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I resolved to write an article on Lemuel Haynes in observation of black history month. 200 years before America saw a black president, Haynes was the black pastor of a mostly all-white church in Rutland, Vermont. He is a significant figure. Yet, he is not well known. I grew up less than one hundred miles from where he pastored and desired to learn more about him since first hearing of him three years ago.

The article I set out to write took on a life much different than the one I had intended for it. There have been recent authors who have written many good things on Haynes. I’ll link to them below, but won’t reword their content.

Sadly, much of Lemuel Haynes’ life and ministry has been obscured. As an African American in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, his influence was no small feat considering the systemic oppression and injustice continually knocking on his door. His witness and response to these forces of evil is where I want to focus my attention.

Freedom & Love

Haynes was set free from the penalty of sin at age twenty when he trusted in Jesus Christ as savior. A year later, he was set free from slavery. With his newfound freedom, he voluntarily served his country in the American Revolutionary War. After that, he voluntarily laid down his life for the American church as a pastor. Paul’s words come to mind:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).

Lemuel, as a free man, understood the gospel’s mandate to love and serve others. Though forced to serve as a young man, he joyfully served voluntarily later in his life.

He also used his freedom to seek freedom for others. His most notable abolitionist work is, “Liberty Further Extended.” But his voice as an abolitionist was not without controversy.

Sellout, Sympathizer, or Servant?

For some, Haynes might be labeled a sellout for writing about the “sin of slavery,” while serving an almost entirely white congregation as a pastor. But this is an oversimplification. While his abolitionist efforts were free from radical tactics, his savior radically enthralled his heart. He was devoted to the gospel above and beyond his devotion to abolition. As his tombstone reads:

Here lies the dust of a poor hell-deserving sinner, who ventured into eternity trusting wholly on the merits of Christ for salvation. In the full belief of the great doctrines he preached while on earth, he invites his children, and all who read this, to trust their eternal interest on the same foundation”

Without doubt, the One who left Heaven in order to seek and save lost sinners had captured Haynes’ heart. Lemuel devoted his life to the same. Jesus perfectly modeled the self-sacrificing love that lays down its life and is willing to die for its enemies.

Likewise, Haynes endured serving white congregations who, at times, drove him out due to racism and bigotry. This is not because he approved of their actions or turned a blind eye. Rather, I’m convinced, it’s because he had a high view of God’s sovereignty and rightly understood where true hope for the oppressed lies.

An Eye Toward The Future

The same eternity that is emphasized on his tombstone, was emphasized in his ministry. In his book on Haynes, May We Meet In The Heavenly World, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile captures that “he [Haynes] ministered with heaven in view.” There is much wisdom here. The sin of chattel slavery has been eradicated in America. Yet, some 200 years after Haynes, there is still much work to be done to eradicate the sins of racially fueled injustice. White-flight, inequality, and police injustice all serve as reminders that man is still in bondage to sin.

Lemuel Haynes spoke out against the slavery that divided America. But he was more concerned with freeing people—of all skin colors—from an eternity separated from God. He entrusted his life to the One who taught us to pray “on earth, as it is in heaven” and it was that vision of heaven his heart so longed to see.

There, former slave and former slave owner could meet at the foot of the savior and be freed. One freed from the sin that caused him to see his co-image bearer as property; the other freed from the suffering of being treated as such.

Haynes pointed people to that vision of a future day. It takes great courage to love those unlike us, or those considered our enemies. He did this joyfully, because he followed Christ and longed to see the day when sin would be eradicated.

How do you love and serve those unlike you? How does your vision of heaven inform your ministry on earth?

 

Resources:

Five Minutes in Church History

Reformed Forum Interview with Thabiti Anyabwile

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile/2014/03/04/why-did-edwards-miss-it-and-haynes-get-it/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/02/recovering-lemuel-haynes-patriot-hero-african-american-pastor/

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