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THE REAL CONVERSION OF DR. JOHN SUNG

(A SERMON GIVEN AT THE CHINESE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, September 30, 2012

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).


June 4, 2012 marked the twenty-third anniversary of the “Tiananmen Square Massacre.” For six weeks in 1989, thousands of Chinese students peacefully demonstrated, calling for more freedom of thought. Then, in the early hours of June 4, the government’s army opened fire on thousands of unarmed demonstrators, killing unnumbered thousands and leaving thousands more injured. Hong Yujian watched the violence unfolding in Beijing on television when he was an exchange student at the University of Pennsylvania. He said that the Tiananmen Square Massacre made him question his hope in science and politics and led him to become a Christian.

He says the massacre at Tiananmen helped him and others see their own sin and need for Christ: “I think God used it to pave the way and prepare the heart of the Chinese people” (World Magazine, June 6, 2009, p. 38).

“All For Jesus.” Sing the chorus!

All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.
   (“All For Jesus” by Mary D. James, 1810-1883).

World Magazine said,

The growth rate of Christianity in China has exploded over the past 20 years. Experts cite rapid urbanization and a growing number of influential thinkers embracing Christ (ibid.).

In 1949, when the Communists took over China, there were less than 1 million native Chinese Christians. Today it is estimated that there are over 120 million Christians in China! There are now more Christians in church on Sunday in China than there are in America, Canada, Great Britain and Australia combined! Dr. C. L. Cagan, a statistician, estimates that there are now more than 700 conversions to Christianity every hour, 24 hours a day, in China. “All For Jesus.” Sing that chorus again!

All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.

The history of Christianity in China ought to be extremely interesting to Christians everywhere. The modern missionary movement in China began with Robert Morrison (1782-1834). Morrison was sent to China by the London Missionary Society in 1807. Aided by his colleague, William Milne, he translated the entire Bible into Chinese by 1821. During his 27 years in China only a few Chinese were baptized – yet all of them remained faithful Christians. Morrison’s Chinese translation of the Bible, and printing of gospel literature, became the foundation of evangelical Christianity in China.

In 1853 an English medical doctor, James Hudson Taylor, sailed for China. In 1860 he founded the China Inland Mission, now known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. Dr. Taylor’s associates eventually spread Christianity throughout the whole interior of China. Hudson Taylor died in Changsha in 1905.

In 1901 John Sung was born. He became known as the greatest evangelist in the history of China. Thousands of those who were converted under his preaching remained faithful to Christ after the Communists took over in 1949. In the last 60 years the number of Christians in China has exploded in the greatest revival of Christianity in modern history. This morning I am going to tell you the remarkable story of Dr. John Sung. I will begin by giving an outline of his life from Dr. Elgin S. Moyer.

John Sung (1901-1944), nationally famous Chinese evangelist; born in Hinghwa, Fukien, China; son of a Methodist pastor. [Had a false “conversion” at about age nine.] Brilliant student; studied at Wesleyan University, Ohio State University, and Union Theological Seminary. Received Ph.D. in chemistry. Returned to China to preach the Gospel rather than teach science. Spent fifteen years in evangelistic preaching throughout China and surrounding countries with unique power and influence (Elgin S. Moyer, Ph.D., Who Was Who in Church History, Moody Press, 1968 edition, p. 394).

“All For Jesus.” Sing it again!

All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.

Now that was just a brief sketch of Dr. John Sung’s life. Going back in more detail, I do not believe he was converted at the age of nine. I do not believe he was converted until February, 1927, at the age of 26.

Dr. Sung himself said that he was not converted until he went through a spiritual crisis in America many years later. When he was nine years old a revival occurred in Hinghwa. Within a month there were about 3,000 professions of faith in Christ. On Good Friday morning he heard a sermon on “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.” The preacher contrasted the sleeping Disciples with the fearlessness of Jesus. Many people wept with grief at the end of the sermon. Among the mourners was John Sung, the nine-year-old son of a Chinese Methodist preacher. It seems that John Sung “dedicated” his life to Christ but was not truly converted at that time. Like my former pastor at the Chinese church, Dr. Timothy Lin (whose father was also a preacher), John Sung began to preach and help his father by the age of thirteen. But, also like Dr. Lin, he had not yet experienced a real conversion. John Sung was a diligent student and finished high school at the top of his class. During this time he became known as the “little pastor.” But in spite of all his zeal and activity his heart was not completely satisfied. The work he was doing in ministry he described as “spectacular as the blue of a kingfisher’s feather, abundant as summer foliage, but without a single plucking of fresh fruit to offer to the Lord Jesus” (Leslie T. Lyall, A Biography of John Sung, China Inland Mission, 1965 edition, p. 15).

