By Jeff Belknap 

Although brother J. W. McGarvey consistently taught the need for men to have authority for all they teach and/or practice (Col. 3:17), he admitted in his latter years that he did not always practice what he preached.  After years of compromise, brother McGarvey confessed the lesson he learned and it has been documented for us today.  The following account (by Jesse P. Sewell) reveals a message we all should consider very seriously:


“In January, 1902 or 1903, I was preaching for the Pearl and Bryan Streets church in Dallas.  Brother McGarvey, an old man at the time, was invited to speak at the Central Christian Church in Dallas.  We had three men in the Pearl and Bryan Streets church who had graduated from the College of the Bible in Lexington, under Brother McGarvey, and they were great admirers of him.  They suggested that we invite Brother McGarvey to preach at Pearl and Bryan that night.  We did so.  I was just a boy of 24 or 25 then.  I was sitting by the side of the great old man on the front seat, waiting for the service to begin.  As we sat there talking, Brother McGarvey said to me: ‘Brother Sewell, I want to say something to you, if you’ll accept it in the spirit in which I mean it.’  I told him I’d appreciate anything he had to say to me.  He said about these words, ‘You are on the right road, and whatever you do, don’t ever let anybody persuade you that you can successfully combat error by fellowshipping it and going along with it.  I have tried.  I believed at the start that was the only way to do it.  I’ve never held membership in a congregation that uses instrumental music.  I have, however, accepted invitations to preach without distinction between churches that used it and churches that didn’t.  I’ve gone along with their papers and magazines and things of that sort.  During all these years I have taught the truth as the New Testament teaches it to every young preacher who has passed through the College of the Bible.  Yet, I do not know of more than six of those men who are preaching the truth today.’  He said, ‘It won’t work.’” 


“That experience has been an inspiration to me all the days of my life since.  It has helped me, when I was ever tempted to turn aside and go along with error, to remember the warning of this great old man.” (Jesse P. Sewell, “Biographical Sketches of Restoration Preachers,” The Harding College Lectures, 1950, Searcy, Arkansas: Harding College Press, 1951, pp. 74-75.) 

Brethren, I have no doubt that brother McGarvey had read II John 9-11 prior to his decision to “go along” with the promoters of instrumental music in worship.  It is apparent from his comment to brother Sewell that he knew the brethren who used instrumental music in worship were in error, not abiding in the doctrine of Christ.  Hence, if he had applied the Lord’s instructions therein to himself, he would have realized that it was unlawful for him to receive the brethren who engaged in that error (Gal. 1:10; II Jn. 10-11).  Even though an obviously intelligent and scripturally knowledgeable man, brother McGarvey admitted that “at the start,” he had “thought” the only way to combat the error was to fellowship it.  His realization of the truth came only after he found that his own way did not produce the results he desired (Prov.14:12).  No wonder!  Man’s wisdom never results in God’s righteousness (I Cor. 2:1-5; Rom. 1:16-17).    

In regard to our Lord’s disciplinary instructions to correct those who err from the truth (Rom. 16:17-18; I Thess. 5:14; II Thess. 3:6, 14; et al.), brother McGarvey is not the only example of man’s inclination to trust in human wisdom over the divine (I Cor. 15:33; Phil. 3:17-19; Rev. 2:14-15, 20).  It does not matter which direction you turn, there has always been and always will be those who “justify the wicked” and “strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness” (Prov. 17:15; Jer. 23:14).  Sure, such men will openly denounce the errors of many, but the supreme object of their affection becomes manifest when they are no longer consistent (I Tim. 5:20-21; cp. w. Prov. 11:21; 16:5)!   

More recently, the Mental Divorce issue has revealed the inconsistency of brethren who are called on to “justify” their continued fellowship with some (cf. Lk. 16:15).  Now that certain “prominent brethren” (cf. Gal. 2:6) are openly advocating the second (post-civil-divorce) putting away, those who once openly exposed this “application” as an invasion of “the silence of the scriptures” are currently portraying this issue as a matter upon which we can agree to disagree (Rom. 14).  In fact, some brethren who are now advocating continued fellowship with promoters of this “application” have, in times past, publicly equated it to “instrumental music in worship.” 

Even as the MDR line of fellowship is being stretched beyond Biblical parameters, some Second Putting Away advocates are also maligning those who strive to keep “the ancient landmark,” that was “set” when Jesus unequivocally stated, “…and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Mt. 19:9; Prov. 22:28; I Pet. 4:4).  If something as plain as this can be twisted to accommodate the “mental divorce” doctrine, no Biblical teaching is above being perverted (II Pet. 3:16).  Moreover, if those who have acknowledged the truth sit idly by while errorists do violence to both scripture and those who defend it, no perversion is above being fellowshipped (Prov. 28:4; Obad. 11). 

Furthermore, this most recent example of “justification” by those men who once cried out against this error, will be the “latest” standard for younger generations to follow (Mt. 15:14; II Cor. 10:12).  While we are to preach and teach the truth in love (Rom. 4:15), there is absolutely nothing stated (or implied) in inspiration which reveals the “wisdom” of “going along to get along” with those in error.  False doctrine is to be examined and exposed (II Thess. 5:21; I Tim. 1:3).  

We can pretend or contend; the choice is ours (Jude 3-4).  Let us learn from the words of a brother who has “been there” and “done that.”  His warning is clear: make no compromises when men invade the silence of God, and teach that which contradicts His will, regardless of what they call it.  Whether “application” or “Romans 14;” it is the same.  The scriptures call it “iniquity” (lawlessness) and as brother McGarvey stated, “It won’t work” (cf. Lam. 3:40).

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Last Updated:  Thursday, January 26, 2006 12:41 PM