On the importance of life’s last words, author and speaker, Dr. Benjamin L. Corey, shares, “When you’re dying, there’s no time for wasted words. When…you want to utilize what time is left to impact those you’re saying goodbye to, you speak the most important things you have to say.”
Rev. Lemuel Haynes, 18th century African-American pastor, spoke his most important words just days before he died. As his dear friend and local pastor, Rev. Mr. Clark, visited him in his last sickness, Haynes spoke these moving words:
I have been examining myself and looking back upon my past life, but I can find nothing in myself and nothing in all my past services to recommend me at the bar of Jehovah. Christ is my all. His blood is my only hope of acceptance. My pains are great; but, blessed be God, they are not eternal. I long to be in heaven.
On September 28th, 1833, Rev. Lemuel Haynes went on to be with the Lord, but his solemn words live on. I am very much gripped and encouraged as I read these dying words. What does Rev. Lemuel Haynes show us about the Christian hope? I believe the essence of the Christian life is in these words.
Haynes shows us Christ is all, and Christ is better. He is better than the best things we can accomplish, and the worst things we experience.
Christ is Better
Rev. Lemuel Haynes showed us Christ is better than the best things we can accomplish. Haynes was no stranger to achieving great accomplishments in public life as well as personal character. Praising his life in his biography of Rev. Haynes, Rev. Timothy Cooley list numerous traits: “viewing his humble origin, and the extremely limited means of his early education, he cannot fail to be regarded as an extraordinary man.”
Some of the personal character attainments praised were Haynes’ sympathy and compassion towards others, his humility, wisdom and mature judgement, sharpness of mind and knowledge, honesty, and his personal piety. Not only did he achieve much in his personal life, he also did great things publically. He was a patriot who served during the American Revolution, public theologian and literary genius who challenged slavery. He also trained numerous men for ministry, he was the first African-American to receive a Masters of Arts degree, and served in the pastorate for over forty years.
Despite all these great accomplishments, Haynes knew well that none of these “recommend me at the bar of Jehovah. Christ is my all.” His life bled through and through the reality, as Paul wrote, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:18a). He knew when he stood at the judgement seat of God, all his best accomplishments paled in comparison to the great thing Christ accomplished in his atoning sacrifice, which was his “only hope of acceptance.”
“On Christ, the Solid Rock” was not just the melody that warmed his heart; it was the lyric which was sung by his life. Being found in Christ was seen as the ultimate gain, and better than the best things he could ever accomplish. Contrary to our cultural thought of showcasing our greatness, Haynes showed the only thing that matters is Christ’s life, and true greatness is living for his glory.
Rev. Lemuel Haynes showed us Christ is better than the worst things we experience. As Haynes was no stranger to great accomplishments, he was also no stranger to great trials and suffering. Born in 1753, at West Hartford, Connecticut, he was abandoned by his parents at five months of age, and raised as an indentured servant by the Rose family in Massachusetts. In his later years, suffering would only increase in intensity, and that through two main areas: church conflict and bodily sickness.
As one historian notes, “he was a talented, devoted man, well and favorably received by his ministerial brethren; but African blood flowed in his veins, and there were prejudice existing in those days sufficient to make trouble as to this matter.” And again, John Sallient, in his biography, shares “his [theological] views seem to have been acceptable in a way that his skin color was not.” It was indeed a trying time to be an African-American minster.
In his ministry, church conflict would prove so great that Haynes, not once, but twice would have to step down from the pastorate, one of which he labored for thirty years. Haynes not only knew the bite of ministerial strife, he also knew well the sting of bodily ailment. He continued in the ministry until five months of him dying. Rev. Cooley shares these months were “marked by severe suffering.” Haynes had contracted an infection in one foot in March 1833, which caused him extreme anguish day and night. These days were tremendously hard, and he had seasons of doubts of God’s promises. This part of his life was indeed marked by hardship.
Yet, by God’s grace and with full assurance of hope, Haynes could proclaim, “My pains are great; but blessed be God they are not eternal.” Rev. Haynes preached Christ continuously and could say, when asked about his eternal hope, “I know in whom I have believed, and I am not afraid to trust myself in his hands.”
He knew that if Christ was indeed all, then the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18). Christ indeed was better than the worst things Haynes could experience now, but he also knew he would see that fully in heaven. He longed to see the revealing of that glory in heaven because Christ, whom he so loved and preached, would rewrite all his sorrow in an eternal novel of joy. Where there was conflict and strife, there would be eternal harmony. Where he was rejected, he would be fully known and fully loved. Where there was bodily sickness, God would make all things new.
“God had done all things well”
We have much to bless God for in the life of Rev. Lemuel Haynes. He indeed was a beautiful picture of the Christian hope. At the heart of his Christian life, he shows Christ is indeed better than everything. Whether we go through great suffering or great accomplishments, all could be used for the glory of God, in the face of Christ.
After Haynes passed from death to life, Rev. Cooley made this statement: God had done all things well. God had truly worked all things for good. This is the story of every Christian. In the greatest seasons of life, or the darkest times in the valley, this is our story. Let’s strive towards the truth that once we enter that great rest, of our lives will be said: God had done all things well.