John Wesley.

The sermons with introductions analysis and notes online

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Professor of Theology in the Unive/sity of Ficloiia College.



Entered according to the Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year one
thousand eight hundred and eighty-one, hy WILLIAM BfilGGfl, iu the
Office of the Minister of Agriculture, at Ottawa.


THIS edition of Mr. Wesley's Standard Sermons has been pre-
pared with a special view to the wants of students. It is thought
that there is need in our Church for an authoritative and exact
exposition of our fundamental doctrines, from which candidates
for the ministry, local preachers, Sabbath-school teachers, and
Christian workers generally, might be furnished for their work.

The universal tendency to superficiality is nowhere more
obvious or more dangerous' than in religious instruction. Much of
our modern evangelistic work is terribly marred by its super-
ficial and unscriptural methods. There is little profound dealing
with the conscience, little preaching of the law, little careful
instruction in doctrine, little regard to the depth and thorough-
ness of the work of repentance, and too great haste to extract a
profession of faith, and to enroll and publish names and numbers
of so-called converts. The results are that the so-called converts
are SOOL. Lack into a state of carelessness worse than before ; or,
having never attained to a satisfactory witness of the spirit, they
fall through the first temptation into the slough of despond and
there abide. On the other hand such superficial work never
gathers into the Church the better and stronger classes of people.
Emotional illustrations and weak hortatory appeals will not move
them. Nothing but strong reasons, such as convince their con-
sciences, will form for them a basis of religious life. While they
are waiting for this, and being disgusted and disappointed because
it is not furnished to them, they are in constant danger of being
carried away by the plausible reasonings of scepticism, which are
unduly aided by the weak, and often erroneous, presentations of
the gospel to which they are opposed. Scepticism can strike hard
blows at commercial theories of atonement and Antinomian
theories of salvation by faith, and if these things pass into popular
currency as being genuine Christianity, what wonder thAt some
men are led to believe that Christianity has been demolished by
such blows ?

But the Wesleyan evangelical doctrine, with its strong grasp of
ethical truth, its clearly defined doctrine of probation, its constant
recognition of the work of the Holy Ghost, and its view of the
impartial and universal love of God to man, manifest in the Atone-
ment, is unassailable before the bar of conscientious reason. Its
appeal to honest conscience cannot be denied, even when it is not


It is, therefore, with strong confidence that we call the attention
of all workers in Methodism to the form of the gospel here pre-
sented. We believe it to be the primitive, the Apostolic gospel,
the gospel for all men and for all ages, and especially for our age.
We believe that if our preachers and teachers make it tho subject
of careful study, and test it by the Word and by experience, and
then, with full assurance of its truth, bring its moral power to
bear upon the world, the result will be glorious beyond anything
that the Church has yet seen.

The additions made to the original text in the present edition
will generally explain themselves. In the introduction an attempt
is made to show in what sense the sermons are standards of doc-
trine. The habit of testing doctrine by categorical definitions has
so universally prevailed that the various questions investigated in
the introduction are essential to a proper understanding of the
work. The analysis prefixed to each sermon or in some instances
to a group of sermons, is intended to aid the student in testing
and fixing his knowledge of the text. The text of the sermon
should first of all be read through carefully. The analyses will
then aid in printing upon the memory a connected and compacted
view of the whole subject. They will also assist in review, and
in testing the student's knowledge of any particular sermon.
The notes are generally historical. They are drawn from Mr.
Wesley's journals and doctrinal writings, and serve to throw the
doctrines of the text out in stronger relief, sometimes in the light
of experience, sometimes in the light of controversy with error.
It is hoped that they will be found of essential service to the
careful student.

The table of contents may seem unimportant, but careful study
has convinced the editor that these sermons were grouped by Mr.
Wesley in such form as to illustrate and supplement each other,
and to form a complete and progressive view of the whole subject
of experimental 'and practical religion. He has endeavoured to
elucidate this by an analysis of the table of contents into ten
sections or groups. It is scarcely necessary to add that the con-
stant study of these sermons as a text book of practical theology
has been to the editor an increasing means of spiritual pleabure
and profit ; and it is his earnest prayer that they may be mote
abundantly so to his readers.



