We have answered this question from the book, The People Called Methodists: The Heritage, Life and Mission of The Methodist Church in Singapore. It reflects a Methodist understanding of experience, in relation to Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
Thinking Christians have sometimes debated on the value of experience, or feelings as a separate criterion for knowing God’s will. However, John Wesley was clear that the mysteries of God could not be appreciated by those who had not actually experienced God. He wrote that the great practical religious truths could not be understood except by those who had experienced the same things in their own souls. To know the mysteries of the inward kingdom of God people must experience it, live the life of Christ and allow God’s rule in their hearts. Such experience enriches theological reflection.
Wesley’s writings suggest two important functions of experience. The first is about religious experience as evidence that God is at work in the Christian. Wesley’s emphasis of this has invited allegations that he was an enthusiast, and that this was a subjective religion. But these allegations ignore the thoroughly biblical basis of Wesley’s understanding of the function of experience. The Bible is the witness of the Spirit. Wesley was not interested in unqualified religious experience as such, but in the witness of the Holy Spirit through which God’s love becomes a conscious reality in the believer, and the motivation for Christ-like living.
The Christian’s subjective experience must always be firmly established in the objective truth of God communicated in the Scriptures. Wesley carefully avoided the subjectivism that he sometimes found in the mystics which tended to make the individual person’s religious experience become the standard of truth. Consequently, for Wesley, religious experience should not be reduced to the perspective of the individual, since this could also produce the outcome that he wished to avoid. He therefore placed great emphasis on the need for Christians to counsel each other, and encouraged such sessions where mutual exchange or sharing could take place.
In addition, Wesley also used experience to defend his doctrinal claims. For example, he defended the doctrine of original sin by appealing to universal experience. In so doing, he demonstrated not only that daily experience confirms the scriptural account, but also that experience is subordinate to Scripture. He also used the universal experience of human freedom to defend it against the claims of determinism. In both cases, Wesley’s thesis is not that a doctrine is true because we experience it, but rather that we experience it because it is true.
— The People Called Methodists, p 70