John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 16th 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.

“Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First” is the sixteenth sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the first of thirteen sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that 13 of the 44 original Standard Sermons focused on the Sermon on the Mount gives an idea of the importance John Wesley placed on Matthew 5-7. Wesley spends so much time on these three chapters of the Bible because he believed they provide essential teaching from Jesus on “the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom.”

In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First.” 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: 

And what is it which he is teaching? The Son of God, who came from heaven, is here showing us the way to heaven, to the place which he hath prepared for us, the glory he had before the world began. He is teaching us the true way to life everlasting, the royal way which leads to the kingdom. And the only true way; for there is none besides – all other paths lead to destruction. From the character of the speaker we are well assured that he hath declared the full and perfect will of God. He hath uttered not one tittle too much: nothing more than he had received of the Father. Nor too little: he hath not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. Much less hath he uttered anything wrong, anything contrary to the will of him that sent him. All his words are true and right concerning all things, and shall stand fast for ever and ever. [.3]

One sentence summary:  

The Sermon on the Mount is essential teaching for the Christian life and the promise of blessing that comes through poverty of spirit and mourning are a key foundation of the sermon.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:1-4

Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First”

1. Introduction to the sermon and context of the passage.
2. Let us observe who it is that is speaking, that we may take heed how we hear.
3. He is teaching that the Son of God, who came from heaven, is showing us the way to heaven.
4. Who is teaching? One having authority, not as the scribes.
5. All men allow with regard to some parts of the ensuing discourse.
6. Maybe they will say the reason of the thing requires such a restriction because it is absurd or contradicts other Scripture. But neither is the case.
7. Jesus speaks here as a person has never previously spoken.
8. With what amazing love does the Son of God here reveal his Father’s will to man!
9. With what authority does he teach! He speaks as God!
10. This divine discourse is divided into three parts: Matthew 5 contains the sum of all true religion in 8 particulars. Matthew 6 has the rules for right intention which we are to observe in all outward actions. And Matthew 7 cautions against the main hindrances of religion.

I. Blessed are the poor in spirit

1. The eight particulars Jesus lays down can be understood as the stages of a Christian’s course and also the things that are important at all times for every Christian.
2. The foundation of all is poverty of spirit.
3. Poverty of spirit does not mean only freedom from the love of money.
4. The poor in spirit are the humble, those convinced of sin.
5. Their guilt is before them and they know the punishment they deserve.
6. They knows they cannot obey the outward commands of God.
7. Poverty of spirit is a just sense of our inward and outward sins, our guilt and helplessness.
8. Reinforces by engaging Romans 1:18.
9. Christianity ends just where heathen morality ends.
10. Sinner awake! Know thyself!
11. Righteousness is the life of God in the soul, the mind which was in Jesus Christ.
12. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven – the humble turn to Christ and find salvation in him.
13. Poverty of Spirit begins where a sense of guilt and of the wrath of God ends, and is a continual sense of our total dependence on God for everything good.

II. Blessed are they that mourn

1. Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.
2. Expands the meaning of mourning.
3. They mourn after God.
4. Blessed are they who mourn because they shall be comforted by the witness of the Spirit. Full assurance of faith.
5. This process of mourning for an absent God and recovering the joy of the Lord’s countenance is shadowed in John 16:19-22.
6. The children of God still mourn for the sins and miseries of mankind.
7. But all this wisdom of God is foolishness with the world.
8. But let not the children of God be moved by these things.


Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First” in its entirety.

Check out my brief summaries of the first fifteen 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

The Circumcision of the Heart

The Marks of the New Birth

The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God

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!

There is also a three volume edition of Wesley’s sermons in modern English, which is easier to read if you find the 18th century English frustrating. Here is the first volume.

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.