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The devotional use and
reading of the Bible has gone on for as long as there has been a Bible, but
when John Wesley refers to ‘searching the Scriptures’ he in fact is not
referring to a particular kind of use of the Bible or a particular sort of way
of reading it for spiritual benefit, as is the discussion in much modern
spiritual formation literature.  What Wesley means is that the Bible
itself,  however you may read it,  is a book inspired by God, a spiritual book
if you will, and as such it has spiritual effects on those who read it with
eyes wide open and heart’s door cracked, and the Spirit resident inside the

Bible is both inspired and inspiring, it is not merely a human record of God’s
Word, it is the living Word of God which transforms human beings, and
continually spiritually forms those who are open to its effect.   Like those two disciples at the inn at Emmaus
who felt their hearts burn when Jesus spoke to them and broke bread with them, so
too the Bible is the living Word of God, the bread of life which if consumed
provides not merely nourishment but indeed soul formation and enlightenment.   

conviction about the character of the Bible was of course profoundly important
to Wesley.   In his Introduction to his
Standard Sermons he says this:

To candid, reasonable men, I am not
afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have
thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the
air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the
great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an
unchangeable eternity! 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.”

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.

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.

his advice on how to read the Bible Wesley in his Preface to his Notes on the
Old Testament stresses:

If you desire to read the scripture
in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be

1. To set apart a little time, if you
can, every morning and evening for that purpose?
2. At each time if you have
leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if
you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?
3. To read this with a single
eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it? In order to
know his will, you should,
4. Have a constant eye to the
analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand,
fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth,
Inward and Outward Holiness.
5. Serious and earnest prayer
should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing
“scripture can only be understood thro’ the same Spirit whereby it was
given.” Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we
read may be written on our hearts.
6. It might also be of use, if
while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we
read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with
matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed
will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having
fallen short.

And whatever light you then
receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no
delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So
shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal

in his Preface to his Notes on the New Testament, Wesley adds:

I advise every one, before he reads
the Scripture, to use this or the like prayer: “Blessed Lord, who hast
caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in
such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by
patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the
blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus

 What we should deduce
from all this is not merely that Wesley was in favor of devotional reading of
the Bible, or that Wesley believed the Bible was true, or that Wesley saw such
reading as important for spiritual formation. 
 No, he saw the reading and study of the Scriptures as essential if you
wanted to be a Christian at all because the Bible, coupled with the internal
illumination of the Spirit is what spiritually forms us and transforms us.  It does not merely inform us.

did Wesley mean then about ‘searching the Scriptures’ as a means of grace?  Here several things come to light not only
from the quotes above, but also from his sermon on ‘The Means of Grace’.   Firstly, searching the Scriptures means a
whole-hearted studying of God’s Word, giving it one’s full attention.   There is nothing casual about searching the
Scriptures.  It is planned, intentional,
and often undertaken at certain times of the day, decided in advance.

by searching the Scriptures, Wesley is of course not talking about what we mean
by ‘doing a Google search’.  There is
nothing random about what Wesley refers to. 
He is talking about deliberately and carefully comparing one Scripture
with another, especially in regard to what the Bible says about soteriology,
the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Wesley is talking about truth-seeking, not merely reference seeking, or mere
research.  The Scriptures he cites is the
story of the Bereans searching the OT to see if what Paul was preaching was
true (Acts 17.11–“they examined the Scriptures every day to see whether these
things [Paul had preached] were true”). 
This text is not merely about Christians reading the Bible, but in this
case non-Christians reading it, and they are not reading it in the first
instance for their spiritual improvement, they are reading it to see if Paul’s
interpretation of the Bible was true!   
And this brings up an important point. 
Wesley did not distinguish between the honest open reading of the Bible
by non-Christians, and the same sort of reading of the Bible by
Christians.  Why not? 

reasons.  First Wesley believed in
pre-venient grace, namely that the Spirit worked on non-Christians to help them
see the truth of God’s Word, and secondly he believed in the inherently
inspired Word of God character of the Bible— it could change a heart of stone
into a heart for the Lord if received.   He would not distinguish between a
truth-seeking way of reading the Bible, and how a Christian reads it for his
continued edification.
   The issue
was the work of the Spirit and the character of the Bible, not primarily a
particular way of reading the Bible
spiritually.  In short, the Bible was
inherently a spiritual book.  Searching
the Scriptures then was for everyone, whether a Christian or not, because in
Wesley’s view, everyone needed to be saved, everyone could be saved, and
Scripture was the tool for or roadmap to salvation, indeed the roadmap to

distinctions between an ‘academic’ study of the Bible and a ‘devotional’ one,
are not really applicable because on the one hand Wesley thought that the most
spiritual benefit could be had from reading the Bible in its original
languages!   He thought that a person
should apply her whole self, and commit herself to lifelong study of the Bible,
whether or not she was a scholar. Wesley encouraged even lay people who were
capable, to read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. 
This is because he believed that the Bible itself is inherently inspired,
and a translation of the Bible, however good, is one step removed from the
source.  The more spiritual benefit you
want to get out of the original Word of God, the better you ought to know its
original voice in the original languages.  This is not because he thought an English
translation was inadequate for salvation or Christian growth.  It is a matter of good and better. 

point is that ‘spiritually better’ is defined by Wesley as what we today might
called the highly academic learning of Greek and Hebrew in order to read the
real Bible, not merely a translation of it.  
Of course Wesley would however distinguish between merely reading the
Bible for information, and reading it as a truth seeker, with eyes and heart
open.  It is the latter sort of reading
he is commending whether by Christians or others.   At this juncture it would be good if we went
to the Bible itself, in this case the NT and see what we can learn about how
the Biblical writers viewed both the oral word of God, and the written text of
Scriptures.  There are some surprises
that come to light when we do this sort of study.

What I have done in these ten posts is given you a little taste of my forthcoming book.  I have concentrated on the portions of the book that focus on Wesley  since most of you will be more familiar with the NT than with Wesley, but there is just as much discussion of key NT texts.  I am completely convinced that if one does a good study of the NT and Wesley you come up with a helpful model of spiritual formation for the normal Christian life which encourages them to focus on the collective context for spiritual formation— the sort of worship, communion, searching the Scriptures, and prayer that happens when Christians come together to glorify God and edify one another.  After all, we have a promise of the Lord that wherever 2 or more are gathered there He is in our midst.  And if he is in our midst, we are being spiritually formed, whether we realize it or not.  It happens when we focus on Him, not on ourselves.     ‘How silently how silently the precious gift is given. And God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.’     Merry Christmas to all ya’ll!!  

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