Tag Archives: Lemuel Haynes

What Joel Did Not Know

And What Many Christians Will Not Tell You About Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was a brilliant thinker, excellent in understanding Scripture in his day, as well as 17th century philosophy; indeed, I even think that his critique of nationalism is relevant in today’s world. Perhaps what separates priests from prophets, however, is where they stand on the prevailing moral  issues of their times; it is suffice to say, in my mind, that Jonathan Edwards falls short of the prophetic tradition and remains in the priestly class, the church of Aaron as Bonhoeffer once preached on (See Bonhoeffer’s sermon: “The Church of the World and the Church of the Word.”

Why? Because in spite of all of Edwards talk of political liberty, he did not believe in the freedom of the oppressed, the enslaved Africans of his day. They were treated as a group, undignified and crucified, rather than as individuals with rights that came from the Triune God. One may say, and I have read and own works such as the Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards , that Edwards’ son became a leading voice in the abolition movement. Ye, I say to thee, the son suffers from the father’s sins any more (check Ezekiel 18). Each individual is judged according to her own actions. So, I would say that this logic is flawed from the outset if one uses this defense. And there cannot be any excuse, for there were Calvinist theologians who were anti-slavery, Lemuel Haynes, Nat Turner and John Brown.

One cannot consider herself appropriately Trinitarian or ethical if she neglects movements of human freedom within the history of Christianity.  For our Holy and Triune God is not the apathetic  Watchmaker deity of the Enlightenment or the know-nothing/do-nothing god of process thought, but the Holy One of Israel, a Liberator and Lover of all of the Living.  For this reason, Edwards must remain remembered as a member of the Aaronite priesthood within Christendom, who while serving his vocation to lead the people of God to worship, he also succumbed to the congregations request to lift up the idols of RACE and MAMMON over and above the one true God.

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Lemuel Haynes: Black Calvinist, Political Revolutionary

The enslaved African Americans who first gathered for illegal worship sessions on the eighteenth and nineteenth century plantations also had burning bush experiences.  In the African American Christian traditions, the Exodus motif has been utilized as an inspiration of God’s liberating power.  Much like how Moses met God at the burning bush, the enslaved Africans experienced God in the brush arbors.  It was the invisible institution where the enslaved Africans held their own religious meetings to worship God independent of white oppression.[1] While meditating on God’s righteousness underneath an apple tree, former indentured servant Lemuel Haynes found Jesus.  He described the ordeal: “One wretched evening underneath an apple-tree, I hope I found my Saviour. […]  I pluck some fruit from the tree and carry it home: it is sweet to my taste.  I have fears that I am deceived, but I still have hope.”[1] Haynes realized that only one acknowledges the justice of God can one become justified and join the struggle for righteousness.  Haynes’s ministry became one of the first evangelical efforts to proclaim the sovereignty of God and the election of the oppressed.

The Black church in the United States has a legacy of preachers who have been able to speak truth to power and hold Uncle Sam accountable to remain faithful to his promises.  For the northern part of the United States, the nineteenth century evangelist Lemuel Haynes became a prophetic voice for divine justice, freedom and racial reconciliation.  Haynes believed that the spiritual kingdom of Christ existed in the here and now and that true liberty could only be found in God’s arms.[1] As a Calvinist, Haynes preached about the omnipotence and sovereignty of the God of the Bible who was capable of overcoming human sinfulness.  Haynes was one of the first black abolitionists and educated preachers on American shores.  The African enslavement was part of God’s plan, in Haynes’ view, to expose the wickedness of humanity and the need for liberation.[2] Since he came from the federal theological tradition, the Abrahamic covenant was theme for his political theology.  He insisted that just as God heard the cry of Hagar, Sarah’s servant, God listens to the wailing of the oppressed.[3] God’s new covenant in Christ made all members of the penitent to be fellow-citizens in the Trinity’s household.  Lemuel Haynes’s preferred political affiliation was the federalist party; clerical activity in the realm of politics was normative for this group.  Versus Federalist contemporary George Washington’s arguments, Haynes insisted that a state could not afford to be purely secular since God was the foundation of all moral virtue.[4] Haynes was an advocate for a covenantal republican form of government based on the truth that God “had made of one blood all the nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth.”   Lemuel Haynes, as an adherent to the doctrine of total depravity, rejected the doctrine of universal salvation on the grounds that the world was filled with universal misery and not joy.[2] Satan and his evil empire rely the illusion that all is well with the world when in reality suffering and injustice prosper.

The Calvinist, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions each affirm the three offices of Christ as prophet, priest, and king.  Lemuel Haynes, the eighteenth century black Calvinist preacher declared, “Whenever a person takes on him the baptism covenant and is baptized into the all-adorable Trinity, he solemnly gives himself to God and accepts Christ as prophet, priest, and king and thereby professeth that he is willing to be ruled by his [Christ’s] as to be saved by his [Christ’s] merit.”[5]Reverend Haynes would use Jehovah and Christ interchangeably in his sermons; his Yahweh Christology became a large part of his covenantal theology and theological ethics.  For example, he exhorted to a crowd, “Let Jehovah-jirah, the Lord will see and provide, be written on your door posts, and on the fleshly tables of your hearts. […] O! that I could with success proclaim in your ears this day the expostulatory declaration of the great deliverer […]  The door is wide open—Jesus is ready to break your bonds asunder.”[5] In another sermon on Zechariah 11:13, Haynes again argued that Jesus is Yahweh and that we as human beings were all guilty of selling Christ for silver.[5] Yahweh is personified in three different ways in the First Testament: Wisdom, Word, and Spirit.[6] In the Second Testament (the New Testament), Christ embodies all three personalities.

