from seminary.  But surely prayer is something that a pastor needs to be able to do well. Surely prayer is something that one needs to practice in order to become more effective. And to Smith’s point: a person who is becoming a radical disciple of Jesus Christ who desires the kingdom of God will surely be a person who spends significant time praying.

Embodied practices like prayer, searching the Scriptures, worship, receiving the Lord’s Supper, etc. are not at the center of mainline seminary curriculum.

I suspect most committed Christian laity would find this to be surprising. Aren’t these the very places seminary students most need to be proficient if they are to be effective leaders in the church of Jesus Christ? These are not the only areas where pastors need to be capable. But they are surely areas where pastors do need to be capable.


I conclude with three specific ways a seminary curriculum could help students who are preparing for full-time ordained leadership become radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God.

Mark time by practices of corporate worship

The conversation about whether attendance in chapel should or should not be required misses the mark in my view. Rather, the goal should be a seminary experience that would simply be unthinkable without regular corporate worship. I imagine someone saying, “I don’t know what that would be, but if we aren’t regularly gathering together as a community to worship the Triune God, it certainly is not seminary.”

Integrate Scripture reading, prayer, and discernment with instruction

Classes would have rhythms of reading Scripture and praying together. It would not be seen as unusual for a class to pray in the middle of a session. This would not be an irresponsible interruption to the information that needs to be covered, or an unwarranted intrusion into student’s lives. Students would be learning to discern truth and the voice of the Lord, even in the classroom. Space would unashamedly be given to this in the learning environment. Learning to hear the voice of God, for example, with all of its struggles, frustrations, joys, and breakthroughs would be centered in the seminary experience, not pressed to the margins, viewed with skepticism, or ridiculed.

Gather in Class and Band Meetings

For Wesleyan/Methodist students, small group formation in groups like the class meeting and the band meeting would be essential. This was the first practice that came to mind as I read Desiring the Kingdom. (I know, big surprise there.) Classes and bands teach participants to look at their lives through the lens of the gospel. And these groups help students notice and voice the places where they have experienced God’s goodness. And they teach participants the blessing of inviting people into the places where they have struggled to be faithful or have felt distant from God. Wesleyans believe that growth in holiness happens in community. Therefore, it is essential that Wesleyan “social holiness” is integrated into seminary curriculum.


Desiring the Kingdom is an important book. I encourage you to read it if you haven’t. What do you think about the role of theological education in forming desire for the kingdom in students? How is this being done well? How do you think it could be done better?


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.

John Wesley’s Sermon “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh”: A Brief Summary

John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 26th sermon in this series. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” or jump right in with us!


Background:

Did you know that many of John Wesley’s sermons are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of multiple Wesleyan/Methodist denominations? Wesley’s sermons have particular authority because these were the main way he taught Methodist doctrine and belief.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh” is the 26th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 11th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself. Links to the sermon and other resources are included at the end of this post.


Key quote: 

This is an inseparable property of the way to heaven. So narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, unto life everlasting, so strait the gate, that nothing unclean, nothing unholy, can enter. No sinner can pass through that gate until he is saved from all his sins. Not only from his outward sins, from his evil ‘conversation, received by tradition from his fathers’. It will not suffice that he hath ‘ceased to do evil’ and ‘learned to do well’. He must not only be saved from all sinful actions and from all evil and useless discourse; but inwardy changed, throughly renewed in the spirit of his mind. Otherwise he cannot pass through the gate of life, he cannot enter into glory. [II.2]


One sentence summary:  

The way that leads to destruction is wide, easy to follow, and popular, while the way that leads to life is narrow and unpopular.


Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leaders to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leaders unto life, and few there be that find it.”

– Matthew 7:13-14


Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh”

1. Jesus warns us of the dangers of bad examples and bad advice.
2. Wesley cites Matthew 7:13-14
3. The properties of the way to hell: wide, broad, leading to destruction, and largely populated. The properties of the way to heaven: straight, narrow, leading to life, and few find it.

I.1. “The inseparable properties of the way to hell: ‘Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.'”
2. “Sin is the gate of hell, and wickedness the way to destruction.”
3. Carnality, pride, self-will, and love of the world are sins that “diffuse themselves through all our thoughts, and mingle with all our tempers.”
4. There are countless sins in our midst right now, even in this city.
5. “Even in this which is called a Christian country the generality of every age and sex, of every profession and employment, of every rank and degree, high and low, rich and poor, are walking in the way of destruction.”
6. The higher people rise in wealth and status, “the more sins do they commit; using their honor or riches, their learning or wisdom, not as means of working out their salvation, but rather of excelling in vice, and so ensuring their own destruction.”

II. 1. “Straight is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
2. “This is an inseparable property of the way to heaven. So narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, unto life everlasting, so strait the gate, that nothing unclean, nothing unholy, can enter.”
3. The way that leads to life is “universal holiness.”
4. How few there are who fully love God and neighbor!
5. Negative examples have a powerful impact on us, especially when there are so many. “How difficult must it be to stem the tide, and to keep ourselves ‘unspotted in the world’!”
6. This is all the more challenging because bad examples often come from “the polite, the well-bred, the genteel, the wise, the men who understand the world; the men of knowledge, of deep and various learning, the rational, the eloquent!”
7. There are also many “mighty and noble and powerful men, as well as wise, in the road that leadeth to destruction.”
8. “Many rich are likewise in the broad way.”
9. “For how dark, how uncomfortable, how forbidding is the prospect on the opposite side! A strait gate! A narrow way! And few finding that gate!
10. Those on the narrow way are easy to ignore or ridicule because they “are not noble, not honorable men.”

III. 1. Strive to enter in at the strait gate.
2. One reason it seems that some cannot enter in is because the door has been shut.
3. “Probably they did seek before the door was shut; but that did not suffice. And they did strive, after the door was shut; but then it was too late.
4. “Settle it in your heart, and let it be ever uppermost in your thoughts, that if you are in a broad way, you are in the way that leadeth to destruction. If many go with you, as sure as God is true, both they and you are going to hell.”
5. “Now, then, ‘strive to enter in at the strait gate,’ being penetrated with the deepest sense of the inexpressible danger your soul is in so long as you are in a broad way, so long as you are void of poverty of spirit and all that inward religion which the many, the rich, the wise, account madness.”
6. Strive to enter in at the straight gate by ordering your conversation right, by abstaining from all appearance of evil, and doing all possible good to all people. “Be ready to cut off thy right hand, to pluck out they right eye and cast it from thee; to suffer the loss of goods, friends, health, all things on earth, so thou mayst enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


Resources:

Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-five Standard Sermons:

Salvation by Faith

The Almost Christian

Awake, Thou That Sleepest

Scriptural Christianity

Justification by Faith

The Righteousness of Faith

The Way to the Kingdom

The First-Fruits of the Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption

The Witness of the Spirit, I

The Witness of Our Own Spirit

The Means of Grace

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fourth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth

I highly recommend the critical edition of Wesley’s sermons, which has excellent references that show his reliance on Scripture throughout his preaching. There are four volumes if you want every known Wesley sermon. They aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. Highly recommended!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.


Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.