He is considered one of the most prominent enslaved preachers in Virginia. For his community folks, John Jasper was the icon to listen to during a burial service because he would make any listening to him cry when there is a need and laugh when there is a reason to. His gift lay in his ability to paint colorful imagery of reality delivered through an oratory skill next to none and made him always sought after by many, according to Preaching.
To say he was an acclaimed African-American preacher in the 19th century would be an understatement of the large footprints he left in the discharge of his stewardship. Jasper was born to Philip and Tina Jasper on July 4, 1812. He was the youngest of 24 children who grew up on the Peachy Plantation, Fluvanna County, Virginia. His father was a Baptist preacher and his mum was a committed servant of the Lord. He probably picked the inspiration for his calling from his parents.
His father passed on two months before his birth. His mother was urged by family and friends to name him after her deceased husband. But she resisted the urge and named him after the biblical John, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ. Jasper became a Christian at the age of 27. He was baptized in 1849. According to African American Registry, he began preaching the very day he was baptized at a funeral service. His oratory skills and depth of the Bible caught the attention of many.
He was given a license to preach by the First African Baptist Church 30 days after his baptism. Historical accounts say Jasper is noted for having baptized 300 of his congregation in four hours. His influence peaked in 1867 when he organized the historic sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church he established. He was finally granted his freedom in April 1865 after years of rolling the mill in Richmond. He started the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in a horse stable with nine members and a $9 per week salary.
He gained national prominence in 1878 following his preaching dubbed “the sun do move”, which has been preached more than 250 times, and once in front of the Virginia General Assembly. The sermon was inspired by an argument between two members of his church on whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth around the sun.
When the issue was brought to Jasper’s attention, he decided to dedicate a sermon to resolve the debate. The reason his proposition became popular was that it challenged a new scientific theory by English naturalist Charles Darwin called Darwinism.
It was challenged because it had no scientific basis. But Jasper based his argument on the gospel in Joshua 10:13, which talks about the sun and the moon standing still for Israelites to fight their enemies. His sermon sought to prove that the sun actually moved around the earth.
Jasper also had a church filled with many yearning to listen to him preach. He was the last of the old-styled enslaved preachers. Dozens of books have been written about his black religious experience and how he had changed the long-held views people had about the gospel.