Monday, March 20, 2017

Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Some of His Death Bed Exercises

Continued from the Rev. David Rice: The Part He Took in National and State Affairs

This is from Chapter XVI 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.

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." -- Paul

During the last three years of father Rice's life, he was able to preach but very little. He had no complaints but the weakness arising from a regular decay of nature, until about the beginning of the year 1815; when he had a slight apoplectic stroke, which confined him chiefly to his room the remainder of his day. On the day of his arrival to the age of fourscore, he preached, at his own house, his last sermon, on Psalms xc. 12: So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. The natural division of his subject, embracing so correctly the matter contained in the test -- the judicious collection of proofs -- the copious illustrations of each proposition -- and the practical improvement of the subject, appeared to be the work of a younger* and more active mind; and all joined to convince that his outward man only had failed.

About the first of the February preceding his death a difficulty of breathing, occasioned by a callous state of the Diaphragm, aided by Hydro-Thorax, gradually accumulating, made him sensible that his end was at hand, and also rendered that end extremely painful. Early in May he was attacked with something like Influenza, accompanied with considerable fever and acute pain; which, added to the difficulty of breathing, confined him to his chair for nearly a week, without sleep; except what, as soon as commenced, was interrupted by distressing Incubus.

After this period he could occasionally take some sleep, but seldom more than and hour at a time; but the difficulty of breathing continued to increase till a constant act of volition was required to enable the organs of respiration to perform their functions at all. Bowed down with age, a general Hydropic Diathesis, and extreme debility, this distressing symptom, though not so painful, became more and more frequent, until a day or two he lay calm and speechless to his last.

During this period, from the first of February to his last moments, he had death in daily expectation, and viewed it with composure, and with patience waited till his change should come. The divine manifestations to him were not of the most lively kind, such as he had at times enjoyed through life, but a calm, uninterrupted view of the complete plan of redemption proposed in the gospel, and his interest in the atoning blood and righteousness of Christ, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. 1 Cor. i. 30. Having through life defended the superiority of the work of God to feelings, frames, and exercises of an ordinary or extraordinary kind; so in death he derived his chief consolation from the same rich fountain. The precious promises he would often repeat with feeling emphasis, saying, that the precious book abounds in them if we only had faith to appropriate them, accompanied with pertinent and connect comments upon them.

The glory of God is the salvation of sinners had ever been in him "the ruling passion," and this was eminently "strong in death." His greatest fear was, that he should dishonor the cause of Christ by a fretted, impatient temper, which he would remark was too apt to be indulged by old age even in health. In his most painful moments he would often say, when writhing in anguish, "shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and not evil: my life has been crowned with mercies -- I have had a good constitution, capable of relishing the bounties of heaven -- have enjoyed plenty -- have been blessed with an agreeable companion, long preserved to me -- I have a numerous family of children, in whom I have much comfort -- when I was a boy God took me into covenant with himself, and I took him to be my God, and why should I murmur now when he is chastising me for my sin. If the blessed Jesus, who had no sin of his own, bore the wrath of his heavenly Father for a world of sinners, how willingly ought I to endure all the pain I suffer if my dying example might be but the means of the salvation of one soul." When expressing his jealousy of himself on this head, he would frequently accommodate the petition of the Savior to his heavenly Father, in the near prospect of his suffering: "Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee -- Father, glorify thy unworthy servant, that thy unworthy servant may also glorify thee." When using this language, he did not, he said, mean a glorious exaltation in heaven, but the same as when he spake of the glory of God, not the innate glory of Jehovah, but the declarative glory of God among mankind; which we ought to promote by living in the christian temper, walking as Christ walked, living soberly, righteously, and Godly, in this present world.

He lamented his incapacity for conversation, and seemed disposed to reflect on himself for not having improved his time with more diligence while he had strength for usefulness.

