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. Among them are men like David Brainerd, Henry Martyn, and Robert Murray McCheyne, to mention but a few. John Sung is one whose light shown brightly but burned out quickly. However, the fruit of his ministry extends to our present time.
Born September 27, 1901, he 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. He was named Ju-un (God's grace). 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 Ju-un 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 Ju-un 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 the 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 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 honors (cum laude) in 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 honors 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 came under the influence of liberal theology.
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, "What shall it profit a man if he 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. The seminary officials had him committed to a mental hospital. During his time there, he read the Bible through 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 Union Theological Seminary. He used to refer to 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 traveled 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 died on August 18, 1944.
A very dear friend, Dr. Peter Ng (founder and director of the Jesus Saves Mission based in Singapore), relates that when he (Dr. Ng) was just a lad, John Sung preached a revival meeting in Singapore in the church of Ng's father. It was at that time that Peter Ng truly gave his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ and caught a vision of reaching out to the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many still living who have been brought to the foot of the cross and had their sins washed in the precious blood of Jesus as a result of the message that John Sung preached with passion wherever he went.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Cross of Christ my Lord.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.