Volume. XXVIII, No. 45
Sunday, 11 May 2014

A FLAME FOR GOD - A Brief Biography of John Sung, 1901-1944

Adapted from an Original Article by the Gospel Fellowship Association

“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ”
- Philippians 3:8

So many of those used in a singular way in the Lord's work have been young and their ministries brief, like meteors streaking across the sky for a few moments of time. Dr. John Sung is one of God’s faithful ministers in Asia whose light shone brightly but burned out quickly, lasting just 42 years. However, the fruit of his ministry extends to our present time especially for churches in East and Southeast Asia. Dr. Sung even has a part in Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church’s history originating from his ministry in Southeast Asia in the 1930’s which helped raise the future pioneers and leaders of the Bible-Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Malaya in the 1950’s.

Born September 27, 1901, John Sung (Chinese name Sòng Shàng-Jíe 宋尚节) was the sixth son of a poor Chinese Methodist evangelist in Hinghwa, Fukien Province, of southeast China - an area that was a stronghold of Buddhism. His family soon recognized his keen intellect and also his quick temper and stubborn will. In answer to earnest prayer, a revival broke out in Hinghwa; and the nine-year-old John was convicted of sin and accepted Christ as Redeemer and Lord. From that time forward, he had an exceptional love for the Word of God, an unusual desire to pray, and a passion to preach. His father, a man of prayer, would climb a hill to his place of private prayer. Young John would follow his father to his trysting place. A praying father nurtured a praying son.

As a school lad, he accompanied his father on preaching trips to many provincial villages and, in due time, became his father's pastoral assistant. His scholastic record was brilliant; and some missionaries, seeing great potential, were able to procure a scholarship for this young man at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.  His father was opposed to this because he did not want his son to be corrupted by American ways. In addition, they had no money to pay the fare to the U.S. However, local village pastors, out of their own poverty, collected sufficient funds to pay the ocean fare; and his father finally consented to his accepting the scholarship and going to the U.S.

John had to work hard at very menial jobs in order to pay for room and board.  Applying himself to his studies with unusual diligence and energy, he graduated with high honours (cum laude) in just three years with a degree in Chemistry and Physics. His outstanding academic record was noted and a full scholarship granted for him to pursue graduate studies at Ohio State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Many honours were accorded him. He was appointed as an Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Ohio State University. During this period of time at Ohio State University, he also came under the influence of liberal theology that was proliferating in 1920’s USA.

In spite of all his outstanding accomplishments, John experienced periods of deep depression.  Back in China the government had taken notice of this brilliant student, and Peking University offered him a post with a very lucrative salary.  At the same time, he was also offered a research fellowship in Germany.  One evening while contemplating what course to take, he seemed to hear the voice of God saying to him, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36).

The Wesley Foundation representative at Ohio State University encouraged this backslidden young man to consider theological training and arranged for him to attend the very liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  With a full scholarship at the seminary, he plunged into his studies with his usual diligence. Here his confidence in Christianity was shaken, and he turned to the ancient religions of the East-Buddhism and Taoism--and delved into mysticism. The world seemed to him altogether vanity and life, only trouble and misery. "My soul," he wrote, "wandered in a wilderness. I could neither sleep nor eat.  My faith was like a leaking, storm-driven ship without captain or compass.  My heart was filled with the deepest unhappiness." 

At this low point in his spiritual life, he attended a meeting at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, where the Gospel was preached clearly and powerfully. He went through a severe spiritual struggle.  I Corinthians 1:19 came to his mind:  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." He felt this verse was directed at him personally. He was emotionally distraught. He stopped going to classes and again turned to reading the Word of God that he had neglected. 

One night at midnight while praying and crying for peace, he heard the words, "Son, thy sins are forgiven." He felt immediate relief.  Sin fell off. He shouted "Hallelujah!" and, at that late hour, began to run through the dormitory halls shouting and praising God. He put aside all of his theological books and gave himself to reading the Bible only. Consequently, the seminary officials had him committed to a mental hospital.  During his time there, he read through the Bible 40 times. The mental institution became his real theological college. He changed his name to John - John Sung. God had allowed Sung to spend over six months in “retirement” in order to teach him truths that he never could have learned at the Union Theological Seminary. John often cites August 30, 1927, the day of his discharge from the mental hospital, as the day he received his “highest degree”.

In October of that year, he sailed for Shanghai.  God had so dealt with him that he had not a shadow of doubt that he had been called to the task of preaching the Gospel in China and perhaps in other lands as well. One day, as the vessel neared the end of the voyage, John Sung went down to his cabin and took out of his trunk his diplomas, medals, and fraternity keys and threw all of them overboard except for his doctoral diploma, which he retained to satisfy his father. He returned to China as an evangelist and not as a Ph.D. in Chemistry. 