Ever fond of society, but especially that of his brothers in the ministry, he manifested an increasing anxiety to have frequent interviews with them, and at every such interview he would dwell principally on the necessity of ministerial diligence and zeal. This was not done as if flowing from passions recently harrowed up by the alarms of approaching death, but in a firm and rational way, like a man getting a clearer view of the object the nearer he approached it. He endeavored much to impress the minds of his brethren with just ideas of the unpromising state of religion and morals in our country -- of the worth of souls -- the comparative littleness of the world -- its profits, and its honors, and its pleasures -- the importance of family religion, and family instruction, to both civil and religious society -- that without a reformation in these things the American government will degenerate into anarchy and consequent despotism; and the civil, and perhaps the religious liberty of the nation be lost in the ruins of the republic.

Good will to man appeared to be the fountain from whence all his conversation flowed: not like a torrent foaming by the inundation of a sudden shower, but as an equal stream from some never-failing spring; according to the promise, it shall be in him a well of water springing up unto life eternal.

His efforts were not confined to the ministry. He improved every opportunity during the period of his confinement, to urge upon all who visited him the excellency, the importance, and the necessity of true religion, and the danger of neglecting it. All his conversation was, as ever, aimed at the great object of benefiting mankind. When light-minded persons would enter his room, he would even condescend to some little humorous detail, that he might make his company agreeable to them, and put them in a good humor to receive some useful lesson which he had in view to give them -- to teach them something important -- something calculated to promote their present and future happiness. At one time a servant came into his room while he was in a hard struggle: calling him by name, he said, "This is hard work: you had better even now be engaged to obtain a preparation for such a period, or it may go much harder with you. You will find when you come to die, that to struggle with death will be as much as you can bear; with the load of all your crimes upon you un-repented of, unforgiven, you will find this is no time to secure your soul's salvation. Don't put it off any longer."

The low estate of Zion in our country -- the prevalence of vice, ignorance, bigotry, superstition, enthusiasm, error and schism, for years before his death, cost him many painful hours. He was frequently heard to express it as his opinion, that without a miracle of divine grace, the next generation would become heathens or infidels -- that he hardly ever met with a company of young persons, but it excited a kind of gloom on his state of the church, when the present generation was gone. He always considered them as the hope of the church; therefore; therefore, in his addresses to youth, he was ever pathetically tender and affectionate. He had the heart of a father, -- he wept over them in life and in death, and his last advice to them was, to weep for themselves. This state of mind was so impressive in his last illness, that for many months before he left us, that of a mourner appeared to be a leading feature in his in his character. Often, when reflecting upon the deplorable condition of the youth among us, he felt an ardent desire to have them collected around him, that he might once more weep over them, and warn them of the danger which awaited them. When about to take anything agreeably to the doctor's direction, to mitigate his pain, he would be apt to observe that the best cordial for him would be to hear of the prosperity of Zion -- that his careless neighbors were attending to the one thing needful -- if it would not remove, it would enable him to bear his burden. He often spake of his own deficiencies in the most humbling terms: not so much his want of faithfulness in publicly preaching the word, as his not improving every opportunity in families and with individuals to promote their spiritual interests, and in laboring to do good to the souls of his fellow creatures by recommending the religion of Jesus. He was afraid his brethren in the ministry were criminal in the same way; and would lament that private christians did not appear to consider it their duty, by every prudent method in their private capacity, to recommend religion; and in that way to be preaching the gospel. He deeply lamented the folly and madness of multitudes in paying no regard to the authority and commands of God, and neglecting the only way of salvation. He would sometimes observe, "that as he saw a propriety in it, so he felt an inclination to go mourning to his grave."

This was a common theme with him, and he was apt to close his observations in the words of the prophet, "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." This he would express with emphatic fervor. Having imbibed much of the spirit of his divine master, at a time when it appeared natural that every other thought should be swallowed up in his own sufferings, like Him, they did not make him forget the church, his country, or his fellow creatures through the world, but appeared to quicken his ardor for the prosperity of the one and the happiness of the other.

His anxiety for the promotion of religion, and his seeing or hearing of little or nothing that appeared favorable, at least in this country, gave a coloring to the state of his mind, while the uncommonly distressing nature of his disorder made him fond of repeating and commenting on such passages as these: -- "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall not quench" -- "Though he slay me, het will I trust in him," etc.

