This is the 29th sermon in this series. I hope the break between the 28th and 29th sermon summary is the longest we will have in this series! Thank you for your patience with me. I intend to get back into the routine of publishing one sermon summary each Tuesday morning. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. Thank you to those of you who reached out and told me you were missing these. I appreciate the encouragement!
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.
“The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law” is the 29th sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon addresses the argument that the moral law is unnecessary or unhelpful for Christians. Wesley shows the origin of the law and why it is essential for our salvation. The law is not to be feared. Sin is to be feared. The law is holy, just, and good!
In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law.” 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.
The law of God… is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature; yea, it is the fairest offspring of the everlasting Father, the brightest efflux of his essential wisdom, the visible beauty of the Most High. It is the delight and wonder of cherubim and seraphim and all the company of heaven, and the glory and joy of every wise believer, every well instructed child of God upon earth. [II.6]
One sentence summary:
The law of God is holy, just, and good.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
– Romans 7:12
Concise outline of “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law”
1. The law is often misunderstood or ignored.
2. Paul is referring to the moral law, as can be seen from the beginning of Romans 7.
3. “The Apostle having gone thus far in proving that the Christian had set aside the Jewish dispensation, and that the moral law itself, though it could never pass away, yet stood on a different foundation from what it did before, now stops to propose and answer an objection. ‘What shall we say then? Is the law sin?’… ‘God forbid!… The law is an irreconcilable enemy to sin, searching it out wherever it is.'”
4. This sermon will I. Show the original of this law. II. The Nature of this law. III. The properties of this law (holy, just, and good). IV. The uses of this law.
I. The Original of the Moral Law
1. The moral law goes back even before creation “even beyond the foundation of the world.”
2. The moral law was given to angelic minds “to make way for a continual increase of their happiness; seeing every instance of obedience to that law would both add to the perfection of their nature and entitle them to an higher reward, which the righteous Judge would give in its season.”
3. When God created humans, he gave them the same law, written “in the inmost spirit both of men and of angels.”
4. When humans broke the moral law “God did not despise the work of his own hands; but being reconciled to man through the Son of his love, he in some measure re-inscribed the law on the heart of his dark, sinful creature.”
5. God then chose a particular people “to whom he gave a more perfect knowledge of the law. And the heads of this, because they were slow of understanding, he wrote on tables of stone.”
6. Today we hear the law of God with our ears, but it must be revealed by the Spirit of God. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
II. The Nature of the Law
1. The law and the commandment are sometimes taken to be different things, but they are the same. And neither is the same thing as the ceremonial law.
2. The law mentioned in Romans 7 is not the Mosaic dispensation.
3. “This law is an incorruptible picture of the high and holy One that inhabiteth eternity. It is he whom in his essence no man hath seen or can see, made visible to men and angels.”
4. The law is “divine virtue and wisdom assuming a visible form.”
5. From another vantage point, the law is “supreme, unchangeable reason; it is unalterable rectitude; it is the everlasting fitness of all things that are or ever were created.”
6. “The law of God… is a copy of the eternal mind, a transcript of the divine nature.”
III. The Properties of the Law
1. The law is holy, just, and good.
2. It is holy: “‘pure religion and undefiled’; or the pure, clean, unpolluted worship of God.”
3. Because the law is holy, it is enmity to sin.
4. This is why Paul objects so strongly to the suggestion that the law is sin or causes sin. Rather, the law reveals sin.
5. The law is just, rendering each their due.
6. Wesley acknowledges the question of whether the will of God causes the law and creates right and wrong. “Is a thing therefore right because God wills it? Or does he will it because it is right?” Nevertheless, this question is “more curious than useful.”
7. The difficulty of the question comes from thinking about God’s will as something distinct from God. “But the will of God is God himself.”
8. The point above is reinforced.
9. It may be granted that “in every particular case God wills this or this… because it is right, agreeable to the fitness of things, to the relation wherein they stand.”
10. “The law then is right and just concerning all things. And it is good as well as just.” The law is good because it comes from God.
11. The law is “mild and kind; it is ‘sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.’ It is winning and amiable.”
12. The law is good “in its effects, as well as in its nature.”
IV. The Uses of the Law
1. The first use is to convince the world of sin.
2. The second use of the law is to bring us back to life, through faith in Christ, so that we may live.
3. The third use of the law is to “keep us alive.”
4. The law is “of unspeakable use, first, in convincing us of the sin that yet remains both in our hearts and lives, and thereby keeping us close to Christ, that his blood may cleanse us every moment; secondly, in deriving strength from our Head into his living members, whereby he empowers them to do what his law commands; and thirdly, in confirming our hope of whatsoever it commands and we have not yet attained, of receiving grace upon grace, till we are in actual possession of the fullness of his promises.”
5. The law shows every true believer the truth more and more clearly.
6. Illustrated using “Thou shalt not kill.”
7. “Therefore I cannot spare the law one moment, no more than I can spare Christ; seeing I now want it as much to keep me to Christ as ever I wanted it to bring me to him.”
8. Who are you, then, to judge or speak evil of the law?
9. If you are convinced that the law is holy, just, and good, cling to it all the more.
10. “And if thy Lord hath already fulfilled his word, if he hath already ‘written his law in thy heart’, then ‘stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made thee free.'”
Read “The Original, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first twenty-eight 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. The sermon outlined in this post is in volume II. These books aren’t cheap, but this is the most important publication by Abingdon since its release. And they are designed to last. 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.