He turned down many academic offers and gave himself solely to the preaching of the Word.  His preaching was impassioned and strangely patterned after the preaching and pulpit mannerisms of Billy Sunday.  The secret of the success of this young evangelist was two-fold:  his devotion to prayer and his intense earnestness. His life was almost entirely taken up in prayer and preaching. He prayed earnestly over those whom he had the joy of leading to Jesus Christ and kept an extensive file of their names and circumstances. He lived in a very humble way, eating the crudest of food and living a very ascetic style of life. He put aside his European clothes to take up the simple Chinese costume.

Seeing a need to train the new believers, he developed an itinerant theological college.  Basically, it involved taking some of his young Timothys with him as he travelled from evangelistic meeting to evangelist meeting and training them on site. These developed into what were referred to as "Bethel Bands"; and many of these groups of new converts, having been discipled and trained by Sung, were sent all over the Chinese-speaking part of Southeast Asia. He preached the Gospel with great intensity and burned out at the early age of 42 following 15 years of evangelistic service. He returned to glory on the 18th August 18, 1944, after battling intestinal tuberculosis in his last years. 

In closing, the life of John Sung can perhaps be best summarised in the words from Galatians 2:20:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me”
May we be encouraged by the story of John Sung to fulfil the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20) and to live a life pleasing and acceptable to Him (Eph 5:8-10).  Amen.

Dn Wai Kin Wong

More Lively Hope



Kitchen Roster Leader: Today: Raphael Ng. Next Lord’s Day:  Volunteer.
*Session wishes all mothers & grandmothers a blessed Mother’s Day today.
*Welcome Back to Adelaide - Pastor Ki & Sis Myung.
*New Sunday School Teachers’ Training  Course starts in June. If Interested, please see Bro Joseph Selvanayagam or Deaconess Purdee Yeo ASAP.
*Please invite your family, relatives & friends to join us in our 28th Anniversary Thanksgiving.
*Home-going of Bro YoungSoo Kim on Thurs, 1 May. Condolences to Sis WolHee & her daughters.

Praise & Thanksgiving
Journey mercies: Ps Okman & Sis Myung Ki; Bro Joseph & Sis Chrisanthi Selvanayagam & family (Adl); Bro David & Sis Susan Weng & family (Kaohsiung); Bros Raymond Ang (Adl/Pinnaroo), Houston Li (Goolwa/Adl), Raphael Ng (Waikerie/Adl) & Aaron Tan (France/Adl); Sisters Queenie Lau, Christabelle Selvanayagam (Adl), Sophine Bai, Katrina Loh (S’pore), Daphne Lai (Thailand) & Jun Lin (Melb); & others who have arrived safely at their destinations. 
Church activities in the past week.
God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.
Visitors & new worshippers.
Korea Missions: Ps Okman & Sis Myung Ki.

Prayer Items
Health & God’s healing - Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; Rev George van Buuren; Grandpa Ki (S’pore); Bro Colin & Sis Kathleen Creaser; Bro Len & Sis Margaret Pearson; Preacher Zhang (Sihanoukville); Bros Surish Dharmalingam (Laos), Elton Law & Kang Fun Tan (Sis Felicia’s father - S’pore); Sisters Nita Chong’s cousin (Mr Seck Aik Foo), Lai Kheng Chiong (KL), Margaret Hooper, Grace Gan’s father (healing), Choon Fong Lee (KL), Ruth Ngoma, Iris Surman’s brother, Corinne Teng, Susan Varadi, Susan Weng & Mavis Wong’s mother (salvation & healing); Mr Swee Liang Ng; Mr Mang Soo Ong; Bro Peng Cheong Wong; Mr Lucas Lee; Mr Tony Zhang; Mrs Maggie D’Mello (Mumbai); & others in affliction.
Special Prayer: Sis Queenie Lau; Bro Herbert (Dilly) Anderson, missionary to Kenya (recovery from pneumonia & renal failure).
God’s Comfort & Strength: Sis WolHee Lee (Kim) & family (S Korea).
iSketch & Tell Studio, YouTube Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim.
Cambodia Missions - Bro Chan Thon & Ministry (Siem Reap); Bro Barnabas & Ministry (Poipet).
Batam Missions - Sis Ang Liang Phoa & Ministry; Filadelfia B-P Church, orphanage & kindergarten.
New Life BPC (London) - resident pastor; strength & encouragement for congregation.
Future ministry - God’s provision & guidance for Bro David & Sis Susan Weng. 
Ministry in Ebenezer BPC (May & June): Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe.
Journey mercies: Bros Houston Li (Goolwa/Adl) & Raphael Ng (Waikerie/Adl); Sisters Daphne Lai (HK) & Jun Lin (Adl); & others travelling.
Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
Safe labour & delivery: Sis Kerrie Lam
Health in pregnancy: Sisters May Lau & Tabitha Tan.
God’s guidance & wisdom for those in authority in Australia.
PR application: Bro William Song; Sisters Xiao Hui Chye & Yashu Qin (& job).




© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
14 Bedford Square, Colonel Light Gardens, South Australia 5041