Remembering J.W. McGarvey
J.W. McGarvey (1829–1911) had an insatiable thirst for knowing and teaching God’s Word.

By Andrew Paris

This coming Thursday, October 6, marks the centennial anniversary of the death of John William “J.W.” McGarvey, a great Christian preacher, teacher, author, educator, and Scripture scholar who deserves to be remembered.

McGarvey was a man of only one book—the Bible. He was firmly convinced it was the inerrant Word of God, and so he devoted his life to loving it, teaching it, defending it, and living it. In his day, McGarvey held the respect of all groups emerging from the Restoration Movement, and was recognized as the movement’s greatest scholar and writer. He has been a beacon light of orthodoxy for many believers who have read his books for the past 150 years.

And yet, sadly, today he is largely forgotten. Many have never heard of him.

McGarvey received his biblical training from Alexander Campbell’s Bethany College, then in Virginia, from 1847 to 1850. He graduated with honors, but did not feel ready to preach; he wanted to know more about the Bible. (This insatiable thirst for God’s Word remained with him throughout his long life.) And so for the next three years he followed a strict discipline of diligent Bible study, Scripture memorization, and mastering Greek, until he felt he was ready to preach. After preaching in several churches in Missouri, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Although McGarvey enjoyed great success in the located ministry as the preacher of several Lexington churches (including Main Street and Broadway), the great work for which he is best known and esteemed began in 1865 when he became professor of sacred history at the College of the Bible, the first full-fledged seminary of the Restoration Movement. McGarvey would spend the final 46 years of his life teaching the Bible at that school, also serving as president his last 16 years.

During his years at the College of the Bible, McGarvey nearly became a household name among Restoration Movement churchgoers. After Campbell died in 1866, Bethany College soon fell into the background, and the College of the Bible took over as the central preacher training school.

McGarvey’s teaching chair was his throne. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and theology. Each day he taught his Sacred History class, he would memorize the chapter or two of Scripture under discussion and recite it perfectly as he lectured. Students reported they never saw him turn to a text in the Bible and read it aloud, because he recited it from memory.

McGarvey not only knew the Word of God; he lived it daily. He was a man devoted to living for Jesus and to prayer. He sought to instill in his students a pure life. Of all his virtues, his most outstanding trait was his kindness, even to his enemies who attacked his beliefs. He seldom was angry, and never lost his control, even in the heat of debate. Sometimes he felt it necessary to use a harsh pen to attack unbelief (as in his Short Essays on Biblical Criticism), but when the one he had bitterly attacked met McGarvey in person, he was reconciled by McGarvey’s gentle warmth.

McGarvey’s tremendous influence upon the religious world has been felt most keenly through his prodigious writing. There isn’t room to discuss the many books and articles he wrote, many of which are out of print. However, most of his writings can be found at www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/people/jwmcgarvey.html.

This Thursday may we heed the divine advice, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

 

Andrew Paris serves as preaching minister with the Christian church in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, and as professor of Old Testament at Louisville Bible College. 

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6 Comments

  1. Victor Knowles
    October 3, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I greatly appreciated the article by Andrew Paris, “Remembering J. W. McGarvey” (CHRISTIAN STANDARD, Oct. 2, 2011). I especially liked what Paris said of McGarvey: “Of all his virtues, his most outstanding trait was his kindness, even to his enemies who attacked his beliefs.” Here was a man who had an “encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and theology” yet was a man of “gentle warmth.” Thank you for helping us remember a man who was a model of “speaking the truth in love” in our movement. We will all do well to “rediscover” this gentle giant and emulate his Christlike spirit.

    Victor Knowles
    Joplin, MO

  2. Marion E. White
    October 4, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Great article! This is one of the most inspiring and informative essays I have read in a long time. Thank you so much. McGarvey has been one of my spiritual heroes throughout the years. And Paris does a great job giving him the tribute he deserves and reminding us of the giants we have in the Restoration movement. I just wish the article would have been longer. This Thursday I will be “remembering McGarvey” by reading this article again and also McGarvey’s Commentary on Acts.

    —Marion E, White

  3. Rick Cherok
    October 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Excellent essay remembering a great leader in our Stone-Campbell heritage. Thanks to Andrew Paris for writing this thoughtful article! McGarvey is certainly an individual worthy of being remembered and honored!

  4. Dale W. Eynon
    October 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I am glad this article was written. J.W. McGarvey had a huge impact for the Kingdom.
    We would do well to remember him and his service.

  5. Brett
    October 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for the timely reminder. Sadly, like the people of Athens in Acts 17, too often my generation puts more confidence in the innovation flavor of the month (e.g. meta, mega, seeker, cell, attractional, missional) than in the power of the Bible to change lives and build churches. J.W. McGarvey’s example calls us to confidence in the Bible (“He was firmly convinced it was the inerrant Word of God”) and its power to produce results if we will be like him who “devoted his life to loving it, teaching it, defending it, and living it.”

  6. Bill & Brenda Gayer
    October 10, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Great article, Andrew! We were happy to discover where you are now. We enjoyed reading your article in the CS. We have fond memories of you teaching a class at Plumfield Christian Church while Paul R. Odom was our minister . . . and you were a professor at St. Louis Christian College. We may visit the church in Flemingsburg sometime!

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