Wesley's Sermon 23: Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, Discourse 3

[This is a post on one of John Wesley's Sermons as part of the Getting to Know John series. See the other posts here.] This is the third of Wesley’s thirteen sermons on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7). In this sermon, he continues working his way through the Beatitudes and focuses on Matthew 5:8-12: “Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake…”

Also, as in the previous sermon, Wesley believed that Jesus used the remainder of chapter 5 to provide illustrations of the life he describes in these verses. So to further explore the meaning of Matthew 5:8-12, Wesley also explores Matthew 5:33-48.

Wesley continues his approach to the Beatitudes as both being characteristics that are in some degree true of all of God's children all of the time, and also a process that we go through as we mature spiritually. This sermon begins right where the last one left off, describing those who have learned to love their neighbors as themselves. To begin this sermon he says we must examine the foundation of that love, and explores the meaning of "Blessed are the pure in heart..."

He explains that purity of heart is emphasized by Jesus throughout his teaching, rather than only outward acts. He also provides an interesting explanation of how it is that the pure in heart "see God," saying that by faith we will see him through our deep fellowship with him, his presence in our world, his provision of our needs, and most fully through his ordinances (prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord's Supper, etc.). He then uses Matthew 5:33-37 as an illustration of those who are not pure in heart and felt the need to depend on oaths versus those who are pure in heart and could let their speech be trusted and had a deep sense of God's presence everywhere (heaven is God's throne and earth is God's footstool).

According to Wesley, with "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." Jesus' teaching shifts from what we kind of people we are to be to focusing on what kinds of things we should do and say. He says that peacemakers are not only those who work to end and avoid strife and conflict, but in a more general sense, they are those who do good to others at every opportunity they are given by meeting physical needs, and when the opportunities arise, spiritual needs as well.

He then moves into an examination of Jesus' statements on persecution, stating that although we would hope and think that people who live lives such as he has described to this point in the Beatitudes would be well loved by everyone, that is certainly not the case. The world's ways will always be violently opposed to the ways of God, and this results in persecution of the righteous. Wesley describes different forms that persecution can take, some major (such as losing our lives), and others more minor (such as losing relationships), but he says that regardless of whatever kind of persecution we face, it should never cause us to lose our meekness, love, and kindness toward others.

Again turning to another passage of Matthew 5 to illustrate, Wesley uses Jesus' statements on turning the other cheek, refusing to return evil for evil but rather returning good for evil, and then gives a very valuable paragraph on some practical ways to think about this. Much harm has been done by those who have taken Jesus' statement to mean things that he never said here, and Wesley provides a valuable corrective, which applies to in broader senses in this context beyond just material possessions:

Although Jesus said that we should always be ready to give to whomever asks of us without expecting anything in return, he never said that we should give things that do not belong to us. Wesley explains with three short points:

  • We need to take much care to avoid all kinds of debt. If we give to others while we have debts, we are actually giving someone else's things away, not our own. (For our day, Dave Ramsey offers great advice. We should give while we are working to get out of debt, but set a limit on the giving during that time, such as 10%. In other words, if you're making your tithe to your church on your credit card and running your debt up higher, stop it. Still tithe, but on money you actually have.)In another sense which Wesley doesn't mention here, Jesus does offer the illustration of offering our other cheek to someone who hits us. He never says that we should offer the cheeks of other people to be injured.
  • We should provide for our own household the things that are necessary to sustain them in life and godliness. If we give to such a point that we cannot do this, it is certainly not being done in the spirit of Jesus' teaching.
  • Then, we should give away everything that's left over. (Certainly there are wise ways to do this, so that we're actually helping the recipients rather than harming them.) He says if we don't have enough to give to everyone, we should begin by remembering the "household of faith," then give to others as we are able.

Wesley finishes with a concluding paragraph about the Beatitudes, calling them "a picture drawn by God's own hand" of the life intended for us. His interpretation of the Beatitudes is valuable and inspiring. (As I've mentioned before, I've come to view the Beatitudes in a different way, thanks to Dallas Willard. I'll post a summary of Wesley's understanding compared to Willard's soon.)

If you would like to dig in further to this sermon: