This is the 23rd 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 Eighth” is the 23rd sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 8th 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 Eighth.” 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.
“May not this be another reason why rich men shall so hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven? A vast majority of them are under a curse, under the peculiar curse of God; inasmuch as in the general tenor of their lives they are not only robbing God continually, embezzling and wasting their Lord’s goods, and by that very means corrupting their own souls; but also robbing the poor, the hungry, the naked, wronging the widow and the fatherless, and making themselves accountable for all the want, affliction, and distress which they may but do not remove. Yea, doth not the blood of all those who perish for want of what they either lay up or lay out needlessly, cry against them from the earth? O what account will they give to him who is ready to judge both the quick and the dead!” 
One sentence summary:
Wesley gives an account of stewardship, calls for giving generously to the poor, and warns of the danger of riches for the one who fails to be a faithful steward.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
– Matthew 6:19-23
Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth”
1. The same purity of intention is required in the normal things of life as in giving, fasting, or prayer.
2. “The eye is the intention: what the eye is to the body, the intention is to the soul.”
3. If our eyes are fixed solely on God, our lives will be filled with the light of Christ.
4. If you seek God in all things, with focused intention, you will find the fountain of holiness, constantly filling you with “his own likeness, with justice, mercy, and truth.”
5. “This light which fills him who has a single eye implies, thirdly, happiness as well as holiness.”
6. Your eye either is fixed solely on God, or it is not and then leads to evil.
7. “If thine eye be not single, if thou seek any of the things of earth, thou shalt be full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, thy desires, tempers, affections, being all out of course, being all dark, and vile, and vain.”
8. There is no peace for “them that know not God.”
9. Those who lay up treasures for themselves on earth are not singly fixed on God.
10. Many read this passage regularly without recognizing that “they are themselves condemned” by it.
11. Jesus’s command here does not forbid providing for the basic necessities like food and clothing for ourselves and our household. It also does not forbid saving “what is needful for the carrying on our worldly business so that we are not in debt, can provide for the basics for ourselves and our families, and provide the same for them if we die.
12. Saving beyond this is forbidden by Jesus.
13. “If you aim at ‘laying up treasures on earth’ you are not barely losing your time and spending your strength for that which is not bread… You have murdered your own soul.”
14. It is exceptionally difficult for those having riches to enter the kingdom of God.
15. The warning is particularly for those who desire riches, “those who calmly desire and deliberately seek to attain them.”
16. Who will warn this generation of this danger?
17. Jesus did not tell everyone they must sell all that they have. He gave this as a specific command to a particular person.
18. Do not trust in riches for help or happiness.
19. Everyone will die and when they are near death, riches are of no help.
20. Do not trust in riches for happiness. If you are tempted to, ask yourself: Are the richest people the happiest?
21. Trust in the living God for help and happiness.
22. Do not try to gain more and more wealth.
23. If you have riches do not set them aside for posterity or spend them on yourself on excessive indulgence.
24. “Equally inexcusable are those who lay up what they do not need for any reasonable purposes.”
25. The vast majority of the rich are “under the peculiar curse of God” because “they are not only robbing God continually, embezzling and wasting their Lord’s goods, and by that very means corrupting their own souls; but also robbing the poor, the hungry, the naked, wronging the widow and the fatherless, and making themselves accountable for all the want, affliction, and distress which they may but do not remove.”
26. “Give to the poor with a single eye, with an upright heart.”
27. The rich are to “be merciful as your Father which is in heaven is merciful.”
28. “Be a steward, a faithful and wise steward, of God and of the poor.”
Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-two 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.