Daily Reading for March 3 • John and Charles Wesley, Priests, 1791, 1788
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 comprised in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, it is certain, preaching the gospel 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.” . . .
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, and 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 slain: 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 well 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 preaching nothing but the gospel. . . . Both should be preached in their turns; yea, both at once, or both in one: All the conditional promises are instances of this. They are law and gospel mixed together.
From John Wesley’s “Letter on Preaching Christ,” December 20, 1751, quoted in The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present, edited by Richard Lischer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002).