A Review of McGarvey’s Sermons

By Paul Krenek

In the Spring and Summer of 1893, John William McGarvey delivered a series of sermons recorded, compiled, and printed by those who had the foresight to recognize their value to current and future generations. In his book, McGarvey states in the preface, “I have no partiality for volumes of sermons for I have derived from them comparatively little benefit. In this I suppose myself to be different from many others, for with many good people such volumes appear to be favorites. They should certainly prove helpful to religious persons who are frequently denied the privilege of hearing the living preacher, and they serve as a homiletical aid to such young preachers as can study them without imitating them.” I personally am thankful that someone took the initiative to see that this work and others were preserved for the benefit of Christians who would follow.

J.W. McGarvey was born in Kentucky in 1829 and lived 83 years. He became one of the ripest scholars in the brotherhood. He spent all his adult life defending the Faith and was a man of deep convictions. McGarvey believed the Bible implicitly and could not tolerate men who cast reproach upon it or rejected its authority. He was often branded a “legalist” and a “conservative,” but was always a relentless defender of what he believed the Bible taught. His boldness in proclaiming the truth was characteristic of the Restoration Movement that abounded in debate, spiritual criticism, and dispute in the search for truth. McGarvey’s articles appeared in many religious publications of that day.

Preachers of this era fought furiously for their ideas. They took no offense at criticism and expected no one else to. Men born of more modern times have found it hard to understand that one can staunchly defend the Scriptures without feeling or taking the criticism personally.

McGarvey’s approach to the word was evident in his every sermon. His appeal was always to the Scriptures and he believed 1 Peter 4:11, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”

McGarvey, a highly educated man, spoke using an oratory style as did many preachers of his time. He quoted Scripture to sustain and support his points. McGarvey recognized the intelligence of his audience and appealed to them to make spiritual decisions based upon the truth of the gospel. He understood the spiritual need of all men and he understood his serious duty of deliverance of the truth. As we set out to read any work written by man, we need to remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6, “not to think of men above that which is written.”

McGarvey understood that faith’s foundation resides in the inspiration of the Bible. In the first sermon of his book “Inspiration of The Scriptures,” he set out to show by internal evidences how the Bible is indeed inspired of God and demands the deepest respect of all who study it. McGarvey followed a logical order in the presentation of the sermons recorded in his book. In two sermons, McGarvey deals with man’s greatest problem, sin, and shows that God’s hatred of sin should cause all men to turn from it. After setting forth man’s greatest problem, sin, McGarvey next moves to man’s greatest hope, “Redemption in Christ.” In this sermon McGarvey uses Ephesians 1:7-8 as his text and shows Christ as the basis of man’s hope.

The next sermon is titled “The Remission of Sins.” The main point of this sermon is that one can know without doubt that the forgiveness of sins has occurred, not by feelings or heart-felt emotion, but by obedience to the will of God. In the next four sermons McGarvey deals with the subject of “Conditions of Forgiveness.” In opposition to Calvinistic concepts of salvation he stresses that man is personally responsible for his part in saving his own soul; that God offers pardon on his conditions. In sermons ten through thirteen McGarvey studies cases of conversion in the New Testament showing the response of many who heard and obeyed the gospel of Christ. Those responses recorded in the New Testament are the same responses that will save men in our generation and in all generations to come.

In two sermons which McGarvey calls “Cases of Non-Conversion,” he deals with the rejection of the gospel by Felix and Agrippa. The hearing of the gospel will always bring some response. It may be obeyed or it may be rejected. Each hearer must make his own decision. Christians are to “plant” and “water,” and God will give the increase. In his sermon titled “God is Not Mocked” using Galatians 6:7 as the text, McGarvey sets forth this great principle of truth using Old Testament characters to show how man will reap what he has sown. Two sermons that I especially enjoy reading are on di-vine providence tracing the lives of Joseph and Queen Esther. We can learn by the lives of each of these characters that life has many trials, but God is in control and those who persevere in their faithfulness to him will ultimately be victorious.

McGarvey records two sermons on the church using the Jerusalem church and the Lord’s letter to the seven churches of Asia as examples and admonitions for us today. Between these two sermons, there is one titled “Church Finances” in which brother McGarvey correctly states that all are to “give as God hath prospered him,” and to give cheerfully (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor.9:7). He also says that a part of the work of deacons is to determine how much each family ought to give. I do not agree with this part of the sermon and can find no passage or principle in Scripture that teaches the deacons to pry into the personal finances of any member. Preachers and elders should encourage liberal giving, but each will answer to God in the matter of being faithful stewards over that which God has blessed us.

A sermon on “The Jordan River” is both interesting and enlightening. McGarvey gives a history of the river by intertwining Bible events and geographical aspects of what he calls “the most famous river in the world.” Perhaps no book of sermons would be complete without one on prayer. McGarvey uses James 5:16 as his text for this sermon. His main thrust is that we should pray in faith, being careful what we pray for, and realize that God has ways of answering prayer in ways that finite man cannot see or understand.

Brother McGarvey closes his book with a sermon titled “Believing a Lie.” This sermon points out the dangers of believing a lie. McGarvey uses several examples showing the disastrous results of believing a lie in matters pertaining to material things. How much more serious it is to believe a lie in spiritual matters.

I would recommend this book for all who seek the benefit of reading sermons that were preached in earlier generations by gospel preachers. We should be thankful for men such as J. W. McGarvey who spent their lives in the study of the Bible and for their works that have been pre-served for our benefit.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 23, p. 11-12
December 5, 1996