(John Jasper, Negro Preacher, 1812-1901)

MY first sight of John Jasper must always remain in the chapter of unforgotten things. The occasion was Sunday afternoon, and the crowd was overflowing. Let me add that it was one of his days of spiritual intoxication, and he played on every key in the gamut of the human soul.

Two questions had been shot at him, and they both took effect. The first had to do with creation. For a half hour he pounded away on the creator-ship of God. His address was very strong and had in it both argument and eloquence. He marshaled the Scriptures with consummate skill, and built an argument easily understood by the rudest of his hearers; and yet so compact and tactful was he, that his most cultured hearers bent beneath his force.

But the second question brought on the pyrotechnics. It had to do with the origin of sin, "Whar sin kum frum?" as he cogently put it. It was here that a riotous liberty possessed him, and he preached with every faculty of his mind, with every passion and sentiment of his soul, with every nerve, every muscle, and every feature of his body. For nearly an hour the air cracked with excitement and the crowd melted beneath his spell. It was my first experience of that unusual power of his to move people in all possible ways by a single effort.

Jasper knew the fundamental doctrines of the Bible admirably, and always lived in vital contact with their essence. There was a kinship between the Bible and himself, and, untaught of the schools, he studied himself in the light of the Bible and studied the Bible in the darkness of himself. This kept him in contact with people and whenever he preached he invaded their experience and made conscious their wants to themselves. And so it came to pass that questions, which perplexed them, they had the habit of bringing to him. This question as to the origin of sin had been spurring and nagging some of his speculative hearers. They had wrangled over it, and they unloaded their perplexity upon him. So it was with this burden heavy upon him that he came, to the pulpit on this occasion.

It may have been a touch of his dramatic art, but at any rate he showed an amiable irritation, in view of his being under constant fire from his controversial church members, and so he started in as if he had a grievance. It gave pith and excitement to his bearing, as he faced the issue thus thrust upon him. As a fact, he knew that many inquirers sought to entangle him by their questions and this opened the way for his saying, with cutting effect, that they would do better to inquire, "whar sin wuz gwine ter kerry 'em, instid uv whar it kum frum."

"An' yer wants ter know whar sin kum frum, yer say. Why shud yer be broozin' eroun' wid sich a questun as dat? Dar ain' but wun place in de univus uv Gord whar yer kin git any infermashun on dis pint, and dar, I am free ter tel yer, yer kin git all dat yer wish ter know, an' maybe a good deal mo'. De place whar de nollidge yer need kin be got iz in de Word uv Gord. I knows wat sum dat hav' bin talkin' 'bout dis thing iz arter. I know de side uv de questun dey iz struttin' up on. Dey say, or dey kinder hint, dat de Lord Gord iz de orthur uv sin. Dat's wat dey iz wispurrin' roun' dis town. Dey can't fool Jasper; but I tell you de debbul iz playin' pranks on um an' will drag um down ter de pit uv hell, ef dey doan luk out mity quick. De Lord Gord know'd frum de beginnin' dat sum uv dese debbullish people wud bring up dis very charge an' say dat He had tendid dat dar shud be sin frum de beginnin'. He done speak His mind 'bout dat thing, an' ef yer luk in de fust chaptur uv Jeems yer'll find de solum uttrunce on dis subjik an' it kleers Gord furevur frum dis base slandur. 'Let no man say, ' says de Lord, 'wen he is temptid dat he is tempted uv Gord, fur Gord kin not be temptid uv any man, an' neethur tempts He any man.' Did yer hear dat? Dat's de Lord's own wurds. It spressly says dat people will be temptid, - everybody is temptid; I bin havin' my temptashuns all my life, an' I haz um yit, a heap uv um, an' sum uv um awful bad, but yer ain' ketchin' Jasper er sayin' dat Gord is at de bottum uv um. Ef I shud say it, it wud be a lie, an' all iz liars wen dey say dat Gord tempts um? De sinnur is gettin' towurds de wust wen he iz willin' ter lay de blame uv hiz sins on de Lord. Do it ef yer will, but de cuss uv Gord will be erpun yez wen yer try ter mek de Lord Gord sich es you iz; an' ter mek b'liev dat de Lord gits orf His throne an' kums down in ter mire an' clay uv your wicked life an' tries ter jog an' ter fool yer inter sin. I trimbul ter think uv sich a thing! I wonder dat de Lord duzn't forge new thunderbolts uv Hiz rath an' crush de heds uv dem dat charge 'im wid de folly uv human sin.

