"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith . . ."
(II Timothy 4:6-7)
Several years ago, a man of God I know observed in my presence that, "when John R. Rice died, everybody got loose!" It was an interesting comment from one who appreciated this good man. Just last year a preacher who uses his influence to promote a kind of theology that discourages faith for revival told me in so many words that the passing of Dr. Rice in 1980 opened the door for more Calvinistic fundamentalists to speak their mind without fear. This was another interesting comment, but from one with less appreciation for Rice. I think that the homegoing of this dear man was an important event for the fundamentalist movement.
Probably the most significant aspect of Dr. Rice’s ministry was his teaching, both from the pulpit and in print. The areas of Bible doctrine for which he is especially remembered as a teacher are prayer, the family, evangelism, and the Holy Spirit. Since he died, the various wings and camps of the fundamentalist movement have felt the loss, especially in regard to the truth of Spirit fullness. The enduement of power from on high for Christian life and service was embraced and sought by many under John Rice’s influence. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was the fuel that fed the flames of evangelism among the fundamentalists that followed this man and his writings. Since he died, things have changed.
The Biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit always had a prominent place in the preaching of American fundamentalists. Historian Joel Carpenter says that the teaching of "the life of faith" through the "fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power" was in the early days a "school of thought and style of piety that had a profound effect on the fundamentalist character."1 Revivals in the nineteenth century formed the basis of the fundamentalist movement in the twentieth century, and these revivals abounded with teaching about the ministry of the Spirit. History tells us that the concept of enduement of power by the Holy Spirit was championed among early fundamentalists by such leaders as Charles Trumbull of the Sunday School Times and R.A. Torrey of Moody Bible Institute. When Torrey died in 1928 and Trumbull died in 1941, this concept continued to be taught in several revival and "deeper life" movements. However, after World War II, most of the men that led these movements were drawn from separatist fundamentalism into what came to be known as "the new evangelicalism." The most important fundamentalist that opposed the neo-evangelical defection but continued to emphasize the need for the Spirit’s power in the Christian life and witness was John R. Rice.
After the War, Rice sponsored a number of "Conferences on Evangelism" in the name of his periodical the Sword of the Lord. One theme in each of these nationally recognized meetings was the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Rice rejected the strange fire of Pentecostalism and the perfectionism of the Holiness movement, but taught that Christians ought to seek and trust God for the empowering of His Spirit in their calling as witnesses for Christ (Acts 1:8). Evangelist Hyman Appelman in a 1946 Conference said that this "experience is for you and me just as definitely as it was for Paul."2 Robert Wells, speaking in another such meeting, said that there are "inevitable results that accompany the Spirit-filled life."3 Rice himself spoke often and wrote much about the power of the Spirit in the Christian’s life. His book, The Power of Pentecost, is a collection of articles he wrote on the subject. Until his death, Dr. Rice kept these truths before fundamentalists, and challenged many thousands to aggressive evangelism with the enabling of God’s Spirit. Unfortunately, after that time this needed emphasis waned.
Not that his co-workers and successors at The Sword dropped the subject, for they did not. His paper still stands for "revival and soul winning" in the power of the Spirit. But the prominence of this important doctrine has definitely faded at fundamentalist schools and meetings since dear Dr. Rice went Home. And it is obvious that a renewed interest in the truth about the Third Person of the Trinity is needed. The lack of divine energy in fundamentalist efforts seems to match the diminished knowledge of this truth.
Every generation of believers in Christ is responsible to pass truth on to the next generation. That is clearly what Paul taught in his Second Epistle to Timothy.
". . . the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."
(II Timothy 2:2)
Paul lived out this truth when he passed the truth to Timothy, who would teach it after the Apostle’s death, and pass it on to a third generation. Every Christian has a duty both to the former and the following generation to ensure the continuation of sound doctrine. That is why we must fight a good fight, finish our course, and keep the faith. That is what Dr. Rice did with the doctrine of the fullness of the Spirit. He learned it (so to speak) from the revivalists of the previous era and taught it to the fundamentalists of his day. But now we must consider if this precious truth has been neglected by those who received instruction from John Rice and his co-laborers. We cannot bring Dr. Rice back, but surely we ought to bring back an emphasis on the Holy Spirit to the fundamentalist movement.
1Carpenter, Joel, Revive Us Again, Oxford University Press (New York), 1997, p. 80
2Appelman, Hyman, "Back to the Holy Spirit for Power," Sword of the Lord, October 25, 1946.
3Wells, Robert J., "Be Filled With the Spirit," Sword of the Lord, May 31, 1946.
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