Thabiti Anyabwile Remembers the Remarkable Tenure and Steadfast Faithfulness of Lemuel Haynes – a Black Pastor Who Led a White Church In 1788

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A Model of Fidelity and Love

“If the church is to prosper and mature, she will need faithful men to lead and care for her. The church will need men who are sound in doctrine, whose lives are guided by the Word of God, and who are willing to defend the truth. The church will need to hold up as its ideal those who model fidelity and love toward God, men who will pour themselves out for the benefit of the Lord’s sheep. Men of this mold are gifts to the church from her Lord. In the late 1700s the Lord did indeed give such a gift to the church”
—Lemuel Haynes.

Lemuel Haynes was born on July 18, 1753 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Early biographers speculated that Haynes’s mother was either a daughter of the prominent Goodwin family of Hartford or a servant named Alice Fitch who worked for one John Haynes. However, speculations about his parentage proved profitless. Abandoned by his parents at five months of age, Haynes was raised as an indentured servant by the Rose family in Middle Granville, Massachusetts. The Roses treated Lemuel as one of the family’s own children, giving him the same pious instruction in Christianity and family worship that Deacon Rose gave all his children.

Following his indenture, Haynes volunteered in 1774 as a Minuteman and in October 1776 joined the Continental Army, thus becoming part of the American Revolution. Haynes volunteered just as the Continental Navy and Army suffered heavy casualties at the Battle of Valcour Bay on October 11, 1776 and General Washington’s forces met defeat at the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776. In November 1776 Continental forces witnessed over three thousand casualties and the loss of over one hundred cannons and thousands of muskets in defeats at Fort Washington and Fort Lee. Lemuel served in the Continental Army until November 17, 1776, when he contracted typhus and was relieved of duty. Despite the dismal prospects of the Revolution at this point, as a patriot Haynes was determined to defend with life and tongue the newly developing nation and its ideals of liberty. His political values were shaped by his “idealization of George Washington and allegiance to the Federalist Party.”

A Disciple of Edwards, Whitefield, and Doddridge

But it was during his time with the Rose family and after the American Revolution that Haynes demonstrated his interests and talents for theol­ogy and ministry. “Haynes was a determined, self-taught student who pored over Scripture until he could repeat from memory most of the texts dealing with the doctrines of grace.” Though Haynes benefited from the devout religious practice and instruction of Deacon Rose, the works of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Philip Doddridge influenced him the most. Indeed, Haynes owed much to the revival and evangelism efforts of Whitefield and Edwards, who greatly impacted America, and especially the New England area, during the Great Awakening of the 1740s.

Haynes began his formal ministerial training by studying Greek and Latin with two Connecticut clergymen, Daniel Farrand and William Bradford. He was licensed to preach on November 29, 1780 and five years later became the first African-American ordained by any religious body in America. In 1804 Middlebury College awarded Haynes an hon­orary Master’s degree—another first for an African-American.

Owing largely to his Puritan-like experiences with the Rose family and his admiration of Whitefield and Edwards, Haynes adopted a decid­edly Calvinistic theology. Calvinism was typical of African-American writers during Haynes’s lifetime. One biographer, reflecting on a host of African-American writers in the late 1700s, observed:

Indeed, Calvinism seems to have corroborated the deepest structuring elements of the experiences of such men and women as they matured from children living in slavery or servitude into adults desiring freedom, literacy, and membership in a fair society. From Calvinism, this genera­tion of black authors drew a vision of God at work providentially in the lives of black people, directing their sufferings yet promising the faithful among them a restoration to his favor and his presence. Not until around 1815 would African American authors, such as John Jea, explic­itly declare themselves against Calvinism and for free-will religion.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Thabiti M. Anyabwile (MS, North Carolina State University) serves as a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, and is the author of numerous books. He serves as a council member of the Gospel Coalition, is a lead writer for 9Marks Ministries, and regularly blogs at The Front Porch and Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have three children.