History of the Restoration Movement

John William McGarvey

Born: Hopkinsville, Kentucky, March 1, 1829.
Died: Lexington, Kentucky, October 6, 1911.

          Few men among the Disciples have obtained a more enviable reputation, and enjoyed more generally the confidence of the brethren, than the subject of this notice. Blessed with more than an average amount of practical common sense, and having faithfully done his duty in all the positions he has occupied, it is not strange that he should now be regarded as one of the safest and truest men in the Church of Christ.

          JOHN W. M'GARVEY was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, March 1, 1829. His father was born in Ireland, and, when grown, came to America, and settled at Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where, with a small capital, he went into the dry-goods business. His mother was a Miss THOMSON, of old Virginia stock, and was born and reared near Georgetown, Kentucky. In 1833, his father died, and, some time after, his mother was married to Dr. G. F. SALTONSTALL.

          In 1839, the family removed to Tremont, Tazewell County, Illinois, where he was trained to industry by his step-father, and thoroughly instructed in primary and academic branches by Mr. JAMES K. KELLOGG, a successful educator of that place. In April, 1847, he entered the Freshman Class of Bethany College. While at college he made the good confession, and was immersed, by Professor PENDLETON, in April, 1848. So soon as he became a Christian, he determined to devote his life to the preaching of the Gospel, and it was not long before he gave very conclusive evidence of fitness for the work. In July, 1850, he graduated as one of the honor men, delivering the Greek speech, and receiving marked tokens from the faculty of their high appreciation of his scholarship.

          Meantime, his family had removed to Fayette, Missouri, at which place, soon after leaving college, he taught a male school for ten months. In June, 1851, his step-father died of cholera, while on his way to attend the commencement of Bethany College. He was a warm friend of the college, and gave it twenty-five hundred dollars while living, and left it a child's part in his estate.

          At the call of the Church in Fayette, Brother M'GARVEY gave up his school, and, in September, 1851, was ordained to the work of the ministry, and afterward preached for the Church at Fayette and neighboring county churches until February, 1853, when he removed to Dover, Lafayette County, Missouri. In March, 1853, he was married to OTTIE F. HIX, of Fayette.

          He resided at Dover nine years, and, during this period, he spent about half of the time at home, and, the remainder, preaching extensively over the State of Missouri, holding five public debates with various religious parties; he also collected money to erect a boarding-school in his village, and conducted the school two years.

          In the spring of 1862, he accepted the pastoral care of the Church in Lexington, Kentucky, where a large field of usefulness was open to him. During the same year he published his "Commentary on Acts," which had occupied all the time he could devote to it for three and a half years. This is a work of decided merit, and at once fixes his reputation as a fine Biblical scholar.

          On the removal of Kentucky University to Lexington, in 1865, he accepted a chair in the College of the Bible, with the understanding that only a small portion of his time was to be devoted to teaching, such as would not materially interfere with his labors in the Church. Under his ministry, the Church had reached a remarkable degree of prosperity, and his labors were highly appreciated by the entire congregation. But, finding that his whole time was needed in the university, in 1866, he resigned his charge of the Church; but, as the Church has not succeeded in obtaining the regular services of a suitable man, he has not yet been relieved. President GRAHAM, however, now shares the labor of preaching with him.

          Brother M'GARVEY is a little below medium size, has dark hair, light hazel eyes, and a very youthful appearance for one of his age. He is very strict and regular in his habits, and this fact explains why it is that he has been able to accomplish so much mental labor without impairing his health.

          That which most distinguishes him as a writer and speaker is clearness; there is never the slightest confusion in his ideas. He has very little imagination, and relies almost exclusively on facts for effect. His mind is well stored with these, and, in the construction and management of an argument, he uses them with great ease and success. In debate he is one of the safest and ablest men among the Disciples, and not the least source of power here is his remarkable coolness--he is never thrown off his guard.

          As a teacher, he has very few superiors. Knowledge is what a student needs; hence, the matter-of-fact man is always the best teacherall other things being equal. But Brother M'GARVEY is also an excellent preacher, and, as a pastor, has been eminently successful. He has a kind, generous nature, but is not very demonstrative. He attends strictly to his own business.

