The Fellowship of Life
Man and the Beasts
by Professor William Barclay
From the January 1976 edition of the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work
It is a curious thing that treatises on ethics very seldom make any
attempt to deal with an ethical relationship that a man may have to the
On the whole the Greeks and Romans felt little relationship to the
animals. Varro, writing on agriculture, classes animals and wagons alike
as tools, the only difference being that the animal is able to utter
some kind of sound.
But the Old Testament has a good deal to say about the animals, and
their place in the structure of things. The creation of the animals is
assigned to God, as much as is the creation of man (Genesis 1.25; 2.19).
The support of the animals is the action of God. God preserves both man
and beast; he gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens which
cry; he gives grass in the field for the cattle (Psalm 36.6; 147.8;
Genesis 1.30; Deuteronomy 11.15; Psalms 104.14).
God's care for Nineveh comes from the fact that there are many people
in that city and much cattle (Jonah 4.11). The fate of the cattle
mattered to God.
It is true that dominion over the beasts and the birds and the fishes
is given to man (Genesis 1. 26-28; Psalm 8. 6-8). But that by no means
freed man from the responsibility he had to the beasts. "A righteous
man," says the Proverbs, "has regard for the life of his beast"
"Do you have cattle? says Ben Sirach "Look after them" (Ecclesiasticus
The rights of the animals are protected. The animals must have their
day of rest as men must have it (Exodus 20.10; 23.12). If a nest is
harried, the mother bird must never be killed, but must always be let go
(Deuteronomy 22.6,7). When the ox is drawing the heavy sled that
threshes the grain, he must never be muzzled. He must, as it were, be
allowed to have a share in the fruit of his labours (Deuteronomy 25.4).
Two a penny
No one went further than Jesus did in this. He talks about the Father
feeding the birds (Matthew 6.26). One of his sayings is reported in two
forms. Matthew has: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one
of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will" (Matthew
10.29); but Luke has: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And
not one of them is forgotten before God" (Luke 12.6).
In Palestine, if you were prepared to spend only one penny, you got
two sparrows; but if you were prepared to spend two pennies you got five
sparrows - one thrown into the bargain, one that was, so to speak, worth
nothing, the forgotten sparrow. Not even that valueless sparrow is
forgotten by God.
Another point - Matthew, as the R.S.V. has it, says that not one of
them will fall to the ground without the knowledge and the will of God.
Will fall to the ground; that phrasing makes us think of the sparrow
dropping dead on the ground. But J.E. McFayden used to insist that, if
you put the words back into the Hebrew or Aramaic in which they were
first spoken, the words would mean that not a sparrow lights on the
ground from flight without God seeing it and knowing it. So detailed is
the care of God for the least creatures of his creation.
We can only in the space available take two or three big and
i. We can begin with an issue which may affect any of us. Many of us
will live in the cities and not in the country, and therefore many of us
will have nothing of the first hand relationship with animals that, for
instance, a farmer will have. But there is one relationship to animals
that any of us may have; that is, the relationship to an animal as a
Too often an animal is brought into a house, and then treated with a
callous irresponsibility in the end. The animal may begin by being a
pet, and may end by being put out on the street, and left to wander.
Holiday time comes round; it is inconvenient to take the pet animal with
the family; the family cannot or do not wish to pay for lodging for the
pet, and the animal is left simply to wander the streets. It has even
been known for an animal to be deliberately ejected from a car on a
motor-way and left to fend for itself. This kind of thing happens and it
is conduct of which no Christian person can dare to be guilty.
This kind of cruelty can happen on a shocking scale. Some few months
ago more than 2,000 parakeets, finches, and mynah birds were crammed
into crates and dispatched by air from Calcutta to London. On arrival in
London just 89 of the 2,000 were still alive.
Christians have a duty to see to it that such things are made
impossible, and to be very certain that they do not themselves ever
treat animals with callous irresponsibility.
ii. There is the issue of what are called blood sports, the hunting
of wild animals for sport. James Anthony Froude wrote in Oceana: "Wild
animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture
and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself."
Certainly, animals such as foxes have to be kept under control, but
surely that does not necessitate the mobilisation of a regiment of
huntsmen and a pack of dogs to kill in the most cruel possible way.
