What did John Wesley mean when he insisted that salvation is by faith? Wesley’s sermon “Salvation by Faith” is dedicated to this topic and remains a powerful teaching for Christian theology. This is my brief summary of the sermon.
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 doctrines and beliefs.
John Wesley preached the sermon “Salvation by Faith” at St. Mary’s, Oxford University as one of the University sermons on June 11, 1738. The date of the sermon tells us that Wesley preached this sermon less than three weeks after his famous “heart-warming” experience at Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738.
This sermon was included with four other sermons Wesley preached at St. Mary’s as the beginning of Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. “Salvation by Faith” is the first of the sermons in the Standard Sermons that are a key part of the formal doctrine of many Wesleyan/Methodist denominations.
In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Salvation by Faith.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself (check out the resources at the end of this post).
[Salvation by faith] is a sure confidence which a man hath in God, that through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; and in consequence hereof a closing with him and cleaving to him as our ‘wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption or, in one word, our salvation. (I.5)
One sentence summary:
Salvation by faith is trust and confidence in the work of Jesus Christ to forgive us, reconcile us to God, and enable our growth in righteousness and true holiness.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“By grace ye are saved through faith.” – Ephesians 2:8 (KJV)
Concise outline of “Justification by Faith”
1. Every good thing we receive from God is freely given by God and undeserved.
2. Sinful people cannot atone for their sins.
3. Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation.
I. What is the faith through which we are saved?
1. It is not barely the faith of a heathen.
2. It is not the faith of a devil.
3. It is not the faith the apostles had while Christ was still on earth.
4. It is faith in Christ that involves the head and the heart.
5. It acknowledges the necessity and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection.
II. What is salvation by faith?
1. It is a present salvation. “Ye are saved through faith.”
2. You are saved from sin, both from the guilt and power of it.
3. First, from the guilt of all past sin.
4. They are saved from fear a. of the wrath of God and b. of falling away from the grace of God.
5. Through this faith they are saved from the power of sin as well as from the guilt of it.
6. People born of God no longer sin.
7. This then is the salvation which is through faith, even in the present world: a salvation from sin and the consequences of sin.
III. Common Objections.
1. Objection: To preach salvation or justification by faith is to preach against holiness and good works. Answer: We speak of a faith that necessarily produces good works and all holiness.
2. Objection: Do we not make void the law through faith? Answer: We trust in Christ alone, use all ordinances, do the good works he appointed, and manifest holy tempers.
3. Objection: Does not preaching this faith lead to pride? Answer: It may accidentally. The key is to remain focused on salvation as sheer gift that is undeserved.
4. Objection: May not the speaking thus of the mercy of God encourage people in sin? Answer: It may, but the goodness of God will lead the sincere of heart to repent.
5. Objection: If a man cannot be saved by all that he can do, this will drive him to despair. Answer: It will drive them to despair of being saved by their own merit, which is necessary.
6. Objection: This is an uncomfortable doctrine. Answer: This is the only comfortable doctrine! (To all self-destroyed, self-condemned sinners.)
7. Objection: Salvation by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine. Answer: There can be no other foundation than Jesus Christ and that salvation is by faith in him alone.
8. Conclusion: Never was maintaining this doctrine more important than today.
9. The adversary rages when salvation by faith is declared to the world because it alone overturns the foundations of his kingdom.
Read “Salvation by Faith” in its entirety here. And then come back and share your one sentence summary of the sermon!
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!
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.