A Devotion On Christ’s Death, By McGarvey

By Ron Halbrook

Because of his onslaughts against the Modernism which denied the supernatural inspiration of Scripture, JAW. McGarvey (1829-1911) was often accused of lacking fervent love. He was scorned by those who felt his blows as being a harsh controversialist, a bigot, and a legalist. His column appearing weekly in the Christian Standard under the caption “Biblical Criticism” (1893-1911) was especially despised by some brethren. McGarvey had publicly opposed R.C. Cave of the Central Christian Church in St. Louis, Missouri, when he preached a modernistic sermon in late 1889; Cave eventually lost his pulpit and became a wandering star. He wrote “An Open Letter to Professor McGarvey” in 1980 complaining of his “heresy-hunting” as “immoral” and “impolitic” because “the spirit of Christ . . . is better than doctrinal soundness” (published in “Biblical Criticism” column, Christian Standard, 28 Nov. 1908, pp. 2038-39). Noting that some preachers did not allow the Standard in their home because of its controversial nature; McGarvey observed,

These preachers are too holy to be healthy. There are not many saloon-keepers who permit their children to read a’ prohibition paper. There are not many skeptics or half skeptics who love the Christian Standard – not many liquor-dealers, or horsemen la reference to gambling, RH], or bigoted sectarians . . . . Well, every man according to his own taste, until the Lord will come to take this own and to let the devil take his (“Too holy to be Healthy”‘ in “Biblical Criticism” column, C.S., 5 December 1908, p. 2087).

A brother named Jasper S. Hughes considered McGarvey’s work demagogy and wrote a sweet-spirited letter objecting to his “spiteful bigoted flings . . . you are an ass of the most pronounced kind and a coward of the meanest variety” (McGarvey Letters in Bosworth Memorial Library, Lexington [Kentucky] Theological Seminary).

The weak of heart and faith have often viewed controversy in a bad light, overlooking the example of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The weak easily forget that fervor in controversy is part of a fervent love for Christ and exemplifies the love of Christ for truth. McGarvey’s book of Sermons contains many devotional thoughts of fervent love as-does his articleon “The-Prints of the Nails,” which appeared in J.A. Lord (ed.), On the Lord’s Day: A Manual for the Regular Observance of the New Testament Ordinances (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Co., 1904), Vol. 1, pp. 41-43. The full article follows.

The Prints of the Nails J. W. McGarvey

TEXT. – “The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my his brow. finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

There is a very beautiful and touching hymn the chorus of which terminates with the words, “I shall know Him by the prints of the nails in his hands.” The author seems to have conceived that when she enters heaven she will see before her a great host of glorified beings, among whom she may not readily distinguish her Savior. The thought seemingly arose from John’s declaration that “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” But she imagined that he bears in heaven, as he did when he appeared to doubting Thomas, the prints of the nails in his hands. The concepting, whether true to the reality or not, is a very touching one; for it supposes our exalted Redeemer to continue through all eternity wearing the mark of the keenest pain which He endured in the work of our redemption.

We are apt, in considering the crucifixion, to be shocked most severely at the thrusting of the Roman spear into the Savior’s heart, and the stream of mingled blood and water which gushed forth. But that cruel deed gave Him no pain. His life was already extinct. We shudder, too, at the driving of the iron spikes through His hands and His feet; and no living person can adequately conceive the torture inflicted when the tender nerves of these extremities were thus lacerated. But this pain, though excruciating beyond all expression, endured only for a few awful moments.

It was when the cross was erected and put in its place that His most extreme and enduring torture began. His whole weight was suspended on the two spikes which had been driven through His hands; and this continued for six dreadful hours. Well, then, does the hymn-writer select the prints of the nails in His hands as the badge of His supremest physical agony. If that badge shall be kept visible before us in heaven, how deep and constant will be the glow of gratitude in our hearts, and how constant and full the stream of praise that will flow from our lips!

I was present on a memorial occasion when the song referred to above was sung with a full heart by our sweetest singer of hymns at the bedside of a woman who had been bedridden for nearly eight years with inflammatory rheumatism, but who was wonderfully cheerful and thankful amid all her sufferings. While hearing the song, the tears rolled down her cheeks in streams; and at the conclusion, as soon as she could command her voice, she said: “We cut up, and make a great-to-do about our afflictions in this world; but what are all of our afflictions? They are only a bubble on the water to what our Savior passed through. What a pity it is that we shall have to know Him by the prints of the nails in his hands! But, thank God, he’ll not have on that crown of thorns. He will have a crown with stars in it.”

Yes, the prints of the nails in his hands will not be the only badge by which we shall know our Redeemer, no matter how many or how glorious the other great beings who shall make the heavens blaze with glory. We shall know him also by the starry crown upon his brow.

“The head that once was crowned with thorns,

Is crowned with glory now;

A royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s brow.

He’s King of kings! Oh, hallelujah!

He’s Lord of lords! Oh, praise his name!

The Lamb of God, who brought salvation,

Endured the cross with all its shame. “

When we meet to remind one another of His dying love, and to show forth His death by the emblematic loaf and cup, let us never forget that, though we may be few and feeble, we are joining with a countless host to glorify Him whose name is above every name and whose suffering endured for us is the chief glory of heaven. We are not alone. We are but adding our feeble hearts and voices to the noblest and sweetest anthem ever sung in heaven. We are honoring Him who has made the solemn pledge, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

When Thomas saw the prints of the nails in the Lord’s hands and feet, though the sight dispelled His doubts, and led him to exclaim, “My Lord, and my Gods” he did not realize as we do now the significance of those wounds. It required the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, which came upon him and his fellow apostles later, to enable them to realize the meaning of the words spoken at the last Supper, “This is my blood of the covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” He only knew that the Lord had died and risen again, and had thus proved himself to be divine. He knew not as yet that He was to ascend to the highest heavens, and that the highest seat in heaven was to be His. He did not know as yet that his own eternal salvation, his own final and everlasting reunion with his Lord and Master, had been made possible by the blood which flowed from those wounds. He was yet, therefore, to enter into a joy on earth of which he had never dreamed – the joy of loving and serving Him by whose death he had been redeemed, the joy of dying for Him at last.

All of this joy is ours, and it comes afresh into our lives with every returning day in which we meet around this table. If we have been deprived of this heavenly privilege in some days of the past, let us pray God that we shall never be again; and let us resolve that so far as in us lies we never shall be. The people who partake not of this heavenly feast except at long intervals, know not what they are losing out of life. While admitting that the disciples of the apostolic age, who are guided by inspiration, met every Lord’s Day to break the loaf, they have been persuaded by specious reasonings to fear the effect of thus obeying the Lord. While we pity them, we shall not reproach them, but we shall set them an example, and hope for the good time to come when all lovers of the Lord, the world over, will unite in this happy service. For this we have many reasons to hope; and if the final coming of the Lord shall occur on the Lord’s Day, and the living saints shall be caught up from the Lord’s table to meet Him in the air, how enviable their last hour on earth will be!

Truth Magazine XXIV: 48, pp. 773-774
December 4, 1980