Reading, meditating, hearing and doing

Reading, meditating, hearing and doing

Reading, meditating, hearing and doing

Christians from across the different ecclesiastical traditions—Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant—believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Church has always held the Bible to be the Word of God through which God and his purposes for the world are revealed.

The different traditions of the Church have produced excellent statements about the nature and authority of Scripture. For example, Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles—the doctrinal standard of the Anglican Church—has this to say about the sufficiency of Holy Scripture for salvation:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.1

Following the Anglican tradition by which he was formed as a Christian, John Wesley also had a high and robust view of Scripture. In the Preface to the New Testament, Wesley famously declares that “The Scripture … of the Old and New Testament, is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth.” The entire canon of the Bible, he insists, “is the fountain of heavenly wisdom”.2

Wesley was concerned about helping Christians—particularly members of his society—to drink deeply from this well of “heavenly wisdom”. In various sermons, letters and other writings, Wesley offers useful instruction on what may be aptly described as a Wesleyan lectio divina.

In order to benefit from the theological and spiritual treasure contained in the pages of Holy Scripture, one must read it. For Wesley, devotional reading of Scripture is a means of grace—”the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace”.3

However, reading Scripture alone is not enough. One must also meditate on it. According to Wesley, it is through meditation that the Christian begins to acquire a “thorough knowledge” of Scripture and discover its “sacred” and “literal” meaning.4 To meditate on Scripture is simply to dwell on the theological and spiritual truths it contains and allow them to nourish and revitalise the soul.

Wesley is quick to remind Christians that it is only through the agency of the Holy Spirit that our reading and meditation of the Bible becomes spiritually fruitful.

In his sermon The Means of Grace, Wesley points out that there is “no inherent power … in the letter of Scripture read, the sound thereof heard …” “[A]ll outward means whatever,” he explains, “if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all, cannot conduce, in any degree … to the knowledge or love of God …” For “it is God alone who is the Giver of every good gift, the Author of all grace; that the whole power is of him, whereby, through any of these, there is any blessing conveyed to our soul.”1

It is thus imperative that the Christian humbly requests the Spirit’s presence and assistance as he reads and meditates on Scripture.

Next, the Christian who reads the words of the Bible and meditates on them must be prepared to hear what they have to say.

Like the Magisterial Reformers before him, Wesley very much regards the ear as the main theological or spiritual organ by which divine truth is received.

When we read and meditate on Scripture, od “speaks” to us in profound ways. This divine speech subjectively received—Wesley is careful to stress—does not contradict the objective teachings of the Bible as understood by the Church, but brings those teachings home in a direct and personal way.

And, having “heard” the divine utterance the Christian must obey—he must “do the Scripture”, he must “do the word”. Here, Wesley underscores what James had emphasised when he wrote: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only …” (James 1:22). The Christian must never be a “hearer who forgets but a doer who acts …” (James 1:25).

It would be quite wrong to think that Wesley is promoting a form of religious legalism. What he wants to underscore is that our study and meditation of Scripture—if done prayerfully—must result in a radical transformation in our attitudes and behaviour.

While intellectual assent is doubtless important, the Christian’s engagement with Scripture demands much more. It requires the Christian to allow the Spirit-inspired Scripture to shape and transform him into the very image and likeness of his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18).

For in Scripture, we do not merely find the ideas and ideals of a distant and ancient civilisation. In Scripture, we do not only meet with the thoughts and words of man.

In Scripture, we are summoned and addressed by God himself!

1 Anglicans Online, “Articles of Religion”,

2 John Wesley, “Preface to the New Testament”,

3 John Wesley, “The Means of Grace”, II.1.

4 John Wesley, “The Means of Grace”, II.3.

5 Ibid.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.