John Wesley on How to Preach the Gospel

John Wesley on How to Preach the Gospel June 28, 2014

In a letter to Ebenezer Blackwall, dated 20 December 1751, John Wesley explains his evangelistic method with a view to balancing law and gospel:

I mean by ‘preaching the gospel’ preaching the love of God to sinners preaching the life, death, resurrection and intercession of Christ, with all the blessings which in consequence thereof are freely given to true believers. By ‘preaching the law’ I mean explaining and enforcing the commands of Christ briefly compiled in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, it is certain preaching the gospdel to penitent sinners ‘begets faith’; that it ‘sustains and increases spiritual life in true believers.’ Nay, sometimes it ‘teaches and guides’ them that believe; yea, and ‘convinces them that believe not.’

So far all are agreed. But what is the stated means of feeding and comforting believers What is the means, as of begetting spiritual life where it is not, so of sustaining and increasing it where it is

Here they devide. Some think preaching the law only; other, preaching the gospel only. I think neither the one nor the other; but duly mixing both, in every place, if not in every sermon.

I think the right method of preaching is this. At our first beginning to preach at any place, after a general declaration of the love of God to sinners and His willingness that they should be saved, to preach the law in the strongest, the closest the most searching manner possible; only intermixing the gospel here and there, and showing it, as it were, afar off.

After more and more persons are convinced of sin, we may mix more and more of the gospel, in order to beget faith, to raise into spiritual life those whom the law hath rain; but this is not to be done too hastily neither. Therefore it is not expedient wholly to omit the law; not only because we may web suppose that many of our hearers are still unconvinced, but because otherwise there is danger that many who are convinced will heal their own wounds slightly: therefore it is only in private converse with a thoroughly convinced sinner that we should preach nothing but the gospel.

If, indeed, we could suppose an whole congregation to be thus convinced, we should need to preach only the gospel; and the same we might do if our whole congregation were supposed to be newly justified. But when these grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, a wise builder would preach the law to them again; only taking particular care to place every part of it in a gospel light, as not only a command but a privilege also, as a branch of the glorious liberty of the sons of God. He would take equal care to remind them that this is not the cause but the fruit of their acceptance with God; that other cause, ‘other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ’; that we are still forgiven and accepted, only for the sake of what He hath done and suffered for us; and that all true obedience springs from love to Him, grounded on His first loving us. He would labor, therefore, in preaching any part of the law, to keep the love of Christ continually before their eyes; that thence they might draw fresh life, vigor and strength to run the way of His commandments.

Thus would he preach the law even to those who were pressing on to the mark. But to those who were careless or drawing back he would preach it in another manner, nearly as he did before they were convinced of sin. To those meanwhile who were earnest but feeble-minded he would preach the gospel chiefly yet variously intermixing more or less of the law, according to their various necessities.

By preaching the law in the manner above described, he would teach them how to walk in Him whom they had received. Yea, and the same means (the main point wherein it seems your mistake lies) would both sustain and increase their spiritual life. For the commands are food as well as the promises; food equally wholesome, equally substantial. Thee also, duly applied, not only direct but likewise nourish and strengthen the soul.

I’m sure the mixing of law and gospel will make the skin of several Presbyterian folks crawl!

I’ve been trolling through John Wesley’s letters and I’m convinced more than ever that Wesley’s main thing was to try and bring gospel renewal to the Anglican church in England in the eighteenth century.

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  • Philip Ryan

    I think this would make the skin of certain Presbyterians crawl but not all. I don’t buy the law/gospel emphasis that some in the Reformed world are trying to make the norm (i.e. Westminster Seminary California).

  • Kenton Slaughter

    I don’t think the law and gospel divide at the place that most Reformed/Lutheran, etc., consider them to divide. I think Wesley is on to something when he says “explaining and enforcing the commands of Christ” – though I wouldn’t restrict Christ’s commands to the Sermon on the Mount, but also include the apostolic instruction of the letters – but where are those commands considered to belong to the law, rather than to the gospel?

  • Lynn Betts

    Thank you for posting, and commenting. For some reason I am always surprised to find how devout, how insightful, and how practical, JW was. He’s a great blessing!

  • steve

    Was there ever and office of, The Pastor, approved of or mentioned in New Testament Scripture? No, there was not. There was no single pastor appointed as the authority over any local church congregation.

    The word pastor is mention one time. (Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, (NKJV)
    Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (ESV)

    Pastors were shepherds. Bishops, elders, and overseers are one and the same; and they were the pastors or shepherds.

    1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; (NKJV)
    1 Timothy 3:2 So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. (New Living Bible)
    1 Timothy 3:2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (New International Version)

    Titus 1:5-7….appoint elders in every city….7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (NKJV)
    Titus 1:7 Since an overseer manages God’s households, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.(NIV)
    Titus 1:7 An elder is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money. (NLT)

    Acts 20:17,28 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (NKJV)
    Acts 20:28 Pay attention to yourselves and to the entire flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops to be shepherdsfor God’s church which he acquired with his own blood. (God’s Word-Translation)

    Notice that the apostle Paul called for the elders (plural), he did call for The Pastor (singular).

    Acts 14:23 So when they had appointed elders in every church,and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

    The apostle Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church congregation. They did not appoint a pastor (singular) in every church congregation.

    Elders, bishops, and overseers are the same office and their responsibilities were to pastor or shepherd the individual church congregations.


    Men today like to called Reverend Pastor.
    Reverend means awesome. So they want you to refer to them as Awesome Pastor.

    Psalms 111:9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. (KJV)

    The Lord has earned the right to be called reverend (awesome).
    Is there any man that has earned the right to be called Reverend (awesome) Pastor?