The theme of this year’s church camp is “Revive Thy Church, O Lord!” As we embark for our annual spiritual retreat, it will be good for us to understand what happened during the Asian Awakening under John Sung in the early to mid-1900s.

It is important for us to understand Dr. John Sung, for the Lord used him to be the Chinese root of the Bible-Presbyterian movement in Singapore. Many of the founding fathers in the B-P Church were not only saved but called to full-time service under his preaching of God’s Word. Dr. John Sung was fervent in evangelism and preached strongly on a life of true repentance and holiness in Christ Jesus. He also zealously denounced all falsehood and apostasy. He was a true stalwart of the faith. Just as we remember the 16th Century Reformation, we must also not forget the early 20th Century Asian Awakening.

The following is an abridgement of a lecture conducted by Rev. Timothy Tow in London, 1986, under the invitation of Dr. Peter Masters of Metropolitan Tabernacle. This was the historical church that had Charles Haddon Spurgeon as their pastor. It continues to stand faithful to the Lord under the stewardship of Dr. Peter Masters.

What biblical principles can Tabernacle BPC learn from the life of Dr. John Sung? Let us not forget our Chinese root! May we continue in the same spirit as that of the Asian Awakening.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew


(An Abridgement of pp.25-36 of Asian Awakening by Timothy Tow)
Text: John 1:6-9

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

The Asian Awakening brought about by John Sung with remarkably lasting results cannot be understood unless we fathom the depths of his training, from early childhood to his education in America and return to China at the age of 27. Inasmuch as the 16th Century Reformation was first forged in the innermost being of Martin Luther before he could stand before Emperor and prelates and refute them, the Asian Awakening had stemmed from John Sung’s soul-struggle against the dark powers of modernist unbelief and the ravages of the sinfulness of sin. In John Sung’s own words, he did not indulge in the four Chinese proverbial sins of womanising, gambling, drinking and smoking, but rather in the deadlier sins of the spirit, viz., pride, hypocrisy, doubt and disbelief. The way John Sung portrayed the crushing burden of sin in his preaching could not be so vividly acted out but from his own experience. His message was therefore that of John the Baptist, inasmuch as he was called John on the night of his conversion, a message of unremitting rebuke of sin in both high and low places, particularly in the Church.

His mission was to plough through the fallow ground of a dead Christianity in the hearts of nominal Christians and “rice” Christians, that the living waters of the Holy Spirit might enter in and bring forth life. “Except a man be born again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” was the theme of his revival preaching.

John Sung was born in 1901 to a Chinese Methodist pastor’s family of eleven children. He was the only one dedicated to the Lord, even from his mother’s womb. Strong-headed like his father, with a fiery temper, he nevertheless had a soft heart. He was most fearful of death from an early age. When he was eight or nine, he experienced the blessings of a Pentecost that visited his home Church in Hinghwa wherein three thousand were gloriously saved. At the age of 13 he be-came his father’s assistant, even in standing in for him at the pulpit, so much so he was called the Little Pastor. He loved not only to preach but also to sing.

A brilliant scholar, he veered from his parent’s vow to find entrance to the Naval College. Failing this, and further being turned away from entering the university in the national capital, Nanking, by the sudden death of a sister, he quickened his steps toward America, through the help of a missionary friend. Though intending to study for the ministry in fulfilment of his parents’ vow, he veered again, now to take up science. He studied in Ohio from 1920 to 1926, culminating with the Ph.D. in Chemistry, with awards of gold keys and medals and cash prizes. At the height of human glory, he was cast down with melancholy as the words of Jesus, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) spoke to his heart. At this point of time he was visited by a Methodist pastor, who suggested he join the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

At Union Seminary he was bombarded with liberal theology left and right. His favourite teacher was Harry Emerson Fosdick, later minister of New York’s famed Riverside Church. His faith crumbled to the ground. In a sermon he preached in later years he lamented the deadening effect of modernistic teachings, punning the word “seminary” with the word “cemetery”. Incidentally, the president of Union Seminary at this time was surnamed Coffin, to be exact, Henry Sloane Coffin. And if what he got from the “cemetery” was a “God-is-dead” theology, and if Christ be not risen, what was the purpose of his pursuing the study of Christianity anymore? Therefore, he turned to Taoism, Buddhism, and to the Koran. For forty days and nights the struggle between Truth and Error, between Light and Darkness, between the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Satan, raged in his soul.

On the fortieth night which was February 10, 1927, according to his own words, “I got to the point where I no longer had any desire to live.” Nevertheless, he persevered to pray on and confess his sins. When the clock struck twelve mid-night, suddenly he was overwhelmed by a vision of the crucified Christ standing before him. In a compassionate voice the Lord comforted him, “My son, your sins are forgiven! Your name is now changed to John.” As the vision receded, John felt a wonderful relief in the sudden rolling away of his sin-burden. Leaping to his feet with a shout of Hallelujah, he sang loud praises to God. His songs of praise rang through the corridors of his fourth-floor dormitory.

Recalling February 10, 1927, he said in an interview, “That night of nights was the birth of new life in me after forty days of wilderness struggle. I shall never forget. The same night I received the Lord’s Commission to go into all the world to be His end-time witness. The Lord is coming very soon. He needs heralds before His return.”

For a whole week John Sung preached the glad news of his newfound Saviour without let-up. Gentle as a lamb to those who heard him patiently, he had the boldness of a lion against every power of darkness. His spiritual eyes opened, he went straight to his favourite teacher, Fosdick: “You are of the devil. You made me lose my faith!” For denouncing sin in high places, he was sent to a lunatic asylum where he was confined for 193 days.

The mental hospital was God’s appointed seminary for John. Shut out from the world, he read his Bible day and night forty times. Henceforth he would read no other book but the Book of books. He said, “The Bible is the inspired Word of God, written by the moving of the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Bible reader, unless it is revealed to him by God at the instruction of the Holy Spirit, how can he understand it? I thank God that He has shown me the mysteries of the Bible. I know that every chapter, every verse, every word has something good for my spiritual life.”

In the madhouse he was confined to, in the ward where the severest cases were treated, he was bombarded by a tirade of jangling sounds throughout the day. Here the hothead of a scholar was properly tempered to become a patient servant of the Lord. Head knowledge of Bible truth without heart knowledge is dead knowledge. John was also convinced that to be a servant of God, he must not look at the world and its riches, nor listen to man’s ridicule and criticism. To make sure he would no more be attracted by the glitters of this world, he threw all his degrees and gold keys and medals into the ocean on his voyage back to China.

From the beginning of his ministry, the Lord had revealed to John Sung he was granted fifteen years to serve Him, at intervals of three years each. These three-year intervals were made up of Water, Door, Dove, Blood and Tomb. The Water Period was the Probation Period wherein he had to learn the lesson of much work and little result. After he graduated from this probation, God began to open a door that no man could shut. His Peak Period was Dove, when the Holy Spirit poured out power and more power upon his preaching. The Blood period coincided with his fistula and bleeding bowels, and the bloody Sino-Japanese War. The Tomb Period saw John Sung totally exhausted and undergoing surgery a number of times, leading to his home-call in 1944, one year before the end of World War Il. Mr. Wang Ming Tao, who is still living today with his wife in Shanghai, preached the funeral sermon honouring John Sung as China’s Jeremiah.

(…to be continued)