“It was almost evening when finally we found the long-sought churchyard. In a short time, the last rays of daylight would flee from the western skies, but we felt well rewarded as we stood and gazed upon the final resting place of the body of Luther Rice. Years have passed since the man of God was buried there. Time has begun the process of eroding the epitaph incised upon the over of the vault. In part, the engraving reads, “Perhaps no American has done more for the great missionary enterprise.” It is thought the first American Foreign Mission, on which he went to India, associated with Judson and others, originated with him. In talking with Dr. J.C. Ready, physician and minister, he said he wished to be buried in The Pine Pleasant churchyard, the most peaceful spot on earth.* How he loved to travel amidst the warmth of the Separate Baptists in the Southland. He enjoyed their simplicity of worship and warmth of heart.
His coronation had come on a golden autumn day—September 25, 1836. His traveling in behalf of missions and his beloved college was about over. He would soon experience the reality of his favorite hymn,
When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear
And wipe my weeping eyes.
He would awaken in the presence of his blessed Lord. But what a life of sacrifice had been his! A terrible turmoil had raged in his mind. He was torn between two amazing opportunities. Adoniram and Ann Judson urged him to return to Burma and assist them. His heart was there, but American pastors begged him to remain stateside and assist in organizing Baptist missions. After a long struggle, he had determined God’s will, but the correspondence between Mr. Rice and the Judson’s reveal a tenderness of heart that must have caused him much emotional agitation. Through his travels, Luther Rice soon recognized the need for a trained ministry, and his heart was also large enough to envision a college to train preachers.
All of this came to mind as we stood in the twilight at this graveside. I thought too of the fact that he wore himself out in his service of the King. Luther Rice was an outstanding pulpiteer. Someone has described him as follows: “Above the ordinary height, robust, perfectly erect, of commanding presence, making a fine appearance in the pulpit, and having also the gift and temperament of a public speaker with talents of the very first order, sprightliness, pathos, and a vigorous, natural eloquence, always exceedingly felicitous and impressive, sometimes overpowering, he was often called ’the orator,’ and as his pulpit efforts were highly attractive, he was ranked as one of the most interesting and effective speakers in the land.”* Cummins, This Day in Baptist History