THE CONVERSION OF
EVANGELIST LIM PUAY HIAN
By T. Tow in "In John Sung's Steps"
One decade after the "August Second Typhoon" of 1922, Swatow was visited by a spiritual whirlwind that brought mighty showers of blessing. Whereas the Typhoon of 1922 destroyed much life and property, the Revival campaigns conducted by Dr. John Sung and Andrew Gih, with other members of the Bethel Worldwide Evangelistic Band, 1932-33, revived the lives of thousands and brought quickening to the church. Several subsequent meetings from 1934 to 1937 by John Sung himself rounded off the Swatow Revival with long-lasting results.
In August 1933, while the third campaign conducted by China's famed evangelist was upon everybody's lips, it was noised abroad to a little town seven miles up-river from Swatow. Here Puay Hian had recently established himself as a physician. Christians were heading for Swatow from every direction, not the least from Puay Hian's up-river abode. Puay Hian could not resist an inner urge to follow the crowds to the metropolis.
Now, Puay Hian had expected him who held such a high reputation, a doctor of philosophy, to be some genius and orator, with all the refinement of a Western education. Instead, he found Sung attired in a coarse white Chinese gown, his hair shabby and unkempt. His Mandarin spoken with a Hinghwa accent could little impress the intelligentsia, and when he started to preach, he dashed about the pulpit like one gone crazy. "What's all this excitement about?" he scoffed. With that he turned his back on John Sung. He was home by the next up-river boat.
That night Puay Hian addressed a haughty letter to John Sung. He posed some questions for the doctor to answer, like one of the lawyers of old tempting Jesus. The first thing next morning he took the letter to the post office. As he dropped it into the box, he complained like a spoilt child, "If old Sung refuses to answer them, then I will not hear him again." But, no sooner had this jargon escaped his jabbering lips than his conscience gripped him.
Back from post office he found himself unable either "to eat or sit," much less attend to clients waiting at his "medical hall" downstairs. All he could do was sink into a canvass couch and sulk. More than ever before, the dark cloud of a bitter, futile, struggling life surrounded him. He felt, as it were, swarmed by all the evil hordes of hell let loose. That night, he tossed on a bed that echoed to his groans, as happened once some years before. He wrestled with his wretched self till early morning.
When he got up with the sun, he felt an irresistible force driving him back to John Sung. A power stronger than the downriver current hastened his footsteps again to Swatow. Arriving a couple of hours before time, he found a seat at a vantage point. While he sat waiting, he was moved at the sight of a steady stream of earnest seekers, Bible and chorus book in hand, returning from an early lunch to secure their seats. For, the meeting hall that seated over a thousand would soon be packed, leaving no room to stand. Strangely, not a gossip or murmur disturbed the sanctity of the church hall. Little groups that gathered were engaged in earnest prayer. "0 God, break my hardened heart!" Puay Hian groaned on his part.
Nevertheless, when the hour of service began and John Sung once again started to hop like a huge grasshopper while delivering his sermon, Puay Hian suddenly stiffened, "What sort of a preacher is this?" With that he scampered off to Kakchieh, the "Horned" Rock residential district across Swatow harbour. The Revival was too hot for him, and he had gone there to cool off. And for his body too from the city's sweltering summer heat. Incidentally, Kakchieh was his mother's resting place since seven years ago.
Now, it happened that Puay Ngee his younger brother, whose birth-name is Juat Kia (Delight-in-the-Scriptures) was lying sick at the Theological College at Kakchieh, and needed his attention. This turned him temporarily into a nurse for his brother's sake.
Puay Ngee was in the employ of the China Inland Mission. He had also come all the way to hear John Sung. After two sermons, he was completely changed. Moreover he pledged to serve the Lord his whole life. Puay Ngee's conversion and consecration for fulltime service were attested by his own handwriting on a front page of his glittering new-bought Bible, autographed by John Sung with a Scripture verse. Reading the words of a born-again Christian in his brother made a solemn impression on his heart. This removed the prejudice that earlier jolted him from his seat in Swatow. Puay Hian softened to give John Sung another "chance."
