Booknote: Neglected Voices from Evangelical Pulpits

Charles Malcolm Wingard
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson

One of my goals at RTS Jackson is to introduce students to the “neglected voices” of the evangelical church. I am not the best qualified to remedy this neglect, but have made it my habit to assign readings that will help. One such book is Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007). The book presents biographical sketches of Lemuel Haynes, Daniel Payne, and Francis Grimké, along with selected writings.

First, Lemuel Haynes. Born in 1753, he was abandoned by his parents when only a few months old. He became an indentured servant to a Connecticut family who treated him as their own child, and where he was to receive the blessings of family worship and biblical education. During the Revolutionary War, he served in the Continental Army. He esteemed George Washington; his political views were federalist. (18)

Haynes became a staunch Calvinist whose thinking was shaped by the writings of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Phillip Dodderidge. He married a white school teacher, Elizabeth Babbot, and their union produced ten children. For 33 years Haynes pastored an all-white Congregational church in Rutland, Vermont. Under his faithful pastoral ministry, the church grew from 42 to about 350 members. He estimates that he preached to this congregation 5,500 discourses, 400 of them funeral sermons. (66) Sadly, amidst conflict with one of the church’s deacons and fallout from several disciplinary cases, the pastoral relationship ended in 1818. An undaunted Haynes continued in ministry, serving two other churches prior to his death in 1833.

In the “Character and Work of a Spiritual Watchman Described,” he expounds on Hebrews 13:17: “For they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.” He reminds ministers that “courage and fortitude must constitute part of the character of a gospel minister. A sentinel who is worthy of that station will not fear the formidable appearance of the enemies, nor tremble at their menaces. None of these things will move him, neither will he count his life dear unto him as he defends a cause so important.” (28-29) The minister must approach preaching with appropriate solemnity because “he views eternity as just before him, and a congregation on the frontiers of it. . . . He will study and preach with reference to a judgment to come and will deliver every sermon in some respects as if it were his last, not knowing when his Lord will call him or his hearers to account.” (33)

Daniel Payne (1811-1892) was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of free blacks and pious members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Overcoming many obstacles, including the death of his parents at a tender age, he obtained a classical education, learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. That he obtained much of his education while an apprentice shoe merchant, tailor, and carpenter, makes his achievement all the more impressive. A model autodidact, he taught himself geography, botany, chemistry, philosophy, astronomy, and French.

In 1829, he opened a school for black children and adults that eventually grew to 60 students, a project that ended abruptly in 1835 when the South Carolina General Assembly enacted monstrous legislation forbidding the teaching of blacks, slave or free.

Payne closed his school and headed north. He soon began studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Ordination to Lutheran ministry followed in 1837. In 1841, he joined the AME Church, eventually becoming a bishop.

Passionately committed to high standards, Payne was indefatigable in the pursuit of the reformation of ministerial character and education. In 1844 the AME General Conference, after intense debate, adopted a four-year course of study for young ministers. (78) “In [Payne’s] view,” Anyabwile writes, “the undereducated and ill-prepared minister was a scandal and affliction upon the black church.” (79)

Later Payne was instrumental in the founding of Wilberforce University, the oldest private HBCU in the United States. He would serve as president from 1863-1876.

In “The Christian Ministry: Its Moral and Intellectual Character” (1859), Payne takes 2 Timothy 2:2 as his preaching text: “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou unto faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Ministers “are heaven-called, heaven-appointed, heaven-ordained. They are called ministers and are responsible first to God, secondarily to man.” (90) Both in and out of the pulpit, God’s truth must be on their lips. (92)  Payne calls the minister to a high standard. “He must be holy, studious, instructive, and wise, ever keeping his heart in contact with the Spirit of God, ever drinking from the pure fountains of truth. He teaches himself, that he may be able to teach others also.” (101)

Francis Grimké was born in 1850 to a white South Carolina plantation owner and slave mother. He lost his father at an early age and, along with him, the protective care that sheltered him from some of slavery’s brutality. After escaping a cruel, white half-brother, he was recaptured and sold to a Confederate officer.

After emancipation, Grimké proved himself a gifted and industrious student, studying medicine at Lincoln University, where he graduated in 1870 as class valedictorian.  While studying law at Howard University, he sensed God’s call to ministry and enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was among the last of Charles Hodge’s students. Ordained in 1878, he would spend most of the next 50 years serving Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., where he distinguished himself as a vocal advocate for biblical Christianity and racial equality.

Although first and foremost a pastor, his concern for broader social issues – and especially for racial justice – is noteworthy. In 1909, he became one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In the four addresses and sermons included in this book, Grimké tackles several pressing issues. Among them are the reform of the African American pulpit and the role it must play in the moral and intellectual development of African American Christians, the evil of racial prejudice, and what Grimké calls in one sermon, “Christ’s Program for the Saving of the World,” a program centered on gospel proclamation and moral reformation based on the word of God.

His position on racism and the church was unambiguous. In 1910 he proclaimed that “every principle of Christianity, every sentiment of true religion, is totally, absolutely opposed to race prejudice in every shape and form.” (135) He decried that “colored people are not wanted in white churches, in white Sabbath schools, in white Endeavor Societies, in white religious societies of any kind.” (137) His criticism is withering: “The church today is the great bulwark of race prejudice in this country. It is doing more than any other single agency to uphold it, to make it respectable, to encourage people to continue in it.” (141)

As grave as racism and other societal evils are, the Christian preacher’s responsibility is more than just exposing their foulness and declaiming against them. In a sermon on Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15, Grimké argues that “the reason there has not been more progress in saving the world is because we have not been doing what we have been directed to do. We have not been preaching the gospel and teaching people out of the word of God as we ought to have been doing. And things will never be any better until we swing in line with the plan as here laid down by Jesus Christ. Under his plan every evil now afflicting both old and young will be reached, and effectively reached.” (179-180)

First and foremost, Grimké was a preacher. He reminds ministers that “if we are not going to preach the gospel, and teach the Word of God faithfully we have no business in the ministry. And the sooner we get out of it, the better.” (121, 181)

Haynes, Payne, and Grimké are wholly committed to an educated gospel ministry, one that requires ministers to be vigilant over their morals and manners. From their feedback, I gather that RTS Jackson students have read this book with profit. Some have commented that these three preachers have set an impossibly high standard for Christian ministers. If true, so be it. After all, who is sufficient for these things?