"Sum uv yer wud be mity glad ter git Gord mix'd up in yer sins an' ter feel dat He iz es bad es you iz. It jes' shows how base, how lost, how ded, you'se bekum. Wudn't we hev a pritty Gord ef He wuz willin' ter git out in de nite an' go plungin' down inter de horribul an' ruinus transgresshuns in wich sum men indulg'. Let me kleer dis thing up befo' I quit it. Bar in mine, dat Gord kin not be temptid uv any man. Try it ef yer chuze, an' He will fling yer in ter de lowes' hell, an' don't yer dar evur ter say, or ter think, or ter hope, dat de temtashun ter du rong things kum ter yer from Gord. It do not kum frum erbuv, but it kum out uv your foul an' sinful hart. Dey iz born dar, born uv your bad thoughts, born uv your hell-born lusts, an' dey gits strong in yer 'caus' yer don't strangul um at de start.

"But why shud dar be trubble 'bout dis subjic? Wat duz de Bibul say on dis here mattur 'bout whar sin kum frum? We kin git de troof out uv dat buk, fur it kuntains de Wurd uv Gord. Our Gord kin not lie; He nevur hav' lied frum de foundashun uv de wurl'. He iz de troof an' de life an' He nevur lies.

"Now, wat do He say kunsarnin' dis serus questun dat is plowin' de souls uv sum uv my brudderin. Ter de Bibul, ter de Bibul, we'll go an' wat do we git wen we git dar? De Bibul say dat Eve wuz obur dar in de gardin uv Edun one day an' dat she wuz dar by hersef. De Lord med Eve, 'caus' it worn't gud fer Adum ter be erloan, an' it luks frum dis kase dat it wuz not quite safe fer Eve ter be lef' at home by hersef. But Adum worn't wid her; doan know whar he wuz, - gorn bogin' orf sumwhars. He better bin at home tendin' ter his fambly. Dat ain' de only time, by a long shot, dat dar haz bin de debbul ter pay at home wen de man hev gorn gaddin' eroun', instid uv stay in' at home an' lookin' arter hiz fambly.

" While Eve wuz sauntrin' an' roamin' eroun' in de buterful gardin, de ole sarpint, dyked up ter kill, kum gallervantin' down de road an' he kotch'd site uv Eve an' luk lik he surpriz'd very much but not sorry in de leas'. Now yer mus' kno' dat ole sarpint wuz de trickies' an' de arties' uv all de beas' uv de feil', - de ole debbul, dat's wat he wuz. An' wat he do but go struttin' up ter Eve in a mity frien'ly way, scrapin' an' bowin' lik a fool ded in luv.

" 'How yer do?' He tries ter be perlite, an' puts on hiz sweetes' airs. Oh, dat wuz an orful momint in de life uv Eve an' in de histurry uv dis po' los' wurl uv ours. In dat momint de pizun eat thru her flesh, struk in her blud, an' went ter her hart. At fust she wuz kinder shame'; but she wuz kinder loansum, an' she wuz pleas'd an' tickl'd ter git notic'd in dat way an' so she stay'd dar instid uv runnin' fer her life.

" 'Ve'y wel, I thanks yer,' she say ertremblin', 'how iz you dis mornin'?' De sarpint farly shouts wid joy. He dun got her tenshun an' she lek ter hear 'im, an' he feel he got hiz chanz an' so goes on:

" 'Nice gardin yer got dar,' he say in er admirin' way. 'Yer got heap uv nice appuls obur dar.'

" 'Oh, yes, indeed,' Eve replies. 'We got lots uv um.'

" 'Eve spoke dese wurds lik she wuz proud ter deth 'caus' de sarpint lik de gardin. Dar stood de sarpint ve'y quiut tel, suddin lek, he juk eroun' an' he says ter Eve:

" 'Kin yer eat all de appuls yer got obur dar?'

" 'No, hindeed,' says Eve, 'we can't eat um all. We got moar'n we kin 'stroy save our lives. Dey gittin' ripe all de time; we hev jus' hogshids uv um.'

" 'Oh, I didn't mean dat,' spoke de sarpint, es ef shock'd by not bein' understud. 'My p'int iz, iz yer 'low'd ter eat um all? Dat's wat I want ter know. As ter yer laws an' rites in de gardin, duz dey all sute yer?'

" 'Fer a minnit de 'oman jump'd same es if sumbudy struk her a blow. De col' chils run down her bak, an' she luk lik she wan ter run, but sumhow de eye uv de sarpint dun got a charm on her. Dar wuz a struggul, er reglur Bull Run battul, gwine on in her soul at dat momint.

" 'Wat yer ax me dat questun fur?' Eve axed, gaspin' w'ile she spoke. Den de debbul luk off. He tri ter be kam an' ter speak lo an' kine, but dar wuz a glar' in hiz eyes. 'I begs many parduns,' he says, ' skuse me, I did not mean ter meddul wid yer privit buzniz. I'd bettur skuse mysef, I reckin, and try an' git erlong.'

" 'No; doan go,' Eve sed. 'Yer havn't hurt my feelin's. at yer say jes' put new thoughts in my min' an' kinder shuk me up at fust. ut I doan min' talkin'.'

