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The Sources of Authority for Wesley


The Sources of Authority for Wesley

(see lecture # 1 and 2)

1] Scripture

“I receive the written word as the whole and sole rule of my faith.” (Letter to John Smith. 26:155)

“From the very beginning, from the time that four young men united together, each of them was homo unius libri…. They had one, and only one, rule of judgement with which to regard all their tempers, words and actions; namely, the oracles of God. They were one and all determined to be Bible-Christians. They were continually reproached for this very thing; some terming them in derision Bible-bigots; others, Bible-moths….unto this day it is their constant endeavour to think and speak as the oracles of God.” (3:504)

Note: scripture is the un-normed norm of our knowledge of God.
Note: homo unius libri — what it means and what it doesn’t mean.

Points in W’s understanding of S:
1: Revelation precedes inscripturation.
2: The writings are inspired.
3: God used human agents in this process.
4: S. is devoid of mistakes.


“The whole S” or “the general tenor of S” is internally coherent and consistent.
The focus of “the general tenor” is soteriology.
The substance of S comprises “three grand doctrines”: original sin, justification by faith, holiness (perfection, sanctification, “present, inward salvation.”)


W’s rules for interpreting S:
1: Wherever possible, use S’l language to express S’l ideas.
2: Assume the literal sense unless doing so contradicts another S or suggests absurdity.
3: Interpret the text with regard to its literary context.
4: Interpret S by S. (“the analogy of faith”)
5: Know that the commandments are covered promises.
6: Interpret literary devices literarily, not literally.
7: Seek the most original text and the best translation.


2] Tradition (Wesley cherished the wisdom of the church through the ages, even though as a thorough going Protestant, he didn’t use the word “tradition.”)

(i)  English Reformers and Anglican theology of 17th century
(ii)  Puritans
(iii)  English Moralists
(iv)  Patristics (W favoured the eastern fathers over the western.)
(v)  Roman Catholic Mystics from the Counter-Reformation
(vi)  Eastern Orthodoxy
(vii)  Continental Reformers


3] Reason “It is a fundamental principle with us [i.e., Methodists] that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion.” (Letter to Dr. Rutherford: 28th March 1768)

“I would as soon put out my eyes to secure my faith as lay aside my reason.”
(Jackson, 10:267)

Note the difference between reason and rationalism.
Note Wesley’s emphasis on study, Latin, biblical languages, natural science, philosophy,

For W reason is a tool, not a source; W doesn’t speculate theologically.

The three aspects of reason add up to “understanding.”
a: simple apprehension
b: judgement
c: discourse

4] Experience
(1)  Assurance for Discipleship. Note where W differs from Enlightenment empiricists.
(2)  Guidance for our spiritual pilgrimage. Note the “conference” with present and past.
(3)  Public Evidence of Core Christian Teachings.
     a: Exp. has a substantive role but never a solitary role.
     b: Exp. helps clarify the intended meaning of S or T.
     c: Exp. tests applications of the truths of S.
     d: Exp. settles issues in church/Christian life that S doesn’t address.
     e: Exp. is a corporate/communal validation of the gospel and its implications.