It was, John Brown reportedly told people, his all-time favorite hymn, and it's not hard to determine why. "Blow ye the Trumpet, Blow" is an old "Negro spiritual" that effortlessly mixes the promises of freedom, both from sin and from the institution of slavery. It's poetry is created in its wise dissembling--the slaves who sang that hymn were free from accusations of rebellion because they could innocently claim the hymn was about personal salvation in Jesus. And it is. But that's not all.
Have a look.
John Brown considered the institution of slavery to be the single abomination that kept America from becoming the Christian nation he desperately wanted it to be. His commitment to freeing the slaves was total and included spilling blood for righteousness sake, which he did and which he died for. He martyred himself to fight "Slave Power," the big moneyed interests of those who at all costs wanted to keep slaves in their fields and kitchens.
The promises of this old Charles Wesley hymn strengthened his heart and resolve.
He thought of himself as the Moses of African-Americans all over the South. Many abolitionists were racists; they wanted an end to slavery but didn't believe African-Americans could possibly have equal status with white Europeans. Brown did. He saw himself as "the only one," appointed by the Creator of Heaven and Earth to carry out His righteousness. He told one of his benefactors in the spring of 1858, not long before his bloody raid at Harper's Ferry, that he believed exactly what God promised in his Holy Word: "'In all thy ways acknowledge Him & He shall direct thy paths."
I will forever associate that verse from Proverbs with the little Christian school I grew up in. I think I can still see it on some poster in a classroom. I'd never thought of those words as license to kill. For John Brown, they were just that--and a profession of faith.
The Christian faith, like all world religions, offers immeasurable elasticity that is at certain times and in specific places simply shocking. I'll probably not read Proverbs 3:6 the same way ever again.