It has come to be asserted with great assurance in our day, and,
perhaps, by some sincerely believed, that doctrinal standards are no
longer necessary. It is said that genuine and true religion consists in a
right state of heart, by which is signified the religious affections, and in
a right conduct of life flowing from these affections. It is argued that
if these essentials be right, such an one, notwithstanding many and even
serious erroneous beliefs, deserves recognition as a follower of the Lord
Jesua Christ and a member of the Christian Church. One part after
another of Christian dogma is selected, and some individual is found, or
imagined to be found, who has professed disbelief in this dogma, and
yet has evinced genuine marks of Christian character ; and thence the
impression is silently created, or the conclusion boldly asserted, that,
because one individual has been so found, the whole Christian world
might have been so found, and genuine religion might have existed
without this particular dogma. Few are bold enough to say that religion
could have existed and have been propagated without any dogma or
opinion regarding God ; but such an impression is certainly left on the
superficial mind. And it is even maintained in some theories that all
dogmas are but helps to the attainment of the religious life, and that all
are nearly equally useful for this purpose, in the various stages of mental
development in which they respectively prevail, and equally untrue in
themselves when brought to the test of severe science.

Now, if it be true that our dogmas are entirely unnecessary, as means
of placing ourselves in right relations to God, or as means of bringing
others into such right relations, then the assertion of such dogmas as
fundamentals and essentials in religion is a falsity and a moral wrong.
And if it be true that such dogmas are mere transitory, mutable,
fictitious forms by which we posit as the object of religious affections the
Unknown and tiie Unknowable, then the maintenance of these forms,
as permanent doctrinal standards, becomes possible only as the result of
the cessation of all spiritual growth in humanity. Let us examine these
conclusions more carefully.

First, then, upon what grounds are certain unwelcome elements of
Christian doctrine excluded from the essential elements of the faith?
Because it is said that certain persons have been found in possession of


genuine religious life without these beliefs ; hence they are not essential.
But in this conclusion the absolute non-existence of these beliefs is
assumed without sufficient proof.

There is often the most happy inconsistency between men's logically
denned systems of dogma and their religious affections, because their
religious affections have been developed before their logical apprehension.
of dogma. And yet they have been developed under the power of the
truth contained in the very dogma which their mistaken logic afterward
rejects. That truth has surrounded them on every side in the religious
life of the entire Christian Church ; and they have caught its influence
before they have learned to formulate it in words. The doctrine of the
Deity of Christ is involved in every act of Christian worship, as it is
inwrought into the entire texture of the New Testament Scriptures. It,
therefore, by no means follows that a man who has been brought up
from his childhood in contact with the entire intellectual and spiritual
life of the Christian Church, but who formally denies this doctrine, if
he becomes possessor of the Christian life, has become so independently
of this doctrine. Far le;-s t un<laiion is there for the conciusum i..ut the
Christian life, in its fulness of New Testament perfection, could have
existed without any knowledge of this doctrine in the Church.

But it is said the Christian life existed in its most glorious perfection,
both individual and ecclesiastical, before ever this and other mysterous
doctrines were prescribed in the creeds. Very true, but not before (hey
were preached in concrete, practical, historical form. The Church might
have fulfilled her mission of spreading the life of communion with God
for centuries without an abstract scientific form of dogn-a ; but not
without the reality of truth which gives substance and poiver to that
form. It may even be granted that the abstract scientific form is not
the form in which the truth is most mighty to win her spiritual conquests
in the world. The truth, intermingled in the currents of human life
and history, insinuates itself more easily into the living affections of
men. But whether in the concrete and practical, or in the abstract
scientific form, the trathjnusrt be held as the condition of the Church's

