The Bible was foundational to John Wesley and the early Methodists. Nothing compared to it. Notice John Wesley's words on the authority of the Bible below.
In 1787, late in life, John Wesley reflected on the revival God had poured out on the early Methodists in a treatise he called "Thoughts Upon Methodism." These words of Wesley are often quoted today regarding Methodism only existing as a dead sect. But notice also Wesley's bedrock belief about the Bible as foundational to our beliefs, practices and lifestyles:
"1. I AM not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist cither in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice. Hence they learned, (1.) That religion is an inward principle; that it is no other than the mind that was in Christ; or, in other words, the renewal of the soul after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness. (2.) That this can never be wrought in us, but by the power of the Holy Ghost. (3.) That we receive this, and every other blessing, merely for the sake of Christ: And, (4.) That whosoever hath the mind that was in Christ, the same is our brother, and sister, and mother."
Wesley, J. (1872). The Works of John Wesley (Third Edition, Vol. 13, p. 258). Wesleyan Methodist Book Room.
In Wesley's Preface to his "Sermons on Several Occasions," he wrote, “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven – how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the Book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [A man of one book]. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his Book; for this end, to find the way to heaven”
(Bicentennial Edition, Vol. I, 105-106)
Late in life, as John Wesley looked back and recounted how God raised up the Methodist's. In his sermon "On God's Vineyard" he says, "From the very beginning, from the time that four young men united together, each of them was homo unius libri,—“a man of one book.” God taught them all, to make his “word a lantern unto their feet, and a light in all their paths.” They had one, and only one, rule of judgment, with regard to 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; feeding, they said, upon the Bible, as moths do upon cloth. And indeed, unto this day, it is their constant endeavour to think and speak as the oracles of God."
Wesley, J. (1999). Sermons, on several occasions. Logos Research Systems, Inc.
In the preface of John Wesley's Commentary on the New Testament, he states, "Concerning the Scriptures in general, it may be observed, the word of the living God, which directed the first patriarchs also, was, in the time of Moses, committed to writing. To this were added, in several succeeding generations, the inspired writings of the other prophets. Afterward, what the SON OF GOD preached, and the HOLY GHOST spake by the apostles, the apostles and evangelists wrote.—This is what we now style the Holy Scripture: this is that word of GOD which remaineth for ever: of which, though heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle shall not pass away. The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament, is a most solid and precious system of divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of GOD; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess. It is the fountain of heavenly wisdom, which they who are able to taste, prefer to all writings of men, however wise, or learned, or holy."
Wesley, J. (1818). Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Fourth American Edition, p. 5). J. Soule and T. Mason.
Entire Sanctification - The Grand Deposit God Lodged with Methodists
Methodists today have largely lost the one key doctrine that John Wesley said God mainly lodged with the Methodists and for the purpose of propagating this doctrine seemed to have raised us up.
On September 15, 1790, about six months before John Wesley died, he wrote a letter to Robert Carr Brackenbury that referred to this core doctrine. At this late point in his life, he has a perspective of looking back over the years and observing God's work. Notice what he says:
"YOUR letter gave me great satisfaction. I wanted to hear where and how you were; and am glad to find you are better in bodily health, and not weary and faint in your mind. My body seems nearly to have done its work, and to be almost worn out. Last month my strength was nearly gone, and I could have sat almost still from morning to night. But, blessed be God, I crept about a little, and made shift to preach once a day. On Monday I ventured a little farther; and after I had preached three times, (once in the open air,) I found my strength so restored that I could have preached again without inconvenience. I am glad brother D—— has more light with regard to full sanctification. This doctrine is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appeared to have raised us up."
Wesley, J. (1872). The Works of John Wesley (Third Edition, Vol. 13, p. 9). Wesleyan Methodist Book Room.
Wesley defined entire sanctification as "purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving God all our heart; it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is the devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God.... it is all the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked."
Wesley, J. (1872). The Works of John Wesley (Third Edition, Vol. 11, p. 444). Wesleyan Methodist Book Room.
Methodist historian and scholar, Kevin Watson, says "God raised up the people called Methodists to preach, teach, and experience one core doctrine. This doctrine is Methodism's reason for existence. If we get this right, everything else will fall into place. If we get it wrong, we will miss the unique calling and purpose that God has for us."
Kevin M. Watson (2021) Perfect Love: Recovering Entire Sanctification - The Lost Power of the Methodist Movement. (P. 3)
Wesley Style Small Groups (Class Meetings)
John Wesley was convinced that the best way to help people live like Jesus was to gather them in small groups, called "class meetings" for the purpose of "watching over one another in love. "
D. Michael Henderson summarizes how these class meetings started and how we got our name "Methodists" in his book, One Conversation at a Time:
"Those who responded to his public preaching ... Wesley gathered into small groups called class meetings. A leader from that community was appointed to give oversight to each group, and Wesley secured their commitment to a rigid set of rules - not rules for conduct or theology or church membership, but guidelines for redemptive conversations. Through trial and error, he had formulated an instructional method, which, if followed consistently, would transform raw converts into mature Christians. He was so insistent on maintaining those methods, his followers were derisively called Methodists."
D. Michael Henderson, "One Conversation at a Time" (P.66-67)
"When Methodism became a formal denomination in 1784, the class meeting was listed as a requirement for membership. As a result, from it's beginnings as a church in America, Methodists were committed to gathering together with a small group of Christians every single week to talk about their lives as followers of Jesus Christ, to check in and ask one another if they were growing closer to Christ or falling farther away. Attendance at a weekly class meeting continued to be a formal requirement in the Methodist Episcopal Church throughout its first decades. This was the most basic requirement of membership. It is what gave Methodist membership its meaning."
Kevin M. Watson. "The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience" (p28)
For more information about "The Class Meeting," check out Kevin Watson's book on the pastor's book table in the church narthex.
Three Core Areas that's in the DNA of historic Methodism - 1) Our Foundation -The Bible; 2) Our Chief Doctrine - Entire Sanctification; 3) Our Key Practice -The Class Meeting. Oh God, help us reclaim who you've called us to be.