John Wesley: His Methodology for Scripture Study

Students of John Wesley know several things about the man.

He was the “unofficial founder” of the Methodist Church.  I say “unofficial” because his intention was not to start a new Protestant denomination.  He wanted to reform his own denomination, which was the Anglican Church [the Church of England].

He was a priest in the Anglican Church to his dying day even though he was also the head of the Methodist Movement.

He was a very educated man, a graduate of Oxford University, elected a fellow of Lincoln College and ordained a priest two years later.

Wesley was very serious about his faith and very serious about the study of God’s Word.  He referred to himself as a “man of one Book.”

He developed a methodology of studying scripture called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

What is this Quadrilateral and how does it work to unlock the meaning of the Bible?

First of all, he put the scripture itself at the forefront of understanding the Bible.  Wesley insisted that scripture is the first authority and contains the only measure whereby all other truth is tested. It was delivered by authors who were divinely inspired. It is a rule sufficient of itself. It neither needs, nor is capable of, any further addition.

Secondly, Wesley does not discount the role of tradition in the existence of the Bible.  In his age, he knew that the Bible went through 1,700 years of history and that does not need to be ignored.  It is a reality.  That does not mean that horrible error occurred or disrespect toward the text was the norm.  For Wesley, he felt that the years have helped all of man understand Scripture and that understanding should not be ignored.  That understanding can actually unlock the meaning of the Bible.

The third part of his quadrilateral is devoted to reason.  As stated above, he was a highly educated man.  He knew that man has a brain and he should apply it to Scripture.  With reason applied to the Bible, it can only unlock the meaning of Scripture even more.  He does not rule out the power of the Holy Spirit for we need that to understand the mysteries of God.  But with Wesley, “a pure heart” emotional approach to Bible study was not his approach.

Lastly, the role of experience in the life of the Christian was important to Wesley.  He said  “What the scriptures promise, I enjoy.”  Wesley was a student of the Bible first as he worked to educate himself as a minister at Oxford.  Being a young man, he wanted to experience God’s grace first-hand but history records that he forced himself to do God’s work.  He was very legalistic in his approach to his faith and wanted to control his life as he made a serious effort to do the will of God.  It was not until he felt God’s presence at a time that was a surprise that he knew he was finally made right with God…he was justified.  His study of Scripture just made his relationship with God even stronger.  He did not want to stop with justification, he wanted to grow more, what he labelled sanctification, the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy.

Wesley felt that sanctification is the lifelong work of the Christian.

Many regard Wesley’s Quadrilateral as a very intelligent approach to understanding the Bible, especially the Methodist church.

In United Methodist understanding, both laypeople and clergy alike share in “our theological task.” The theological task is the ongoing effort to live as Christians in the midst of the complexities of a secular world. Wesley’s Quadrilateral is referred to in Methodism as “our theological guidelines” and is taught to its pastors in seminary as the primary approach to interpreting the scriptures and gaining guidance for moral questions and dilemmas faced in daily living  [from Wikipedia, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral].

Certainly, in regards to understanding the word of God, his methodology is helpful.

In understanding how to have a conversational relationship with God, it is also helpful to understand God’s written Word for the Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form.  It may not be a conversation because a written word is the intermediary between God and man.

For knowledge of God and better conversation, where can you go for better information?  One of the most helpful people in the process of the founder of the Methodist Church…John Wesley.




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