Equally unwarranted and dangerous is the more pretentious, philo-
sophical conclusion, that all forms of religious dogma are but changing
fictions, by which we render objective the successive phases of our
progressive spiritual development ; fictions all equally true from the
practical standpoint, and equally false from the scientific. It is very
true that in the history of religion there has been development. And
it is also true that practically there has been associated with the spirit
and truth of religion very much that belonged to the mere external
form. But to conclude that because some things in religious teaching
are formal and changing, all things are so, is not good logic. To
conclude that because when the truth enters into the human appre-
hension. it takes mould from the narrow and imperfect vessel into wl ich


it is received, it is therefore the mere product of the vessel a form
containing emptiness, is scarcely common sense. A striking example of
this theory, carried to the utmost extreme, we have in the Positivist
Gospel of Humanity, as a substitute for the old form of religion with a
God. Denying the validity of all ideas not immediately derived from
the senses and hence, the verity of the existence of God it seeks, in
the relative positive knowledge left to man, a basis for the development
of conscience, and the other moral and religious affections ; and this
George Eliot and others think they have found in humanity. But even
here is the admission that something, positively received as truth, is
absolutely needful for the development of the moral and religious
affections of our nature. The only question, therefore, is Is this, with-
out which spiritually we cannot live, mere phantasy, or is it eternal verity ?
We come back, then, to the original belief of the Church in all ages,
that its body of doctrine for the life and salvation of the world is the
eternal and immutable truth of God ; a treasure in earthen vessels, it is
true, but with the excellent power of God. To preserve this treasure in
its purity and integrity is the bounden duty of the Christian Church,
and the end of all its doctrinal standards. If the work of the Church
is the extension among men of spiritual life in communion with God ;
and if that life is founded upon the apprehension by mtn of certain'
eternal ajidjmniutablej;ruths concerning God, then this truth must have
a/orm in which it can be presented, as well aT through which it can be
apprehended ; and that/orm constitutes the " doctrine," the "preaching,"
the " word," or the dogma of Christianity. It is never intended to y
dwarf, limit, or impede the spiritual growth of men ; but rather to ''
create that spiritual life without which there can be no true growth.
For this, truth is absolutely essential, and truth must be received and
held in some suitable form. The only question that can be raised is: f-jj- 1
What is the best form ?


The most ancient form of doctrinal standard, usually recognized as
such, was a brief synopsis, called a creed, from the fact that in Latin it
began with the word Credo, " I believe." This synopsis was used in the
. formal profession of the Christian faith at baptism, and as the foundation
of the instruction of the catechumens. The creed, in the controversial
age of the Church (A.D. 250-700), became the symbolum, or mark of
orthodoxy, and during this period the great declarations of the rule of
faith, made by the authority of the (Ecumenical Councils, all took the
form of a. creed.

At the era of the Reformation, the Aristotelian method of cate-
gorical statement universally prevailed. Hence Luther propounded
his views of essential truth in the form of theses, which were subse-
quently expanded into a confession, consisting of a number of article*


This form was adopted by all the Protestant Churches of the era of the
Reformation. For purposes of instruction these articles were re-mouldeu.
into catechisms. Even the Church of Rome, under the same scholastic
influence, adopted this form in the canons and decrees of the Council of
Trent, and the Roman Catechism.

It remained for Wesley to inaugurate a new form of doctrinal standard,
in making a certain form of preaching and standard of interpretation of
Scripture the rule of faith in his Societies. We shall see presently that
in doing this he did not invent a new form of standard, but in reality
revived the most ancient form.

Of these three forms, the Patristic, the Protesjaiv^and the Wesleyan,
which is the best? To answe?lhTs~qiiesti6n satisfactorily, we nvusTfirsT
consider the purposes to be served by doctrinal standards. These may
be classified as follows :

\, 1. An authoritative guide or aid to the student or teacher in acquiring
1 or communicating a knowledge of Divine truth.

i_ 2. An authoritative standard to which appeal can be made in matters
of controversy.

