This is the 20th 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 Fifth” is the 20th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 5th 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 Fifth.” 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.
‘There is therefore the closest connection that can be conceived between the law and the gospel. On the one hand the law continually makes way for and points us to the gospel; on the other the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law. The law, for instance, requires us to love God, to love our neighbor, to be meek, humble, or holy. We feel that we are not sufficient for these things, yea, that ‘with man this is impossible.’ But we see a promise of God to give us that love, and to make us humble, meek, and holy. We lay hold of this gospel, of these glad tidings: it is done unto us according to our faith, and ‘the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us’ through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
We may yet farther observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise. For by that solemn declaration, ‘This is the covenant I will make after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in your minds, and write them in your hearts,’ God hath engaged to give whatsoever he commands. Does he command us then to ‘pray without ceasing’? To ‘rejoice evermore’? To be ‘holy as he is holy’? It is enough. He will work in us this very thing. It shall be unto us according to his word. [II.3]
One sentence summary:
Jesus did not come to abolish the moral law, but law and gospel “agree perfectly well together.”
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For verily I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:17-20
Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth”
1. Among other things, Jesus was accused of teaching new things and inventing a new religion.
2. And some might hope that is what he was doing, so that there would be an easier way to heaven. But Jesus makes it clear he is not doing this.
I. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
1. Jesus did “destroy” the system of temple sacrifices.
2. “But the moral law, contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, he did not take away.”
3. Jesus came to establish the moral law in its fulness, “to place in a full and clear view whatsoever was dark or obscure therein.”
4. And this is what Jesus does in the previous and subsequent parts of the Sermon on the Mount.
II. “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
1. Wesley engages the Greek to explain the meaning of verse 18: not one commandment in the moral law will be nullified.
2. There is no contradiction between the law and the gospel. “Neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together.”
3. The law prepares us for and points us to the gospel. The gospel leads us to fulfillment of the law. “We may yet farther observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise.”
4. “Christianity, as it includes the whole moral law of God, both by way of injunction and of promise, if we will hear him, is designed of God to be the last of all his dispensations.”
III. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
1. Those who despise preaching the moral law reject Jesus’s own teaching.
2. God demands “entire obedience” of the moral law. “If we use propriety of speech there is no such thing as a little sin, every sin being a transgression of the holy and perfect law, and an affront of the great majesty of heaven.”
3. “Whosoever openly breaks any commandment teaches others to do the same… He is a stranger to the kingdom of heaven which is on earth.”
4. Those who are called by God to be teachers are particularly cautioned against breaking the moral law and teaching others to do so lest they become “corrupt both in life and doctrine.”
5.Ministers who live in willful, habitual sin teach laity to sin by their own example. If a pastor does this, they are “the murder-general” of their congregation.
6. Ministers who “neither trouble themselves with outward sin, nor with inward holiness” lead themselves and their flock to “everlasting burnings.”
7. Worst of all are those who argue that Jesus came to abolish the law. They look Jesus in the face and tell him that he did not understand how to deliver his message correctly.
8. The most surprising part is that those who seek to abolish the moral law believe that they are honoring Christ by doing so.
9. It is of crucial importance to preach, “believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt have peace and power together.”
IV. “For verily I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
1. The scribes mentioned so often in the New Testament were “men who made divinity their profession.”
2. Pharisees were a specific group of Jews who “were only distinguished from others by greater strictness of life, by more exactness of conversation.” Many scribes were Pharisees. They are combined here “as the most eminent professors of religion.”
3. The righteousness of a Pharisee consisted of three things. (Luke 18:11-12) First, “I am not as other men are.”
4. Second, “I fast twice in the week.”
5. Third, “I give tithes of all that I possess.”
6. Some Pharisees were hypocrites. But we must not assume that they all were. Hypocrisy is not the defining mark of a Pharisee. The defining mark is that they trusted in their own righteousness and despised others unrighteousness. “Consequently, he was no hypocrite – he was not conscious to himself of any insincerity. He now spoke to God just what he thought, namely, that he was abundantly better than other men.”
7. Before we consider whether our righteousness may surpass that of scribes and Pharisees, “let us examine whether at present we come up to it.” “Do we dare to be singular at all? Do we not rather swim with the stream? Do we not many times dispense with religion and reason together because we would not ‘look particular’? Are we not often more afraid of being out of the fashion than of being out of the way of salvation?” Are we avoiding all outward sin?
8. A Pharisee used all of the means of grace. Do you take reading Scripture, praying, fasting, receiving the Lord’s Supper, participating in corporate worship seriously and practice all of these with discipline?
9. Do we give generously, as the Pharisees did?
10. How does the righteousness of a Christian exceed that of a scribe or Pharisee? First, a Pharisee is very focused on keeping some commandments, but not all. A Christian keeps all of the commandments.
11. A Christian fulfills “the spirit as well as the letter of the law, by inward as well as outward obedience.”
12. If you claim to be a Christian, first, ensure “that thy righteousness fall not short of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. (Here Wesley had keeping the “General Rules” in mind.)
13. “Above all, let they righteousness exceed theirs in the purity and spirituality of it… Let they religion be the religion of the heart.”
Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Fifth” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first nineteen Standard Sermons:
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.