This is the 31st sermon in this series. It is very encouraging to see how many people are reading these posts and clicking through to read the sermon itself. 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 Law Established through Faith, II” is the 31st sermon of the Wesleyan Standard Sermons. This sermon builds on the previous sermon, “The Law Established through Faith, I” and outlines a more positive vision for how the law is established in the lives of followers of Jesus Christ.
In hopes of sparking interest in Wesley’s sermons and Methodism’s doctrinal heritage, here is my very short summary of “The Law Established through Faith, II.” 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.
Can you say, ‘Thou art merciful to my unrighteousness; my sins thou rememberest no more’? Then for the time to come see that you fly from sin, as from the face of a serpent. For how exceeding sinful does it appear to you now! How heinous above all expression! On the other hand, in how amiable a light do you now see the holy and perfect will of God! Now, therefore, labour that it may be fulfilled, both in you, by you, and upon you. Now watch and pray that you may sin no more, that you may see and shun the least transgression of his law. You see the motes which you could not see before when the sun shines into a dark place. In like manner you see the sins which you could not see before, now the sun of righteousness shines in your heart. Now, then, do all diligence to walk in every respect according to the light you have received. Now be zealous to receive more light daily, more of the knowledge and love of God, more of the Spirit of Christ, more of his life, and of the power of his resurrection. Now use all the knowledge and love and life and power you have already attained. So shall you continually go on from faith to faith. So shall you daily increase in holy love, till faith is swallowed up in sight, and the law of love established to all eternity. [III.6]
One sentence summary:
The moral law of God is established in our lives through sound doctrine, faith in Christ, love of God and neighbor, and holiness of heart and life.
Scripture passage for the sermon:
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.”
– Romans 3: 31
Concise outline of “The Law Established through Faith, II”
1. A summary of the previous sermon. This sermon asks, positively, “How do we establish the law through faith?”
2. Establishing the moral law is not the condition of our justification. And yet, “we still, in the Aposle’s sense, ‘establish the law.'”
I. We Establish the Law by Our Doctrine
1. We establish the law by offering “the whole counsel of God” with “great plainness of speech.”
2. The law is established by our doctrine when “we declare every part of it, every commandment contained therein, not only in its full, literal sense, but likewise in its spiritual meaning; not only with regard to the outward actions which it either forbids or enjoins, but also with respect to the inward principle, to the thoughts, desires, and intents of the heart.”
3. The law must be established through doctrine because “as important as these things are, they are little considered or understood.
4. “The law of God, as to its inward spiritual meaning, is not hid from the Jews or heathens only, but even from what is called the Christian world.”
5. Even though it is offensive to many who hear it, “All that is written in the Book of God we are to declare, not as pleasing men, but the Lord. We are to declare not only all the promises but all the threatenings, too, which we find therein. At the same time that we proclaim all the blessings and privileges which God had prepared for his children, we are likewise to ‘teach all the things whatsoever he hath commanded.'”
6. “It is our part thus to ‘preach Christ’ by preaching all things whatsoever he hath revealed… We are not ourselves clear before God unless we proclaim him in all his offices.”
II. We Establish the Law by Preaching Faith in Christ in a Way that Leads to Holiness of Heart and Life
1. Even faith in Christ is not the end result God aims at. “God hath given this honor to love alone. Love is the end of all the commandments of God.”
2. Faith “is the great temporary means which God has ordained to promote that eternal end [love].”
3. Faith cannot be preached so as to “swallow up all things” and become more important than love.
4. “Nor is it certain… that faith, even in the general sense of the word, had any place in paradise.”
5. Faith was necessary before the fall. “It was only when love was lost by sin that faith was added, not for its own sake, nor with any design that it should exist any longer than until it had answered the end for which it was ordained – namely, to restore man to the love from which he was fallen.”
6. “Faith then was originally designed of God to re-establish the law of love.”
III. The Most Important Way of Establishing the Law Is by Establishing It in Our Own Hearts and Lives
1. It would serve no purpose to preach the law through our doctrine and preach Christ in all of his offices if it “were not established in our hearts.”
2. “How may we establish the law in our own hearts so that it may have its full influence on our lives?… This can only be done by faith… Faith in general is the most direct and effectual means of promoting all righteousness and true holiness; of establishing the holy and spiritual law in the hearts of them that believe.”
3. “There is no motive which so powerfully inclines us to love God as the sense of the love of God in Christ.”
4. “Nor does faith fulfill either the negative or positive law as to the external part only; but it works inwardly by love to the purifying of the heart, the cleansing it from all vile affections.”
5. “Let us thus endeavor to establish the law in ourselves; not sinning ‘because we are under grace’, but rather using all the power we receive thereby ‘to fulfill all righteousness.'”
6. Can you say, ‘Thou art merciful to my unrighteousness; my sins thou remeberest no more’? Then for the time to come see that you fly from sin, as from the face of a serpent…. Now use all the knowledge and love and life and power you have already attained. So shall you continually go on from faith to faith. So shall you daily increase in holy love, till faith is swallowed up in sight, and the law of love established to all eternity.”
Read “The Law Established through Faith, II” in its entirety.
Check out my brief summaries of the first thirty 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.