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  • Submitted: Aug 20 2019 12:47 PM
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  • Author: J. W. McGarvey
  • e-Sword Version: 10.x

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Download McGarvey, J. W. - Treatise on the Eldership of the Church

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Scripture New Testament Bibliology (BibleDoctrine) Church of Christ Biblical Studies Public Domain
J. W. McGarvey

e-Sword Version:

This short reference work "Treatise on the Eldership" is
©1870 by James W. McGarvey. Yes, this is the same
James W. McGarvey, whose works are featured on this
web site. I had the privilege to preach from the same
pulpit that McGarvey preached from at the turn of the
20th century.

In the introduction of this Treatise on Elders and Church
Government McGarvey writes:

Does the New Testament prescribe a form of church

government? Protestants have commonly answered this

question in the negative; and having thus answered, they

have proceeded to adopt such forms of government as

best suited the tastes and judgement of the various parties

into which they are divided. We think that before proceeding

thus far, they should have considered the more fundamental

question, Does the New Testament authorize any government

at all in the Church? If it does not, then every form of church

government is a usurpation. It is altogether certain that without

divine authority no human being has a right to control the

religious conduct of his neighbor, especially to cut off his

neighbor from church membership or the privileges pertaining


But it is not denied that the New Testament authorizes the

exercise of government in the church; it is only denied that the

form of government is prescribed. It is even admitted by many

that a certain form of government existed in the apostolic age;

yet denied that this form was intended to be perpetual.

It is not the purpose of this treatise to fully discuss this question,

or to exhibit in detail the New Testament form of church

government; but the theme which we have chosen assumes the

existence of an eldership in the church, and the development of

it will necessarily involve the settlement of the more fundamental

question above stated. If it be ascertained that any church

government at all is divinely authorized, it must appear as a very

singular circumstance if the form of that government is not indicated.

Moreover, if we find a form of government in existence in the apostolic

churches, we shall demand something above mere human judgement

or experience to justify an abandonment of it, or even a modification of it.

No less than the same authority which institutes can abolish. What

God had instituted he alone may abolish. He may abolish by his word,

or he may abolish providentially by finally rendering impossible what had

once been instituted but unless it is abolished every divine appointment

must stand forever.

John William McGarvey was born March 1, 1829, near
Hopkinsville, Kentucky. His father, John McGarvey, was
an Irishman, coming to this country from Tawney, Donegal
County, Ireland, when he was a young man and settling In
Hopkinsville. His mother was Sarah Ann Thomson. Her
family came to this country from Scotland and settled In
Virginia, and from there moved to Georgetown, Kentucky,
where she was born. Later her father moved his family to
Hopkinsville, where she and John McGarvey met and
married. Before the family left Georgetown, her older sister,
married Dr. Gurdon F. Saltonstall. They remained in
Georgetown for a while, but later on followed the rest of the
family to Hopkinsville. John McGarvey died six years after
his marriage with Sarah Ann Thomson. Leaving her with
four small children, of which John William was the second.
Not far from the same time Mrs. Saltonstall died, leaving her
husband with nine small children. Soon after the death of
their companions Dr. Saltonstall and Mrs. Sarah Ann
McGarvey, brother and sister-in-law, were married, and
thus united the two groups of children, making thirteen in
all, To Dr. and Mrs. Saltonstall six more children were born,
making nineteen in all in the family. In after years McGarvey
wrote concerning his stepfather: "He was an eminently just
man, making no distinctions among the children, distributing
his estate among them equally." In his will Bethany College
was made his twentieth child and shared equally with them
in the estate.

In 1847, when he was eighteen years of age, McGarvey
entered Bethany College, from which he graduated in 1850,
delivering the Greek oration. From graduation day to the day
of his death he was a diligent, hard-working student. He
became, perhaps, the ripest scholar in the brotherhood.

After his graduation, he followed the family to Fayette,
Missouri, to which place they had moved while he was in
college. He taught a school for boys the first year after his
affival, but gave it up when the Fayette Church called him
to preach. He was ordained or set apart for this work by
the laying on of the hands of T. M. Allen and Alexander
Procter. After a year or two spent at Fayette, he accepted
"a call" from the church at Dover, and spent the next nine
years of his life there. He made extensive tours over the
state while living at Dover, and also conducted five public

In 1862, McGarvey became minister of the Main Street
Christian church in Lexington, Kentucky. During his first
year in Lexington, at the age of thirty-three, he published
his great "Commentary on Acts," which remains to this
day the greatest commentary on this book that has ever
been written. In 1865, he was elected professor of sacred
history in the College of the Bible, which had just been
established in Lexington. After thirty years service in this
position, he was elected president of the college, which
place he filled until his death sixteen years later, making
forty-six yarn in all that he served this institution.

McGarvey was what we might call a "natural-born" teacher.
He imparted information and aroused his pupils to study to
acquire information. He was able to analyze, systematize,
and simplify a subject. Following his graduation, he taught
school in Missouri for two or three years, and then quit.
During the next ten years he refused several important
teaching positions until he was elected professor of sacred
history in the College of the Bible. This place he accepted,
and for the next forty-six years he continued to teach the
Bible. He was clear and specific. No one was ever left in
doubt as to what he meant. • His knowledge of the Bible
was remarkable. 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."
The London Times is quoted as saying: "In all probability
John W. McGarvey Is the ripest Bible scholar on earth."
As a preacher, McGarvey was one of the best. His sermons
were not rhetorical, ornate, nor dramatic; but they were the
very essence of simplicity, clear as crystal in =- folding the
sacred word and flooding the minds of his hearers with light
divine. While, perhaps, not preaching as great sermons as
Lard and some others occasionally, on the other hand,
McGarvey never fell below a lofty level.

He was a copious writer. He began writing for the Millennial
Harbinger soon after he was out of college. During the ten or
twelve years he spent in Missouri he wrote many articles for
the American Christian Review. He contributed many
important essays to Lard's Quarterly during its existence. He
was an editor of the Apostolic Times during the years from
1850 to 1865.

He was editor of the Apostolic Guide in 1887-1888. Throughout
the last nineteen years of his life he conducted the department
of Biblical Criticism in the Christian Standard, and all along
during this period he wrote articles for other papers.

McGarvey was not only a prolific and influential writer for the
religious periodicals of his time, but he was also a great writer
of books. Beginning with sih "Commentary on Acts" in 1863,
he wrote a "Commentary on Matthew and Mark," "Lands of the
Bible," Evidences of Christianity," "The Authorship of Deuteronomy,"
"Jesus and Jonah." In addition to these major works, there were a
book of sermons, "A Guide to the Study of the Bible," and "Biblical
Criticism." These books have had a powerful influence in
strengthening and confirming the faith of men in the divine
inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures. In my judgment, his
commentaries have few, if any, equals, and no superiors. It is
probable that McGarvey's greatest contribution to Christianity
was the books that he wrote. McGarvey died October 6, 1911 and
was buried in the beautiful cemetery at Lexington, Kentucky, near
the grave of Henry Clay.

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