“Uncle John Vassar”
Baptist History segment at Fairhaven Baptist Church in Chesterton, Indiana
One of the the finest and most fruitful soul winners that American history has ever recorded is John Vassar. He was known in history as Uncle John Vassar. His family came from French Huguenot heritage the beginning of the 18th century or early 1700s, because of religious persecution in France. His family crossed the English Channel into Britain and lived there for three or four generations. That is where John’s father was born. They chafed under the continuous church state restrictions (Britain didn’t like them either because they were of dissenter persuasion actually of baptist persuasion) and eventually Tom Vassar, John’s father, and his brothers left Britain and came to America.
In a short time his father was married. We are going to focus on their fourth child, John Vassar, who was born on January 13, 1813. There was a lot of strong things in their family but wealth was not one of them. So John was not provided with a very long education. In fact at the age of twelve, he was employed in a brick yard doing man’s work. When he was 20 (and I tell you this part of it just because it was important for the rest of his life but) he suffered an accident. While he was crossing a kind of a crude log bridge, he fell between the logs and crushed his leg. He survived of course, but it was a crippling injury and he walked with a limp the rest of his life.
When John was 25, he was married. He was still unsaved at this point but a revival meeting was held in the the Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie there in New York. John would not go. He was really living for the devil at that point, he was working at a brewery. One of his cousins offered to pay him to attend the meeting. So he went to the meeting to get paid, but he returned the second time without pay and and came under great conviction. Although he had not been exceptionally wicked, John Vasser saw himself as the very sinner who had caused the death of Christ. This kind of reminds us of John Bunyan before he was saved with a similar conviction.
When he experienced salvation John Vassar was a transformed man. He just lived in continual amazement of the wonderful grace of God and and this really set his whole life on fire for the Lord. In April 1842, he joined the Poughkeepsie Baptist Church. His pastor, Rufus Babcock, was a good man and took a lot of time with him, counseled him, guided the young convert.
Jonathan Vasser became as I said one of the finest personal soul winners that American history has ever recorded. He purposed in his heart through personal witnessing to bring as many people to Christ as he possibly could. It is impossible to tell his a whole story here, the American Tract Society has written a book about his life. He called himself the Shepherd’s dog, referring to the Lord being the shepherd. He was a very strange man. He was very unusual looking and acting and because of that people knew who he was.
Something that Dr. AJ Gordon wrote about the Shepherd’s dog, he knew him. He said that to one who never met him it would be quite impossible to describe the impression which he instantly made. He literally gave a shock the moment that he reached out to to shake your hand. He mentioned, there was such an intensity of zeal accompanied with such a magnetic manner, that the impression was instantaneous and quite overwhelming. It was the lightning-like penetration of a piety that was always charged to the highest pitch. Indeed, the first question that occurred to anyone was , how could it be possible for a man to live in such an intense and highly wrought condition of religious fervor. Yet, there was very little apparent variation of temperature.
He traveled from Maine to Florida, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, on foot or horseback, by rail and by steamer. Resting not in summer or winter in the one intense eager pursuit of lost souls. Wherever you found him, there was the same burning zeal speaking out in his looks and in his words. He lived during the time of the Civil War and there are a couple of interesting stories in the book that the American Tract Society wrote. For time we will just relate one.
He was a Yankee but he would purposely go to the Union troops and march with them, live with them in the camps just to witness to them. It is said that one time before daylight we were all tumbling out and falling into line the columns were pushing along the artillery rose as if on a race toward the Pennsylvania Hills. John was 50 years old or more but he kept up with the best. He not only kept up but he would often shoulder for a mile or two the gun or knapsack of some poor fellow ready to give out.
We missed him before getting to Gettysburg and weeks past before our men again saw his face. After the fight was over, he became separated in some way from our troops, and he was captured by Jeb Stuart’s cavalry. When brought into the presence of the general, he was questioned as a suspected spy. He instantly dissipated the suspicious general and the suspicions of the officers by his frank and fearless words from Scripture. He quickly turned to the general and said, “I am working as a colporteur of the American Tract Society to try and save the souls of the dear boys that fall around me daily. General, do you love Jesus?” Now Stuart was not a Christian and he tried to deflect that, and he said “I know that good old Society and I have no fear of his emissaries.” Vassar just ‘buttonholed’ him saying, “but general do you love Jesus?” trying to get back to the subject. The puzzled general was relieved by the suggestion of some of his men. The men who had arrested John had also come under his ‘buttonholing’ his witnessing. They said, “General take the man’s promise that he will not tell of our whereabouts for 24 hours. Let us see him out of our lines or we will have a prayer meeting from here to Richmond.” I read a secular account that said at one time you know that he was captured by Stuart’s army and they said they quickly released him because of his prayers and his preaching. So there’s how to get out of an enemy camp!
Another time, he was going door-to-door in a town as he was traveling across the United States. He was going from house-to-house and distributing tracts and talking to people about their souls. A woman who heard about the strange man coming into town and what he was doing said, “if he comes to my house he will get the door slammed in his face.” Without knowing what the woman had said, the next day he happened to knock on her door and when she saw that he was the man who had been described to her she slammed the door in his face. Vassar sat down on her doorstep and he began to sing he said, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here Lord I give myself away ‘tis all that I can do.” That song made its way into the house. She heard him singing and she was greatly convicted and called out to him. She went out and he led her to the Lord. He was really an amazing man.
I was just thinking how Pastor Damron has started the Fisherman’s Club with the sole idea of just making us more aware of the opportunities we have to witness to people. When I read about a man like John Vassar, who took every opportunity, it didn’t matter if he was a prisoner of war or if he had a painful limp that followed him the rest of his life. He couldn’t walk, and yet he basically walked from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and back again, and up and down New England and that never stopped him. That would have been a great excuse, for me for sure many of us perhaps, and he would not let him let that stop him. So I thank the Lord for Uncle John Vassar and his tremendous witness for the Lord.