Monday, March 6, 2017

Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Last Years of His Life

Continues from the Memoirs: Rev. David Rice: Resigns His Pastoral Charge and Retires

This is from Chapter XIV of the memoirs of Rev. David Rice, which were included in An Outline of the History of the Church in the State of Kentucky, During a Period of Forty Years by Robert Hamilton Bishop and published in 1824.

Better wear out than rust out, appears to have been Mr. Rices motto. In 1798 he ceased to the be pastor of a congregation, and ceased in a great measure to take any share in directing the judicatories of the church -- yet neither his labors nor his usefulness were at an end. He moved to the county of Green, a new and frontier county, and resolved to spend his last days in visiting the vacancies, and assisting his brethren as opportunities offered. The state of religion in general, in this new county, first attract his notice. "I found, says he, "that there were but few of reputable characters as Christians. There were a few presbyterians, a few Baptists, and a few Methodists, and but few upon the whole. These all united would make but a feeble band to carry on a war against the devil, the world and the flesh. Yet if a union, a good understanding, could be accomplished, something might be done -- whereas, should we divide, we should weaken each other's hands and injure the good cause in which we professed to be engaged." All the brethren of the the different denominations appeared to coincide with father Rice in these sentiments, but there were all too ignorant of human nature, or too much tinctured with party spirit, and likely also possessed too little piety, to act as these sentiments demanded.

In the summers and falls of 1805 and 6, under the appointment of the General Assembly, father Rice made a tour through the churches of Kentucky and lower parts of Ohio, comforting the saints, and trying to gather in some of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Two small pamphlets, entitled a first and second epistle to those who are called, or who have been called Presbyterians, will be monuments to generations of his affections and faithfulness on these occasions.

The year 1812 or 1813 may be said to have closed the public administrations of father Rice. He was at home from that time till the day of his death, by the mere decay of nature, continued to his own house. He had been often applied to by his brethren in the ministry, and others, for a short account of his life. In the winter of 1814 and spring of 1815, when he was incapable of writing with his own hand, and could only walk when assisted, he considered it his duty to comply with their request. A neighboring brother attended as often as he could conveniently, and acted as his amanuensis. From the account thus received all the facts respecting his private exercises and private conduct in the preceding narrative are selected; and whenever he is introduced as speaking, the very words are retained which be then uttered.

The narrative closes with these words: -- "During these two years I have spent a good deal of time in reflection. When I look back as far as my joining myself to the church in full communion, I do not accuse myself of much outward vicious conduct. I do not recollect ever wronging a man out of a shilling, either by cheating him in a bargain, or by withholding from him his due when in my power to pay. When I had money which I owed, I always viewed it not as my own property, but as my creditors. I never indulged myself in lying -- never was a profane swearer -- was never drunk but once, and that was occasioned by my following an injudicious advice to assist the operations of medicine. I never gambled with any man. I never invented and spread false reports of others, though I have too often ignorantly propagated them when told by others. I do not remember that I ever envied a minister of the gospel for his talents and usefulness, or wished to bring him down on a level with myself. But on reflection conclude, that a man may experience as much and perhaps much more than I have done, and yet be a great sinner. Hence I feel a great reluctance that any thing that might appear amiable, in me, or in my character, should  be set off partially, lest some ministers or private christians should think if they are just as good as I have been, then may rest satisfied. See Phil. iii. 4-14, and Titus iii, 3-7.

In this season of serious reflection, I recollect much sinful deficiency, much highly aggravated guilt in my intercourses with God and in my dealings with my fellow men. I lament my want of deep humility, reverences, and holy love, in my most fervent acts of devotion. My addresses to my fellow creatures have also lacked that tenderness, that compassion, that love to their souls, which are proper. I lament also my backwardness to introduce spiritual conversation among my fellow men, or to turn common conversation into a spiritual channel. I have too often neglected addressing families where I have lodged, or which I have visited, on the solemn things which make for their everlasting peace, and on those relative duties of life on which the honor of God and the prosperity of religion greatly depend. I have too often neglected to instruct the children and youth, and to urge upon them the necessity of early piety; which neglect in ministers and heads of families is very pernicious to both religious and civil society. I have too much participated in the criminal and great neglect of the souls of slaves. Though we live at the expense of these unfortunate creatures, yet we withhold from them a great part of the means of instruction and grace. -- Many indeed deprive them of all, so far as they can. This, added to that of depriving them of their inalienable rights of liberty, is the crying sin of our country; and for this I believe our country is now bleeding at a thousand veins.

