The Rev. David Rice was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on 29 January 1733.
His grandfather, Thomas Rice, was an Englishman by birth, of Welch extraction. He was an early adventurer into Virginia. Where he spent the first part of his life is not certainly known. In the latter part of his life he owned a small plantation in the lower part of what is now called Hanover County. Here he left his wife, with nine sons and three daughters, and went to England to receive a considerable estate which had been left him, but returned no more. The sailors reported that he died at sea. It was supposed that he was assassinated. No return was ever made of the property after which he had gone, and his family were left destitute in a strange land.
A widow and fatherless children, really suffering for want of the necessaries of life, is, perhaps not to be found in the whole history of some men. "Leave thy fatherless children," said Jehovah to Esau, "I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me."
The family being left without an earthly father, were distressed, but they were in the good providence of God provided for. The greater part moved about thirty miles farther up the country, where they procured small plantations, on which they raised numerous families. Four or five of them became serious professors of religion, and were succeeded in their religious professions by a considerable number of their children.
|Hanover County, Virginia, Courthouse; courtesy of Virginia Department of|
His father, David Rice, was a plain farmer, who having food and raiment by his daily labor, was therewith content. The spirit of speculation had not in those happy days possessed the American people. He never had any slaves, as he considered them more plague than profit. His wife was averse to it from principle; as being a traffic in human flesh, and an unjust infringement on the rights of our fellow creatures. They were both members of the established church, and taught their children the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the ten Commandments.
Mr. Rice was early the subject of religious impressions. "When I was," says he, "only six or seven years old, I often prayed in secret, and ardently desired to escape punishment and obtain happiness after death. My prayers were frequently accompanied with many tears. After having gone on in this way for perhaps two years, I began to inquire what was necessary in order to escape punishment and obtain happiness, and found that it was necessary to repent and believe. But I took my prayers and my tears to have repentance, and believing in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, according to the creed which my parents and school masters had taught me. I thought that this was faith, and consequently I was happy. This persuasion filled one with much delight, yes, I may say, with joy unspeakable. Nor were my wishes and my prayers confined to myself. I felt a deep concern for my friends and fellow creatures. For these I frequently wrestled with God, and sometimes even to an agony."
Religious instructions were not wholly neglected in the neighborhood where Mr. Rice was raised. Yet there was little or nothing of the power of religion either seen or felt. Parents required their children on Sabbath morning to clean themselves, and read a chapter or two in the holy scriptures, and after this, instead of spending the day as the Sabbath of the Lord, they met promiscuously and spent the remainder of the day in idle amusements, such as fishing, bunting, etc. etc. Those exercises were extremely agreeable to the carnal mind; but the Sabbath thus being a day of idleness or dissipation, more sin was committed or done in all the week besides.
This state of things was a great grief of mind to young Rice, and was a matter of much secret mourning.
"Truly," says he, "I had a great zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge." There was a John Whitehead, a boy in whose welfare Mr. Rice felt deeply interested. This boy he visited early one Sabbath morning, and having stated to him, in the best manner he could, the necessity for secret prayer, meditation, and reading the Bible, he invited him to go along with him to a solitary place, and spend the day together in religious exercises. Whitehead laughed at the proposal, but proposed in his turn that if Rice would go and play at ball with him half the day, he would go and read with him the other half. Thinking the end might justify the means, Rice consented, though with considerable reluctance. The tasteless playtime having been spent, Rice renewed his suit with additional earnestness, and urged upon Whitehead his promise, but in vain. Whitehead laughed, Rice wept, caught him in his arms, and still urged his claim. The sinner became more hardened and more insulting; the tender conscience went home with a sobbing heart and eyes bathed in tears. (What became of Whitehead?) when these two men again meet at the resurrection of the just we will hear something more of this Sabbath day's work.
When he was about thirteen years of age, his father having one day broken his plough in the field, sent him to the house for a handsaw. While he was returning with the saw in his hand, he happened to stop a few minutes by the side of a stump, and without any particular design, began to saw a notch in a splinter of the stump. While thus engaged this text of scripture came with particular force on his mind, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." This convinced him that something was wanting which he had not yet experienced. What this being born again was he knew not, but supposed that it must be a change of heart from the love and practice of sin to the love and practice of holiness. "I then drew the conclusion," says he, "that I was a lost and condemned sinner, and under this conviction continued about four years without entertaining any other thought during this whole period, but dying in that state I should be undone forever. This turned my play into prayer, which I practiced from one to seven times a day, yet all this prayer and all this seriousness, I afterwards found proceeded from no higher principle than self-love. The avoiding of misery and the obtaining of happiness were the sum of my motives."
