John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
JASPER SET FREE
‘JASPER came to the verge of his greatness after he had passed the half century line. Freedom had come and to him brought nothing except the opportunity to carve out his own fortune. His ministry had been migratory, restricted and chiefly of ungathered fruit. He found himself in Richmond without money and without a home. By daily toil he was picking up his bread. He was dead set on doing something in the way he wanted to do it. He was of the constructive sort, and never had done well when building on another man’s foundation.
His ambition was to build a church. Down on the James River, where the big furnaces were run, there was a little island, and on the island a little house, and scattered along the canal and river were many of the newly liberated and uncared for people of his race.
He began to hold religious services on the island,–said by some to have been held in a private house, and by others in a deserted stable, which was fitted up to accommodate the increasing crowds. Things went well with him. The joy of building flamed his soul, and beneath the tide of the river he baptized many converts. Happy days they were! The people were wild with enthusiasm, and the shouts of his congregation mingled with the noise of the James River Falls. It was to Jasper as the gate of heaven, and he walked as the King’s ambassador among his admiring flock.
But it could not be that way long. There was not room enough to contain the people, and yet the church was poverty itself, and what could they do? Happily they found a deserted building beyond the canal and accessible to the growing company of his lovers in the city. There things went with a snap and a roar. From every quarter the people came to hear this African Boanerges. The crowds and songs and riotous shouts of his young church filled the neighbourhood. Constant processions, with Jasper at the head, visited the river or canal, to give baptism to the multiplying converts.
Meanwhile, however, the northern part of the city was fast becoming the Africa of Richmond. Into its meaner outskirts at first the tide began to roll, but in a little while the white people began to retreat, street after street, until a vast area was given up to the coloured people. Jasper’s people, also, as they prospered, began to settle in this new Africa, and Jasper found once more that he was simply dwelling in tents, when the time was coming for the building of the temple.
Jasper was on the outlook for a new location. Finally he hit upon an old brick church building, at the corner of Duval and St. John Streets. The Presbyterians, who had started this mission years before, had despaired of success under the changed conditions and they offered the house for sale, the price being $2,025. The sense of growth and progress fairly maddened this unique and fascinating preacher with enthusiasm. He had found a home for his people at last, and yet, in point of fact, he had not. The house was a magnificent gain on their old quarters, and yet Sunday afternoon found most of his crowd every on the outside. Quite soon his people had to enlarge and remodel the house, and this they did at a cost of $6,000. By that time the membership was well on towards 2,000. There they dwelt for a number of years until the church became the centre of the religious life in that part of the town. “John Jasper,” as he was universally called, had easily become the most attractive and popular minister of his race in the city. By this time he was over sixty years of age, and it would have taken much to have quenched the yet unwasted buoyancy and vitality of his ministry. Necessity demanded another building, and in the later prime of his kingly manhood, and very largely by his personal forcefulness and intrepid leadership, he led a movement for a house of worship that would be respectable in almost any part of Richmond. What was more to his purpose, it was very capacious, wisely adapted to the wants of his people and a fitting monument to his constructive resource and enthusiasm. It is said that he, out of his own slender resources, gave $3,000 to the building fund, and this was probably in addition to great sums of money given him by white people who went to hear him preach and who delighted to honour and cheer the old man. I suppose that thousands of dollars were given him from no motive save that of kindness towards him, and the donours would just as soon have given the money directly to him and for his own use. They helped to build the church simply to please the old man whose eloquence and honesty had won their hearts. His love for his church amounted to devotion. He had seen it grow from the most insignificant beginning, had watched the tottering steps of its childhood, and with pride natural and affectionate had gloried in its prosperity.
But be it said to the old man’s honour that he was too great to be conceited. He had no sense of boastfulness or self-glorification about the church. He had the frankness to tell the truth about things when it was necessary, but he had too much manly modesty to claim distinction for the part he had borne in the building up of the church. Indeed, he was strangely silent about his relations with the church, and his dominant feeling was one of affectionate solicitude for the future of the church rather than of self-satisfaction on account of its history.
There was a strain of severity in Jasper. He had some of the temper of the reformer. He was quick,–often too quick–in condemning those who criticised him. The fact is, he was so unfeignedly honest that he could not be patient towards those whose sincerity or honesty he doubted. For those who plotted against the church or gave trouble in other ways he had little charity. Those that would not work in harness, and help to move things along, he was quite willing to show to the church door. For his part, he could not love those very warmly who did not love the “Sixth Mount Zion.”
This may be the right place to say a word or two as to Jasper’s enemies. He was a man of war, and it may be that his prejudices sometimes got in the saddle. But not very often. Possibly, his most striking characteristic was his bottom sense of justice. He told the truth by instinct, and it never occurred to him to take an undue advantage. If, however, a man wronged him, he was simply terrible in bringing the fellow to book. There was a case, in which it is better not to mention names, in which an insidious and grievous accusation was brought against this sturdy old friend of the faith. The charge sought to fasten falsehood upon Jasper. That was enough for him,–it amounted to a declaration of war, and at once he entered upon the conflict. Never did he cease the strife until the charge was unsaid. Nothing, in short, could terrify him.
It must not be inferred that those who assailed him with questions and arguments were put into the category of personal enemies. Controversy was exactly to his taste. All he asked of the other man was to state his proposition, and he was ready for the contest. Not that he went into it pell-mell. By no means; he took time for preparation, and when he spoke it was hard to answer him. This, of course, applies when the questions were theological and Scriptural, and not scientific. His knowledge of the Scriptures was remarkable, and his spiritual insight into the doctrines of the Bible was extraordinary. When he preached, he supported every point with Scriptural quotations, invariably giving the chapter and verse, and often adding, “Ef yer don’ find it jes’ ezackly ez I tells yer, yer kin meet me on de street nex’ week an’ say ter me: ‘John Jasper, you ar er lier,’ an’ I won’ say er wurd.”
What gave to Jasper an exalted and impressive presence was his insistent claim that he was a God-sent man. This he asserted in almost every sermon, and with such evident conviction that he forced other people to believe it. Even those who differed with him were constrained to own his sincerity and Godliness. It was impossible to be with him much without being impressed that he was anointed of God for his work. It was in this that his people gloried. Their faith in him was preëminent,–far above every question–and he was also full of inspiration. You may talk with his disciples now, wherever you meet them, and they are quick to tell you that “Brer Jasper was certinly aninted uv God,” and even the more intelligent of the people ascribed his greatness to the fact that he was under the power of the Holy Ghost. Many wicked people heard him preach, and some of them still went their wicked way, but they felt that the power of God was with Jasper, and they were always ready to say so. In many points, John Jasper was strikingly like John the Baptist,–a just man and holy, and the people revered him in a way I never met with in any other man.’ https://docsouth.unc.edu/church/hatcher/hatcher.html