" 'Ef dat be de kase,' speaks up de debbul, quite brave-lek, 'begs you skuse me ter ask agin ef de rules uv de gardin 'lows yer ter eat any uv dem appuls yer got in de gardin? I haz my reasuns fer axin' dis.'

"Eve stud dar shivurrin' lik she freezin' an' pale es de marbul toomstoan. But arter a gud wile she pint her han obur to er tree, on de hill on de rite, an' she tel 'im, es ef she wuz mity 'fraid, dat dar wuz a tree obur dar uv de Nollidge an' uv de Deestinxshun, an' she say, 'De Lord Gord He tel us we mus' not eat dem appuls; dey pisun us, an' de day we eat um we got to die. '

"Oh, my brudderin, worn't times mity serus den? 'Twuz de hour wen de powurs uv darknis wuz gittin' in an' de foundashuns uv human hopes wuz givin' way. Den it wuz he git up close ter Eve an' wispur in her ear:

" 'Did de Lord Gord tel yer dat? Doan tel nobody, but I wan' ter tel yer dat it ain't so. Doan yer b'liev it. Doan let 'im fool yer! He know dat's de bes' fruit in all de gardin, - de fruit uv de Nollidge an' de Deestinxshun, an' dat wen yer eats it yer will know es much es He do. Yer reckin He wants yer ter know es much es He do? Na-a-w; an' dat's why He say wat He do say. You go git um. Dey's de choysis' fruit in de gardin, an' wen yer eats um yer will be equ'ul ter Gord.'

"Erlas, erlas! po' deluded an' foolish Eve! It wuz de momint uv her evurlastin' downfall. Clouds uv darknis shrouds her min' an' de ebul sperrit leap inter her soul an' locks de do' behin' him. Dat dedly day she bruk 'way frum de Gord dat made her, Eve did, an' purtuk uv de fruit dat brought sin an' ruin an' hell inter de wurl'. "

"Po' foolish Eve! In dat momunt darknis fils her min', evul leaps in ter er heart, an' she pluck de appul, bruk de kumman uv Gord, and ate de fatul fruit wat brought death ter all our race.

"Artur er wile, Adum kum walkin' up de gardin and Eve she runs out ter meet 'im. Wen he kum near she hol' up er appul in her han' and tell him it iz gud ter eat. Oh, blin' and silly womun! First deceived herself, she turn roun' and deceives Adum. Dat's de way; we gits wrong, an' den we pulls udder folks down wid us. We rarly goes down by oursefs.

"But whar wuz de rong? Whar, indeed? It wuz in Eve's believin' de debbul and not believin' Gord. It wuz doin' wat de debbul sed an' not doin' wat Gord sed. An' yer kum here and ax me whar sin kum frum! Yer see now, doan' sher? It kum out uv de pit uv hell whar it wuz hatched 'mong de ainjuls dat wuz flung out uv heav'n caus dey disurbeyed Gord. It kum from dat land whar de name uv our Gord is hated. It wuz brought by dat ole sarpint, de fathur uv lies, and he brung it dat he mite fool de woman, an' in dat way sot up on de urth de wurks uv de debbul. Sin iz de black chile uv de pit, it is. It kum frum de ole sarpint at fust, but it's here now, rite in po' Jasper's hart and in your hart; wharevur dar iz a man or a woman in dis dark wurl' in tears dar iz sin, - sin dat insults Gord, tars down His law, and brings woes ter evrybody.

"An' you, stung by de sarpint, wid Gord's rath on yer and yer feet in de paf uv deth, axin' whar sin kum frum? Yer bettur fly de rath uv de judgmint day.

"But dis iz ernuff. I jes' tuk time ter tell whar sin kum frum. But my tong carnt refuse ter stop ter tel yer dat de blud uv de Lam' slain frum de foundashun uv de wurl' is grettur dan sin and mitier dan hell. It kin wash erway our sins, mek us whitur dan de drivin snow, dress us in redemshun robes, bring us wid shouts and allerluejurs bak ter dat fellership wid our Fathur, dat kin nevur be brokin long ez 'ternity rolls."

This outbreak of fiery eloquence was not the event of the afternoon, but simply an incident. It came towards the end of the service, and its delivery took not much more time than is required to read this record of it. His language was perhaps never more broken; but what he said flamed with terrific light. While there were touches of humor in his description of the scene in the Garden, his message gathered a seriousness and solemnity, which became simply overpowering. No words can describe the crushing and alarming effect, which his weird story of the entrance of sin into the world had upon his audience. Men sobbed and fell to the floor in abject shame, and frightened cries for mercy rang wild through the church. Possibly never a sweeter gospel note sounded than that closing reference which he made to the cleansing power of the blood shed from the foundation of the world.

There were many white persons present, and they went away filled with a sense of the greatness and power of the Gospel.

(This sermon was taken from a book we highly recommend to you: John Jasper by William E. Hatcher, reprinted by and available from Larry Harrison, Christian Book Gallery, 9066 Knickerbocker, St. John, Indiana 46373)