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 “Scriptural Christianity” at St. Mary’s, Oxford University as the final sermon he preached before the university on August 24, 1744. In this sermon, Wesley bluntly confronts Oxford University with their failure to live according to the teaching of Scripture. When you read this sermon, you will likely not be surprised to find out that this was the last time Wesley was invited to preach at St. Mary’s.
This was the fourth and final sermon of the sermons the Wesleys preached at St. Mary’s. It was also the final sermon in the sermons included as a kind of preface to Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. “Scriptural Christianity” is the fourth 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 “Scriptural Christianity.” I hope it will inspire you to read the sermon in its entirety yourself (check out the resources at the end of this post).
May it not be one of the consequences of this that so many of you are a generation of triflers; triflers with God, with one another, and with your own souls? For how few of you spend, from one week to another, a single hour in private prayer? How few have any thought of God in the general tenor of your conversation? Who of you is in any degree acquainted with the work of his Spirit? His supernatural work in the souls of men? Can you bear, unless now and then in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted if one began such a conversation that it was either ‘hypocrisy’ or ‘enthusiasm’? In the name of the Lord God Almighty I ask, What religion are you of? Even the talk of Christianity ye cannot, will not, bear! O my brethren! What a Christian city is this? ‘It is time for thee, Lord, to lay to thine hand!’….
Lord, save, or we perish! Take us out of the mire, that we sink not! O help us against these enemies! For vain is the help of man. Unto thee all things are possible. According to the greatness of thy power, preserve thou those that are appointed to die. And preserve us in the manner that seemest thee good; not as we will, but as thou wilt! [IV. 10-11]
One sentence summary:
John Wesley confronts Oxford with the disconnect between scriptural Christianity and the nominally Christian lives of most people in Oxford.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” – Acts 4:31 (KJV)
Concise outline of “Scriptural Christianity”
- Wesley makes a comparison of Acts 4:13 to similar verses in Acts 2.
- In Acts 4:31, the place was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
- They were filled with the Holy Ghost for a ‘more excellent purpose’ than the gifts of the Spirit.
- They were filled with the Holy Ghost to give them the mind which was in Christ, those holy fruits of the spirit which whosoever hath not ‘is none of his’; to fill them with ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness’; to endue them with faith, meekness and temperance; to enable them to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, its passions and desires; and, in consequence of that inward change to fulfill all outward righteousness.
- Without losing focus by arguing about the extraordinary gifts, let us focus on the ordinary fruits:
- As beginning to exist in individuals.
- As spreading from one to another.
- As covering the earth.
- Wesley will close with a plain practical application.
I. Let us consider Christianity in its rise, as beginning with individuals.
1. Suppose one heard Peter preach, repented, received faith and the witness of the Spirit.
2. He could not be afraid of any evil tidings.
3. His soul magnified the Lord and his spirit rejoiced in God his Savior.
4. The love of God was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost.
5. He loves his brother also.
6. Love is not puffed up, he is lowly of heart.
7. It was impossible for him knowlingly and designedly to do harm to any man.
8. He continued daily in all the ordinances of God and daily grew in grace.
9. It wasn’t enough to abstain from evil, his soul was athirst to do good.
10. Such was Christianity in its rise.
II.Let us take a view of Christianity spreading from one to another and growing.
1. It was the will of God that Christianity should spread from his first followers to others.
2. Lovers of mankind would be concerned for ‘the whole world lying in wickedness.’
3. Christians of old warned people to escape the damnation of hell.
4. They spoke to every person what was suited to their circumstance.
5. Their labors grew the church, but also grew the number of people who were offended.
6. The more Christianity spread, the more hurt was done to those who didn’t receive it.
7. Persecution arose in all of its forms.
8. Then the pillars of hell were shaken and the kingdom of God spread more and more.
9. As Christianity spread, how soon did the tares appear with the wheat! How soon did Satan find a seat, even in the temple of God!
III. Shall we not see greater things than these?
1. Can Satan cause the truth of God to fail? If not, Christianity will cover all the earth.
2. God has not cast away his people but is working so salvation can come to the Gentiles.
3. Suppose now the fullness of time to be come and the prophecies accomplished.
4. With righteousness or justice, mercy is also found.
5. No unkind or deceptive word would be heard.
6. When God reigns he will cause every heart to overflow with love and every mouth with praise.
IV. A plain practical application.
1. Where does this Christianity now exist? Where do the Christians live?
2. If you think I’m a fool, bear with me, do not prevent yourself from being blessed only because it comes through me.
3. Is this city a Christian city?
4. I am not talking about contested ideas, only the fundamental branches of our common Christianity.
5. Are you filled with the Holy Ghost?
6. To the teachers at Oxford: Are you filled with the Holy Ghost? Do you continually remind your students that the end of their studies is to know, love, and serve God?
7. I’m only speaking as if all under your care were intended to be Christians (not clergy).
8. Are those of us called to ministry patterns to the rest?
9. Do the youth have either the form or the power of Christian godliness?
10. Are not many of you a generation of triflers?
11. What is the chance that scriptural Christianity should again be the religion of this place? Lord, save, or we perish!
Read “Scriptural Christianity” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first three Standard Sermons:
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.