Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William Barclay

Scottish Author, Radio and Television Presenter, Church of Scotland Minister and Biblical Scholar

"It is a basic rule of prayer that God will never do for us what we can do for ourselves. Prayer does not do things for us; it enables us to do things for ourselves."

"A conversion is incomplete if it does not leave one with an intense social consciousness, if it does not fill one with a sense of overwhelming responsibility for the world. It has been said... truly that the Church exists for those outside of itself. The Church must never be in any sense a little huddle of pious people, shutting their doors against the world, lost in prayer and praise, connoisseurs of preaching and liturgy, busy mutually congratulating themselves on the excellence of their experience."

"A man may well be condemned, not for doing something, but for doing nothing."

"All life is based on the fact that anything worth getting is hard to get. There is a price to be paid for anything. Scholarship can only be bought at the price of study, skill of craft or technique can only be bought at the price of practice, and eminence in any sport can only be bought at the price of training and discipline."

"But in one thing I would go beyond strict orthodoxy - I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God."

"Conversion is not individualistic. It is, in fact, just the opposite. It joins man to his fellow men, and certainly does not separate him from them."

"Division has always been a disease of the church... The Love Feast, which should have been the sign and symbol of perfect unity, has become a thing of divisions and class distinctions. And here there is something which only the newer translations reveal. In the older translations, it is said that to eat and drink at the sacrament without discerning the Lord's body is the way to judgment and not to salvation. But in the best Greek text, the word Lord's is not included. The sin is not to discern the body; that is to say, not to discern that the church is a body, not to be aware of the oneness of the church, not to be aware of the togetherness in which all its members should be joined."

"Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory."

"For some extraordinary reason, the Church moves in an atmosphere of antiquity. I have no doubt that it makes for dignity; I have also no doubt that there are times when it makes for complete irrelevance; for, if there is one thing that is true of religion it is that it must always be expressible in contemporary terms. Religion fails if it cannot speak to men as they are."

"Here is the great truth that, only when we see things in the light of God, do we see things as they are. It is only when we see things in the light of God that we see what things are really important, and what things are not. These things seem vastly important, things like ambition, and prestige, and money and gain, lose all their value and importance when they are seen in the light of God. Pleasures and habits and social customs which seem permissible enough, are seen for the dangerous things they are when they are seen in the light of God. Things which seem evils, hardship, toil, discipline, unpopularity, even persecution, are seen in their glory when they are seen in the light of God."

"If Christianity has never frightened us, we have not yet learnt what it is."

"In the time we have it is surely our duty to do all the good we can to all the people we can in all the ways we can."

"It has always been fairly safe to talk about God; it is when we start to talk about men that the trouble starts. And yet the fact remains that there is no conceivable way of proving that we love God other than by loving men. And there is no conceivable way of proving that we love men than by doing something for those who most need help."

"It is usually true that the man who is unintelligible is not unintelligible because he is ‘deep,’ but because he does not himself understand what he is talking about."

"Life is at its noblest and its best when our effort cooperates with God's grace to produce the necessary loveliness."

"O God, grant that today I may not disappoint any friend; I may not grieve any loved one; I may not fail anyone to whom I have a duty; I may not shame myself. Grant that today I may do my work with honesty and fidelity; I may take my pleasure in happiness and purity. Grant that today I may lead no one astray; I may not make goodness and faith harder for anyone. Help me today to be a help and example to all; to bring strength and encouragement wherever I am."

"Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him."

"Religion fails if it cannot speak to men as they are."

"So long as we judge ourselves by human comparisons, there is plenty of room for self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction kills faith, for faith is born of the sense of need… with God, we are humbled to the dust, and then faith is born, for there is nothing left to do but to trust to the mercy of God."

"So often we have a kind of vague, wistful longing that the promises of Jesus should be true. The only way really to enter into them is to believe them with the clutching intensity of a drowning man."

"The awful importance of this life is that it determines eternity."

"The devout student is the best of all students. There are too many who are devout, but not students. They will not accept the discipline of study and of learning, and they even look with suspicion upon the further knowledge which study brings to men. There are equally too many who are students, but not devout. They are interested too much in intellectual knowledge, and too little in the life of prayer and in the life of service of their fellow men. A man would do well to aim at being not only a student, and not only devout, but at being a devout student."

