This is the 26th sermon in this series. 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 Eleventh” is the 26th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 11th 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 Eleventh.” 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.
This is an inseparable property of the way to heaven. So narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, unto life everlasting, so strait the gate, that nothing unclean, nothing unholy, can enter. No sinner can pass through that gate until he is saved from all his sins. Not only from his outward sins, from his evil ‘conversation, received by tradition from his fathers’. It will not suffice that he hath ‘ceased to do evil’ and ‘learned to do well’. He must not only be saved from all sinful actions and from all evil and useless discourse; but inwardy changed, throughly renewed in the spirit of his mind. Otherwise he cannot pass through the gate of life, he cannot enter into glory. [II.2]
One sentence summary:
The way that leads to destruction is wide, easy to follow, and popular, while the way that leads to life is narrow and unpopular.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leaders to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leaders unto life, and few there be that find it.”
– Matthew 7:13-14
Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh”
1. Jesus warns us of the dangers of bad examples and bad advice.
2. Wesley cites Matthew 7:13-14
3. The properties of the way to hell: wide, broad, leading to destruction, and largely populated. The properties of the way to heaven: straight, narrow, leading to life, and few find it.
I.1. “The inseparable properties of the way to hell: ‘Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.'”
2. “Sin is the gate of hell, and wickedness the way to destruction.”
3. Carnality, pride, self-will, and love of the world are sins that “diffuse themselves through all our thoughts, and mingle with all our tempers.”
4. There are countless sins in our midst right now, even in this city.
5. “Even in this which is called a Christian country the generality of every age and sex, of every profession and employment, of every rank and degree, high and low, rich and poor, are walking in the way of destruction.”
6. The higher people rise in wealth and status, “the more sins do they commit; using their honor or riches, their learning or wisdom, not as means of working out their salvation, but rather of excelling in vice, and so ensuring their own destruction.”
II. 1. “Straight is the gate and narrow the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
2. “This is an inseparable property of the way to heaven. So narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, unto life everlasting, so strait the gate, that nothing unclean, nothing unholy, can enter.”
3. The way that leads to life is “universal holiness.”
4. How few there are who fully love God and neighbor!
5. Negative examples have a powerful impact on us, especially when there are so many. “How difficult must it be to stem the tide, and to keep ourselves ‘unspotted in the world’!”
6. This is all the more challenging because bad examples often come from “the polite, the well-bred, the genteel, the wise, the men who understand the world; the men of knowledge, of deep and various learning, the rational, the eloquent!”
7. There are also many “mighty and noble and powerful men, as well as wise, in the road that leadeth to destruction.”
8. “Many rich are likewise in the broad way.”
9. “For how dark, how uncomfortable, how forbidding is the prospect on the opposite side! A strait gate! A narrow way! And few finding that gate!
10. Those on the narrow way are easy to ignore or ridicule because they “are not noble, not honorable men.”
III. 1. Strive to enter in at the strait gate.
2. One reason it seems that some cannot enter in is because the door has been shut.
3. “Probably they did seek before the door was shut; but that did not suffice. And they did strive, after the door was shut; but then it was too late.
4. “Settle it in your heart, and let it be ever uppermost in your thoughts, that if you are in a broad way, you are in the way that leadeth to destruction. If many go with you, as sure as God is true, both they and you are going to hell.”
5. “Now, then, ‘strive to enter in at the strait gate,’ being penetrated with the deepest sense of the inexpressible danger your soul is in so long as you are in a broad way, so long as you are void of poverty of spirit and all that inward religion which the many, the rich, the wise, account madness.”
6. Strive to enter in at the straight gate by ordering your conversation right, by abstaining from all appearance of evil, and doing all possible good to all people. “Be ready to cut off thy right hand, to pluck out they right eye and cast it from thee; to suffer the loss of goods, friends, health, all things on earth, so thou mayst enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eleventh” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-five Standard Sermons:
“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 Circumcision of the Heart“
“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“
“Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth“
“Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Seventh“
“Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Eighth“
“Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Ninth“
“Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Tenth“
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.
Pastor Dan said:
The glory of the gospel is magnified as we get honest about how bad sin really is. Wesley certainly doesn’t pull any punches here. I think our modern tendency to console folks with the Good News before we’ve been deeply honest about the Bad News tends to backfire. If I have a brain tumor that presents as a headache, and you tell me I just need an Aspirin–then you’re a quack. And your Aspirin will get the thanks it deserves. What we really need is a masterful Surgeon–and the worship that corresponds to a real cure.
That said, it strikes me that Wesley’s exhortation to “strive” here–I think I have to hear it in his overarching “Salvation by Faith” message? Otherwise, I’m personally tempted to despair that I’ll never be able to strive enough. He talks about praying without ceasing: “Strive by prayer without ceasing; at all times, in all places, lifting up your heart to God, and giving him no rest, till you ‘awake up after his likeness’ and are ‘satisfied with it.'” Lord help us! So often, I feel like one of the disciples asleep in the Garden!
Thanks for doing this series–so great to have Wesley more accessible.
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Kevin M. Watson said:
Thanks for commenting, Pastor Dan! You are right about the challenge of striving in Wesley’s thought. This kind of emphasis, separated from the rest of his work, could lead to misunderstandings and despair. You are exactly right to read this through the lens of “Salvation by Faith.” I think that is one of the reasons the Standard Sermons start with that one. As I read your comment, I was reminded of one of my favorite lines from Dallas Willard: “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.”
Pastor Dan said:
Thanks for your reply–very helpful. Love the Willard quote!
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