Fishers of Men

By William Barclay

Reading William Barclay is always a treat. Never a man for stale facts or pedantic lessons, Barclay is a master, weaving truth through people, places, quotes, and anecdotes; always to drive home a key theme, here the importance of preaching and teaching in carrying out the commission of Jesus:

"Follow me, and I will make you become fisher of men" (Mark 1:17; Matthew 4:19).

Fishers of Men is a compilation of lectures William Barclay delivered to students, lay preachers, and the British Secretaries Association of the YMCA in and around 1960 to 1965. It is a delightful read, insightful and for me, convicting!

I love the way Barclay shows the sphere of the commission "is the world." As William Temple said, "If the gospel is true for any man anywhere, it is true for all men everywhere" (p. 2). The task of evangelism, notes Barclay, is the function of the church:

The function of the Christian--let us repeat it--is to be part of the body of Christ, to be the agent, the hands, the feet, the mouth, the mind, the heart through which Christ acts. (p. 6) . . . . "As James Denney said, the great task of Christianity , the great achievement of Christianity, to 'to make bad men good.' (p. 16)

To this end the evangelist prepares his mind, his material, himself, and his heart.

With Barclay, words are never simply ink on paper. His passion is evident as he shares one of his many quotable lines: "To lead men into the presence of Christ a man must himself come forth from the presence of Christ" (p. 20).

Barclay addresses the aim of our teaching, the people we teach, the faith we teach, the methods of our teaching, and preaching in the twentieth century.

Don't let his final chapter title, "Preaching In The Twentieth Century," fool you into thinking these words are a little too dusty for those of us two decades into the twentieth century. I was highlighting and AHAing! all over the last two chapters. Here are just a few of his gems:

On teaching: "A man with a wide fund of knowledge and a with a mastery of technique is like a perfectly laid fire to which someone has still to set a match, if it is to warm the room." (p. 71)

On teachers: "Truth will always be more effectively communicated by living voice than by the printed page." (p. 73)

From Ignatius: "Give me a child for the first seven years of his life, and I care not who gets him afterwards." (p. 73)

On hidden potential: "In every class of young people and in every group of young men there is an explosive dynamic which can alter history and change the world." (p. 75)

On loving those we teach: There is the attitude which quite plainly looks on the person to be taught as a nuisance. But there is Jesus's attitude of love. 'And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.' (p. 82)

On preaching: J.S. Whale once said that the trouble so often is that we sit round the fire with a pipe in the mouth and the feet on the mantelpiece and discuss theories of the Atonement instead of bowing down before the wounds of Christ." (p. 97)

On reading the Bible in a modern translation: "The New Testament is written in the Greek of the common people. Nothing could possibly be more unfitting than to read it in Elizabethan English. If it is to sound as it sounded to those who first read it, it ought to be in the language of the common people and of everyday, not in slang, but in straightforward ordinary language." (p. 104)

On preparation: "If there is one thing that a sermon needs to be it is that it needs to be prepared. . . . Every sermon should be written out word-by-word--and there is no exception to that rule. . . . R.C. Gillie once said: 'Prepare as if there was no such person as the Holy Spirit; preach as if there was no one but the Holy Spirit.'" (pp. 104-106)

This book is so good. I especially appreciated his treatment of kerugma, didache, paraklesis, and homilia in preaching. That discussion was gold. You'll find it in chapter 6, "Preaching In The Twentieth Century."

Barclay unapologetically acknowledges Jesus as Lord. What is the evangelist's task then?

The Christian evangelist must go out [then] with the message of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He must tell of the Christ whose claim it is to be the Lord of life, an to whom [people] must give absolute submission; he must tell of the Christ through whose sacrificial life and and death [people] can enter into a new relationship with God, and through whose dynamic power [people] can achieve a life of victory in place of their frustration, their moral helplessness, and their continual defeat.

Fishers of Men will help to that essential end.