In 1919 Sung, at the age of 18, decided to go to America, and was accepted at Ohio Wesleyan University with free tuition. He began a pre-medical and pre-theological curriculum, but dropped the pre-theological courses and decided to specialize in mathematics and chemistry. He went to church regularly and organized evangelistic bands among the students. But during his final term he began to neglect Bible study and prayer, and cheated on one of his examination papers. He graduated in 1923 cum laude, as one of four students at the head of a class of three hundred. He was awarded the gold medal and the cash prize for physics and chemistry. He was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity, an exclusive society of the foremost scholars, and was given a gold key, a badge of great distinction in scholarship.

He was now offered scholarships from many universities, including Harvard University. He accepted a scholarship for a Master of Science degree at Ohio State University. He finished this degree in only nine months! Then he was offered a scholarship to study medicine at Harvard. He was given another offer to study at a seminary. He felt he should study theology, but the fame that had come to him blunted his desire to become a minister. Instead he entered a doctoral program in chemistry at Ohio State University. He completed his Ph.D. in just twenty-one months! Thus he became the first Chinese to earn a Ph.D. in the United States. He was described in the newspaper as “Ohio’s most famous student.” “But deep in his heart there was no peace. A growing spiritual unrest showed itself in periods of deep depression” (Lyall, ibid., p. 22).

During this time he came under the influence of liberal theology, and their teaching of the “social gospel.” Liberal theology teaches that Jesus was a noble example, but not the Saviour. It seems to me that John Sung thought of Jesus only as a “noble example” when he was nine years old, and for that reason he had a false conversion back then. But God was still calling him. One evening as he sat alone he seemed to hear the voice of God say to him, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

The next day he had a conversation with a liberal Methodist professor. He told the professor that he had originally come to America to study theology. The professor challenged him to go to New York to study religion at the extremely theologically liberal Union Theological Seminary. With only a moment’s hesitation he decided to go. At Union Seminary he was given a full scholarship and a generous living allowance. Later he said that he was not interested in the ministry, but only wanted to study theology for a year to satisfy his father, and then return to a scientific career. His heart was full of turmoil and darkness.

In the autumn of 1926 Dr. John Sung enrolled at Union Theological Seminary. The extremely liberal Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin had just been installed as president. Among the professors were such hard-core liberals as Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the author of several books against Fundamentalism, against Bible-believing Christianity.  He wrote books like “The Modern Use of the Bible” and “The Manhood of the Master.” Fosdick’s most famous lecture was “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” (1922). Fosdick preached against the bodily resurrection of Christ and the truthfulness of the Bible every week on his radio program. The Seminary was a hot-bed of criticism of the Bible and rejection of evangelical theology. “Anything in the Bible which could not be justified scientifically was rejected as being unworthy of belief! Genesis was held to be unhistorical and belief in miracles unscientific. The historical Jesus was presented as an ideal to imitate, while the substitutionary value of His death on the Cross, and His physical resurrection were denied. Prayer was regarded as a waste of time. To [disagree with] such views was to become an object of pity or derision” (Lyall, ibid., pp. 29-30).

Dr. Sung plunged into his study of liberal theology with all the powers of his intellect. During that year he made high grades, but he turned away from Christianity as he studied Buddhism and Taoism. He began chanting Buddhist scriptures in the seclusion of his room, hoping that self-denial would bring him peace, but it did not. He wrote, “My soul wandered in a wilderness.”

In this state of mind he became close friends with a Chinese girl at the seminary, but the fact that he was betrothed to another girl in China made him break off the relationship. His life became intolerable. He wrote, “I could neither sleep nor eat…My heart was filled with the deepest unhappiness.” The officials at the Seminary noted that he was in a state of continual depression.

It was in this emotional state that he went with some other students to hear Dr. I. M. Haldeman, the fundamentalist, Bible-believing, pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City. Dr. Haldeman was famous for saying, “He who denies the virgin birth denies Bible Christianity.” Dr. Haldeman was in a direct conflict with Harry Emerson Fosdick and Union Theological Seminary. John Sung went to hear him preach out of curiosity. But Dr. Haldeman did not preach that night. Instead a fifteen-year-old girl gave her testimony. She read the Scriptures and spoke on the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross. Sung said he could feel the presence of God in the service. His companions from the Seminary scoffed and laughed, but he himself went back for four more consecutive evenings of evangelistic services. “All For Jesus.” Sing it again. 

All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.

He began to read Christian biographies of men like John Wesley, George Whitefield and other great preachers, to discover the power that he felt in those evangelistic meetings at the First Baptist Church. During one class at the Seminary a lecturer spoke strongly against the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross. John Sung stood up at the end of the lecture and answered him in front of a startled student body.

