The previous two posts have offered brief introductions to the first two sermons that are part of the formal doctrinal teaching of many Wesleyan/Methodist denominations. Did you know that one of these sermons was actually written and preached by Charles Wesley, who is best known for writing hymns like “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”?
Charles Wesley preached the sermon “Awake, Thou That Sleepest” at St. Mary’s, Oxford University as one of the University sermons on April 4, 1742. This is the only sermon Charles preached in St. Mary’s.
This was the third of four sermons the Wesleys preached at St. Mary’s that formed the beginning of Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. “Awake, Thou That Sleepest” is the third in the Standard Sermons that are a key part of the formal doctrine of many Wesleyan/Methodist denominations. And it is the only one that was not written by John Wesley.
In hopes of sparking interest in these sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Awake, Thou That Sleepest.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself! (Check out the resources at the end of this post.)
Awake, thou everlasting spirit, out of thy dream of worldly happiness. Did not God create thee for himself? Then thou canst not rest till thou restest in him. Return, thou wanderer. Fly back to thy ark. ‘This is not thy home.’ Think not of building tabernacles here. Thou art but ‘a stranger, a sojourner upon earth’; a creature of a day, but just launching out into an unchangeable state. Make haste; eternity is at hand. Eternity depends on this moment: an eternity of happiness, or an eternity of misery! [II.6]
One sentence summary:
People, who by nature are asleep and separated from God, must wake up, put their faith in Jesus Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Ephesians 5:14 (KJV)
Concise outline of “Awake, Thou That Sleepest”
I. Who is the sleeper Ephesians 5:14 speaks of?
1. By sleep is signified the natural state of man.
2. The poor unawakened sinner has no knowledge of himself.
3. Full of all disease, he thinks he is in perfect health.
4. Sleeper: a sinner satisfied in his sin, ignorant of his disease and only cure.
5. If he is not outwardly vicious, his sleep is usually deepest of all.
6. He has a form of godliness but denies the power thereof.
7. However highly esteemed among men such a Christian may be, he is an abomination to God.
8. He abides in death, though he doesn’t know it.
9. Before one can arise they must come to know they are dead to God and the things of God.
10. He does not have the spiritual senses necessary to discern spiritual good and evil.
11. Because he has no spiritual senses, he denies that they exist.
12. If you don’t have the witness of the Spirit, you need to be convinced you are unawakened.
II. Exhortation based on Ephesians 5:14
1. Know yourself, your true state. Judge yourself and you won’t be judged by the Lord.
2. Awake and cry out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ And never rest till thou believest on the Lord Jesus, with a faith which is his gift, by the operation of his Spirit.
3. I am especially speaking to those who are unconcerned with this exhortation.
4. May the angel of the Lord wake you up!
5. Did God not create you for himself? Then you cannot rest until you rest in him.
6. In what state is your soul?
7. Are you a new creature?
8. Have you received the Holy Spirit?
9. If the question offends you, you aren’t a Christian and don’t really want to be one.
10. Have you received the Holy Spirit? A Christian is anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power. Christianity is participation in the divine nature, the life of God in the soul of man.
11. New creation is essential, inward change, spiritual birth, holiness.
12. Doing no harm and doing good will not save you.
13. Awake from spiritual death and come out from among the dead.
III. Explain the promise “and Christ shall give thee light” from Ephesians 5:14
1. If you awake, he has bound himself to give you light.
2. God is light, and will give himself to every awakened sinner who waits for him.
3. We are called to be a dwelling place for God through his Spirit.
4. The Spirit of Christ is that great gift of God which he has promised to us.
5. You may all be living witnesses of these things, of remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
6. Eternal life is: to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. This experimental knowledge, and this alone, is true Christianity.
7. He is antichrist whosoever denies the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or that the indwelling Spirit of God is the common privilege of all believers.
8. In ‘only’ denying the inspiration of the Holy Spirit you deny the whole Scriptures, the whole truth and promise and testimony of God.
9. Any who deny the inspiration of the Holy Spirit renounce the Church of England.
10. The wisdom of God was always ‘foolishness with men.’
11. Even among those who have kept themselves pure from those grosser abominations, how much love of the world and fear of man is to be found.
12. I wish I could except us from this, but we have not kept ourselves pure.
13. God has withheld judgment for now, but how much longer?
14. God, be glorified in our reformation, not our destruction.
15. It is high time for us to wake up!
Read “Awake, Thou That Sleepest” in its entirety.
Want to know more about Charles Wesley? John R. Tyson’s Assist Me to Proclaim is an accessible biography of Charles Wesley.
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.