Text from Moore, W. T. (editor), Living Pulpit of the Christian Church. Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co., Publishers, 1871. Pages 325-326. This online edition © 1996, James L. McMillan.

Profile Of Faith: J.W. McGarvey

Great men multiply themselves in other men, a kind of self-multiplication by inspiration. Alexander Campbell sent out trained men from Bethany College such as Moses E. Lard, W.K. Pendleton and John William McGarvey.

"Brother McGarvey," as he affectionately was called, was a second generation Restoration leader. As a serious student, he was willing to pay the price to become a Bible scholar. By budgeting his time and caring for his health he was able to contribute liberally to Restorationism.

As a young boy, McGarvey heard very little constructive preaching. He entered Bethany College as a non-Christian. However, in a short time he obeyed the gospel under the preaching of Pendleton, one of his professors. He was baptized in Buffalo Creek. McGarvey heard Campbell preach frequently in the little Bethany congregation. He graduated in a class of 12 and gave the valedictory address in Greek, which was the custom of those commencement exercises.

After graduation from Bethany, McGarvey preached several years in Missouri, and the last nine were with the Dover church. While living in Dover, he conducted discussions in which Ben Franklin and Lard debated denominational preachers. In preaching, McGarvey spoke with plainness of speech. A child could follow his sermons, and adults wondered why they could not speak like him.

McGarvey believed in the verbal inspiration of the Bible and promised to defend the Bible through thick and thin. He believed that Isaiah was Isaiah, Jonah was Jonah, there was a great fish, and Balaam's ass spoke Hebrew as well as his master.

McGarvey was a preacher who was easy to hear and hard to forget. He was a strong doctrinal preacher and enjoyed preaching from the book of Acts. His favorite preaching method was to take a New Testament text and illustrate it with an Old Testament story.

Concerning the issues of his day, McGarvey took a strong stand against instrumental music. He refused to hold membership where it was used. He favored cooperation among congregations and lent encouragement to the missionary society. He wrote opposing Christians engaging in carnal warfare.

He moved to Lexington, Ky., from Missouri because he spoke out against Christians participating in war and preached to a number of blacks, which some brethren opposed. When McGarvey became the preacher for the Main Street church in Lexington, it was the fourth largest in town. In a short time it was the largest.

Later, he preached 10 years for the Broadway church in Lexington. He also served there as an elder until 1902 at which time he resigned because of deafness. Within the same year, the McGarveys left Broadway because of the introduction of instrumental music into the congregation. They identified with the Chester Street church.

After graduating he was offered a position on the faculty three times, but he refused because he wanted to teach only the Bible. The opportunity came in 1865 to teach Bible survey at the College of the Bible in Lexington. He taught there for 40 years, served as president for 16 years, and resigned as president at the age of 80.

The classroom was McGarvey's throne, as he knew what he taught and then taught what he knew. It has been said the McGarvey never read a lesson text in the classroom but quoted the lesson from the Old or New Testament. The London Times wrote, "In all probability, John W. McGarvey is the ripest Bible scholar on earth." Some of the preachers he trained were eloquent and some were not, but all were oriented with a strong biblical foundation.

McGarvey was a very prolific writer. For more than 40 years articles flowed from his pen to such periodicals as the Millennial Harbinger, American Christian Review, and Lard's Quarterly. He produced commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Acts, the Gospels (in conjunction with P.Y. Pendleton), and six of the epistles. In his books McGarvey dealt with criticism against Jonah, the eldership, the authorship of Deuteronomy, Christian evidences, and other topics.

The earthly struggles of this distinguished scholar ended Oct. 5,1911. His final words were, "Lord, I come, I come." The funeral was conducted at the Central building in Lexington. His body was laid to rest in the Lexington cemetery near the graves of "Raccoon" John Smith, I.B. Grubbs and Henry Clay.

One great lesson can be learned from the life of this scholarly servant, and that is that he gave his very best whether he was a gospel preacher, an elder or a member of the congregation. He became a man of one book and was not content with a superficial knowledge of this book, the Bible.

