This is the 27th sermon in this series. I have been publishing one sermon each Tuesday, but missed last week. (We got a puppy, which has been wonderful. But it has also thrown my schedule off quite a bit!) 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 Twelfth” is the 27th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. It is also the 12th 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 Twelfth.” 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.
Upon all occasions you may easily apply this rule. In order to know whether any who speak in the name of God are false or true prophets it is easy to observe, first, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to themselves? What effect has it had upon their lives? Are they holy and unblameable in all things? What effect has it had upon their hearts? Does it appear by the general tenor of their conversation that their tempers are holy, heavenly, divine? That the mind is in them which was in Christ Jesus? That they are meek, lowly, patient lovers of God and man, and zealous of good works? [III.2]
One sentence summary:
Jesus warns of the dangers of false prophets, who can be recognized by their fruit.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
– Matthew 7:15-20
Concise outline of “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth”
1. Many people “run on to destruction” because they would not walk in the narrow way.
2. To try and prevent this, the Lord has sent watchmen to warn people of their danger. But what happens when they themselves go astray?
3. Sadly, this is not uncommon. And so Jesus wisely warns us to “Beware of false prophets.”
4. This sermon will: First, inquire who false prophets are. Second, what appearance they put on. Third, How we may know what they really are, regardless of their appearance.
I.1. Who are these false prophets?
2. “By ‘prophets’ here are meant, not those who foretell things to come, but those who speak in the name of God.” False prophets, then, teach a false way to heaven, a way which does not actually lead there.
3. Every broad way is a false one. And those who do not teach us to walk in the narrow way, “to be singular, are false prophets.”
4. “The only true way to heaven is that pointed out in the preceding sermon [the Sermon on the Mount]. Therefore they are false prophets who do not teach men to walk in this way.”
5. It doesn’t matter what any of these other ways are called. If what they teach is different from the Sermon on the Mount, they are false prophets.
6. “How much more do they fall under that condemnation who speak evil of this good way!”
7. False prophets are those “who encourage the proud, the trifler, the passionate, the lover of the world, the man of pleasure, the unjust or unkind, the easy, careless, harmless, useless creature, the man who suffers no reproach for righteousness’ sake, to imagine he is in the way to heaven.”
II. 1. They are not obviously false prophets, or no one would follow them. They come in disguise as those leading to the way to life.
2. They appear harmless, mild mannered, and inoffensive.
3. They seem useful. They have been set apart “to watch over your soul, and to train you up to eternal life.”
4. “They come, thirdly, with an appearance of religion. All they do is for conscience’ sake! They assure you it is out of mere zeal for God that they are making God a liar.”
5. “Above all, they come with an appearance of love. They take all these pains only for your good.”
III. 1. How may we know what they really are? You shall know them by their fruits.
2. “In order to know whether any who speak in the name of God are false or true prophets it is easy to observe, first, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to themselves? What effect has it had upon their lives? Are they holy and unblameable in all things? What effect has it had upon their hearts?
3. Second, what is the fruit of their teaching on those who hear them?
4. A false prophet brings forth evil fruit “always, and of necessity.”
5. Beware of false prophets! They cannot lead you in the way to heaven.
6. Wesley wrestles with whether we should ever hear false prophets. Jesus directs his followers at times to hear those who are known to be false prophets.
7. This applies not only to hearing them read Scripture but to expounding it.
8. False prophets also administer the sacraments. To direct people to not hear them, when they are leading churches would be to cut them off from the sacraments. “This we dare not do, considering the validity of the ordinance [sacrament] doth not depend on the goodness of him that administers [the officiant], but on the faithfulness of him that ordained it [Jesus].”
9. “All, therefore, which I can say is this: in any particular case wait upon God by humble and earnest prayer, and then act according to the best light you have.”
10. Wesley concludes by addressing false prophets directly: “How long will ye lie in the name of God, saying God hath spoken, and God hath not spoken by you? How long will ye pervert the right ways of the Lord, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness? How long will ye teach the way of death, and call it the way of life? How long will ye deliver to Satan the souls whom you profess to bring unto God?”
11. “Woe unto you, ye blind leaders of the blind!”
12. “If the Lord had sent you, the ‘work of the Lord’, would ‘prosper in your hands.’ As the Lord liveth, if ye were messengers of God he would ‘confirm the word of his messengers.’ But the work of the Lord doth not prosper in your hand: you bring no sinners to repentance. The Lord doth not confirm your word, for you save no souls from death.”
13. “Your speaking as from God has only confirmed them that heard you in the tempers, if not works, of the devil. O take warning of him in whose name ye speak, before the sentence he hath pronounced take place. ‘Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.'”
14. “My dear brethren, harden not your hearts. You have too long shut your eyes against the light. Open them now, before it is too late; before you are cast into outer darkness. Let not any temporal consideration weigh with you; for eternity is at stake.”
Read “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Twelfth” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-six 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.