Austin McGary (1846-1928) was a Texas lawman. He served as sheriff of Madison County. He once disarmed and arrested the notorious John Wesley Hardin. Later, he worked for the State of Texas transporting prisoners to penitentiaries.
In the early 1880’s, he began to give serious thought to religion. He had been raised a Methodist, but had not been a religious man. He made a careful study of the Campbell-Owen debate (1829) on the evidences of Christianity. He listened to Harry Hamilton preach in Madisonville on principles of apostolic Christianity, at the urging of his sister. He continued to study as was baptized into Christ on December 24, 1881.
Soon after his conversion McGary became deeply disturbed over how denominational people were being “shaken” into the church; that is, their denominational baptisms were being widely accepted, and with a hand-shake they were being counted as church members, even though they had not been baptized for the purpose of having their sins washed away. He was especially concerned that this practice was defended by some of the biggest names in the brotherhood. “Generally speaking, David Lipscomb and the brethren associated with the Gospel Advocate took the position it was not necessary that a man understand that his baptism was ‘for the remission of sins,’ but that any man who was immersed with a sincere desire to obey God was in truth and in reality baptism into Christ – even though he had thought he was already in Christ and had his sins forgiven before the act of baptism” (J.D. Tant – Texas Preacher, p. 59).
McGary knew something must be done. He decided to combat the error in print. He started a publication called “The Firm Foundation” in September 1884. “When the first issue of the Firm Foundation came out only 500 copies were published, and many of them were shoved under the bed, for McGary did not know whom to send them to. But in short time men and women came to his support by the thousands, and before the first year was out, the paper was read all over the state of Texas, and in many other states” (ibid, p. 60).
According to the Bible, candidates for baptism: (1) have been taught about the kingdom (church) and the name (authority) of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:12); (2) believe (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:35-39); (3) repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19 cf. Matthew 3:7-8); (4) Confess Jesus (Acts 8:35-38; 1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 4:14; 10:23); (5) Understand the purpose of baptism (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16) (6) Should be immersed (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12) in water (Acts 8:36-39; 10:47 cf. John 3:23).
Some branded McGary a radical and a hobby rider. W.H. Bagby wrote in the Christian Standard, “We know of no departure from the faith in modern times so hurtful to the course of New Testament Christianity as this hobby which the Firm Foundation was established to advocate” (West, The Search For Ancient Order, Vol. 2, p. 406).
However, in time he persuaded many. J.D. Tant said, “I met almost the first issue (of The Firm Foundation) with hatred because it condemned me for trying to palm off on God my sectarian immersion for scriptural baptism” (ibid, p. 60). Tant had been immersed as a Methodist. However, “After three months of seeking rest and finding none, I got on a borrowed horse and rode one hundred and twenty-seven miles to Austin to get John S. Durst to baptize me” (ibid, p. 61).
We need more “radicals” as Austin McGary. We need more who will take a stand, even when doing so is not popular. Let us say as Paul, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publically and from house to house… I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:20, 27). Remember that one man of conviction can make a difference. John Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” E. M. Forster, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.”