Trapping can be even worse. If an animal must be killed, the clean
shot is surely the best way; and it is to be noted that really expert
deer-stalkers will never shoot, unless the shot is sure to kill.
We would do well to remember Ralph Hodgson's poem:
'Twould ring the bells of Heaven
iii. At one other issue we must look and it is the most emotive of
all. That is, the use of animals, in experiments which are designed to
help the cause of medical science. The opinions of experts on the
rightness and the necessity of this can be so diametrically opposed that
the layman dare not lay down the law, except to this extent. If this is
ever necessary, then it must be done; for, if this is the only way to
find or test a cure, then the life of the animal must be sacrificed for
the life of the human being. But if it is done, it must be done in such
a way that the animal is spared all unnecessary pain and distress. If it
is really the case - and note I say if - that we have to choose between
the suffering of a rat and the discovery of a cure for a child, then
there is no choice - the life of the child must come first, although
every care and precaution must be taken.
Let us before we end return again to Scripture. The dream of the Old
Testament is the dream of a golden time when the world will be recreated
into a perfect creation; and it is of no little interest and importance
to see that in that last perfection the animals too have their place.
The old enmities will be done with, and there will be universal peace
and friendship. Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and calf and
fatling will lie down together; and the child shall play with the
poisonous snake and take no harm (Isaiah 11. 6-9).
Hosea has a vision of a new covenant, and hears God saying to him:
"And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the
field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground...
and I will make you lie down in safety" (Hosea 2.18).
The design of God, as the prophet saw it, is a world where man and
beast, even the savage and poisonous beasts, live in perfect friendship.
This was the world which Burns thought ought to be, and which he thought
that man had shattered: and which he wrote about when he turned up and
destroyed the mouse's nest with the plough:
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
The key word in the Gospel is reconciliation, and that reconciliation
is not only between man and man, but also between man and beast.
1. Has all this anything to do with food? Does it in principle
2. Ought the Church to do more for animals; e.g. have an annual
animals' Sunday, widely observed, press for protective legislation for
3. If you have anything to do with any kind of animal, what would you
say was your responsibility to it?
Forum - "Life and Work" (March 1976)
"Man and the Beasts" - purrs for the professor or barking back at
It is indeed heartening to see Professor William Barclay writing on
behalf of animals, quoting many Scriptural references concerning their
rights and welfare, and pointing to the Christian's duty to see that
they are not cruelly misused.
In his short but excellent article Professor Barclay has shown that
legislature to protect animals is sorely needed, and it would be
encouraging to find the voice of the Church being added to those of the
animal welfare societies which have campaigned for such for many years.
I should, if I may, like to add a rider to Professor Barclay's
paragraph (iii) relating to experiments on animals. People who are not
conversant with the subject may believe that the five and a half million
animals now used annually in research establishments are for purely
medical purposes; this is not the case as more than half of this number
are involved in the commercial and industrial testing of cosmetics,
detergents, fertilizers and the like, which is merely exploitation for
profit, not the advancement of medical science or the cure of disease.
Dr. Barclay must be congratulated on his thoughtful and much-needed
article on "Man and the Beasts" which will surely do much to arouse
Christians to their responsibility to the animal creation. It was
especially good to see his quotations from Isaiah 11:9 and Hosea 2: 18,,
and the questions he raises at the end of the article. For the Christian
there is another important question, viz. Genesis 1: 29, "And God said,
Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face
of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree
yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat", as well as "Thou shalt not
kill." It is obvious from these three or four quotations alone (there
are more) that a diet that does not depend on killing and cruelty is the
highest and purest one to which man can aspire - all else are
intermediate steps towards such a pure and compassionate diet. Too often
when one deplores the slaughter of animals for food one hears the cry
"As long as it is humanely done", or "It seems cruel but it is
necessary." This may, or may not be right for the uncommitted, but the
committed Christian has no choice. Is he not urged in a well-known hymn
to "rise-up, have done with lesser things" - the lesser things in this
instance being killing and cruelty? Vegetarianism is no new cult - it
has been practised all down the ages and those who practise it show far
more compassion than those who do not.
