This is the latest in our monthly series that presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.
The following is condensed from “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount—13,” one of many sermons Mr. Wesley preached on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). For easier reading, some of the wording in this condensation has been slightly updated from the original.
A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.
|Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven…. [E]veryone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. (Matt. 7:21,26-27)
Having declared in his Sermon on the Mount the whole counsel of God with regard to the way of salvation, and having observed the chief hindrances of those who desire to walk therein, Jesus concludes with the weighty words presented above.
It imports us, in the highest degree, thoroughly to understand the force of these words.
What are we to understand by the expression, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord…”? It undoubtedly refers those who think of going to heaven by any way other than that which our Lord described in his Sermon.
Our Lord’s expression implies (to begin at the level of “verbal” religion) whatever creeds we may rehearse and whatever whatever number of prayers we may repeat.
Further, we may abstain from every presumptuous sin, from every kind of outward wickedness. We may refrain from all those ways of acting or speaking which are forbidden in holy writ. We may have a conscience void of any external offense. We may be clear of all uncleanness, ungodliness, and unrighteousness, as to the outward act.
And yet we are not hereby justified.
We may attend the supper of the Lord, hear abundance of excellent sermons, and omit no opportunity of partaking all the other ordinances of God. We may do good to a neighbor, deal our bread to the hungry, and cover the naked with a garment.
Still we may have no part in the glory which shall be revealed.
Anyone who marvels at this is stranger to the whole religion of Jesus Christ. For how far short are all these things from righteousness and true holiness. How widely distant from that inward kingdom of heaven first sown in the heart as a grain of mustard seed that afterwards puts forth great branches on which grow all the fruits of righteousness.
None who do not have this kingdom of God within them shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Our Lord well knew that many would not receive this saying.
Therefore confirms it again: “Many” — not just a few — “will say to me in that day,” not only, “We have said many prayers” or “We have refrained from evil” or “We have exercised ourselves in doing good,” but even more, “We have prophesied in your name and in your name done many wonderful works.”
And yet, Jesus will say even unto them, “I never knew you” — for your heart was not right toward God. “Depart from me,” you who — notwithstanding all these things you did — are “workers of lawlessness,” transgressors of my law of holy and perfect love.
To put this beyond all possibility of contradiction, our Lord confirms it by this comparison: “Everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house” — as they will surely do, sooner or later, upon every soul of man — “and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Such must be the portion of all who rest in anything short of that religion Jesus described in his Sermon on the Mount. And the greater will their fall be, because they heard his sayings, and yet did “not do them.”
Jesus’ blood and righteousness
In contrast, the one who builds his house upon a rock is he “who does the will of my Father in heaven.” He sees and feels all his sin and all his guilt — till it is washed away by the atoning blood. He is conscious of his lost estate, of the wrath of God abiding on him, and of his utter inability to help himself — till he is filled with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
His soul is athirst for nothing on earth, but only for God, the living God. He loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and soul, and strength.
How truly wise is this man! He sees, clearer than the light of the noonday sun, that the end of man is to glorify God and to love and enjoy him for ever. And with equal clearness he sees the means to that end — which is to know, love, and imitate God, and to believe in Jesus Christ who he has sent.
This wise man “builds his house upon a rock,” upon the Rock of Ages: the Lord Jesus Christ. He builds only upon Jesus’ blood and righteousness. On this cornerstone he fixes his faith, and rests the whole weight of his soul upon it.
He is taught of God to say, “Lord, I have sinned; I deserve the nethermost hell — but I am justified freely by thy grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ — and the life I now live, I live by faith in Him, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I now live — even in the flesh — a life of love, a life of holiness and happiness, praising God and doing all to his glory.”
Actor Alan McNaughtan as John Wesley
Upon which foundation are you building? The rock or the sand? What is the foundation of your hope? Where have you built your expectation of entering into the kingdom of heaven?
Upon orthodoxy or right opinions? Perhaps on belonging to an excellent church? Such may be helps to holiness; but they are not holiness itself.
Upon what have you built your hope of salvation? Upon doing no harm? Upon attending all the ordinances of God? Upon good works?
Then go and learn again, “By grace you are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8); “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy he saves us” (Titus 3:5). Count all you have done but dung and dross.
Build upon the rock! Renounce all hope of ever being able to save yourself. Be it all your hope to be washed in his blood and purified by his Spirit who “himself bore [your] sins in his own body upon the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
Weep for your sins and mourn after God until he turns your heaviness into joy. Then weep for those who do yet not weep for themselves. Mourn for the sins and miseries of mankind. For the immense ocean of eternity, without a bottom or a shore, already has swallowed up millions and is gaping to devour those who yet remain!
Be angry at sin as an affront to the Majesty of heaven, but love the sinner still — like our Lord, who “looked round about upon the Pharisees with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (Mark 3:5).
You in God, God in you
Let nothing satisfy you but the power of godliness, a religion that is spirit and life — the dwelling in God and God in you.
Be purified through faith from every unholy affection, cleansing yourself “from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Through the power of God’s grace, be purified from pride by deep poverty of spirit; be purified from anger and every unkind passion by meekness and mercifulness; be purified from every desire but to please and enjoy God by hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your strength!
Let your religion be the religion of the heart. Be amazed and humbled to the dust by the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Be a lover of God and of all mankind! Show your faith by your works, and thus “do the will of your Father in heaven!”
And as surely as you now walk with God on earth, you will also reign with him in glory!
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