James Thomas McGarvey, a son, complimented his father by saying, "The prodigious amount of reading which he did was done for the purpose of acquiring the fullest possible knowledge of the Book." In joyful service did J.W. McGarvey fill life's cup.

Dabney Phillips, Gospel Advocate, July 16, 1987, pages 434,435

Christian Standard Front Page At J.W. McGarvey's Death

Chapel Talks Of J.W. McGarvey


Chronology Of The Life Of J.W. McGarvey





March 1

John William McGarvey born, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, 2nd child of John Thomson McGarvey & Sarah Ann Thomson McGarvey



At age 4, John’s father dies, leaving wife son, and three daughters



At age 10, his mother had remarried a widower with 9 children, Gurdon F. Saltonstall. With the six children born to their new union, the family of 19 children moved to Tremont, Tazewell County, Illinois



At age 18, John enters Bethany college.



A. Campbell makes trip to Great Britain, arrested, causing up-rise of involvement of students at Bethany to build national awareness. John went to Wheeling to have resolutions printed in the press.



Life long friend, Charles Louis Loos graduates from Bethany



At age 19 John is baptized in Buffalo Creek by W.K. Pendleton


July 4

Graduates from Bethany College, delivered the Greek address. Education was secular, not for ministry.



Settles in Fayette, Missouri, where his family had moved to from Illinois as a result of a Cholera epidemic. Stays there for 12 years before moving to Kentucky in 1862.



Opened a school for boys – continued personal studies in Bible, and Latin. (Always regretted not receiving Bible training at Bethany)



Offered a position at Bethany College to teach Mathematics by A. Campbell, but declined. Twice more through the years he was again invited to come to Bethany but declined for various reasons



At age 23, ordained as minister by Alexander Proctor and T.M. Allen



Itinerate preaching at Fayette, Ashland and Mt. Pleasant.



Holds Meeting with Alexander Proctor at Dover, La Fayette County



Moves to Dover


March 23

At age 24, marries Otwayana Frances Hix, daughter of Otway Bird Hix, a prominent citizen of Fayette. She was 18 years old. Officiated by Alexander Proctor, Morro, p.69



Newlywed couple with A. Proctor attend convention of American Bible Union in Louisville, Ky – Here he met John T. Johnson, Tolbert Fanning & H.T. Anderson among others



During nearly 10 years a Dover, evangelizes, begins writing for Benjamin Franklin’s paper, American Christian Review. Attends at least two debates.



First child born, Loulie.



Robert Milligan, president of Kentucky University invites J.W. McGarvey to come to teach at Harrodsburg, Ky., but declines the offer



Begins writing a commentary on the book of Acts. Not completed until autumn of 1863



At age 33, takes the position of minister of Main St. Church in Lexington, Kentucky upon the departure of Dr. W.H. Hopson. Lexington is his home until his death in 1911


August 30

While writing at his desk he was distracted by the drum roll of Confederate forces passing near his home on their way to a battle in Richmond. After battle family stood on front porch watching as the victorious Confederates returned.


Fall, Winter

Main St. Church bldg. used as a military hospital. Church met in the Odd Fellows Hall on cnr. of Main & Broadway.



Oldest daughter, Loulie, now 10 yrs, 8 mos., dies of inflammation of brain due to fever.



John’s mother dies in Missouri, after a brief visit to Lexington



Completes commentary on the book of Acts, called, A Commentary on the Book of Acts. “Two inferences have been deduced concerning this commentary. First, it is a liberal, forward-looking work. Second, it is J.W. McGarvey's most constructive, most original and most characteristic production.” Morro, page 93. In it he focused on the distinctive process of conversion. 1600 printings initially ordered. Published by Franklin & Rice Publishers. Many reprints from others since.



J.W. McGarvey became a member of the Kentucky Female Orphan School. Following year became chairman, and held this position until 1892, (Morro, p.219)



Began serving as leader in State Meetings. Served as either Chairman or Secretary for many years.