Once we make up our minds that we shall no longer kill to eat - other
cruelties fall into place - e.g. vivisection (for cosmetics, drugs, food
and even household goods), factory farming, circuses, bloodsports, pets
and trapping for furs.
The Fellowship of Life, of which I am privileged to be the Secretary,
whilst not an animal welfare society as such, although in sympathy with
the work of animal societies generally, believes in union with God and
the one-ness of All Creation, and that the responsibility of all
believers is much more fundamental than simply working for better
conditions for animals, admirable and necessary as it is, and therefore
aims at teaching and uniting Christians primarily in a new way of life
which is beneficial not only to the animals, but to the hungry Third
World, the environment, and themselves.
Margaret E. Lawson,
With Professor Barclay's article shall we at last be seeing a
much-needed breakthrough in the Church's thinking about animals? For
years now I, and many others like me, have been pummelling at the
prejudices of various religious denominations, urging them to accept the
fact that animals, as creatures of God, have rights, and that man, as
creatures of God, have a responsibility to respect those rights.
Professor Barclay listed what he regarded as three of the most
pressing animal welfare issues - the treatment of pets, bloodsports, and
vivisection. But these issues, important though they are, make up only
the tip of the iceberg of exploitation, and the attrocities committed by
man on animals far outweigh those committed by man on man.
(Mrs.) B.E. Hardwick,
Points made by other readers include:
Having seriously considered the question of eating animal flesh, many
Christians will be led to realise that where millions of people in
under-developed countries are dying from starvation, it is totally wrong
for us of the affluent western world to maintain over-populated food
animals on precious sources of protein food which we import in vast
quantities from the Third World.
It is possible that much of the sadistic and inhuman treatment of
animals by man, would lessen and perhaps disappear altogether, once
vegetarianism became widely accepted.
(Mrs.) B. Boiling,
Professor Barclay appears to be quite humane in his attitude towards
animals, until he comes to the matter of vivisection.
He says if vivisection is ever necessary, then it must be done, he
then says if it is done, it must be in such a way that the animals are
spared unnecessary pain and distress. Is he unaware that the annual
number of experiments in Britain now run into millions and that it is
quite impossible to have them without causing great pain and distress to
(Miss) I. Rowatt,
There are alternatives to the use of laboratory animals and it is one
aspect of the work of this Trust that not only does it encourage
advanced scientific research for the benefit of suffering humanity, but
also for the replacement of the animal in the laboratory.
There is before me as I write, a report from one of the scientists we
are supporting giving details of the development of special medical
machinery which will give more accurate diagnoses than using the lungs
of beagle dogs. This takes the form of a mathematical model of the human
respiratory system and the complicated variations in gas exchange in
both normal and abnormal lungs.
R. MacAlastair Brown,
Women could help greatly if they refused to wear fur coats,
especially those obtained by cruel trapping and poaching of wild
animals. Also it is not generally realised how many of our cosmetics
have ingredients that cause great pain to animals in the course of
C. Winifred Kilpatrick,
Many of the alternative methods are as good or better than
vivisection medically. The great bulk of vivisection has nothing to do
with medicine, and there is a border-line form in which animals are tied
up, shot at, gathered up, and used for practice in treating gun-shot
wounds. Thus one evil, shooting at each other, leads men into another.
Already, 1,250,000 signatures have been collected on a national
petition against coursing. It is my hope that the Church of Scotland
will add its voice of condemnation.
(Mrs.) Doreen Parkes,
If any of your readers are interested in receiving a copy of the
leaflet "The Bible and Vegetarianism - Was the Master a Vegetarian?"
price 5p, or a free recipe leaflet and other information, they should
send a stamped addressed envelope to The Vegetarian Society, Parkdale,
Durham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire.
I suppose we shall have to renounce the strong meat which the writer
of Hebrews says belongeth to them that are of full age, along with the
meaty discourses we are accustomed to in our better pulpits. As for the
Apostle's licence to the Corinthians to eat "anything sold in the meat
market" (N.E.B. translation), perhaps that will be less of a problem if
we invent another new sin and call it Paulism; and if we tear the
Epistle to the Romans out of our Bibles.
The Reverend Professor William Barclay (1907-1978)
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