For half a century, ELDER REUBEN FORD was known as an active and useful minister of the gospel among the Baptists of Virginia. He commenced his labors in those times which "tried men's souls," and then he was an able and fearless defender of the truth, as it is in Jesus. He was allowed also to reach that period when the fires of persecution had ceased to burn, and to behold the Redeemer's empire extending itself throughout the whole State of Virginia. Elder Ford was born about the year 1742. No information has been obtained concerning his early history. In the twentieth year of his age, under the preaching of George Whitefield, he became convinced of his lost condition as a sinner, and fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before him in the gospel. He was not baptized until about seven years after, when, having heard Elders Read and Harriss preach, he publicly put on the Lord Jesus, and became attached to the Baptist Church. Previously, however, he had frequently addressed his fellow-men, calling on them to escape the wrath to come. After his baptism, having been ordained to the work of the ministry, he became a most active laborer, in declaring the unsearchable riches of Christ. In the County of Goochland, especially, were his efforts successful. A large number were introduced into the liberty of the children of God; and in the year 1771, the Goochland Church was constituted, with about seventy-five members. This was among the earliest Baptist churches of the State of Virginia. Elder Ford became their pastor. Such was the success of his
ministrations, that this church greatly increased in numbers and efficiency. In the year 1799, a season of refreshing, from the presence of the Lord, was enjoyed, during which one hundred and twenty were added. Another revival, confined mostly in its effects to the colored people, was realized in 1806. Thus, from time to time, did the Lord attend his efforts with tokens of approbation. In 1773, several members were, by letter, dismissed from the Goochland Church, for the purpose of forming another in an adjoining neighborhood, which was called by the name of Dover. At several periods other colonies were sent out, viz., Chicahominy, in 1776; Licking Hole, in the same year; and Hopeful, in 1801. Many ministers, also, were called out into the field, from the Goochland Church. During a great part of his ministry, Elder Ford had the charge of three or four churches; in addition to this, he frequently extended his labors into other neighborhoods. He took a leading part in all the efforts of the denomination. For more than thirty years, in succession, he was appointed clerk of the Dover Association. On various occasions he belonged to important committees, whose duty it was to present to the legislature the views of the Baptists concerning the grievances which, for a series of years, had been imposed by the establishment. Perhaps no man was more universally respected and beloved. Though his talents, as a preacher, were not brilliant, yet his simplicity, affection, and faithfulness, obtained the attention of all who heard him. The blamelessness of his life tended much to increase his usefulness, and throughout all the circle of his influence he enjoyed, in no common degree, the confidence of the people. All believed him to be a Christian, because they saw in the uniformity of his life the fruits of the Spirit. The following testimony, from Semple's History of the Virginia Baptists, is now valuable, although it may be doubted whether it is most judicious so highly to eulogize any living minister; it was written several year before Elder Ford's death. "Mr. Ford is now about sixty-eight years of age, and is a venerable man indeed. Few men ever deceived less by their physiognomy than Elder Ford. No man sees him who does not view him with reverence at his first appearance, and no man ever
was dissappointed in him. Grave, without the least moroseness; cheerful, without a symptom of levity; modest, gentle, and affectionate in his manners, yet firm in his purposes; he has everything, out of the pulpit, which might serve as a model of a gospel minister; his life is truly spotless; his talents are of the useful kind; in his doctrine he is somewhat tinctured with Arminianism." A very strong attachment to the subject of this memoir was cherished by the churches over which he presided. It could not be otherwise. As their bishop, he manifested peculiar tenderness and concern for their spiritual prosperity. He was not satisfied, unless their fruitfulness abounded. "Purity, in principles and practice, (he at one time remarks,) renders a church amiable in the sight of God, and comely in the sight of the world; thereby is God glorified, and by this heavenly light are sinners brought over and made to embrace the holy gospel of the blessed Jesus. As sound principles and a wholesome discipline reflect honor upon the holy author of our religion, they have also a tendency to promote the peace of the churches." Respecting the duty of the pastor and deacon, he thus speaks: "A gospel church, suitably organized, will have its minister and deacons. There are relative duties these owe to each other, which are too much neglected. It is the minister's duty diligently to preach the word, administer the ordinances of Christ, to take care of, watch over, and feed the flock of God. The deacon's duty is to serve the church in temporal matters, providing the elements for the Lord's table, and to stir up the members of the church to their duty, in making contribution for all necessary expenses, particularly for the relief of the poor members and the support of their minister." Some years previous to the death of this venerable servant of the Redeemer, considerable efforts were made by the Baptists to spread among the heathen the unsearchable riches of Christ. To some extent, these efforts were opposed by him. But their results excited his surprise, and for several months before he left this world he professed to be thoroughly convinced of their propriety. A worthy deacon of one of his churches, now living, has frequently heard him express his deep regret at the unfounded prejudices he
indulged against the missionary cause. He even went so far as to say, that he believed the Lord had afflicted him on account of the opposition he had manifested. For many months he was confined to his house most of the time. The infirmities of age continuing to increase, he was at length unable to ride, as usual, to the house of God. He would then frequently prevail on his friends to take him thither, and, supported in the pulpit by his brethren, he would, to the extent of his ability, exhort the church to continue in well-doing. Thus he closed his life.
[James B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1859. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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