How can Holy Scripture be a means of grace in our lives?
That is a question I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few months as I’ve led a Bible study at my church. We read the Gospel of Luke, meeting weekly on Sunday evenings for about 3 months to discuss the biblical text together. Reading the Scripture in community can be an amazing experience—the insights and experiences of a group can convey a power to what John Wesley called ‘searching the Scriptures’ that is hard to match when reading alone.
One of the points Wesley makes about the use of Scripture as a means of grace that has always struck me is his focus on the active process of receiving the word of God. For instance, Wesley never says that the Bible is a means of grace. His phrase ‘searching the Scriptures’ is meant to emphasize the need to actively engage the biblical text in the rhythms of reading, hearing, and meditating upon it.
Wesley published a translation of the New Testament together with his NT commentary that differs in some respects from the Authorized Version (or KJV) that was the standard English-language translation in his day. Later in life, Wesley republished his New Testament separately. In that later 1790 edition, he included a prayer drawn from the Book of Common Prayer together with this advice: “I advise every one, before he reads the Scripture, to use this or the like prayer.”
Here’s the prayer itself:
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 has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
It’s a beautiful prayer. The net effect of what he’s encouraging—to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest—is to truly embrace Holy Scripture in its fullness, that we might be transformed in the process.
We do not read the Bible so that we can master it. We read it so that, over time, it comes to master us.