John Sung was converted on February 10, 1927. The place was Union Theological Seminary, New York – a hot-bed of liberal theology. But this young Chinese student (then 26 years of age), attended an evangelistic campaign at nearby Calvary Baptist Church. “He expected to hear an eloquent and learned preacher, but instead the speaker was a 15 year-old girl!”
And when the Gospel was faithfully proclaimed and Christ exalted, Sung confessed: “My soul’s thirst was somewhat slaked.”
Whilst his fellow students scoffed at evangelical Christianity, John Sung began to study the Scriptures as never before. Now he discovered that Christ did rise from the dead – contrary to the affirmations of his lecturers, and that salvation was through faith in Him.
“He absented himself from lectures and spent time in prayer. Day after day went by this way. Then, on the evening of 10 February, light broke on his darkened soul. He forgot it was midnight and awakened his fellow students with his shouts of ‘Hallelujah!’”
From the night of his conversion Sung took on the name John, in honour of John the Baptist.
The authorities at Union Theological Seminary were quite sure he had suffered a mental breakdown. They had him committed to the psychopathic ward of Bloomingdale Hospital. It became his new theological college. Here he spent six months unlearning the heresies of Fosdick and Coffin, his previous lecturers, and six months of drinking deep in the Word of God, reading it from cover to cover forty times.
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John boarded a ship bound for Shanghai on October 4, 1927. Before reaching China he threw all of his academic honours and medals overboard (except his doctoral diploma which he kept to show to his father). He knew that China needed the gospel, not an academic.
Back in China he married, attended the Bethel Bible School of Shanghai, became an evangelist and was instrumental in leading a great evangelistic movement. In the next 15 years (before his death at the age of 43) “he shook the church in China and South-East Asia. His converts were numbered in tens of thousands.”
John R.W. Stott – who wrote the Foreword to one of John Sung’s biographies – says that he was “the greatest evangelist China has even known”.
John Sung was born on September 27, 1901 in Hinghwa, Fukien province, southeast China, to a Methodist pastor, as one of eleven children. Sung had both a fiery temper and a soft heart. He was about eight years old when about 3,000 people where gloriously saved in a revival at his home church. He was converted at age 9 and from the age of 13 began assisting his father, even filling in as a preacher and earning the nickname ‘Little Pastor’.
Sung was a brilliant scholar and went to university where he came under the influence of modernist unbelief. In America he earned a PhD in Chemistry by 1926 but was discomforted by Jesus’ words, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). A Methodist pastor suggested he study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But the deadening effect of the liberal theology caused Sung to lose heart in Christianity and turn to Taoism, Buddhism and the Koran.
After 40 days of desperation, to the point of wishing to die, he pressed on with the confession of his sins and then had a midnight vision of Jesus saying, “’My son, your sins are forgiven! Your name is now changed to John”. John had a new passion for souls which burned brightly until his death.
Missionary endeavour in China had yielded minimal fruit from the time of Robert Morrison to the arrival of John Sung. It was he who wrestled the Chinese people from the mouth of the dragon.
It has been estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 Chinese were born again in 15 years of Sung’s relentless service. He traversed the length and breadth of China and Southeast Asia.
Sung’s message was to point out sin and show that only the blood of Jesus can save. Rather than evangelism, Sung was a revivalist, bringing dormant Christians to vital faith.
Sung’s preaching prowess was attested to by William E Schubert, veteran missionary to China, who said, “Dr. John Sung was probably the greatest preacher of the 20th century. I have heard almost all of the great preachers from 1910 until now, including RA Torrey, Billy Sunday, Henry Jowett, and Billy Graham. Yet John Sung surpassed them all in pulpit power, attested by amazing and enduring results”.
From the day of Sung’s conversion, with its supernatural vision of Christ, he operated under an anointing that made his efforts highly effective. He is called a true apostolic evangelist, countless signs and wonders following his ministry and he displayed a genuine prophetic anointing. On several occasions he revealed the sins of some backslidden pastor with amazing and fearful accuracy.
He has been variously dubbed the “John Wesley of China”, the “Ice-Breaker” and the “Apostle of Revival”.
Sung was also an intercessor, rising at 5am each day to pray for 2 or 3 hours. He also prayed for he sick, reserving one meeting at each crusade for healing prayer. Genuine healings occurred in the hundreds, including restored sight, lame walking and hearing restored. He personally laid hands and prayed for over 500 people at some meetings.
Sung suffered from intestinal tuberculosis which often crippled him with pain. That disease contributed to his early death, on August 18, 1944, aged 43.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com