John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 10th sermon in this series. You can expect to see a new post in this series by 10am EST on Tuesday mornings. Just joining the growing number of people reading these sermons? Feel free to start at the beginning by reading the first sermon linked below, or jump right in with us!


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 Witness of the Spirit, I” is the tenth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons and one of many sermons addressing this topic. In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Witness of the Spirit, 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: 

The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly ‘witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God’; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God. [I.7]

The Spirit of God does give a believer such a testimony of his adoption that while it is present to the soul he can no more doubt the reality of his sonship than he can doubt of the shining of the sun while he stands in the full blaze of his beams. [I.12]

One sentence summary:  

God confirms adoption of Christians as sons and daughters through a direct witness of the Holy Spirit with their spirits that they are sons or daughters of God.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” – Romans 8:16 (KJV)

Concise outline of “The Witness of the Spirit, I”

1. How many people have misunderstood this Scripture? The danger of mistaking the voice of our imagination for the true witness of the Spirit addressed.
2. The opposite error is imagining that the witness of the Spirit is not the privilege of ordinary Christians.
3. Is there not a middle way between these two extremes?
In hopes of finding this middle way, the sermon will:
First, define the witness of the Spirit.
Second, clarify how the witness of the Spirit is different from the presumption of the natural mind and the delusion of the devil.

I. What Is the Witness of the Spirit?

1. “There is in every believer both the testimony of God’s Spirit, and the testimony of his own, that he is a child of God.”
2. We can know that we are children of God based on whether we are led by the Spirit of God in our lives.
3. Wesley gives examples of Scripture passages in 1 John.
4. Those who have the marks identified in Scripture are children of God.
5. This appears to ourselves with direct immediacy.
6. There is a consciousness of having received the tempers mentioned in Scripture by the Spirit.
7. The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God.
8. The testimony of the Spirit comes before the testimony of our own spirits.
9. Then, and not till then, we love God because he first loved us and for his sake we love our brother also.
10. He does not in any way intend to exclude the operation of the Spirit of God.
11. The testimony of our spirit is beyond all reasonable doubt evidence of the reality of our sonship.
12. Wesley does not claim to explain how the Spirit witnesses to our spirits. But this testimony is so strong he can no more doubt it than he can doubt the shining of the son while he is standing in the full blaze of its beams.

II. How is the Witness of the Spirit Different from the Presumption of the Natural Mind and the Delusion of the Devil?

1. This is a very important question.
2. How is this testimony distinguished from the presumption of the natural mind?
3. The Scriptures abound with marks for distinguishing one from the other.
4. Repentance and conviction of sin always precede this witness.
5. Scripture describes being born again as a vast and mighty change.
6. Is joy in the Lord humble and self-abasing?
7. One who has received the witness of the Spirit will keep God’s commandments.
8. If you lack any of the previous and say you have the witness of the Spirit, you are deceiving yourself.
9. The real thing is distinguished from the false immediately and directly by our spiritual senses, if our spiritual senses are rightly disposed.
10. The direct immediacy of spiritual experience is valid epistemologically.
11. One who has spiritual senses will struggle to express or explain to one who has not.
12. Test the inward and outward fruit.
13. By the same fruit you shall distinguish the voice of God from any delusion of the devil.
14. If you have this, give thanks to God, “cleanse thyself from all filthiness of flesh and Spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God; and let all thy thoughts words, and works be a spiritual sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ!”


Read “The Witness of the Spirit, I” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first 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

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.