3. An authoritative source from which the truth is obtained.

For the secondjind_third^of these, purposes, to the Protestant, there is
but one ultimate .standard the Wor.d of God. This is the only source
from which religious truth comes with authority, binding the conscience,
and commanding the faith of the Christian ; and this is the only authority
from which no appeal can be taken, and which is an end of all controversy.

But the term standard may be used in a lower sense, which may admit
of human and ecclesiastical standards. Doctrine is teaching. A standard
of doctrine is a normal form of teaching. Standards of doctrine in this
sense refer to the work of the teacher of religious truth. Now, the
teacher of religious truth, founding upon the Word of God, must in the
first place interpret it; hence his standard of doctrine must embrace a
right method of interpretation, especially in the use of the analogy of
faith. In the second place, he preaches the Word ; hence his standard
of doctrine must embrace a right form of preaching the truth, with a
view to the salvation of men. In the third place, he teaches, especially
the young and the ignorant ; hence his standard of doctrine should
embrace a norm of teaching, such as the ancient creed, or more modern
catechism or confession.

The precise form which the standards of any church will take, will

of ila-ark;in. A churh

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/ /'^

arising out of a great intellectual movement, like the churches of the

-'- Reformation, will naturally fortify itself with creeds, confessions, and

I -ji catechisms ; inasmuch as its existence and success depend so largely upon

. the logical validity of its teachings. A church arising out of a great

^evangelistic movement quite as naturally finds its standard in a grand,

distinctive norm or type of preaching ; and, in like manner, every Church,

driven to justify itself by final appeal to the Word of God, must have its


canon of interpretation. The growth of all the great Christian symbols
will furnish illustrations of these principles. The Church of the Apostles
was an evangelistic Church. Its standard of doctrine was first of all a

^^*~^- -. _^*^

type~of 'preaching, oTwhich we doubtless have a compressed yet faithful
exhibit in the synoptic gospels. The Pauline and the Petrine, Luke and
Mark, set forth one Christ, in essentially one gospel, of which John, a
little further on, sets forth the more perfect unification and expansion just
as Matthew had given the foundation. To this consensus of preaching,
this normal or standard gospel, Paul makes constant reference in his
epistles, although it had not yet been reduced to written form. But it
was well known to all the Christian Churches. No one can read,
especially in the original, such expressions as " another gospel," " the
gospel of Christ," " the gospel which was preached of me," (see Gal. i. 6,
&c.,) without feeling that even then there was a familiar form of preaching
(A.D. 56 or 57.) In the pastoral epistles this fact becomes still more
manifest in such phrases as, " no other doctrine," 1 Tim. i. 3 ; " according
to the gloripus gospel," v. 11 ; " words of faith and good doctrine," iv. 6 ,
" the doctrine," v. 16 ; " the doctrine which is according to godliness,"
vi. 3 ; " that which is committed to thy trust," v. 20 ; " the form
(inruTvjrvo-it) of sound words," 2 Tim. i. 13. See also 2 Tim. ii. 2, and
iii. 16, in which last passage the norm of preaching is carried up to its
fountain-head in the Word of God.

The first standard of doctrine was the substance of what the Apostles,
preached; and even the first Creed, the so-called Apostles', was but a
memorized brief of the same.

But this simple standard of gospel preaching was soon followed by
the symbols of a polemic Church, in the form of exact, logical, dogmatic
definitions, the creeds and canons of the universal councils. The circum-
stances of an age of conflict with heresies and errors developed the
discursive form of Christian truth ; and though its symbols still began
with credo, " I believe," in their trite nature they were very different
from the original credo of the sub-Apostolic age. In like manner all the
symbols of the era of the Reformation bear the stamp of sharp, dogmatic
distinction and definition, savouring of the theological conflict out of
which they were born. At the same time they absorbed into themselves
the formularies and theses of the earlier time ; and into such vast
proportions has this type of symbolics grown, that the simpler form of
a standard of preaching, rather than a standard of scientific, dogmatic
teaching, has become quite eclipsed. In fact, the apostolic form revived
by Wesley is almost ignored by the great modern writers on symbolics.
Even Winer and Schaff have not been able to recognize the right of our
" Volumes of Sermons " and " Notes " to rank among the great Christian
symbols, "SSoT hence are disposed to assume that as a Church we have no
proper distinctive symbols. I fear that even many Methodists them-
selves have not seen the injustice of this position ; and have felt some-
what ashamed of what they are bidden to regard as the unscientific and