Finally, on February 10, 1927, he experienced a real conversion. “He saw all the sins of his life spread out before him. At first it seemed that there was no way to get rid of his sins and that he must go to Hell. He tried to forget his sins, but he could not. They pierced his heart.  Then he turned to the story of the Cross in Luke xxiii, and as he read the story came alive…he seemed to be there at the foot of the Cross and pleading to be washed from all his sins in [Christ’s] precious Blood…He continued weeping and praying until midnight. Then he [seemed to hear] a voice saying, ‘Son, thy sins are forgiven,’ and all his load of sin seemed to fall at once from his shoulders…he leapt to his feet with a shout of ‘Hallelujah!’” (Lyall, ibid., pp. 33-34). He ran shouting and praising God through the halls of the dormitory. He now began to speak to everyone about their need for Christ, including his classmates and the teachers at the Seminary. He even told Harry Emerson Fosdick that he needed to be saved!  “All For Jesus.” Sing it again!

All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.

The president of the Seminary thought he had lost his mind due to extreme scholastic efforts, and had him committed to the psychopathic ward in an insane asylum. He spent six months confined in the asylum. Part of the time they made him wear a straitjacket. During that time he read the Bible from beginning to end forty times. “The mental hospital thus became John Sung’s real theological college!” (Lyall, p. 38). He was finally released on the condition that he would return to China – and not return to America. John Sung had cut off his connection with Union Seminary when he burned his liberal theological books, calling them, “books of demons.” Union Seminary has never been proud of its connection with the greatest evangelist in Chinese history.

On his voyage back to China he knew that he could easily obtain a position as a professor of chemistry in some Chinese university. “One day, as the vessel neared the end of its voyage, John Sung went down to his cabin, took out of his trunk his diplomas, his medals and his fraternity keys and threw them overboard [into the sea]. All except his doctor’s diploma, which he retained to satisfy his father” (Lyall, p. 40).

Dr. John Sung stepped off the boat in Shanghai in the fall of 1927, to become the most famous evangelist in Chinese history. He is often called the “Wesley of China.” John Sung became an extremely powerful preacher of the Gospel. Over 100,000 people were converted in China under his preaching in only three years! He also preached in Burma, Cambodia, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. He always preached with a translator, even in China, because his dialect was not widely known. Like George Whitefield, John Sung personally counselled most of those who responded to his preaching. “Christians today in China and Taiwan owe much to Sung’s ministry; he was one of God’s greatest gifts to the Far East in the twentieth century” (T. Farak, in J. D. Douglas, Ph.D., Who’s Who in Christian History, Tyndale House, 1992, p. 650). The best short biography of Dr. Sung is by Rev. William E. Schubert titled, “I Remember John Sung,” available at www.strategicpress.org. Click here to purchase Rev. Schubert’s biography. Click here to purchase a biography of Dr. John Sung by Leslie Lyall (not as good as Schubert’s but interesting if somewhat critical). Click here to purchase the diary of Dr. John Sung, titled “The Journal Once Lost.” Click here to read a Wikipedia article on Dr. Sung.

He died of cancer in 1944, at the age of forty-two.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

It is my prayer that you will experience a real conversion, as Dr. Sung did. I pray that God will show you the emptiness of this life; and that God will bring you under deep conviction of sin; and that God will draw you to Christ for cleansing from sin through His atoning Blood. When you trust Christ you will be born again, and have a wonderful new life in Him.  And I pray that you will come back tonight at 6:30 PM to hear another sermon titled, “China – and the Prodigal Son” (click here to read it). Amen. Please stand and sing hymn number 6 on your song sheet, “All For Jesus.”

All for Jesus, all for Jesus! All my being’s ransomed powers:
   All my thoughts and words and doings, All my days and all my hours.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours;
   All for Jesus! All for Jesus! All my days and all my hours.
(“All For Jesus” by Mary D. James, 1810-1883).

CLICK HERE TO READ “WITH DR. SUNG AT THE LIBERAL SEMINARY.”

CLICK HERE TO READ “MOON CAKES –
AND THE GOD WHO MADE THE MOON!”

CLICK HERE TO READ “WHY GOD IS BLESSING CHINA –
BUT JUDGING AMERICA!”

CLICK HERE TO READ “THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IN CHINA.”

CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – THE DOOR IS OPEN!”

CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – SEALED BY GOD’S SPIRIT!”

CLICK HERE TO READ “CHINA – THEY SHALL COME FROM THE EAST!”

CLICK HERE TO READ “THANKSGIVING IN CHINA.”

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Mark 8:34-37.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Ye Must Be Born Again” (by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904).