John Alexander Dowie shook the world at the turn of the century with his passion for truth and zeal for the work of the Spirit. He brought to the forefront divine healing and repentance by shaking up a complacent Church and slaking the thirst of a parched society. He is known as the Healing Apostle of the late 19th century. Untold millions came to a revelation of Christ and the living power of the Holy Spirit through his deep conviction, unwavering faith and expansive vision. Against hypocritical, opposing clergy, fierce slanderous tabloids, murderous mobs, and relentless city officials, Dr. Dowie wore his apostolic calling as a crown from God, and his persecution as a badge of honor. Dowie was a force to be reckoned with.
Born May 25, 1847, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dowie displayed from an early age a brilliance and enthusiasm for learning and a hunger for the truth of the Word of God. At only six years old he read the Bible front to back and upon encountering a humble street preacher named Henry Wright, Dowie gave his heart to the Lord. As a young man Dowie found much success in business applying himself wholeheartedly to all he set his hand to, but could not escape the deepening call of ministry upon his life.
At twenty-one years of age, Dowie answered that call and began studying under a private tutor in preparation for the ministry. Less than a year and a half later, he enrolled in Edinburgh University to study in the Free Church School. As a student of theology and political science, his professors found him to be full of fervor as he often challenged their shallow interpretations with complete brilliance and accuracy.
While still in Edinburgh, Dowie became the “honorary chaplain” of the Edinburgh Infirmary and it was his experiences there that would begin to shape his ministry forever. As he sat with the famous surgeons of that time, he came to an increasing realization about the primitive state of medicine and its inability to heal. Dowie exposed the lack of knowledge among these doctors and began to develop an intense aversion to the field of medicine. He brought their deceptive methods to light and was able to prove the accuracy of his accusations.
Not long after, Dowie received an invitation to pastor in Australia at the Congregational Church in Alma. Naturally, the forwardness of his preaching created a rift within the church and persecution ensued shortly thereafter. Dowie was unable to stir up passion within his congregation and resentment towards him was openly voiced. So reluctantly he resigned, feeling that it was a waste of time to stay.
Shortly after his resignation, Dowie received an invitation to pastor the Congregational Church in Manly Beach where he was warmly received. He stayed on with the pastorate though he felt frustration over their unyielding spirits to the Word of God. Eventually, his desire for a larger congregation consumed him and that was when God opened another door.
In 1875, Dowie began pastoring a much larger group of believers in a suburb of Sydney called Newton. While in Newton, a disastrous plague ravaged the area and filled the inhabitants with terror. Within weeks of his arrival, Dowie presided over forty funerals within his congregation alone. It was on one such night that he heard a loud knock at his door. Two messengers had come bidding him to pray for a girl named Mary who was dying. Dowie rushed to her house and when he arrived he found her lying there, grinding her teeth and groaning in agony. Something in him at that moment snapped and he began to cry out to God. Suddenly she lay still. When asked if she was dead, he replied, “No…she will live. The fever is gone.” 1
From that point the plague in Newton had lost its power. Not one member of his congregation died from the epidemic and Dowie’s healing ministry began. It was not long after, at the age of twenty-nine, that Dowie married his first cousin, Jeanie. Through many trials and hardships that followed their wedding, Dowie made an extraordinary decision to walk away from the denomination in which he had found such ministry success. He could not tolerate the cold, lethargic state of their leadership as he increasingly longed to proclaim the message of divine healing to an ailing city. He felt constrained by denominational politics and “letter of the law” theology.
Deeply frustrated and disturbed by the lack of passion that the leadership and congregation demonstrated towards the Lord, Dowie targeted his mission towards those masses in the city who were uncared for, unnoticed and perishing, showing them that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. In 1878, Dowie secured the Royal Theatre in Sydney and began an independent ministry, selling his home and furnishings to keep the ministry afloat. Hundreds came to hear him speak despite rising opposition. Violent persecution rose from local pastors in response to Dowie’s merciless confrontations of the apathetic clergy. They became further enraged and conspired more vehemently against him as he continued to rebuke them with unprecedented accuracy and intelligence.
In spite of intense criticism, Dowie also had many friends and supporters. The Temperance Society, for example, saw the potential of his influence and urged him to run for Parliament. Initially he opposed the idea, but eventually felt that he might be able to influence more people on a political platform. So he ran but was soundly defeated. As a result, Dowie had disgraced his ministry and hurt his church. Not to mention, made himself the prime target of the local newspapers, who having been damaged by his ministry, waged an all out war against him. Soon things got even worse.
The time Dowie had spent campaigning for office had taken much away from his other responsibilities – not to mention the toll it took on his calling to preach divine healing. As a result of this pursuit he lost much ground in his ministry and spent the rest of his time in Australia in darkness and futility. Finally, in 1880, Dowie realized his error and repented. He returned to his first love and hungered again for revival. As he once more focused on preaching divine healing, the gifts of the Spirit manifested in his life and ministry; thousands were healed and thousands more were touched by the Spirit of God as a result. But once again, with the overflow of blessing came the onslaught of persecution.
In 1888, Dowie felt led to travel through America and Europe and in June of that year he did. Upon the news of his arrival to the States, people came in droves from all parts of California for healing. Soon healing crusades ran up and down the California coast. After Dowie had traveled much of America he chose to settle down in Evanston, Illinois. Unfortunately, he did not receive a warm welcome there either. The Chicago newspapers denounced him as a false prophet and made it very clear that he was not wanted or welcome in the area. But Dowie continued on, ministering wherever he felt led to go. It may have been precisely because of the intense spiritual opposition he felt in Chicago that Dowie chose to locate his headquarters nearby—he raised up Zion, Illinois, on its outskirts.
By 1894, Dowie’s newsletter, Leaves of Healing, had a weekly, worldwide circulation. True to his form, Dowie never minced words in his writings. He fervently denounced and exposed evil industries and warned readers against lethargic and controlling denominations. He offended the Postmaster General of Chicago, who revoked his second-class mailing privileges, forcing Dowie to pay fourteen times the usual cost. Dowie solicited his readers to write Washington DC and was granted an immediate audience with the Postmaster General in Washington who not only reinstated his mailing privileges, but made sure the U.S. government publicly denounced the Chicago newspaper and its editor, one of Dowie’s greatest persecutors.
While in Washington, Dowie was also granted an audience with President William McKinley. After leaving the office of the president, who warmly thanked him for his prayers, Dowie commented to his staff that he felt the president’s life was in danger. He later asked his followers to pray for the safety of the president who was assassinated on September 6, 1901 in Buffalo, New York.
By the end of 1896, Dowie had gained great influence over the city of Chicago. His enemies were all either dead, imprisoned, or silent. The police department and political officials were considered as friends. Few in the city had not heard the Gospel as a result of Dowie’s outreach, while famous people from around the country received miraculously healings through his ministry. He literally ruled the city of Chicago for Jesus Christ moving the great Zion Tabernacle into its largest auditorium filling its six thousand seats at every service.
In January of 1900, Dowie unveiled his plans to build a city called Zion outside of Chicago. It would be a “moral utopia” and it consumed him until his final days. He no longer gave himself to preaching divine healing, but to the matters of governing the rise of a new city. He considered himself to be a modern-day Elijah and set his sites on building what would ultimately be his own kingdom. He received counsel from no one and ended up letting personal pride separate him from the will of God. The city of Zion could not make it financially, and in the end, Dowie attempted to escape his woes through world travel. While he was out of the country, the city of Zion voted Dowie out of leadership, and though he fought the decision with his last ounce of strength, he was allowed to retire to his home there where he spent his remaining days. He died quietly on March 9, 1907.