unsatisfactory form of our standards of doctrine. They have been
disposed to regard the " Articles of Religion " which we have inherited
and appropriated from the days and polemics of the Reformation, and
which have required the most serious pruning to render them at all
harmonious with the theological ideas of our Church, they have been
disposed, we say, to regard these as ranking above the " Sermons and
Notes" as the exponent of our doctrinal system. On the other hand,
we are disposed to maintain that the "Sermons and Notes" were the
natural form of standard for a Church originating as did Methodism,
not out of dogmatic disputations, but out of a glorious era of gospel
preaching ; and further, that they are the Apostolic and primitive form of
standard. And if this form is natural, it is truly scientific, as all things
natural are. All that is required is that we discover the law of its
growth, which is also the law of its exposition and logical unity ; and
then what has seemed to be an unscientific medley of disconnected
truths stands forth as a beautifully-proportioned and perfect body of

We, therefore, claim for the "Sermons and Notes" a foremost place
among the Christian symbols. The Sermons set before us that great, dis-
tinctive type and standard of gospel preaching, by which Methodism is what
she is as a great, living Church. When she ceases to preach according to
this type and standard she will no longer be Wesleyan Methodism. No
other Church of modern times can boast of such a standard of preaching,
B o mighty and pervasive in its power to preserve the perfect doctrinal as
well as spiritual unity of the entire body. God save us from the day
when the Methodist ministry shall cease to study this standard, and
to preach according thereto !

The Notes have also their peculiar and unique value. They open up
to us the mode of interpretation by which the grand type of preaching
contained in the Sermons was derived from its fountain-head the New
Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They are thus the
link which binds our subordinate standard to the original Apostolic
standard. Without that link our form of preaching would be deprived
of its Divine authorization.

But the Articles of Religion have their own appropriate place in our
doctrinal foundations. They indicate that which we have received as
our common heritage from the great principles of the Protestant Refor-
mation, and from the still more ancient conflicts with error in the days
of Augustine and Athanasius. They represent the Methodist Church
in its unity with Christendom and Protestantism ; but the '' Sermons
and Notes" represent it in its own completeness as a living form of
religion, called into being by the Spirit and Providence of God.

The Wesleyan standards of doctrine, as held by the Methodist Church
of Canada, are three-fold, viz. :


1. Tlie Standard of Preaching the fifty-two sermons embraced in the
four volumes.

/~ II. The Standard of Interpretation the notes on the New Testament
III. The Standard of Unity with the Sister Churches of the Reforma

/'lion the Twenty-five Articles.

We shall now confine our attention more especially to the sermons.
The historical key to these sermons is to be found in the development \f\s\A
of Mr. Wesley's own spiritual life. The first element in the formation
of all spiritual life is to be found in early training. Wesley's parents . H '-
were both born and educated in Nonconformist families, and their
religious life was strongly and permanently moulded by Puritan prin-
ciples. But, strange to say, at a comparatively early age each of them, as
the result of investigation of the controversy, became converted to High
Church views. But, as Isaac Taylor well remarks, they " could not lay I /
down that in Nonconformity, which belonged to the inner man. A
stern, moral force, and a religious individuality, went with him (the
father) into the Church, nor left him as he entered it ; and it showed
itself as an inherited quality in his sons." " Some of the very choicest
samples of the firm, consistent, English Christian character have been

Online LibraryJohn WesleyThe sermons with introductions analysis and notes → online text (page 1 of 75)