John Moran Rice
John M. Rice
John Moran Rice was born in Warren, Bradley County, Arkansas on February seven, 1876 of Baptist parents. The original home was a log house with the cracks between the logs filled with mud. He had eight brothers and seven sisters. His father was a farmer, trapper, woodsman, fisherman, etc. John M. found his first work on the farm, often splitting rails and working in a sawmill. He early learned to love the out doors and enjoyed hunting and fishing to the endof his life. He joined the Baptist church when he was fourteen years of age, but "backslid". When seventeen he "got religion" at a Methodist revival. As Sister C.R. Nichol said: "a rather strange place to get the variety of religion that will not permit you to fall from grace."
His community did not offer many educational opportunities in his youth, but he did take advantage of what was there, including singing schools, some of which were taught by some of the greatest vocal music teachers of the era. He had a keen and inquiring mind and became well informed in a wide range of interests, with the Bible being his major interest. He attended Abilene Christian College for two years following his marriage. In her work, Gospel Preachers Who Blazed The Trail, Sister C.R. Nichol said of him: "For eight years he was a teacher of vocal music, in which work he had few superiors." She continued: " ...is one of the young men in the evangelistic work that will do much good for the cause of Christ." (He had then been preaching less than five years.) "He has strong convictions and is ever ready to present the truth with much simplicity. Most of his work has been in Texas, where he is rapidly making himself felt as an evangelist." Indeed, he did "make himself felt."
In early life he moved to Western Oklahoma where he continued his music teaching. Here he became more seriously interested in the Bible and began a serious study of it. Soon he realized that he was not in the church one reads of there. In 1904 he was baptized into Christ by L.A. Utley at Ural, Oklahoma. (Southeast of Elk City, near the present Taylor church.) In June 1905 he went to Taylor County, Texas, where he met and married Miss Hettie Williams. He began preaching at Merkel, Texas in 1907. He preached to the end of life, and this work took him into New Mexico, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and much of Texas. He was able to reach some of his relatives in Arkansas, as well as his brother, Ira Y. Sr., who had joined him in the music work at Elk City before he went to Texas. He worked with the Houston Heights church in Houston, in Stamford, but most of his work was in gospel meetings. His son, Marion P., who now lives in Abilene, says that for many years his home life was limited to about six weeks per year. He was the father of three children, Edwin A., now of Athens, Texas; Delmon D. who was lost in World War II; and Marion P. Like others of his time he was often called upon to meet the advocates of error in debate, and he did so very effectively. I remember attending one of his debates when I was still a child. It was held at Dill City, Oklahoma, near where we lived. He was debating a Baptist preacher, a Mr. Crawford, I believe was his name. Of course "falling from grace" was one of the questions. Brother Rice pressed his opponent into saying that he, Rice, would be saved because he was once a Baptist, even though he was now teaching error and leading others astray. I remember the "big folks" talking about this admission, and how pleased they were with his work in the debate. He held a number of meetings at Rocky and Sentinel where I grew up, and I remember that he was highly regarded as one of our very best preachers. In fact, it was in one of those meetings that I first began to seriously think about obeying the gospel.
Brother Rice was a large man being six feet and two inches tall and weighing about two hundred and twenty pounds. From his picture one can see that he was a very handsome man. He had a fine bass voice with lots of volume and loved to sing and be with people. Whatever he did, he did heartily, says Marion, even to spanking the children. He loved his home and only the Lord knows the deep sacrifice he made to be away so much in his preaching. (As I've often said, only those who have made this sacrifice can understand what it means.) Throughout his life he wrote often to his children. He often introduced himself as John M. Rice, of Arkansas.
In November, 1938 while in a meeting at Waxahachie, Texas, he was stricken with pneumonia and blood poisoning. Within a few days he was done at the comparatively early age of sixty two. As I have prepared these articles on various preachers, mostly from information the family sent me, I have been impressed with the great number of people who have expressed thanks for having been reared in the home of a gospel preacher. (A recent letter from Joe Crumley, Jr. in this vein was a special tribute to his godly parents.) Marion says: "Dad had some rough times. Many of his meetings were paid for in cured meats, canned goods, etc. Money was often hard to get, but the good Lord always saw to it that there was enough. When I think of my parents, I always thank God for the blessing of such wonderful parents. My parents loved God and were loved by Him and every human being they came in contact with. I am proud to be the son of John M. and Hettie J. Rice." How wonderful for a son to be able to make such a statement! It was the diligent work of such men as John M. Rice that built The Church we know and enjoy today. Their faith "that there would always be enough" enabled them to continue in the face of bitter opposition and desperate poverty. Without them, those of us who have come after, would not have had the good buildings, the good support, and the good congregations we have enjoyed. Let me suggest to preachers who read this that when you are inclined to complain because everything is not to your liking, that you reflect on the sacrifices made by these men, sacrifices you have probably never been called upon to make. And if you don't know enough to appreciate your situation, order a copy of H. Leo Boles Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers from the Gospel Advocate and read about some of the "giants" who preceded you. How would you get along on "a side of bacon" and a few jars of corn for a meeting? And it was probably a three Sunday meeting. Right after that meeting season, you could pick cotton to be able to buy a train ticket home. Maybe your family had eaten regularly while you were away! Truly, of such men the world was not worthy! John M. Rice is gone, but he "being dead, yet speaketh" and will "speak" to the end. May God bless his memory and his children, along with that of other such men. His Hettie continued until October, 1951. Their bodies sleep at Abilene, Texas.
-Loyd L. Smith, Gospel Preachers Of Yesteryear, pages 290-292 (Originally published in 1976)
Directions To The Graves Of John M. & Hettie Rice
J.M. and Hettie Rice are buried in the old Cedar Hill Cemetery in north Abilene, Texas. Take I-20 to Texas Exit 290 and head south toward Abilene on Jake Roberts Fwy. Almost immediately you will turn right on E. North 10th St. Go about a mile and the cemetery will be on the right and left. Enter on the right into the Cedar Hill Cemetery. After entering the cemetery. Take a right and go to the second drive to the left. Stop the car and go in to your right into the section near the main road you entered from. The grave is even with the second drive, almost a straight shot from the drive toward the 10th St. The grave is facing east.
or D.d. 32.460167, -99.723250
Section Cedar Hill Block 112 Lot 2 Space 8
Nobly He Fell Serving His County
(Son of John M. & Hettie Jane Rice)
Minister: John M. 1876-1938
His Wife: Hettie Jane - 1887-1951
Having Finished Life's Duty, They Now Sweetly Rest