McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts
Great men multiply themselves in other men, a kind of self-multiplication by inspiration. Alexander Campbell sent out trained men from Bethany College such as Moses E. Lard, W.K. Pendleton and John William McGarvey.
"Brother McGarvey," as he affectionately was called, was a second generation Restoration leader. As a serious student, he was willing to pay the price to become a Bible scholar. By budgeting his time and caring for his health he was able to contribute liberally to Restorationism.
As a young boy, McGarvey heard very little constructive preaching. He entered Bethany College as a non-Christian. However, in a short time he obeyed the gospel under the preaching of Pendleton, one of his professors. He was baptized in Buffalo Creek. McGarvey heard Campbell preach frequently in the little Bethany congregation. He graduated in a class of 12 and gave the valedictory address in Greek, which was the custom of those commencement exercises.
After graduation from Bethany, McGarvey preached several years in Missouri, and the last nine were with the Dover church. While living in Dover, he conducted discussions in which Ben Franklin and Lard debated denominational preachers. In preaching, McGarvey spoke with plainness of speech. A child could follow his sermons, and adults wondered why they could not speak like him.
McGarvey believed in the verbal inspiration of the Bible and promised to defend the Bible through thick and thin. He believed that Isaiah was Isaiah, Jonah was Jonah, there was a great fish, and Balaam's ass spoke Hebrew as well as his master.
McGarvey was a preacher who was easy to hear and hard to forget. He was a strong doctrinal preacher and enjoyed preaching from the book of Acts. His favorite preaching method was to take a New Testament text and illustrate it with an Old Testament story.
Concerning the issues of his day, McGarvey took a strong stand against instrumental music. He refused to hold membership where it was used. He favored cooperation among congregations and lent encouragement to the missionary society. He wrote opposing Christians engaging in carnal warfare.
He moved to Lexington, Ky., from Missouri because he spoke out against Christians participating in war and preached to a number of blacks, which some brethren opposed. When McGarvey became the preacher for the Main Street church in Lexington, it was the fourth largest in town. In a short time it was the largest.
Later, he preached 10 years for the Broadway church in Lexington. He also served there as an elder until 1902 at which time he resigned because of deafness. Within the same year, the McGarveys left Broadway because of the introduction of instrumental music into the congregation. They identified with the Chester Street church.
After graduating he was offered a position on the faculty three times, but he refused because he wanted to teach only the Bible. The opportunity came in 1865 to teach Bible survey at the College of the Bible in Lexington. He taught there for 40 years, served as president for 16 years, and resigned as president at the age of 80.
The classroom was McGarvey's throne, as he knew what he taught and then taught what he knew. It has been said the McGarvey never read a lesson text in the classroom but quoted the lesson from the Old or New Testament. The London Times wrote, "In all probability, John W. McGarvey is the ripest Bible scholar on earth." Some of the preachers he trained were eloquent and some were not, but all were oriented with a strong biblical foundation.
McGarvey was a very prolific writer. For more than 40 years articles flowed from his pen to such periodicals as the Millennial Harbinger, American Christian Review, and Lard's Quarterly. He produced commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Acts, the Gospels (in conjunction with P.Y. Pendleton), and six of the epistles. In his books McGarvey dealt with criticism against Jonah, the eldership, the authorship of Deuteronomy, Christian evidences, and other topics.
The earthly struggles of this distinguished scholar ended Oct. 5,1911. His final words were, "Lord, I come, I come." The funeral was conducted at the Central building in Lexington. His body was laid to rest in the Lexington cemetery near the graves of "Raccoon" John Smith, I.B. Grubbs and Henry Clay.
One great lesson can be learned from the life of this scholarly servant, and that is that he gave his very best whether he was a gospel preacher, an elder or a member of the congregation. He became a man of one book and was not content with a superficial knowledge of this book, the Bible.
James Thomas McGarvey, a son, complimented his father by saying, "The prodigious amount of reading which he did was done for the purpose of acquiring the fullest possible knowledge of the Book." In joyful service did J.W. McGarvey fill life's cup.
Wednesday, March 29th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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