Evangelist John R. Rice (1895-1980) specialized as a public speaker and preacher of the Gospel. However, he was also quite an apt expositor of God’s word. Among some of the conservative Baptist churches in the Bible Belt, as you get closer towards the “buckle” you will often hear Rice’s name mentioned more frequently. It is probably not a bad idea for each serious, Bible-believing Christian to have a book or two of his hanging around.
Like many 20th century Baptists, Rice was deeply influenced by that great evangelical cleansing tool known as “The Scofield Reference Bible”–the book which turned “modernism” on its ears, sanitizing the pulpits as effectively as a stream of Lysol. But while he agreed with Scofield on many issues, Rice was an independent thinker (not a “free thinker”) who interpreted the Scriptures according to his best understanding. Thus, he often broke with conventional Dispensational norms by claiming that Adam and the Old Testament saints were part of the church; that there is only “one Gospel;” and that certain New Testament prophecies may have been fulfilled, in a typical sense, in AD70.
This latter trend was nothing new among Baptists. John Broadus (1827-1895), in his excellent commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, utilized a very preteristic take on the Olivet Discourse; as did many others prior to the rise of that Premillennialism made popular by the Niagara Bible Conferences (1876-1897) and preserved as a memorial for all time in the Scofield Bible.
But Rice had a knack for getting his point across better. Whereas writers like Broadus could be overly verbose (that’s scholarship in general), Rice would get to the “nitty gritty” in short style. And they were no empty words, neither. Rice’s commentary on Matthew, entitled “The King of the Jews” (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword Of The Lord, 1955) is an excellent introductory study to that Gospel, and contains some choice gems of interpretive wisdom which I have not seen in any other commentary.
Case in point: On page 252 of the aforesaid book, Rice solved a heady theological controversy regarding Matthew 16:28 in just a couple of sentences, when he wrote:
“Did some of the disciples standing there see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom before their death? Not literally but symbolically they did. The following chapter tells how. They saw Him transfigured before them and in His glory just as He will be at His second coming.”
In destroying one or two libraries with that pithy explanation, Rice lays it out in the briefest possible way. Of course he is correct. The Transfiguration was a symbolic representation of Christ’s second advent, and is exactly how He will appear, or be manifested, when He returns the second time. The emphasis of that word “Until” obviously rests upon the privilege of witnessing the manifestation, rather than on the time period that would elapse between the promise and its fulfillment. It is as if Christ were saying: “Considering that all of you must die before my return, some will not taste of death until they see a full manifestation of my glory.” It couldn’t get any simpler than that.
Not to say that all, or even most Bible students, will accept this explanation. There are all kinds of thorns and hedges that will be found by interpreters; some of them formidable ones. But at this point, does it really matter? To do a really good job and be efficient at his task, the farmer has to get out and plough. Not talk about it. And he must plough straight paths. I’ve never seen him cut a crooked line yet. And I’ve never seen–except in times of drought–his crops fail. I reckon that thus it shall always be.
Sursum corda: Sometimes we forget, in all of our dialectic subtlety, that the Bible is a book of simple truths, written for the benefit of those who can humble their hearts and become little children, that they may inherit the kingdom of heaven. Granted, it isn’t always easy. It may take effort, it may require self effacement. But re-reading John R. Rice just made me realize that the truth is often.. well, standing in the doorway. Thank you, Brother Rice, for making the Gospel clear for us.