A son is born

Mid 1860s


J.W.M. submitted several articles to Moses Lard’s Lard’s Quarterly



Kentucky University building burns at Harrodsburg, Kentucky



Article against Instrumental Music in worship written by J.W. McGarvey appears in the Millennial Harbinger. (No article appeared in either Christian Baptist or MH before this though references to its place in worship had appeared from time to time)



A daughter is born



Kentucky University moves to Lexington, Kentucky. Soon after, J.W. McGarvey is invited to become the Professor of Sacred History in the College of the Bible of Kentucky University. Classes begin in September.



Returned to Dover, Missouri to preach a meeting. One of his children with him. On return, the stagecoach he was riding was held up at Warrensburg, Missouri. Very little was lost.



Sold house in Dover, Missouri. Proceeds purchased 14 acres of land outside of Lexington and built a large house.



Resigns from Main St. church, and serves country congregations. L.B. Wilkes becomes minister at Main St. Church



Conducts funeral for Raccoon John Smith



A son is born



He and four associates, Robert Graham, Moses E. Lard, W. H. Hopson and L. B. Wilkes, began editing a paper, The Apostolic Times. He was active with it until 1875.



Assisted in raising funds for Hocker, later Hamilton College. Became chairman of the Advisory Board of Trustees



Due to large crowds at Main St. Church, overflow meetings began on the corner of Main & Broadway. J.W. McGarvey preached the first Sundays of the month.


April 30

Property purchased on cnr. of Second & Broadway from Presbyterians, and thus officially began the Broadway Christian Church. On May 1st J.W. McGarvey preached (being his regular 1st Sunday to preach)


January 1

Began as full-time minister of Broadway church. Stayed until 1882 when he resigned to go back to preaching for country churches.



KU Board of Curators appoints an investigation of the books, esp. concerning KU Regent John Bowman’s purchase of lands for the College of Agriculture – Division between Bowman and J.W. McGarvey begins heating up.


June 25

Bowman’s group propose “Second Christian Church,” at Main St. Church. Group pulls away to form new church.


January 11

J.W. McGarvey requests an investigation by KU Board of Curators over false accusations made against him that he was guilty of a conspiracy to remove Regent Bowman



J.W. McGarvey cleared and vindicated from charges made by Bowman and his cronies.


June 26

Due to Bowman’s pressure, the Executive committee of the college asks for the resignation of J.W. McGarvey


July 3

J.W. McGarvey releases a editorial in the Apostolic Times of the request for his resignation, and his disappointment in the school’s leadership. Sharp controversy ensued throughout the summer.


August 5

A petition signed by 181 churches was given to the Executive Board of KU, requesting a reorganization of the college, and reinstatement of J.W. McGarvey, for the safety of both church and college.


September 16

Board of Curators stands firm with Bowman on decision, and dismissal of J.W. McGarvey by Executive Committee stood firm. The effect was that student attendance took a dive in favor of J.W. McGarvey. College of the Bible attendance 1870-71 was 122. The 1873-74 attendance was 35. Also attendance fell in all other colleges of KU.


March 20

Robert Milligan dies, while his commentary on Hebrews is at press. J.W. McGarvey writes a sketch on his life, which is included in the volume.



Kentucky Education Society was asked to select possible teachers for COB. Robert Graham suggested as president, and J.W. McGarvey was suggested to get his old job back. Board accepts suggestion, offers J.W. McGarvey to return to his post. He accepts.



Completes and prints commentary on Matthew & Mark



Retires From editing The Apostolic Times



College of the Bible is reorganized, and campus moved to the basement of Main Street Church. 1877 began with 41 students in new College of the Bible



Prints J.S. Lamar’s commentary on Luke



Office of Regent of KU, abolished, ending KU’s connection with John Bowman.



College of the Bible returns to Kentucky University. The classes take place on the 2nd and 3rd floor of Old Morrison. J.W. McGarvey heads the COB serving as president for the next 16 years.


March 3

Departs for extended tour and research in the Bible Lands


March 29-April 21

Research in Egypt


April 21-May 25

In Palestine


June 13

To Syria


June 15

Nearly drowns while swimming in the sea near Sidon.


