May 6: John Holt Rice [1777-1831]

Remembering a Great Educator

Why, or how, would a teacher so impress himself upon his students as to be so fondly remembered even decades later? Our post today hints at some of the clues:

Catching up on our calendar, it was just yesterday, May 5th, in 1885 that a Memorial Tablet was unveiled in commemoration of the life and ministry of the Rev. John Holt Rice, D.D. Addresses at the unveiling and dedication of the plaque were delivered in the chapel of the Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, by the Rev. Benjamin Mosby Smith, D.D. and by the Rev. Theodorick Pryor, D.D.

“The day was auspicious and at the appointed hour a large and deeply-interested audience had assembled to attend upon the exercises of the occasion. . . After prayer by the Rev. Dr. j.J. Bullock, and a hymn of praise, the Rev. Dr. Smith withdrew the curtain that veiled the mural tablet, and exposed to the view of the expectant audience the chaste memorial to Rev. Dr. Rice. Professor Smith then gave a sketch of the life of Dr. Rice—specially of his earlier years and of his connection with the Seminary.”

Neither man spoke for very long on this occasion. As mentioned above, Rev. Benjamin Smith gave a more biographical address, while Dr. Pryor spoke on the “Character and Services” of Rev. Rice, “spoken with reverence and fervor.” After prayer by the Rev. Dr. William Brown, the memorable services were closed with the benediction, pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Bullock, and the audience slowly dispersed.”

Early on in Dr. Pryor’s remarks, he provides some of the fullest answer to our opening question:

“My best opportunity for becoming thoroughly acquainted with Dr. Rice was enjoyed when, as a student of the Seminary, I became a member of his family. His table talk and familiar conversations were full of instruction. Though sick and largely confined to his chamber, he still carried on the instructions of his classes. His sofa was literally covered with books. I remember finding him on one occasion sitting on that sofa reading Calvin’s Institutes in the original. He remarked, “Calvin wrote as pure Latin as Cicero.”

“His moral character was without blemish or imputation; his heart was one of large and tender benevolence. He was free from jealousy and envy. I cannot recall a single remark in disparagement of any of his brethren. The text of the sermon he preached as Moderator of the Assembly,—“Speaking the truth in love,”—is a just index of his character. He was ever firm in maintenance of the truth, but he spoke it in love.
“In my opinion, a characteristic feature of his mental constitution was the faculty of intense and persistent application, and a power of concentration of thought almost to the burning point. Dr. Rice deemed any matter worthy of attention, worthy of his whole attention; therefore, in conversation or debate, there was a steadfastness of gaze, as though he would look the man through and through. He shrunk from no difficulty of investigation. I heard him remark that no man would ever accomplish much who was not willing to grapple with the most difficult problem for the sake of the pleasure arising from its solution.

Words to Live By:
From all of the above, we would conclude that it is not so much what a teacher or pastor might teach, though that is certainly important, but the memories we take away have more to do with the character of the teacher. In short, we can think of the godly character of a pastor or seminary professor as simply the proof and reality of what they are teaching—has the truth of the Scriptures so suffused their life that it is exemplified in all that they say and do?

And how are we doing in our own lives? Is the Gospel making inroads? Are we living out the truths of Scripture before the watching world? Attention to these matters is the greatest compliment we can pay to our pastors and teachers. Our Savior and Teacher deserves nothing less, than that we should be serious about living the life He has enabled us to live.


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