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John Wesley, Justification by Faith

This is the 21st 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 Sixth” is the 21st sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 6th of 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon focuses on works of piety, works of mercy, and the Lord’s Prayer. 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 Sixth.” 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: 

We may observe in general concerning this divine prayer, first, that it contains all we can reasonably or innocently pray for. There is nothing which we have need to ask of God, nothing which we can ask without offending him, which is not included either directly or indirectly in this comprehensive form. Secondly, that it contains all we can reasonably or innocently desire; whatever is for the glory of God, whatever is needful or profitable, not only for ourselves, but for every creature in heaven and earth. And indeed our prayers are the proper test of our desires, nothing being fit to have a place in our desires which is not fit to have a place in our prayers; what we may not pray for, neither should we desire. Thirdly, that it contains all our duty to God and man; whatsoever things are pure and holy, whatsoever God requires of the children of men, whatsoever is acceptable in his sight, whatsoever it is whereby we may profit our neighbour, being expressed or implied therein.” [III.2]

One sentence summary:  

This sermon unpacks Jesus’s teaching on works of mercy and works of piety, with particular focus on the Lord’s Prayer.

Scripture passage for the sermon:

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou dost thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have praise of men. Verily, I say uno you, they have their reward.

But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth: that thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father which seethe in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret, he shall reward thee openly.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as they heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Be not ye therefore like unto them; for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father, which are in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

For if ye forgive me their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

– Matthew 6:1-15

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

1. In Matthew 5, Jesus described the impact of Christianity on our thoughts, feelings, and affections.
2. Jesus shows the necessity of purity of intention with regard to both works of piety and works of mercy.

I. Works of Mercy

1. Works of mercy should not be done so that other people see us do them and give us recognition for our works.
2. It is not always wrong for others to witness us doing works of mercy. Jesus tells us not to do works of mercy with the primary purpose of others witnessing us doing them.
3. Don’t be ostentatious when doing good to others. Don’t needlessly draw attention to yourself.
4. When you do good, do it in as secret of a manner as possible.

II. Works of Piety

1. Hypocrisy or insincerity is the first thing we are to guard against in prayer. Don’t say something if you don’t mean it.
2. “Any design but that of promoting the glory of God, and the happiness of men for God’s sake, makes every action, however fair it may appear to men, an abomination unto the Lord.”
3. Use all the privacy you can in private prayer.
4. Do not needlessly repeat yourself.
5. The purpose of praying is “not so much to move God” as to “move ourselves” that we would be ready and willing “to receive the good things he has prepared.”

III. The Lord’s Prayer

1. Jesus gives this prayer as “the model and standard of all our prayers.”
2. This prayer contains all that we “can reasonably or innocently pray for.”
3. The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts: The first is the preface: “Our Father which art in heaven.”
4. “If he is a Father, then he is good, then he is loving to his children. And here is the first and great reason for prayer. God is willing to bless; let us ask for blessing.”
5. “Our Father” emphasizes that God is the Father of all.
6. “Which art in heaven”: God is over all.
7. “Hallowed be thy name.” This is the first of six petitions that make up the core of the prayer. “In praying that God, or his ‘name’, may ‘be hallowed’ or glorified, we pray that he may be known, such as he is, by all that are capable of knowing him.
8. “Thy kingdom come.” The kingdom comes “to a particular person when he ‘repents and believes the gospel.” This petition is also a prayer for “the coming of his everlasting kingdom, the kingdom of glory in heaven, which is the continuation and perfection of the kingdom of grace on earth.”
9. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer for “active conformity to the will of God.”
10. This is a prayer that God’s will be done by people “as willingly as the holy angels” and that we would do God’s will continually and perfectly.
11. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The petitions now move from focusing on humanity broadly to our own specific needs. “By ‘bread’ we may understand all things needful, whether for our souls or bodies.”
12. “Give us”: “We claim nothing of right, but only of free mercy.” “This day”: “For we are to take no thought for the morrow.”
13. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” “Nothing but sin can hinder the bounty of God from flowing forth upon every creature, so this petition naturally follows the former; that all hindrances being removed, we may the more clearly trust in the God of love for every manner of thing which is good.” Forgive means either forgiving a debt or unloosing a chain. “If our debts are forgiven, the chains fall off our hands.”
14. “As we forgive them that trespass against us.” “All our trespasses and sins are forgiven us if we forgive, and as we forgive, others.”
15. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Temptation here means a trial of any kind.
16. “The conclusion of this divine prayer, commonly called the doxology, is a solemn thanksgiving, a compendious acknowledgment of the attributes and works of God.”


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

Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty 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

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

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

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.