As in all his sufferings his own bodily pain was less distressing than the fear that he might dishonor God and religion by manifesting an unbecoming temper; so, to obviate the effects of such example, frequently would he tell his family and his neighbors that he had great jealousies of himself on this head, and that if, in his long affliction, he should become peevish, he wished them to take notice that he entered his solemn protest against himself for it. When he would be reminded with how much patience and firmness he suffered, he would observe, "You know nothing about me, I know I shall fail if God withdraw the kind supports of his grace from me." Speaking to his much esteemed friend, the Rev. Mr. Abell, he said, "Tell my friends, in their prayers for me, I wish this to be their petition, -- that I may not dishonor God before I die." Patience and resignation were the subjects of his prayers; his prayers were answered -- he never to the last moment discovered that weakness of mind which utters the impatient sigh.

So far from being in a terror at approaching death, he had full command of all his reasoning powers, like a man about to die in perfect health, with all his senses about him. He frequently directed his family to give him water often, should he become speechless, (which took place about two days and a half before his death) because many, he believed, often suffered greatly for water after they became incapable of calling for it. In attending to this direction, which was done about every ten minutes when asked if he would receive it, he generally intimated his assent.

He meditated with much pleasure on the dealings of God with him in his youth, in bringing him to an early knowledge of the gospel plan of salvation through a divine Redeemer; particularly on the exercise of covenanting with God, in which exercise he was engaged during the space of about two weeks not long after he received the first manifestation of God's love to his soul. But he said, he feared that he fed too much on past experiences. His present exercises, however, were often very comfortable. On one of his wearisome nights, sitting in his chair, and not able to hold up his head without having it held up for him, "I have been sitting here," said he, "hanging down my head, and meditating upon these words: When he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; and I trust I was brought to his banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." He dwelt much on the faithfulness of God. "He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure," was the theme of his soul. He would often add, "This is all my salvation and all my desire." -- About the last words he was heard to utter were, "O when shall I be free from sin and sorrow." And on the 18th day of June, 1816, and in the 83rd year of his age, the weary wheels of life stood still at last.

The foregoing gives some imperfect account of the last days of this ancient and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, and of the exercises of his mind at a time when he had a clear, calm, and deliberate expectation every day of receiving the summons to appear before his Creator. The relation is made from memory after his departure, but care has been taken to guard against any incorrect statement; of several who were with him great part of the time embraced in this narration, none have discovered any inaccuracies. It was very desirable to preserve a more detailed account, by committing to writing his observations and remarks as they occurred. Something of this kind was attempted -- but, his great distress requiring so interruptedly the attention of all about him, it was found it would be difficult, perhaps impracticable, to have affected it.

Could this have been done, such extracts might have been made as would have shown to the world an instance of age, under an enormous weight of distress, rising, by the supports of divine grace, superior to its infirmities and pains. It would be seen how precious Jesus is to those who put their trust in him -- it would be seen how rich a treasure the divine word is to those who thence deduce the rules of their life, and all their hopes of comfort in time, of support in death, and of peace and joy in eternity -- it would have seen that in his most distressing moments he often almost forgot his pains while repeating over the precious promises of God's word, and commenting upon them with a perspicuity, diffusiveness and pertinency, which was surprising to all who viewed his age, his weakness, and his sufferings -- that this exercise appeared to afford more relief than any thing else -- it would be seen that "the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" -- it would be seen that there is a reality in religion which is even tangible -- in fine, it would be seen why he esteemed the reasons urged in his letters on the evidences of Christianity, as more convincing than all the arguments of the school-men. It was an every way interesting scene to those who witnessed it, and must have dissipated every skeptical doubt in the mind of any who would draw near and take a close view of it.

"He is dead -- he is departed." Shall we lament his death? Shall we weep over his urn? Shall not our tears at the same time be mingled with a mournful pleasure, that his warfare is accomplished -- that he is free from sin and sorrow -- that he is now in the full enjoyment of all the blessings of the everlasting covenant which were in reversion for him?