Lemuel Haynes represents a long line of African American preachers who have engaged the American political system and challenged it to a more covenantal and truthful way of operation.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Katie Canon, Gardner C. Taylor, Bishop Vashti McKenzie, and many more saints have always been at the forefront of petitioning our government to open up the political process to those who are powerless.

[1]Albert Rabouteau, Canaan Land, 43-44.

[2] Timothy Cooley, Sketches of the Life and Character of Lemuel Haynes, 41.

[3] Lemuel Haynes, “On Baptism” in Black Preacher to White America, 243.

[3] Lemuel Haynes, “The Prisoner Released” in Black Preacher to White America, 227.

[3] Lemuel Haynes, “Outline of a sermon on Zech. 11:13”in Black Preacher to White America, 239.

[4] Salliant.  Black Puritan, Black Republican. P.85

[4] Salliant. Black Puritan, Black Republican. P. 114.

[4] Ibid, 110-112.

[4] Ibid, 123-25.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, 41.


[2] Lemuel Haynes “Letter to the Reverend Hosea Ballou.” In The Life and Character of Rev. Lemuel Haynes, 109.

Elected from Nothingness: Predestination and Creation ex Nihilo

Thomas Jay Oord has an interesting take on the doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo.

(Here is my liberationist defense of Creation ex nihilo, taken from an independent study project finished two years ago).

The creation account in the Bible does not give us a detailed, eyewitness report of how everything was brought into being; we, along with the scribes who recorded the canon, can only hope to humble ourselves like Job when he was confronted by the Creator: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”[1] The creation story gives us an accurate portrayal of who the Creator is and who God intended us to become.  Christian tradition confesses that the first person in the Trinity, God the Parent, as the creator god we locate in the stories in Genesis chapter one and two.  The Nicene Creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible.”[2] The particular Christian understanding that God has always been a Parent means that the Father has never existed without the Son.  A father cannot be identified a father without first having a child.  The Son exists in relation to God the Father and the Father subsists in relation to God’s Son.  In Augustinian terms, the Holy Spirit is the familial love shared between the Father and Son; this is the description of God’s relationship within the Godhead, or the immanent Trinitarian fellowship.[3] The act of creation, therefore, is a sovereign decision by the Triune God to establish a relationship with a creation outside the membership of the Godhead.  Moltmann contends:

The federal theological tradition has termed this God’s trinitarian decision to create the world, interpreting it as God’s inner-trinitarian covenant. […] For it is in this eternal covenant of the Trinity, a covenant made for creation and glorification, that the self-determination of the Father, Son, and the Spirit takes place; and this self-determination, as self-limitation, means making room for creation and making possible the liberty of the non-divine image of God in God.[4]

The One True God exists as a God-in-covenant who creates in order to institute relationships with creation.  God the Almighty Parent fashions the universe in covenant with the Word (Son) and the Breath (Spirit) of God.  Biblical descriptions of God the Parent portray the first person the Trinity as having both maternal and paternal attributes.  Leonardo Boff notes that the Council of Toledo declared that “we must believe that the Son is begotten or born from the womb of the Father”; he adds that “the Father in the begetting of the Son and breathing-out (with the Son) of the Holy Spirit, can also be called Mother.”[5] The Genesis accounts of creation describe the labor pains of the Creator.  Evans comments, “In fact, a rereading of the Genesis 2:4-7 account of creation suggests a God who breathes the breath of life into the new-born cosmos, clearing the mucous from its air passages and enabling the created order to breathe on its own.  This is a womanist trope for the bringing into existence which did not exist before, of giving life, of bonding, of caring.”[6] The relationship between Triune God and God’s creation is free and open because God first decided to freely associate Godself with the world.

African-American Christians affirm God as creator by insisting that God ‘makes a way out of no way.’  The doctrine of creation ex nihilo serves as a description of God’s life-giving omnipotence.  Baker Fletcher observes:

God who “makes something out of nothing […] is like the poor mothers of the globe, who with other women in their families or communities pull a scarcity of resources together to produce a context of sustenance for their young.  God is like those who survive cities torn apart by hurricanes with nothing but the clothes on their back and a scarcity of resources, if any to begin life anew.  The very power of renewing life, individually and collectively, is a divine gift received from a God of courage and grace.”[7]

The fact that God generated all of creation from nothing means that God was impoverished of relationships outside of the immanent Trinitarian covenant.  God’s poverty of fellowship with the Other prior to creation points toward a Creator who prefers a special relationship with those whom society deprives of communion–the marginalized and the undesirables of this world.  In this way, God’s election of the humiliated occurred before the act of creation; in the lack of relationship between the Triune God and the other, we discover God’s creative intent from the foundation of the world.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians that the Trinity chose the afflicted of this world “before the foundation of the world,” according to the riches of God’s grace in order to gain the inheritance of redemption as God’s own people.[8] Lemuel Haynes recognized the inseparable bond between creation and liberation: “The deliverance of sinners is consistent with the law of God and dignity of divine government.”[9] Divine government in the 19th century New Light Calvinist rhetoric referred to the Creator’s character as God was in the beginning.  God the Parent Almighty is also redeemer because the creator god of scripture cares for and provides for the creation.


[1] NRSV, Job 38:4

[2] Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Volume I, 165.

[3] Robert Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 104-105.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 111.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, 170.

[6] James Evans, We Have Been Believers, 76.

[7] Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing With God, 71-72.

[8] Ephesians 1:3-4, 11, 14.

[9] Lemuel Haynes “The Prisoner Released.” In The Life and Character of Rev. Lemuel Haynes, 235.