The name, Luther Rice, should be held in high esteem among missionary-minded Baptists. Appropriately, engraved over his burial place are the words, “Perhaps no American has done more for the great missionary enterprise.” Sadly that name has been sullied, unjustly in my estimation, as well. Rice became associated with Columbian College which disappeared because of fiscal mismanagement.
As a young man, Luther Rice was an associate of Adoniram Judson, with plans to spend his life in the evangelism of the people of India. Famously, on the long trip from New England to India, both the Judsons and Rice, independently, became convinced that their Protestant, pedobaptist, opinions of baptism were unscriptural. When they arrived in India they presented themselves to William Carey, confessing that they had become Baptists by conviction. This news delighted Carey, but they knew that it would not be well received back home. So it was decided that the Judsons would remain in the East, while Luther Rice would return to America to raise support from among the Baptists. With every intention of rejoining the mission, Rice applied himself to raising awareness and support for missions, but he never returned to the field.
For the next quarter of a century Rice criss-crossed America, preaching Christ and missions. In 1818 he wrote to William Staughton, pastor of the leading Baptist Church in Philadelphia that he had traveled 9,359 miles that year. On one day he rode 93 miles to make an appointment. He raised thousands of dollars for missions and education in a day when thousands of dollars were rare. Personally, all he owned was a horse, a sulky, his Bible and his clothes.
I have read that Rice’s favorite hymn was Isaac Watt’s When I Can Read my Title Clear- “When I can read my title clear; To mansions in the skies, I’ll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes.” Perhaps he was singing that hymn to himself when he passed into the Lord’s presence on this day in 1836.