John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 12th sermon in this series. I took a few weeks off in July, but generally 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 Means of Grace” is the twelfth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons and focuses on a crucial concept for Wesleyan discipleship. In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Means of Grace.” 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: 

By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end – to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace….

The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of him; and these we believe to be ordained of God as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men. [II.1]

One sentence summary:  

The means of grace are concrete spiritual disciplines set apart by God as the most reliable way we receive preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.” – Malachi 3:7 (KJV)

Concise outline of “The Means of Grace”

I. Misuses and misunderstandings of the means of grace

1. Are there any ordinances since life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel?
2. Some began to mistake the means for the end – to place religion in doing, not in a heart renewed.
3. To those who abused them, they didn’t do what they were intended.
4. Some sought to reform misuse by pointing out the uselessness of the means for their own sake or as a work.
5. Some went too far the other way and began to say outward religion was nothing.
6. This is particularly embraced by those tired and ready to sink into indolent activity.

II. Proper understanding of the means of grace

1. Means of grace – outward signs, words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end – to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace. Means of grace are prayer, searching the Scriptures, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.
2. The whole value of the means depends on their subservience to the end of religion.
3. All outward means, if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all.
4. The use of all means will never atone for one sin, the blood of Christ alone atones.
5. A large proportion of Christians abuse the means of grace to the destruction of their souls.
6. By grace ye are saved.
7. How do I wait upon God for salvation?
8. It cannot be that the Word of God is silent on such an important point.

III. The witness of Scripture regarding the use of the means of grace

1. All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the means of grace. The first is prayer (Wesley cites Matthew 7:7-8 and Matthew 13:46).
2. God tells us to use prayer and promises it will be effectual. (Matthew 7:9-11, Luke 11:13)
3. We receive of God by importunately asking what otherwise we should not receive at all! (Luke 11:5, 7-9)
5. Matthew 6:6.
6. James 1:5.
7. 2nd: search the Scriptures (John 5:39) – hearing, reading, meditating on Scripture.
8. 2 Timothy 3:15, and 16-17.
9. Scripture is good for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction.
10. All who desire the day to dawn search the Scriptures.
11. 3rd: the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
12. Let all who truly desire the grace of God partake of the Lord’s Supper.

IV. Objections

1. You cannot use these means without trusting in them. If I am troubled when I leave off the means, that indicates being troubled because I willfully disobeyed God, not that I trusted in the means.
2. This is seeking salvation by works. Waiting in the way God has ordained is not that.
3. Christ is the only means of grace. This is a mere play on words.
4. Scripture directs us to wait for salvation – Yes, in the way God ordained (i.e, using the means of grace).
5. God has appointed another way – “stand still and see the salvation of God.”
6. Doesn’t Paul say, ‘If ye be dead with Christ, why are ye subject to ordinances?’ (Col 2:20) The great truth must stand: all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the means he hath ordained.

V. How to use the means of grace

1. How should these means be used?
2. Hearing or conversation is often first.
3. No particular order is required and the means can be varied.
4.a. God is above all means. He can do whatever he pleases.
4.b. Let it be deeply impressed in your soul – there is no power in this.
4.c. In using all means, seek God alone. Use means as means – in order to renew your soul in righteousness and true holiness.
4.d. Take care not to take pride in your use of the means.


Read “The Means of Grace” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first eleven 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

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.