To obtain the desired relief he read the promises particularly, "Ask and and ye shall receive," "seek and ye shall find." Bet here a formidable objection presented itself. "I cannot," said he to himself, "ask without pure motives, my seeking must have something morally good in it, as humility, love of God, love to holiness, faith in Christ, etc. etc.; but my heart is carnal, is enmity against God, is not subject to his law, neither indeed can be. Therefore my prayers cannot be acceptable, but must be an abomination to the Lord." These and similar discoveries convinced him that the sinful manner of his religious performances was of itself a sufficient ground for his eternal condemnation. This conviction so discouraged him that he was almost ready to give up all, and risk the consequences. Still, however, the thought occurred to him, "Our God is a consuming fire, who can dwell with everlasting burnings?" And thus alarmed, he could not rest without continuing in the use of the means of grace.
Under these agitations he became more and more convinced that such obedience as his could not be acceptable to God, that he could not do anything to recommend himself to the divine favor, and that salvation must be a sovereign act of divine power.
The necessity of his having a new heart and a new nature, before he could ever come to God in the name of Christ, was also strongly impressed up his mind. For this he sought and most earnestly prayed, but instead of becoming better prepared for coming to Christ, he appeared to himself to be more and more unprepared. "I found," says he, "the longer sin remained in my heart the deeper root it took, and the more deeply affected all the mental powers." He appears, in fact, to have been in that state described by the apostle, Rom. vii. 8-11.
Still, however, he thought he could not come to Christ without some price in his hand. Of coming to Christ without money and without price he had no conception. Having become depraved and sinful before he was condemned, he supposed that something of spiritual life and moral rectitude, though it should be bestowed by another, must be possessed before he could come to Christ as the way, the truth and the life. Thus he labored in the fire, seeking after some preparatory qualification, till he had nearly sunk into a state of despair. At length, either by some instructions received, or by the reflections of his own mind, be was brought to the full conviction, that he must come to Christ just as he was, empty and condemned, without anything to recommend him to the divine favor arising from anything wrought in him or done by him.
He was at the same time greatly distressed on account of the corruption of his nature. Original sin, as explained in the IX Article of the church of England, was felt by him and seen by him in all its force and all its malignity. It was seen and felt by him to be the root of all actual transgression, and of itself a sufficient ground of eternal condemnation.
About the same time he became thoroughly convinced that if ever he were saved, he could be saved only by the free and sovereign grace of God. Hence, also, he became fully established in the doctrine of par-particular election, knowing of no other doctrine that could preserve him from despair. He learned the doctrine from no author, but from his own experience and the Bible. "And indeed," says he, "I cannot find to this day how any rationally convinced sinner can find any ground of encouragement in the use of the means of grace from any other doctrine. But by this doctrine I do not mean, that if we are elected we shall be saved, let us do as we will, or if we are not elected, we shall be lost let us do as we will; but I mean that God has decreed to effect salvation in the use of certain means, that he has put these means in our hands, and in the use of these means we are encouraged to hope in his sovereign mercy."
From this view of things, he was encouraged to continue in the use of the means, though sometimes, through the depravity of human nature, he became remiss and negligent.
There was a something in the means of grace, which made them always an object of his desire, though the degree of this desire was extremely fluctuating. At one time it was remarkably strong, at another time it just existed, so that he could not refrain from using them. So high a value did he put on sermons and sacramental occasions, that he frequently rose early on the Sabbath morning, baked himself a cake, which he took with him, and walked twelve or fifteen miles to the place of worship, and sometimes returned on the same day. A spirit of prayer was generally enjoyed by him at this time to a considerable degree. He prayed before, and prayed after, and prayed while he was hearing for God's blessing on his own truths, and his own ordinances. He went to meeting sometimes walking, and sometimes running, frequently praying as he went. Thus he went on for upwards of a year or eighteen months. Sometimes attending upon the public and private means of grace with a great deal of fervor, and at other times with a great deal of languor, and with something like indifference, till at length, in holy and good providence, he went to hear the Rev. Samuel Davies, whose ministry he had frequently attended without having received from it any special or direct benefit.
In this sermon however that man of God pointed out to him the road he had been traveling with more clearness than he could have done himself, and at the same time showed him the great danger to which he was exposed. "When Satan," said the preacher, "cannot induce men to renounce religion entirely and forever, he will lead them on step by step, supported by their own resolutions, until the thread of life break, and they drop into eternal ruin."
This description sunk into his very heart. "I knew it,: says he, "to be true history, and believed the dreadful consequences as pointed out would most assuredly follow. This brought me to a sad dilemma -- whether I should persevere or give it over forever. But the thought would regurn again and again.
Finally, I resolved to persevere in seeking; and if I perished I would perish on my knees.
I am publishing a chapter of Rev. David Rice's memoirs every Monday.
To be continued...
Rev. David Rice (1733-1816) was my fifth great grandfather.
 The birthdate on his headstone, which is located at the Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Danville, Kentucky, is 20 December 1733.
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