October 2017 Article:
How to Read the Bible Like John Wesley
In the preface to his book of sermons Wesley shares his devotion to the Bible. He also shares how he approaches Scripture, which, it turns out, is a pretty good method that we can use. John Wesley writes:
“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. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—“Lord, is it not thy word, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou ‘givest liberally, and upbraidest not.’ Thou hast said, ‘If any be willing to do thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know, thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”
We can read Scripture like John Wesley by following these guidelines:
First, Wesley sat with God
“I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri.” [A man of one book.]
John Wesley said that he wanted the bible because it gave the path to heaven. He cried out, “Give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!” Now he has that book and writes,
“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.”
Notice how Wesley finds a place away from the hustle and bustle of life so he can spend time with God alone. He opens the bible and reads, looking for the way to heaven.
Second, he prayed
“Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? “
Yes, there were things in the bible that John Wesley didn’t understand. Some passages were “dark” and perhaps “intricate.” What did he do? He gives us the answer.
“I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—Lord, is it not Thy word, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, ‘if any be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know Thy will.”
Wesley prayed that God would give him wisdom. James said,
“5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
Wesley knew that God would give wisdom to understand God’s word and never berate us. Wesley asked God to reveal the meaning.
Third, he searched Scripture
“I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, ‘comparing spiritual things with spiritual.’”
Wesley would allow Scripture to help interpret Scripture. He would look to other passages that might shed light on the passage he was attempting to understand.
Fourth, he meditated
“I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable.”
Wesley meditated on God’s word. He would focus his attention so that God might give him insight and wisdom. Meditation takes time and energy. Wesley used his energy in understanding God’s word.
Fifth, he consulted others
“If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God:”
If he still was having difficulty with the passage, he would consult others who were further down the path than he was, or who were more experienced in the things and ways of God. We know God best when we are in community. We can access the wisdom of others to help us in our journey with God and Scripture.
Sixth, he consulted other writers, some long since dead
“…and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak.”
History has left us spiritual masters and church fathers. We can still learn from them. As Wesley says, “being dead, they yet speak.” I have personally found much wisdom and insight from the saints and spiritual masters of history.
Finally, he taught what he learned
“And what I thus learn, that I teach.”
We have been led to believe that learning is the end of our path. Wesley reminds us, learning is just the beginning. We learn so we can teach. God did not intend for us to sit in classes our entire life and never take on the role of sharing and teaching others. If we are going to fulfill our call, we must, in some way pass on what we have learned.
John Wesley shares a solid path for prayerful time in God’s word. May your life open up to the possibilities of the God who loves us as you spend prayerful time in his word.