John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 19th 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 by John Wesley in this series, “Salvation by Faith,” 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 Fourth” is the 19th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 4th of 13 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 Fourth.” 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: 

‘Ye’ Christians ‘are the light of the world,’ with regard both to your tempers and actions. Your holiness makes you as conspicuous as the sun in the midst of heaven. As ye cannot go out of the world, so neither can ye stay in it without appearing to all mankind. Ye may not flee from men, and while ye are among them it is impossible to hide your lowliness and meekness and those other dispositions whereby ye aspire to be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Love cannot be hid any more than light; and least of all when it shines forth in action, when ye exercise yourselves in the labour of love, in beneficence of every kind. As well may men think to hide a city as to hide a Christian: yea, as well may they conceal a city set upon a hill as a holy, zealous, active lover of God and man. [II.2]

One sentence summary:  

Christianity is essentially a social religion that is impossible to hide, seeking to either make it private or hide it is to destroy it.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light to all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16

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

1. The beauty of holiness, of the inner heart renewed after the image of God, cannot but strike every eye which God hath opened, every enlightened understanding.
2. The objection to Christianity comes from the doing and the suffering.
3. Many have recommended ceasing from all outward actions and wholly withdrawing from the world.
4. This is not godly wisdom but “wisdom from beneath, this fairest of all the devices wherewith Satan hath ever perverted the right ways of the Lord!”
5. Jesus here sufficiently guards us against this delusion.

I. “Christianity is essentially a social religion, to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.”

1. Christianity cannot subsist at all without society, without living and conversing with other people. This is not to say that it is invalid to withdraw from society at times to converse with God.
2. “Yet such retirement must not swallow up all our time; this would be to destroy, not advance, true religion.”
3. Meekness is an illustration. Trying to practice meekness alone is impossible and the attempt destroys it.
4. Peacemaking or doing of good also illustrate the fundamentally social nature of Christianity.
5. We are also not permitted to limit our conversation and interaction with only good people.
6. If we break off all interaction with the world, we cannot be Christians at all.
7. It is in the very nature of Christians to season whatever is around them.
8. Those who do not impart what they have received as Christians are in a more desperate state than if they had not become Christians.
9. This refers specifically to those who have experienced the new birth and then fall into absolute, total apostasy.

II. Christian faith is impossible to hide and doing so is contrary to the design of its author.

1. Is there a way to keep our faith to ourselves and not offend others?
2. “So long as true religion abides in our hearts it is impossible to conceal it, as well as absolutely contrary to the design of its great author… Your holiness makes you as conspicuous as the sun in the midst of heaven.”
3. People who love darkness rather than light will try to prove that the light in you is darkness.
4. “Whatever religion can be concealed is not Christianity.” The only way to hide the light is by putting it out.
5. “It is the design of God that every Christian should be in an open point of view; that he may give light to all around; that he may visibly express the religion of Jesus Christ.”
6. In every place where God has spoken, there are witnesses who testified to the gospel with their lives and their words.
7. Despite all of this, there are still relentless objections “brought against being social, open, active Christians.”

III. Responding to objections

1. Objection: religion does not lie in outward things but in the heart.
Answer: The root of religion does lie in the heart, it is “the life of God in the soul of man.” But if this root is present, “it cannot but put forth branches.”
2. Objection: Love is all in all.
Answer: The love of God is all in all. But that does not mean love supersedes faith or good works. Love is the fulfilling of the law, not a release from it but constraining us to obey it.
3. Objection: “Does not the Apostle direct us to ‘follow after charity?’
Answer: The Apostle does direct us to follow after charity, but not that alone. He directs us to outward actions.
4. Objection: “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Answer: Worshipping God in spirit and truth involves glorifying God with our bodies and our spirits.
5. Continued Answer: Contemplation, then, is only one way of worshipping God in spirit and in truth.
6. Objection: “We used outward things many years; and yet they profited nothing.
Answer: You confused the means for the end, supposing that doing outward works was the religion of Jesus or would be accepted in the place of it. “Now use all outward things; but use them with a constant eye to the renewal of your soul in righteousness and true holiness.”
7. Objection: Trying to do good is a waste of energy. What is the point of clothing someone who is about to go to hell?
Answer: 1. You are commanded to feed the hungry and clothe the naked whether they will finally be lost or saved. If you don’t, you are the one whose salvation will be in jeopardy. 2. We are to do everything we can to rescue the perishing, though leaving the results up to God. 3. God builds us up through good works.
8. Objection: We tried to do good and we failed, sometimes making things worse for those to whom we ministered.
Answer: “It is your part to do as you are commanded: the event is in the hand of God.”

IV. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

1. Let your “lowliness of heart, your gentleness and meekness of wisdom; your serious, weighty concern for the things of eternity, and sorrow for the sins and miseries of men; your earnest desire of universal holiness and full happiness in God; your tender goodwill to all mankind, and fervent love to your supreme benefactor” shine before all people.
2. Let your faith be visible so that “all who see your good works may ‘glorify your Father which is in heaven.'”
3. Let this be your one goal or purpose in all things.
4. Go with the sole desire to see people glorify God in you, and go with the power of God, even if you have to stand alone.


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

Check out my brief summaries of the first eighteen 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

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the First

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Second

Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Third

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.