As it happened, the evening meetings were shifted over to Kakchieh the very day of his "escape," as if to catch up with him. What could he do except go and hear John Sung again? Try as he did to get something out of the sermon, before God's time arrived, however, all he heard was a rumbling echo of unintelligible sounds from the preacher's lips. Though seated inside the auditorium, his soul was carried outside by rambling thoughts and fancies.
Paradoxically, this night at Kakchieh found Puay Hian soundly asleep, like Jonah stowed away in the ship's hold. As night sped into the early hours of morning, suddenly a chorus of angelic voices sweetly penetrated his slumbering ears. Was he dreaming? As he struggled to shake himself loose front slumberland, the heavenly voices flowed in more sweetly than ever, borne on the wings of an early southern seabreeze. Springing to his feet, Puay Hian made straight for the window. Like peering into Heaven's outskirts, his eyes were glued to a beeline of women and girls, faces aglow in lantern light, stepping fairylike up the hill to pray. These faces he had seen at the Revival meetings shone with a radiance and peace Puay Hian sorely lacked. In that moment of ecstasy, Puay Hian could have responded as beautifully, "Hearken all! what holy singing . . . 'tis a hymn with grandeur ringing!" However, as the songs of John Sung faded in the predawn gloom, Puay Hian, the "respectful and lofty," was plunged into a swelling tide of woe. No, his soul was still in outer darkness. He could not join in the song of the redeemed, just now,
Came August 30, 1933, the last day of campaign. Not willing to miss this day of days, Puay Hian went. Contrary to expectation, there was no sermon that morning. Rather, it was a special, faith-healing session. As one by one knelt up the platform, John Sung would slap a hand dabbed with olive oil onto the patients forehead, "Be healed of your sickness in the Name of Jesus Christ!" At sight of this and offended the more by John Sung's hoarse command, Puay Hian revolted for the third time: "If you can do this, so can I !" Turning thrice from the grace of Cod, where could such a soul in conflict after conflict go?
Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?
Now, the first thing Puay Hian asked his wife upon reaching home that afternoon' was, "Has Dr. Sung's letter come?" When all he got from her was a plain no, Puay Hian could not hold out any longer. The growing burden of sin, especially this thricerepeated rebellion against God, was crushing him to death.
Brushing aside the food his good wife had laid out for him, he escaped to an upstairs corner by himself. Falling upon his knees, he let go like a sobbing child. Just then, the old German wall clock struck one!
"O Lord, be merciful to me. this condemned sinner ! 0 Lord, forgive me this big rebel-sinner! As You forgave that thief on the cross, You can save this robber chief today. Lord, I have rebelled against You the last three years. I have fought You, and doubted even Your existence. 0 Lord, I now repent. I come back to You. Be merciful to me a condemned sinner!"
Confessing and weeping, weeping and confessing, he spent almost the last ounce of his physical strength. Though he managed to raise himself, he fell repeatedly before the Lord under that crushing load. Sorrowing to death for his sins, he recalled a preacher's word, "When you feel miserable, then read your Bible." At that Puay Hian lost no time to turn to God's Word. One portion that brought him relief and comfort was Rom. 2:4, 5: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God's kindness should lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed." (NIV)
Repeating these words of grace and admonition, it dawned on him that God had already forgiven him for Jesus' sake. As his sins were washed away by His precious blood, the living waters of His life gushed in. Joy that quickened his whole being flooded his soul. Praise the Lord, hallelujah, a life-long conflict of soul, from schooldays till now, was ended. Brimming with tears of joy, Puay Hian burst forth into this John Sung chorus:
How bountiful His grace,
How bountiful His grace!
From deepest sin He ransomed me,
How bountiful His grace!
As Puay Hian tasted the sweetness of bountiful grace, the salvation he little deserved, there came to him a question, clear as daylight, "How must I repay my Saviour's love?" Immediately he heard a still small voice within, saying, "When you were in your mother's womb, I had prepared you to preach my Word today!"
"Yes, Lord, I give you all my heart, I will serve you till I die." Just then, that old German wall clock struck four!
Praise the Lord, not only is that conflict of soul ended, Puay Hian's life's purpose is found! Henceforth, he can say with the apostle Paul, "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 faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (G al. 2:20)