Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), was ordained as the first black minister of the Gospel in colonial America during the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries. His journey commenced in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he was born to a father of African descent and a white mother. Abandoned as an infant, Lemuel was placed in the care of a reformed Christian family led by Deacon David Rose, a blind farmer from Granville, Massachusetts. This remarkable family embraced him as their own, offering the nurturing care of a son rather than treating him as an indentured servant. Under their roof, Lemuel received a precious education, immersed in the teachings of the Bible and the doctrines of grace. Church became the center of his life, where he was introduced to the godly works of preachers like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and Philip Doddridge, whose influence left an indelible mark on his faith.
Haynes gave heartfelt gratitude in his writings to Mrs. Elizabeth Rose, who, in the absence of her husband, took it upon herself to nurture and guide Lemuel’s upbringing. Her unwavering devotion was nothing short of extraordinary, caring for him as if he were her very own child. Neighbors often remarked on her exceptional attachment to Lemuel, suggesting that her love for him exceeded even that of her own children. Such was the depth of her care and affection for his well-being.
During his youth, Lemuel experienced a holy conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote many years later, “It was reliance on the merits of the Savior that supported me. Had I a thousand souls, I would venture them on him.”
At the age of twenty-one, Lemuel’s indenture came to an end, and he embarked on his journey as a free man. In 1774, his fervor for the cause of freedom led him to join the minutemen of Granville. The following year, upon hearing news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he marched with his militia company to Roxbury, Massachusetts. In 1776, he had the honor of accompanying them to the garrisoning of the recently captured Fort Ticonderoga, where they stood in defense of their expanding nation. His dedication to duty remained unwavering until he contracted Typhus, a grave illness that compelled him to return home.
Even though Lemuel’s indenture had technically concluded by that point, he found himself drawn back to the Rose homestead. His brief but impactful service in the Continental Army deepened his understanding of New Divinity theology and republican ideology. This knowledge became a significant influence on his later writings and advocacy for pro-black and anti-slavery causes. He steadfastly believed that the Revolution could not be considered complete as long as the stain of slavery persisted in the nation, and he continued to champion the cause for years to come.
In 1785, Haynes reached a pivotal milestone in his spiritual journey when he was ordained in the Congregational church. For three years, he served as a pastor in Torrington, Connecticut, tending to the spiritual needs of his congregation. In 1788, he accepted a divine call to shepherd the West Parish Church of Rutland, Vermont, now known as West Rutland’s Church. For the subsequent three decades, he dedicated himself to this community.
Lemuel’s path eventually led him to a temporary pastorate in Manchester, Vermont, and later to South Granville, New York, where he served as the pastor of the South Granville Congregational Church. Throughout his life, he held steadfastly to his convictions, tirelessly striving for equality and justice for all, regardless of their background or heritage.
Though this is an historical misnomer, some historians have dubbed him “the first black Puritan” due to his unwavering commitment to the reformed faith and the doctrines of grace. Certainly, as it relates to theology, Haynes was puritan-minded.
From Haynes’ writings, he gave many sermons and exhortations. Here is a compendium of some of his thoughts:
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” (Mark 13:33).
What is most valuable in life as it pertains to preaching and hearing the word of God? Take heed. Take heed of the Gospel. It is undeniable that the gospel of Jesus often faces prejudice, and those who defend it encounter contempt. While ministers of the Word are but frail and sinful individuals like all others, they bear the weighty responsibility of delivering a divine message. Scripture implores Christians to esteem such messengers highly in love for their works’ sake. As watchmen over souls, they understand the potential for neglect and inattention to the spiritual well-being of others. Sadly, there are those who enter the ministry for self-satisfaction or mere employment alignment with their ideals. This is not what is needed. The church requires faithful men who are grounded in sound doctrine, guided by the Word of God, and ready to defend the truth. The church needs spiritual leaders who model fidelity and love for God, those who will pour themselves out for the benefit of the Lord’s sheep.
The office of gospel ministers implies a spiritual battle, a controversy, and impending danger. It calls for shepherds who do not care for mere temporal concerns but focus solely on the spiritual well-being of souls. These ministers watch for souls and are gifts to the church from the Lord. They must be faithful, diligently seeking to please God above all else. Their preaching should not aim to gratify the carnal heart but to declare the whole counsel of God. Their discourse should not entertain with empty speculations or vain philosophy but focus on matters concerning eternal welfare. Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross must remain the central theme of their preaching. Like skillful physicians, they must lead their patients to recognize their spiritual maladies and point them to the bleeding Savior as the only path to recovery.
In reflecting on his own life, a significant portion was devoted to the service of ministry, acknowledging myriad imperfections but a genuine desire to contribute to the salvation of souls. In times when churches often compromise more than they teach the standards of sincere religion, there is a pressing need for more faithful preachers who are firmly convicted of the truths of Christ Jesus, men who understand the divine glory of Christ and strive to display His holy character through sound preaching.
Preachers must proclaim the glorious truths of grace and covenant mercy with unyielding conviction and unwavering steadfastness. It is equally imperative that those who listen do so with the same fervor. Just as ministers are called to give an account of how they preach and conduct themselves, so too are the listeners to be examined in how they hear and apply the Word. The church requires sincere Christians in the pew, steadfast beacons of divine and supernatural light, individuals who are resolutely devoted to Christ, no matter the circumstances.
Fellow believers should stand firm in the Lord and draw strength from His mighty power, seeking refuge in Christ, regardless of the temptations the world, the flesh, or the devil may present. Let your life and your death resound with resolute faith. Personal piety commences with a holy submission to God and a sincere friendship with Jesus. Be captivated by the love of Christ, especially for you. Understand that when He hung on the cross, He had you in His thoughts, particularly as a sincere believer.
Remain unwavering as believers and follow Christ, who sits upon the holy hill of Zion with pardon in His hands, atop His Ark of mercy. Cling to the promises of God’s Word, drawing encouragement for your hope and trust in Him. The manner in which ministers proclaim the Word and how the congregation receives it is a solemn commitment, as it carries the weight of death and judgment in view. This perspective makes preaching and hearing a grave matter, infusing the house of God with profound solemnity. We shall soon stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where our sermons and our reception of the Word will be scrutinized by the One who possesses infinite knowledge and is present in every assembly.
Maintaining this awareness will help eradicate coldness, drowsiness, and indifference in preaching and hearing of the gospel. It will dispel formalism and prevent presumptuous conduct in the house of God; take heed how ye hear. The house of worship is indeed a place fit for the Great King, a reflection suitable for all occasions, and particularly when gathered for public worship.
In the words of Pastor Edwards, consider this thought: “Resolved, to strive to your utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than you were the week before.” Amen.