"The only test of the reality of a man's religion is his attitude to his fellow men. The only possible proof that a man loves God is the demonstrated fact that he loves his fellow men."

"The tragedy of life and of the world is not that men do not know God; the tragedy is that, knowing Him, they still insist on going their own way."

"There are two great days in a person's life -- the day we are born and the day we discover why."

"There is a certain kind of so-called conversion which separates a man from his fellow men. It may fill him with a self-righteousness which rejoices in its own superiority to those who have had no like experience. It may move a man to a Pharisaic self-isolation. There have in fact been not a few so-called conversions as a result of which a man has left the Church to belong to some smaller and holier body. The plain truth is that such a one should very seriously examine himself."

"To the rich man, Lazarus was part of the landscape. If ever he did notice him, it never struck him that Lazarus had anything to do with him. He was simply unaware of his presence, or, if he was aware of it, he had no sense of responsibility for it... A man may well be condemned, not for doing something, but for doing nothing."

"There is a time when to avoid trouble is to store up trouble, and when to seek for a lazy and a cowardly peace is to court a still greater danger."

"True and genuine worship is when man, through his spirit attains to friendship and intimacy with God. True and genuine worship is not to come to a certain place; it is not to go through a certain ritual or liturgy; it is not even to bring certain gifts. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of man, speaks to and meets with God, who is immortal and invisible."

"We do not need to speculate on what heaven will be like. It is enough to know that we will be forever with Him. When we love anyone with our whole hearts, life begins when we are with that person; it is only in their company that we are really and truly alive. In this world our contact with Him is shadowy, for we can only see through a glass darkly. It is spasmodic, for we are poor creatures and cannot live always on the heights. But the best definition of it is to say that heaven is that state where we will always be with Jesus, and where nothing will separate us from Him anymore."

"The humblest and the most unseen activity in the world can be the true worship of God. Work and worship literally become one. Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever; and man carries out that function when he does what God sent him into the world to do. Work well done rises like a hymn of praise to God. This means that the doctor on his rounds, the scientist in his laboratory, the teacher in his classroom, the musician at his music, the artist at his canvas, the shop assistant at his counter, the typist at her typewriter, the housewife in her kitchen -- all who are doing the work of the world as it should be done are joining in a great act of worship."

"When we believe that God is Father, we also believe that such a father's hand will never cause his child a needless tear. We may not understand life any better, but we will not resent life any longer."

"When we love anyone with our whole hearts, life begins when we are with that person; it is only in their company that we are really and truly alive."

"While it is right to stress the dangers of the permissive society, the argument from danger is not in itself a good argument, because it seems to imply that, if the danger could be removed, if there was no risk of a child and no peril of infection, then the objection would be removed, too. It tends to imply that the objection is to the attendant dangers and not to the thing itself. But if sexual intercourse before and outside marriage is against the teaching, then the thing is not only dangerous, it is wrong in itself."

"We will often find compensation if we think more of what life has given us and less about what life has taken away."

"We may not understand how the spirit works; but the effect of the spirit on the lives of men is there for all to see. No man can disregard a religion and a faith and a power which is able to make bad men good."

"Christianity does not look on this world as one which God very occasionally invades; it looks on it as a world from which he is never absent."

"His voice might be stern, but in the sternness there was still the accent of yearning love; his eyes might flash fire, but the flame was the flame of love."

"Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but God, and who hate nothing but sin, and who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, and I will shake the world."

"Even if we are separated from people, and even if there is no other gift which we can give to them, we can surround them with the strength and the defence of our prayers."

"Not even God can teach a man who comes to the Bible with his mind made up."

"Prayer will never do our work for us; what it will do is to strengthen us for work which must be done."

"The glory of God is not that of a despotic tyrant, but the splendour of love before which we fall not in abject terror but lost in wonder, love and praise."

"There are two great days in a person's life - the day we are born and the day we discover why."

"The people who get the best out of others are those who insist on seeing them at their best."