Archive: A Local Pastor Prescribes Wesley

By John W. Evster, Pastor, United Methodist Parish, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

John Wesley preached a series of 13 sermons on “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.” It is significant that he chose these sermons to be included among the 14 which, with his “Explanatory “Notes Upon the New Testament” (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Alenson, Inc., 1958), were referred to in “the trust-deeds of the Methodist chapels as constituting … the standard doctrines of the Methodist connexion.” This meant that these two documents written by John Wesley were identified by him to be the foundation of Methodist doctrine.

As United Methodists today turn to our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount for study, discussion and preaching, why should we read sermons prepared and preached between 1737 and 1746?

First, these sermons are the sharing of thought and witness by one of the great saints of the Christian faith. Wesley made a significant contribution to the life of the body of Christ, the Church. Thereby he offers to Christians of all traditions meaningful insight to the Christian life and ministry.

Second, although Wesley would want to be considered a catholic Christian, “the people called Methodist” have a peculiar debt to his ministry. We understand ourselves to be spiritual children of Wesley because of the meaning which his interpretation of the Christian faith has for us.

Third, God’s Word to His people is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Word of God may be expressed via different idioms, styles, and media. But the message is the same. Therefore, the faithful witness to God’s Word and will in Wesley’s sermons is profound and significant TODAY! (Do not be surprised to find him talking about “mourning for an absent God”!)

Hopefully, a brief summary of the Wesley series will entice the reader to read through the series.

The first three sermons deal with the Beatitudes which Wesley calls the “eight particulars” of “true religion.” Sermons four and five delve into the “false glosses of man.” Wesley is keen to show “first, that Christianity is essentially a social religion; and that to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it. Secondly, that to conceal this religion is impossible, as well as utterly contrary to the design of its Author.” Wesley adeptly challenges us as to whether or not our religion exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Turning to the “rules for right intention” in sermons six through nine, Wesley first discusses “works of charity or mercy” (almsgiving) and “works of piety” (prayer and fasting). The sixth sermon deals with The Lord’s Prayer and closes with “A Paraphrase on the Lord’s Prayer.” The seventh sermon deals with fasting. Perhaps contemporary Christians will wince in noting this, but read the sermon before writing it off as “old fashioned.” Next, Wesley turns to the “actions of common life” with the conviction that the “same purity of intention which makes our alms and devotions acceptable must also make our labour or employment a proper offering to God.”

Sermons 10 through 12 focus upon the hindrances to true religion, especially “judging,” “wide gate of sin,” and “false prophets.”

Sermon 13 is, according to Wesley, an application of the whole Sermon on the Mount as it considers “the case of him who … builds his house upon the sand: secondly, to show the wisdom of him who builds upon a rock … ”

These sermons by John Wesley have been significant to me personally and vital in my preparation of sermons in a current series on the Beatitudes. Pastors and laymen will find the Word and will of God helpfully delineated and stated in these sermons.

These sermons will be found in every complete collection of the works of John Wesley. The 44 sermons have been regarded part of the foundation of Methodist doctrine. For this reason Wesley’s sermons ought to be on every United Methodist’s bookshelf!


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