J. W. McGarvey:
Author and Scholar of the Restoration Movement (II)

Ferrell Jenkins
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Previous article: J. W. McGarvey - Author and Scholar of the Restoration Movement(1)

The Decision to Preach

When McGarvey graduated he had not fully decided what he wanted to do. His family had moved from Illinois to Fayette, Missouri. Because of a scourge of cholera along the Ohio, young McGarvey was advised by his family to come home by way of the Great Lakes. He had a very delightful trip, in fact one of the most enjoyable in his life. The next twelve years, from 1850 to 1862, were spent in Missouri. During this period he made some of the important plans for his life and prepared himself that he might carry them out. He had thought about preaching and his feeling along this line is adequately described by one of his sons:

"John McGarvey had not fully determined to be a preacher, but he felt unprepared for the work, for he realized that his knowledge of the Scripture was insufficient; that he was deficient in general knowledge; and that he lacked experience in public speaking. He was solicited by a popular and successful evangelist to travel with him and to learn to preach by hearing and observing him. Many had learned to preach in this way, but McGarvey believed that this would make him a mere imitator, and would afford him no opportunity for real study. Many years afterwards he was accustomed to remark that if he-had received at Bethany the courses of instruction given by him and others in The College of the Bible, he would have been prepared to take the field at once. Instead of going with the evangelist, therefore, he reached a decision to teach a private school and to spend the hours that he could spare from it for private study. Accordingly he opened a school in Fayette, Missouri, and during his leisure hours reviewed much of his Latin courses, carefully studied the Greek New Testament, the entire Bible with the aid of commentaries, and in addition did some general reading."4

McGarvey spoke whenever he had opportunity. This continued until September 1852 at which time he was "called" to become a minister of the church. Alexander Proctor and T. M. Allen laid their hands upon him. McGarvey's first sermon after this was on the "Temptation of Jesus" and near the close of his life he stated that it was one sermon that he was never able to improve. He tells us how he prepared his sermons and selected his themes. He says:

"I adopted at the beginning of my ministry, a systematic preparation of sermons by studying the subject carefully until it took shape in my mind and then by making brief notes of its divisions and subdivisions which I committed to memory. But I left these written notes at home when I started to church to preach the s e r m o n. These skeletons. each of which filled a single page of note paper, I preserved until they were burned in the fire which destroyed my home in 1887. I made it a rule to repeat several times, as opportunity offers, every sermon that I considered good, but restudying and often reconstructing it before repeating it. I seldom repeated one before the same audience and never until after a considerable length of time, and usually when I did so it was recognized by some of my hearers who often complimented it on the improvement made . . .. My sermons were always made of Scriptural material, and the most effective of them were either historical or biographical, though I was personally inclined strongly to the argumentative.'5

In 1853, McGarvey became minister of the Dover church in LaFayette County, Missouri.

Here he met and married Miss Otwayana Frances Hix.


McGarvey took considerable interest in debating. Many debaters constantly belittled their opponents and heaped ridicule upon them and their doctrines. This was not true of McGarvey. "By nature he was an educator and his method of conducting a debate would impart insight and information to any man that gave heed to it."6

McGarvey possessed a number of talents that helped him as a debater. In the first place he had a love for argument and controversy. Perhaps this comes from his Irish background. He had a great sense of humor but never allowed it to become loud and boistrous. A third talent was that he never lost control of himself. He would never shout just to cover up his confusion. McGarvey conducted three debates while at Dover: One with a Methodist, one with a Presbyterian and one with a Universalist.

W. H. Hopson was the preacher for the Main Street church in Lexington. Several in the congregation were antagonized because of his pronouncedly sympathizing viewpoint for the South. Hopson could see that he needed to move. He was still well respected, and recommended J. W. McGarvey to replace him. McGarvey believed that it was wrong for Christians to go to war and maintained this idea throughout his life. When McGarvey arrived in Lexington the church was ranked fourth in size of all churches in the city. But after a short while it was first. Very soon after this, McGarvey's fortunes were being cast with the College of the Bible.