July 7

Sails from Beirut to Asia Minor, visiting the sites of the seven churches of Asia.



Visited Italy, France & London


September 2

Returns from trip to Bible Lands



Replacing H.H. White, Charles Louis Loos becomes president of KU at the suggestion of J.W. McGarvey.



COB returns to the campus of KU, under the presidency of Charles Louis Loos. Robert Graham continued as president of COB until 1895



Releases his work, Lands Of The Bible


  Jan. 1

Resigned from Broadway Christian Church to preach for country congregations, but continued as an elder of the congregation



Released first volume of Evidences of Christianity



J.W. McGarvey home and library on the outskirts of Lexington is destroyed by fire.



Second volume of Evidences Of Christianity released



Standard Publishing Company releases two-volume version of J.W. McGarvey’s original commentary on the book of Acts.



Hall Laurie Calhoun, graduates, personally groomed by J.W. McGarvey to someday return to become president. He does return in 1904 to teach, but only serves as interim president after J.W. McGarvey dies in 1911.



COB student body reaches high of 187 students


January 7

J.W.G. began a new department on Biblical Criticism in the Christian Standard



Sales of Lands of the Bible exceeded 17,000 copies



J.W. McGarvey preached a series of sermons at the Broadway Christian Church. The Guide Publishing Co. produced them into a book entitled, McGarvey’s Sermons – 2 Sermons added.



J.W. McGarvey’s class notes are published



Robert Graham resigns as president of the College of the Bible. J.W. McGarvey takes the presidency for the next 16 years, until his death in October, 1911.


Aug, Sept. Oct

J.W. McGarvey publishes in the Christian Standard, articles on Biblical Criticism, specifically on a study of Jonah



Jesus and Jonah is published from articles in the Christian Standard the previous year.



Robert Graham, long time friend of J.W. McGarvey dies in Lexington, buried at Lexington Cemetery


September 21

Church at Broadway celebrates fifty years of the preaching of J.W. McGarvey. Had been elder since the church’s inception in 1870. Resigned at the end of the festivities surrounding his 50th.


November 2

In anticipation of Broadway adding the instrument of music, J.W. McGarvey withdraws his membership from Broadway and begins meeting with the Chestnut Street Church. During this time his arguments against the use of the instrument were presented in the Evening Leader. Instrument added at Broadway in 1903. W.H. Allen was minister at Chestnut Street. He said, "Brother McGarvey, we would rather have you than ten thousand aids to worship." Attends there the rest of his life.



Issued with P.Y. Pendleton his work entitled, The Four-Fold Gospel


March 1

J.W. McGarvey’s 80th birthday celebration. A large print, leather Bible was presented to him in chapel from the faculty and students of the COB. Also, a cake with 80 candles was presented. Offered to resign, but was told to continue as long as health would allow. He presided 2 more years.



Death Of J.W. McGarvey


March 1

B.C. Deweese gives a Memorial Address at the College of the Bible honoring J.W. McGarvey



W.C. Morro completes the Forward to the book, Brother McGarvey: The Life Of President J.W. McGarvey of the College Of The Bible, Lexington, Ky

Prepared by Scott Harp, March, 2009 Source: Brother McGarvey: The Life Of President J.W. McGarvey of the College Of The Bible, Lexington, Ky, by W.C. Morro, c.1940

GPS Location
N38º 03.475' x WO 84º 30.452'
or D.d 38.0579,-84.50753333333333
19 Ft. Accuracy
Grave Faces East
Section F, Lot 23, Part S

View Larger Map


McGarvey Grave Looking Up From The Henry Clay Monument

Otwayanna McGarvey 1834-1911
Loulie 1854-1864

John William McGarvey 1829-1911

John William McGarvey

Directions To Grave: Lexington Cemetery is one of the most beautiful old cemeteries in America. It is located on West Main Street heading away from downtown Lexington toward Leestown Pike. Turn right into the main entrance past the office. Stay on Main Avenue passing Henry Clay Monument on the left. Go until you see Section "F" on the left. The grave is not far from the road.

See Where McGarvey Is Buried At Lexington Cemetery, Lexington Kentucky

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