Lemuel Haynes: The Most Important American Figure That You’ve Never Heard Of
Written by Jared C. Wilson |
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
In many ways, Haynes could be considered a kind of American Spurgeon—a faithful preacher and pastor, beloved for decades by his church and his family, and concerned to see the implications of the gospel fleshed out in homes and in society.
An Unquestionable Legacy
Lemuel Haynes is perhaps the single most important American figure most Christians have never heard of. Born July 18th in 1753 to a Black man and a White woman, Haynes was abandoned by his parents in the home of a family friend who sold the infant Haynes into indentured servitude. By the providential hand of God, however, young Lemuel was placed into a Christian home, where by all accounts, including his own, he was treated as a member of the family and raised to love the things of God.1
Growing up in colonial Vermont, Haynes worked hard and studied hard, proving himself quite adept at intellectual pursuits despite being largely self-taught. He has affectionately been called a “disciple of the chimney-corner” as that is where he would spend most evenings after work reading and memorizing while other children were out playing or engaging in other diversions.
Haynes’s commitment to theology began in that chimney-corner, and eventually he was born again. Not long after his conversion, he turned his followership of Christ and his intellectual bent into a serious endeavor by writing and preaching. An oft-told anecdote about Haynes concerns a scene of family devotions at the Rose household where he was indentured. Given his adeptness at reading and his deep concern for spiritual matters, the Rose family would often ask Haynes to read a portion of Scripture or a published sermon. One night, Haynes read a homily of his own without credit (apparently the sermon on John 3:3 included in this volume). At the end, members of the family remarked at its quality and wondered, “Was that a Whitefield?” “No,” Haynes is said to have replied, “it was a Haynes.”
The few sermons we have of Lemuel Haynes prove him to be an exceptional expositor in the Puritan tradition, similar to Edwards or Whitefield though simpler than the former and more substantive than the latter. And yet, what Haynes may have lacked in eloquence compared to his contemporaries, he more than made up for in biblicism and applicational insight.
Officially licensed to preach in 1780 by the Congregational Association, Haynes soon after preached his first public sermon (on Psalm 96). He was then ordained in 1785 and would go on to receive an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College.