Journal Once Lost

The Diaries of John Sung: An Autobiography, translated by Stephen L. Sheng, D.D.S.. Privately published, obtainable for $13 from the translator, 930 E. Grand River, Brighton, Michigan 48116. Paper, 223 pages. The Journal Once Lost: Extracts from the Diary of John Sung. Compiled by Levi. Translated by Thng Pheng Soon. Singapore: Genesis Books, An imprint of ARMOUR Publishing Pte Ltd. ISBN 13: 978-981-4222-08-2; ISBN 10: 981-4222-08-9. Paper. 551 pages, including appendices. These two books reveal the outward actions and inner heart of a man greatly used by God. For about a dozen years (1928-1940), kindling revivals wherever he went. Working almost non-stop, he traveled from place to place, preaching, teaching, praying for the sick, and organizing evangelist bands to continue the work after he had moved on. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands were spiritually and physically changed through his ministry. As a preacher, he possessed a brilliant intellect, animated gestures, a voice that would imitate any of the characters in the countless Bible stories and parables he told, and a passion for the salvation of lost souls that moved his hearers to tears. John Song hated sin, in himself and in others. Fearlessly, he exposed and rebuked any declension from the lofty standards of biblical holiness. Especially in his earlier years, he did not shrink from pointing out the faults of leading Christians and citizens in his audience, calling individuals to repentance. But John Song was no self-righteous hypocrite. Far from it! His diaries reveal a daily soul-searching that he deemed essential for Christian living and for effective service as a preacher. How he lamented his many sins, including a quick temper and occasional pride in his extraordinary success! How he called upon God for constant cleansing and forgiveness! Reading these pages brings one into the presence of a holy man with an incandescent zeal for God and his kingdom. Not surprisingly, he met with fierce and sometimes violent opposition throughout his years of ministry. Business owners who lost customers because people no longer worshiped idols or indulged in vices; Western missionaries and Chinese church leaders whose spiritual poverty and immoral lives contrasted too sharply with the righteousness which John Song insisted should mark the Christian; government and Nationalist Party officials who were outraged when Song urged believers not to bow to the image of Sun Yat-sen or make “saving China” their first goal in life – all slandered him, threatened him, and sometimes tried to kill him. In the end, however, after three years of surgeries and convalescence, he died in 1944 from a painful and embarrassing disease which had been eating at him since his college days in the United States. For decades, he had soldiered on despite almost constant, often debilitating, agony. Add to that fatigue, headaches, toothaches, and the ailments that will plague a man whose travels took him to the most backward places and wore out an already exhausted frame, and you have a picture of heroic suffering and almost superhuman endurance. Indeed, Song himself would say that he persevered only by the power of Christ. Sometimes he had to sit down, or even lie on a couch, in order to preach. Always, he called upon God to work miracles of strength to carry him through the day and onto the next town. He relied even more on the work of the Holy Spirit to enable him to speak words that would convict and change the thousands who flocked to hear him. Indeed, he considered the constant fullness of the Spirit a sine qua non for any preacher. From his own experience, he also came to believe that suffering is essential if we are to know Christ in his fullness or to serve the Lord with power. Taking up the Cross to follow Jesus is simply not optional for anyone who claims to be a Christian. The necessity and uses of suffering throb like an insistent drumbeat throughout his diaries and his preaching, and have helped to lay a foundation for the “resurrection of the Chinese church” we have seen in recent decades. Other “secrets” to his phenomenal success include: Consistent, systematic Bible teaching, both in his preaching and in the training sessions he held for believers; organization of evangelistic bands to take the Gospel they had heard from him into the surrounding areas; the use of public testimonies from those who have been blessed; fervent prayer, both by John Song himself and by the groups which he organized and encouraged by oral and written exhortations; an evangelical ecumenicity that united like-minded believers from all denominations, even as John Sung sharply criticized the sort of liberal theology which he had encountered at Union Theological Seminary. The powerful impact of his preaching received significant support from his daily prayers for those whose names he meticulously recorded, and from the publication of his Bible studies, songs, articles, letters, and sermons. We must not omit the stunning power of his own life. Though not without several serious sins, John Song possessed a holiness, love for God, and zeal for God’s kingdom that make this reviewer, at least, ashamed to compare myself with him, even at his self-confessed worst. Aside from his quick temper and occasional temptations to pride, it would seem to me that he neglected both his health and his family. On the other hand, his chronic pain and fatigue might account for his irascible disposition; one has to be very humble to be aware of one’s pride; and his understanding of God’s total claim on his life drove him to what we might consider excessive labors. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Most of all, however John Song would want all the glory to go to God himself, on whose Spirit he relied to work in and through him, as he trusted in Jesus Christ. The title of the longer of these two versions, The Journal Once Lost, refers to the relatively recent discovery of several volumes of the records which Song made at the end of each day that were lost for several decades. “Levi,” the compiler, is his daughter. The only flaw in this translation, which is an otherwise marvelous book, is the abundance of grammatical and stylistic errors – at least several hundred of them. I fervently hope that The Journal Once Lost will require a second edition, and be revised by an experienced editor fluent in standard British or American English. Otherwise, the rendering is quite lively and colloquial. Dr. Sheng’s shorter version, though more difficult to obtain, features much better English and had a more concentrated impact upon me personally (perhaps because I read it first). Testimonies from those who had encountered Song, and many photographs, add to the value of both of these works. Every present or aspiring preacher should read and re-read one of these books, as should anyone seeking to understand today’s Chinese church. Reviewed by G. Wright Doyle Director, China Institute