The Life,Ministry, and Message of John Alexander Dowie
John Alexander Dowie was described at the height of his ministry as "a little man with the head of a philosopher, the beard of a prophet, the shoulders of a piano mover, the paunch of an alderman, and the legs of a jockey."
He preached an uncompromising message of salvation through Christ, practical holiness, and divine healing. Thousands of people were saved and thousands were miraculously healed. He was "master of invective", hurling colorful - and often humorous - insults at his enemies and calling down fire and brimstone from the pulpit upon his choice of targets : the newspapers, the alcohol and tobacco industries, the mainline "apostate" churches, the medical and pharmaceutical professions, the Masons, and a host of others.
At the dawn of the 20th century the walls of his meeting halls in Chicago were filled with crutches, leg braces, and corrective boots given to him by people who were healed in response to his prayers.
Branches of his organization, The Christian Catholic Church in Zion Throughout the World, sprouted up in cities across the United States and in many foreign countries. His weekly periodical, Leaves of Healing, had a large circulation.
Newspapers throughout the country carried editorials about him. Tens of thousands of dollars flowed into his coffers from around the world. He founded and held absolute governmental control of Zion, Illinois, a city designed to be free from the evils and corrupting influences of the world. He had dreams of building other such Christian Utopias throughout the world, of developing a "Plantation Paradise" in Mexico, and fancied buying the entire ancient city of Jerusalem to prepare it for the return of the Savior.
Dowie was born in Scotland in 1847 and came with his parents to Australia at the age of 13. He accepted his first pastorate in 1872. After years of laboring for Christ with some remarkable results, he felt the call of God to come to the United States in 1888 with his message of salvation, healing, and holiness. He held meetings along the West Coast and then opened Zion Tabernacle in Chicago in 1893.
In 1896, he organized the Christian Catholic Church and in 1899 announced the plans for the building of Zion, Illinois.
In October of 1903 - over fifty years before the famous Billy Graham crusade - Madison Square Garden in New York City was "crowded to the roof" with followers, curiosity-seekers, press and clergymen as Dowie held two weeks of meetings in an effort to capture the entire city for the kingdom of God.
In the first half of 1904, he conducted an "Around the World" mission for Christ, speaking in New Zealand, Australia, Zurich, Paris, London and other cities.
His rise to prominence was indeed meteoric. And his sudden plunge into the Valley of Humiliation was both breath-taking and heart-breaking. By 1906 his health was ruined, his ministry in tatters, his city bankrupt, and his name spoken of with contempt - or, at best, pity - by much of the watching world.
What happened? Gordon Lindsay in his book John Alexander Dowie and Arthur Newcomb in his book Dowie Anointed of the Lord attribute Dowie's downfall to different things: Overwork, lack of focus on his ministry, lack of personal prayer, lack of accountability, marriage problems, his daughter's tragic death, paranoia and mental illness. Others have boiled it down to one word, one sin, the same sin which reduced Nebuchadnezzar to a beast of the field: pride.
In 1901 Dowie proclaimed that he was Elijah the Restorer as promised to the world in Malachi chapter four. Later he would insist on referring to himself as First Apostle and would conduct meetings while wearing robes and a miter similar to the garments of an ancient Israelite priest. His dreams for Zion far exceeded his business acumen; the city was brought to financial ruin. And in 1905, he suffered a debilitating stroke.
He died in March of 1907 and was buried in his beloved city of Zion, Illinois.
It is often remarked that it matters little how a man starts the race; the importance lies in how he finishes it. Certainly it is far best and it is a great blessing to finish well and Dowie to all appearances did not finish well. But God knows all. God knows the battles that are fought in the heavenlies - battles over earthly situations that are often too well seen! God knows - and allows - the severity and sharpness of Satan's attacks upon a man. (And perhaps those who boast of some great victory or strength of character have in actuality never really been put to the test!)
And God sees all. He sees the end of a man from the beginning and views the entire life equally from his vantage point of absolute love and righteousness, with no prejudice to changing times and seasons. Failure at the end of one's life does not cloud God's sight of the former.
This is not to excuse Dowie's downfall nor to dismiss it as unimportant, only a reminder to the reader to stand in awe at what indeed is the "mystery of godliness" and to allow God to be the ultimate judge of men's lives.
In any case, there are a multitude of lessons for the follower of Christ to be gleaned from the life and ministry of Dowie. And it is the sincere hope of this editor that this website will be used by God to educate, to encourage, to inspire, and, yes, to provide some warning to those of us living today.
Dowie was first and foremost a "preacher of righteousness." The multitudes who were drawn to his meetings because of the miracles were taught to forsake sin, love righteousness, and fear God's judgment. If the reader can be taught to do the same by examining Dowie's life, by reading testimonies of healing and pondering his sermons, by considering his triumphs and personal tragedies, the purpose of this website will be realized.
Of great interest to some readers will be the intersection of Dowie's life with that of Martha Wing Robinson, subject of Gordon Gardiner's Radiant Glory. (Mrs. Robinson was not only healed under Dowie's ministry but for a period of time was one of Zion's faithful workers. Later, she became the leading minister of what was known as the Faith Homes in Zion, Illinois and lived there from 1911 until her death in 1936.) Readers are encouraged to consider the relationship between the two ministries and to examine these works as a small but significent unit in the wondrous building of our Lord's ever-increasing kingdom.
Please contact the editor at email@example.com with any suggestions, corrections, or additions to this site.
David K. Eames March 2007