His was a long life of painful disinterested devotedness to the service of his generation. He was without contemporaries; and remarked, when he heard of the death of the Rev. Mr. Sutton, whom he much respected, that he was now left without a contemporary, but that it made not much difference, for he should soon follow, and did.**

In his official addresses he was tender, affectionate, and solemn. Having devoted himself to the service of the sanctuary, his was not a life of idleness. He ever considered that his duty as a preacher of the gospel was not confined to the pulpit -- it was a maxim with him, that preaching, in ordinary cases, was not likely to be blessed, unless the hearer had been prepared by a previous course of catechetical instructions. To this duty he set himself as often as circumstances and the state of society would permit. It was his custom before, and some years after he removed to Kentucky, to divide his church into two catechetical districts, for the convenience of collecting the children, and to attend each at stated times when not interrupted by other duties.

These pious labors were not confined to his own immediate charge, but were frequently extended to vacant churches, as often as he could avail himself of a suitable person to act as catechist under his superintendence; and in such cases he recommended, as the best preservative against disputation with any of the catechumens, to close the exercises of the day with a serious address, suited to the occasion, and by prayer.

The happy effects of this course he witnessed in the great improvement in religious knowledge, and an increased attention to public ordinance; and the neglect of it in this country he very much regretted. It was a common remark with him, "The people are starving the ministers, and the ministers are starving the people for it."

In dealing with those under distress of soul, the way in which he had himself been brought eminently qualified him -- and it was a duty which he always performed with sympathetic delight.

In public he was faithful, in private he was exemplary. In his commerce with mankind he was upright -- in his domestic circle he moved with majestic evenness; perhaps the oldest of children never saw him manifest irritation or passion in a single instance.

He was a tender, cordial, kind husband -- an affectionate father, a humane master. He knew well how to order his house -- in administering religious instruction to his household, his manner was calculated to impress the mind with the idea that the truths taught bore a relation to eternity. He knew how to command obedience without austerity. Never under the influence of a blind partiality, he was quick to discern the foibles of his own, and with steady hand corrected them.

In his neighborhood he was always kind and obliging. His conversation was seasoned with the precepts of wisdom. In all his deportment he displayed the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.

Much of his time was spent in prayer; he delighted to draw near to his heavenly Father, and hold converse with his God and Redeemer -- and in his prayers he always bore the church on his heart. Kentucky! many tears has he shed for you and your children.

The following is extracted from a letter of friendship of one of his brothers in the ministry.

"It is with pleasure I embrace the opportunity now presented to communicate to you my impressions and reflections on visiting and viewing alone the grave of our reverend and dear father. I was struck with the simplicity and decency of the place, which seemed rather formed to excite serious pleasure than melancholy. The western breeze gave an undulatory motion to the pendent branches of the weeping willow which shaded the memorable spot that gives repose to that heart which has felt more for the distressed -- that head which has thought and studied more for the purpose of benefitting his countrymen -- those limbs which have been longer and more constantly employed to promote these ends, than probably any other grave in America contains.

The paled enclosure was large enough to contain the happy pair who had become companions again after nine years separation. Here, said I, he has found his long lost Maria at last -- here they lie in the same position in which they stood at the altar when they first pledged their vows to each other; they are now joined to be parted no more forever -- and together shall they rise triumphant at the general doom, to be joined in more perfect union.

A little gate gave admittance to the solitary visitant, while a willow at each southern corner afforded him a shade. The rich carpeting of blue grass which covered the surrounding glebe, seemed to add to the tranquil appearance of the place. The peaceful forest at respectful distance on one side, and a row of fruit trees at equal distance on the other, seemed to secure this venerable repository from the approach of all idle curiosity. O what, like the manifestation of affection to its corresponding object, so calculated to warm the heart and enliven the pleasing sensations of fancy. I need not tell you how the christian doctrine of future glory charmed me, when I viewed it as the place of rest from so many years of labor, and the reward of so many years of suffering. I have seldom been so fully pleased with death. O let us try to emulate those whose graves we view with such delight, and whose memory shall be blessed forever."

*He preached from the same passage, Jan. 1st, 1765, and regretted, after preaching his last sermon, that he had not recollected his having notes on the same passage.

** At his birth the population of this country was half a million, at his death it was eight million.

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: The Part He Took in National and State Affairs
Memoirs of Rev. David Rice: Last Years of His Life
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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