Ben J. Elston remembers J. M. McGarvey

Reminiscences of Bro. J. W. McGarvey.

After the death of bro. McGarvey many of the students were asked to give a statement setting forth their estimate of the great man.  And my boys having been students under him three to four years, were called upon for a statement.

“‘Let no man glory in man,’ But for this prohibition I could easily have chosen Bro. McGarvey as my man.  Knowing my incompetence, I forbear all judgment.  To his own Lord he standeth or falleth.  Uniformly kind and helpful to me, I remember him with unmingled gratitude, and all the love of which I am capable.  He instructed me three full sessions, beginning in 1889.  A rather natural suspicion that he might err occasionally was almost entirely dissipated by his masterful marshaling of facts.  Plain, modest, humble as a child, he was simple in his greatness.  Harsh critics of McGarvey have neither my sympathy nor my vision.  I have wept with those who weep for him.  Ben J. Elston.  “Harper, Kan.”

Alfred Ellmore, Sermons, Reminiscences Both Pleasant and Sad, and Silver Chimes. Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1914, page 153.

Ben J. Elston is A. Ellmore’s son-in-law.  Ben would later write for R. H. Boll’s Word and Work a little column called “Ben’s Budget.”  Both Ellmore and Elston are in 1914, and were in 1911 when John William McGarvey passed from this life to the next, living out their ministries among the conservative Disciples…Churches of Christ.  It is interesting to me to see who among Churches of Christ remembers McGarvey and what they say when speaking of him.   Ellmore includes a second letter, from William Ellmore, which I shall reproduce here tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Ben J. Elston remembers J. M. McGarvey

  1. J. W. McGarvey And A Very Dark Spot
    By James A. Harding
    Christian Leader and The Way
    Vol. 25, No. 49 (December 5, 1911), 8.

    One of the greatest Bible teachers of post-apostolic times left us when J. W. McGarvey died. I doubt if there has lived on the earth since the Apostle John a man who more thoroughly understood the two covenants of the Divine Word and their relations to each other; who could handle with such clearness, ease and vigor, the facts and truths of inspiration. No advocate of error was a match for him in discussing the truthfulness of the Bible records; no man among us so ready, clear and powerful in crushing the false doctrines of infidels and atheists. I shall never forget the eagerness and delight with which I read his first Commentary on Acts. I think it ought to be reprinted. I have loved J. W. McGarvey with a grateful heart from that day to this hour. Sometime after I had read his first commentary we became personally acquainted. He was nineteen years older than I. He was preaching regularly for the Bethlehem congregation in Clark County, Kentucky, when I was called to hold a meeting for the church. This was the beginning of our personal acquaintance. The more intimately I knew him the more I loved and admired him. He was very great, very gentle, very unostentatious. During the excitement, bitterness, hate and turmoil of the Civil War, Brother McGarvey never forgot that he was a Christian—and that a Christian’s duty, first, last and all the time, is the upbuilding of his Master’s kingdom. Other preachers in Lexington in those days were full of the war; but J. W. McGarvey was full of his Master’s business. They were eager for the latest news from the front, from Lee, or Grant, or Johnson; but McGarvey would inquire: “How is the church at Winchester doing now?” “When will your protracted meeting begin?” “How is the cause prospering in your region?” I remember very well how my father used to contrast Brother McGarvey’s interest in the cause with the interest of other preachers in the war.

    But with all of his greatness and goodness, and he was very great and very good, there is one passage of Scripture that, I think, he neglected. He knew it very well, and quoted it often; but, it seems to me, he did not put it into practice. He did not impress it upon the minds and hearts of the brethren as he could have done, as he ought to have done. So, at least, it seems to me. The passage to which I refer reads as follows: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” (Romans 16: 17, 18).

    In this paragraph it is boldly and strongly affirmed that we are to mark and turn away from “them that are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling,” contrary to the doctrine we learned. The inspired apostle says they who cause these divisions serve not our Lord Christ. He affirms that they serve their own bellies, and beguile the hearts of the innocent.

    Among us, who profess to take the Bible and the Bible alone as our rule of faith and practice, who and what have caused the divisions that have occurred in our churches? There is no room for a doubtful answer to this question. For fifty years I have been deeply, personally interested in the Church, and an eager reader of its literature; and I know that more congregations have been divided among us by pressing instrumental music into them than by all other causes. Next to the organ, the missionary societies have been our greatest causes of division and strife.

    There are few of the great and good whose lives are not marked by some serious blemish, some dark spot, a spot that seems all the darker because of the brightness and beauty that shine around it. And, it seems to me, our beloved brother, although so wise and great and good, did not escape the common lot of frail humanity. Brother McGarvey was bold and strong in declaring his opposition to the use of an organ in the worship of the church. He would not abide in a congregation that regularly used instrumental music in its worship. When the Broadway Church, Lexington, Ky., introduced instrumental music into its worship, he withdrew from the congregation, and worshiped with another which had not departed from the divine rule in this respect. And here arises the matter in which, it seems to me, he failed: while he would not abide in a church that regularly used the instrument, it was not at all uncommon for him to accept an invitation to preach for a congregation that regularly used it. He often did this. And herein, it seems to me, is the dark spot in this wonderfully bright life. If Lard, McGarvey, Graham, Grubbs, and men of like faith, had resolutely marked and turned away from them that were causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the doctrine they learned; if they had resolutely turned away from them, if they had marked them as they really are—as men who do not serve the Lord Christ, as men who serve their own bellies, as men who are enemies to God and his Church, who by their smooth and fair speech beguile the hearts of the innocent—if the brethren I have mentioned had resolutely refused to have any fellowship whatever with these dividers of churches, these lovers of their own bellies, we would have had a very different story to tell now. What they ought to have done then, we ought to do now. We ought to have no fellowship whatever, religiously, with those who have divided, or are dividing churches. Unless they repent, confess their sins, and turn resolutely form them, all Christians must mark and avoid them—or bring upon themselves the curse of an outraged God. – Potter Bible College, Bowling Green, Ky., November 28, 1911.

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