I have too often neglected to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and to relieve and comfort my fellow creatures under the various calamities of life. Much of practical christianity consists in exercises of this kind. See James i. 27.

I will here mention, as a warning to youth, a matter which as often distressed me, in advanced life. My father, in his last sickness, had a bottle of mouth water, which some days before his death got broken by accident. He requested me to provide more, -- but, either through forgetfulness or want of time, it was neglected. This may appear a small thing to others, as it did to me at the time -- yet it has been to me since a matter of the most painful reflection. It was a want of filial duty, a sin base in its nature and highly offensive to God, and which is often punished in this life. I lament the great degree of self-seeking and self-sufficiency which have often prevailed in my performance of religious duties. This is making self the object of our worship, and is as contemptible and as criminal a species of idolatry as any practiced by the ancient Syrians, or Grecians, or Romans, or is now practiced by any Pagan nation on the earth. I lament my frequently making my feelings, instead of the word of God, my rule of duty, to the neglect in a good degree of the duties of my station. I lament also my being too much under the influence of partyism and bigotry, though long since convinced in any judgment of its impropriety.

This things often oppress my mind, and thicken the gloom of the valley of the shadow of death. They often make me think of the propriety of going mourning to the grave, and excite a kind of desire to do so. They do not, however, sink me into despair. I hope to land in the regions of glory, through the free grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Yet I often think I shall be ashamed to show my head there. I shall be particularly ashamed that it should be known there that ever I was a minister of the gospel of Christ. Amongst all the mansions of our Father's house, I cannot imagine one suitable to the reception of so unworthy a guest. But worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.

Come, let us join our cheerful songs
with angels round the throne:
Ten thousand are their tongues,
But all their joys are one.

Worthy the Lamb that died, they cry,
To be exalted thus;
Worthy the Lamb, our lips reply,
For he was slain for us.

Jesus is worthy to receive
Honor and pow'r divine:
And blessings more than we can give,
Be, Lord, forever thine.

Let all that dwell above the sky,
And air, and earth, and seas,
Conspire to lift thy glories high,
And speak thine endless praise.

The whole creation join in one,
To bless the sacred name
Of him that sits upon the throne,
And to adore the Lamb.
Watt's Hymns, Book I. 62.

In this time of mournful reflection I often feel myself disposed to set myself up as a beacon to warn my fellow professors and brethren in the ministerial office, particularly of the rocks against which I have dashed, and of the quicksands in which I have sunk. I am often thinking what it is which has brought us into such a wretched state, and conclude, on the whole, that we have lost the true spirit of christianity, and mingled it with the spirit of the world. We have taken up religion by scraps and fragments. Some making it consist in one thing, and some in another, when it is a uniform connected system. We have done with religion what the heathens did with the object of worship. We have formed and molded it so as to suit our own depraved natures. Some of us have made it to consist chiefly in an orthodox creed -- some in a regular external behavior -- some in a certain set of religious experiences -- some in a flaming zeal for certain sentiments or particular practices -- some in a very punctual observance of the external forms of worship -- some in an unbounded charity, which entertains hopes of all, let their sentiments and conduct be what they may. Thus our ideas of religion being broken into fragments, they never lend us into uniformity and consistency of conduct -- and scarcely one is to be found who even professes to observe all God's commandments.

I often feel an earnest desire to address my fellow creatures on these subjects. But I find my day is past, that I have neither strength of body nor strength of mind to perform it. Hence I can only lament over myself and others, and, as standing on the verge of the grave, earnestly entreat that we should consider whether it is probably that we shall live useful lives, enjoy the comforts of religion in our day, or die a comfortable death, unless the fallow ground of our hearts be broken up, and we cease to sow among thorns.

