John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 13th 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 Circumcision of the Heart” is the thirteenth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons and is the first that Wesley actually preached. The sermon is a revised version of a sermon he preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford on January 1, 1733. This is a sermon Wesley himself identified as a crucial summary of his understanding of salvation and holiness.

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Circumcision of the Heart.” 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: 

In general we may observe it is that habitual disposition of the soul which in the Sacred Writings is termed ‘holiness’, and which directly implies the being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’, and by consequence the being endued with those virtues which were also in Christ Jesus, the being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind’ as to be ‘perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect’. [I.1]

One sentence summary:  

The circumcision of the heart is a radical change, an inner transformation, where by faith we receive humility, faith, hope, and love.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter.” – Romans 2:29

Concise outline of “The Circumcision of the Heart”

1. If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.
2. This is a hard saying to natural people.
3. Circumcision of the heart is a right state of soul.

I. What is the circumcision of the heart?

1. The habitual disposition of the soul which in the Sacred Writings is termed holiness, directly implies being cleansed from sin and being renewed in mind so as to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
2. Circumcision of the heart implies humility, faith, hope, and charity.
3. We are convinced we are not sufficient to help ourselves.
4. It is a disregard of that honor which comes of man.
5. Faith alone is able to make us whole.
6. It is a faith that is mighty through God to pull down strongholds.
7. All things are possible to him that thus believes.
8. This faith delivers from the yoke of sin.
9. Brings hope and testimony of their own spirits that they are children of God.
10. He will renounce the works of darkness, every appetite, and affection not subject to the laws of God.
11. Add to all of this love and you have the circumcision of the heart.
12. It implies we love our brother and sister also.
13. Have no end, no ultimate end, but God.

II. Reflections that naturally arise from such an inquiry

1. No one has a title to the praises of God unless his heart has been circumcised by humility.
2. None shall obtain the honor that comes from God until his heart is circumcised by faith.
3. A caution against laying another foundation, in seeking to ground religion on the “eternal fitness of things.”
4. Importance of faith and works.
5. None is truly led by the Spirit unless the Spirit witnesses with their spirit that they are children of God.
6. It is time for people to deal faithfully with their own souls.
7. This is not any easy effortless road.
8. It requires daily self-denial.
9. Reemphasis on the centrality of a heart circumcised by love.
10. Do everything to the glory of God, set our sights completely on giving our hearts to God.


Read “The Circumcision of the Heart” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first twelve 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

The Means of Grace

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.