James A. Harding remembers J. W. McGarvey

J. W. McGarvey And A Very Dark Spot

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.

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

Terry Gardner called attention to this in a comment.  I reposted it here as a separate post.  Thank you, Terry.


2 thoughts on “James A. Harding remembers J. W. McGarvey

  1. It is useful to ask how and why the introduction of musical instruments into the public worship of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Disciples divided congregations — and, ultimately, the whole communion — in the way that it did.

    We may agree or disagree about whether the introduction of instruments should or should not have caused division; that is a value judgment. The historical question, from which we may learn something, is to determine how and why the introduction of instruments caused division. Was “the instrument” the cause of division, or were the attitudes of the various parties toward each other the decisive factor?

    i think we may find that “each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong.”

    God’s Peace to you.


    • Why I Became A Preacher
      By James A. Harding

      Some children are born with a bent in one direction, others, in another. To my mind this seems certainly true. I was talking, some months ago, with an old gentleman, a market gardener, who has made a snug little fortune at his calling. He likes to raise vegetables, and always did. When he was a small boy he was fond of working in the garden, would beg his mother to let him “hill up” the plants, and cut and pull the weeds. He delighted in the work, and thought not of toil, heat, and sweat while he was at it. And of course, he succeeded.

      On the other hand gardening was my special abomination. When I was a little fellow my father used to insist that I should work the garden. Not that he had need of my help in that particular work; he had not: for he delighted in it himself, and commonly had better helpers than I. But he thought I ought to learn to work, that I needed the discipline and development which came from work. My father was a merchant in a small town where there were few opportunities for a small boy to work during the vacations of the schools except in the gardens. But I, in those days would far rather take a whipping than to work in the garden, unless my mother, or grandmother would go out with me, and sit near by with sewing or knitting, while I worked. It was endurable then: otherwise, not. I have lived about thirty-two years of married life, but I doubt if I have worked thirty-two minutes in the garden in all that time. My [son is] a hand to work in my place.

      The first pay I ever received for anything, in so far as I remember was for teaching. My mother had in her employ as a nurse a good-humored colored girl, about 14 years of age, I suppose, who wanted to learn to read. I, being about seven years old, had just finished the first reader. I gave the book to her, and became her teacher. And I magnified my oiliee. She had to get the lessons up well, or be thumped or switched just as the neglectful students were in the school that I attended. To her credit be it said, she rarely deserved punishment, but took it with becoming meekness when I thought best to administer it.

      When I had finished my second reader she was ready for it: and so she was for the third. She was a grateful student and an eager learner. One day her father, an old black slave came in and emptied a sack of water melons at my feet, to pay me for teaching “his gall” to read the Bible to him. I do not know what has become of that girl, but if meet her in the eternal city, I am sure it will give me peculiar pleasure to know here there. The memory of her is very pleasant to me.

      When about fifteen years of age, I left home to attend an academy preparatory to going to Bethany College. I paid for tuition by teaching. I attended the academy several years except that I dropped out for three months during the time to teach a country school, for which I received $100—the first money I ever earned. When I was graduated at Bethany, in 1869, I went to Hopkinsville, Ky., and became a principal of an academy there. This I conducted for five years.

      While at school and college I was fond of public speaking, especially debating. I made orations only when I had to, but was ready for a debate at any time, or at least would get ready on a very short notice. My work in the literary societies while at Bethany, it seems to me, was almost as valuable to me as the regular class work; and the learning and training which I received while teaching at Hopkinsville were invaluable. I am grateful to God in the belief that in answer to the prayers of my father, mother and myself he was educating and training me for my life work.

      About the time I was born my father began to preach. He continued his merchandising till he was 70 or more, but from the time he was 25 he preached on Saturdays and Sundays, and commonly conducted several protracted meetings each summer. He was richly endowed in evangelistic power, and often led from fifty to a hundred people to Christ in one such meeting. His preaching made a great impression upon me even while I was a little boy, and I thought that preaching was the grandest and best of all callings. Now I know it is. No Christian should be content to live without preaching and teaching. Women are not allowed to preach and teach publicly in the church, and some men can not do it; but all can preach and teach; some in public, some in private. Let us see to it that we lose not the blessing of doing well this noblest of all noble works. As far back as I can remember I had it in mind to preach when I became a man; so when I was about 19 I began to seek for opportunities to speak in the school houses away back eight or ten miles from town. My father’s son could get an audience almost anywhere in that country for the asking, and I preached and sweated. I certainly did sweat, regardless of the temperature. Just to sit on the platform and face the audience was enough to bring the perspiration out, and cause it to roll down over my face; but speak I must. It was in my blood and bones, and had to come out. I thought more than once, when up before an audience, that if I should get down alive I would not try it any more, but when the net opportunity came I tried again. I did not get over this distressing embarrassment till I began to preach daily.

      When I went to Hopkinsville to teach school, Bro. V. M. Metcalfe was there. I believe he was the most inveterate preacher I ever knew. Always engaged in business, and commonly on a large scale he never forgot to preach, whether in a hotel or private house, on a stage coach, railroad train or steamboat, either to many, to few, or to one, he would preach. He did not wait for opportunities; he made them. And he did it with such gentile courtesy, such unfailing good humor; such artless inability to take a rebuff, that he rarely, if ever, failed to win the good will of his auditors before he began to preach. In the great cities business men, wrapped up in finance sometimes “frenzied finance,’ would weep, as he preached to them …

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