McGarvey the Teacher

McGarvey had received invitations on two different occasions from Bethany College to teach mathematics but he refused both times. When he arrived in Lexington Robert Milligan offered him a position of teacher of English Literature in Kentucky University. He refused this also and said that if he ever taught it would be Bible. This he did, when in 1865 Kentucky University moved to Lexington. McGarvey helped plan the curriculum for the College of the Bible. He agreed to teach two hours a day a class in Sacred History. We will have more to say about this course of study as the article progresses. McGarvey was perhaps in his prime at this period and his name was almost a household word within the Restoration Movement. He was in the very center of brotherhood activities. After Alexander Campbell died, Beth-any College began to fall into the background and Lexington became the center of activities. With McGarvey playing the role that he did in the College of the Bible, one can easily see why he was considered such a leader.

"Of course there was no coronation, no blast of trumpet proclaimed him king. Like - the leadership of Samuel, it was natural, spontaneous and accepted by consent of those who followed. No one was demoted to create a place for the new leader. The liberty of no man to do the work for which he was fitted, or which he desired to do, was restricted. Probably the man who thought least of the fact of his leadership was McGarvey himself."7During these days McGarvey became closely associated with Moses E. Lard. In 1863 Lard became the publisher of a quarterly magazine that he called Lard's Quarterly. It lasted for almost five years but was discontinued because of lack of financial support. In the first issues he announced that a strong body of able brethren in the early prime of life has been engaged to furnish regular contributions to its pages." McGarvey was one of these able brethren. McGarvey wrote twelve articles and many of them were under the designation of the Greek letter Kappa. McGarvey regarded these volumes of Lard's Quarterly as containing "some of the most admirable literature produced by the brotherhood."8

In the College of the Bible the basic Biblical courses that McGarvey taught were called Sacred History. These courses might well be called a Bible Survey. "He treated the Bible as history, a continued history from creation till the death of the last Apostle."9 His courses were designed thusly. The first unit covered the period from creation to the end of the judges or from Genesis to Ruth. The second course covered from Samuel to the close of the Old Testament era. Perhaps the weakest point in all of the courses was to be found in the Prophets. McGarvey admitted the deficiency in this point. The third course was the four Gospels. And the fourth unit was the history of the apostolic age of the book of Acts. Later McGarvey developed his course in criticism. We shall soon see how closely his books followed his courses in the College of the Bible.

His Teaching Methods

The teaching methods of McGarvey were uniquely his own. Memorization played a large part in his plan for both student and teacher. "One of his pupils said that he never heard him read a lesson in the classroom, either from the Old Testament or the New: he always recited the Scriptures." 10

McGarvey described his method thus: "When it became my daily work to teach the scripture narrative to classes of college students, I adopted a method by which I recited to them the scripture lesson, paragraph by paragraph, announcing questions on each paragraph for the class to study, answering for them such as they could not be expected to answer without help. This required me to memorize daily one chapter or more and occupied the chief portion of my time for preparation."11

Generally on the next day the students did the reciting. McGarvey's notes for his class-work were kept in little-Morocco-bound blank books. In 1893 these notes were printed, but before that time they had been completely revised seven times. "Whatever McGarvey did, he did thoroughly."

In 1895 McGarvey took over the office of president of the College of the Bible. He continued as president until his death in 1911.


McGarvey Footnotes4. W. C. Morrow, "Brother McGarvey," (St. Louis, The Bethany Press, 1940), P. 66.

5. Ibid., pp. 67-69.

6. Ibid., p. 72.

7. Ibid., p. 84.

8. J. W. McGarvey, The Autobiography of J. W. McGarvey, (Lexington, The College of the Bible, 1960), p. 30.

9. Morro, op. cit., p. 115.

10.J. W. McGarvey, The Eldership, (Murfreesboro. Dehoff Publications, 1956), in a sketch about McGarvey.

11.Morro, op. cit., p. 232.

(To Be Continued)

Next Article: J. W. McGarvey: Author and Scholar of the Restoration Movement (III)

Truth Magazine VIII: pp.11-12 December 1963