Bibliomancy



John Wesley throughout his life resorted to the practice of bibliomancy. Bibliomancy is a practice whereby a person seeking spiritual insight selects a random passage from a book, in Wesley’s case, the Bible.  His journal is replete with references to this practice, but I bring to our attention the following.


John Wesley went to the Georgia colony in 1736 to serve as the settlement priest and as a missionary to the Native Americans.  John found comfort in a female acquaintance in Georgia named Sophy Hopkey.  But he was concerned that settling down would hurt his ministry. He wanted to evangelize the natives first. After a year, Sophy was getting impatient. Finally, in March, 1737, she made it known that she was going to marry another if Wesley had no objection. One of the things Wesley did when it was time to make a decision was to resort to bibliomancy and drawing lots. During these difficult days of decision, he wrote three slips of paper: 1) marry, 2)  think about it after a year, and 3)  think about it no more. He drew the latter slip of paper and decided that he was correct in not pursuing marriage.


During his time of indecision, Sophy became engaged and subsequently married another suitor. When Wesley later refused Sophy communion on August 7, 1737, stating that they had not properly posted the ‘bands’ for the marriage, he became mired in controversy. It was obvious to most of the colonists that Wesley was acting out of his pique about Sophy marrying another. He claimed he did so for valid reasons, but Sophy's new husband brought him to court for defamation of character. It did not hurt that Sophy’s father was the chief magistrate. Other charges were levied against him (concocted by people seeking ill will against Wesley). After a while, Wesley could take no more and headed back to England, with an unserved arrest warrant for him. I believe President Jimmy Carter finally commuted the warrant, but I don’t recall if it was while he was Governor of Georgia or as President.


Bibliomancy was so popular among early Methodists that John Wesley even produced a pack of readymade cards with scriptural excerpts, “Draw Cards”, which Methodists used as a kind of religious parlor game of fortune-telling, as well as a conversation starter.


And here is a story related to this practice:


A businessman was in a great deal of trouble. His business was failing, he had put everything he had into the business, and he owed everybody. It was so bad he was even contemplating suicide. As a last resort, he went to his pastor and poured out his story of tears and woe.

When he had finished, the pastor said, "Here's what I want you to do: Put a beach chair and your Bible in your car and drive down to the beach. Take the beach chair and the Bible to the water's edge, sit down in the beach chair, and put the Bible in your lap. Open the Bible; the wind will rifle the pages, but finally the open Bible will come to rest on a page. Look down at the page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer; that will tell you what to do."

A year later the businessman went back to the pastor and brought his wife and children with him. The man was in a new custom-tailored suit, his wife in a mink coat, the children shining. The businessman pulled an envelope stuffed with money out of his pocket and gave it to the pastor as a donation in thanks for his advice.

The pastor recognized the parishioner and was curious. "You did as I suggested?" he asked.

"Absolutely," replied the businessman.

"You went to the beach?"

"Absolutely."

"You sat in a beach chair with the Bible in your lap?"

"Absolutely."

"You let the pages rifle until they stopped?"

"Absolutely."

"And what were the first words you saw?"

"Chapter 11."