I know nothing short of the Almighty power of divine grace which can produce this change. Yet God ordinarily works by the use of means; and these means be hath put into our power. We should then guard against every thing in our hearts and lives that opposes the work of God's grace, and be diligent in the use of all appointed means, with resolution to persevere therein to the end. Especially we should be careful to search the sacred scriptures, and form our notions of religion from them, and not from any man or set of men, or sect of christians whatever. We often attend more to human authors, and to our fellow creatures, though they be ignorant, than to the oracles of God. This is a great and God-dishonoring error. Thus it is that the divine life languishes in our souls, we live unprofitable lives, and prove a real injury to the cause of Christ, and a stumbling block to the unbelieving and profane. I have often thought that the professors and members of the present day, instead of being burning and shining lights to animate and enlighten all around them, are like rocks of ice that chill the air and freeze every thing which comes in contact with them.

While we consider these things, let us humble ourselves before God our Maker. But let us not despair either of our own particular religious prosperity, or of the prosperity of the cause of religion in general. -- There is a fountain opened in our world for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sins and for uncleanness. There are many great and precious and absolute promises made in God's word, to which the most needy may look, whether in a converted or in an unconverted state. Who is there among you that feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of his servant, and walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. Ho every one that thirsteth, com ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Incline your ear and come unto me, hear and your soul shall live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you even the sure mercies of David. Behold I have refined thee but not with silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. Then will I sprinkle clean waters upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you: a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and yet shall keep my judgments and do them. Be not afraid, it is I. Reach hither they finger and put it into the print of the nails, and thrust thy hand into my side, and be not faithless but believing. I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forever more, amen, and have the keys of hell and of death. Come all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Look unto me all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved, for I am God, and besides me there is none else. Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The bruised reed he will not break, and the smoking flax he will not quench, till he bring forth judgment unto victory, and the isles shall wait for his law. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool. Thy dead men shall live together, with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for my dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead."

Here father Rice concluded, saying, "When I began this little history, I designed a lengthy address on some particular subjects, but find I must conclude for want of ability to proceed. The watchman," says his amanuensis, "hath once more told us what of the night. It was indeed a last effort. Like Jacob of old, his weak state required to be strengthened when he sate upon his bed, and gave his last blessing to his children. He had been a father to the scattered churches in this country and he still had the feelings of a parent, though his tongue was deprived of its eloquence, his voice had lost its harmony, and the powers of articulation sometimes failed. While dictating these Memoirs, he had often to take rest before he could proceed, yet his mind was firm. He was an old man among a thousand. Amidst all the infirmities of nature, he was Mr. Rice still. His memory with respect to recent occurrences had failed greatly, but his understanding was the same that ever it had been. He was still cheeful, still instructive. He talked about the grave with serious composure, and with as little alarm as a man talks of his bed when undressing. His mortal clothing was worn out, and he was about to lay it off without a murmur. I could not help wishing him another suit, that he might go on preaching again, but it was an unjust wish. He had endured the storms of half a century. Why should not the relief come at last? We knew not his value while he was with us in full vigor. May we profit by his character, and example, and writings, which are now all that we have left of him.

To be continued...

I am publishing a chapter of Rev. David Rice's memoirs every Monday.

Rev. David Rice (1733-1816) was my fifth great grandfather.

Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Resigns His Pastoral Charge and Retires
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: A Little Reviving in the Midst of Bondage
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Secret Exercises
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Character of Some of the First Preachers in Kentucky
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: State of Religion in Kentucky
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: He Moves to Kentucky
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: His Comfort and Success among the Peaks of Otter
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Scene of His First Labors
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Devotes of Himself to the Ministry
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Introduction of the Gospel into Virginia
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Relief Obtained
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Further Convictions
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Birth, Parentage, and First Convictions 
Preparing for the Revolutionary War
Pray Together, Stay Together
Apostle of Kentucky

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