February 16, 1874, Elgin, Illinois.

September 28, 1961, Oakland, California.

Sunset View Cemetery, El Cerrito, California.


John Narver was the son of Joseph Ross Gortner and Louisa Elizabeth Waters. His father was presiding elder of the Liberia District of the Methodist Church. The family moved to Africa in 1887, but Joseph caught blackwater fever, and the family had to return to Nebraska. John Narver preached his first sermon at age 16 and received a preaching license. Around 1892, he began studies at the Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois. In 1896, he married Della Hayden. Child evangelist and actor Marjoe Gortner was their grandson.

In 1910, the Methodist Church transferred Gortner from the North Nebraska Conference to the Southern California Conference. In 1920, he joined the Assemblies of God (AOG) and became pastor of the Pentecostal Church (which later became the First Assembly of God) in Cleveland, Ohio. He was elected District Superintendent of the Central District of the AOG, 1922–24. In 1924 he resigned his Cleveland pastorate and returned to California.

He preached for a year at Bethel Temple in Los Angeles, then became pastor of the newly formed First Pentecostal Church of Oakland in 1927. He served there for a decade, then joined the teaching staff of the Glad Tidings Bible Institute in San Francisco (which later became the Bethany Bible College in Santa Cruz). He was at the college for 10 years, three of them as its president.

For many years Gortner was an executive presbyter of the AOG General Council. He frequently contributed to The Pentecostal Evangel. His works include:


I stood on the brink of a river;
’Twas deep and ’twas dark and ’twas wide;
And I said, as I looked at the current,
Tell me how I can reach the far side.
As I looked I could see in the distance
A city that shone like pure gold;
’Twas surrounded by walls that for beauty
Were a marvel indeed to behold.

The spires of that beautiful city
Were glowing with marvelous light,
And the walls were composed of pure jasper,
And the gates were of pearl—what a sight!
And the city stood high on the mountain,
Where the air was most healthful and pure,
And the Lord who had builded that city
Had made its foundations secure.

So I longed for some means to pass over,
But none I could think of was nigh;
In that city saints live on forever,
But here they both sicken and die.
As I longingly looked, a gate opened
And out came a Being I knew;
His face was aglow with the glory:
’Twas Jesus, the Faithful and True.

Down He came to the edge of the river,
Where a boat at the brink had been moored;
It was there to be launched by the Master,
And for Him it had there been secured.
I watched and I saw Him untie it—
What a beautiful vision to see!
And in it He climbed, and He started
To cross o’er the river for me.

I looked and I saw He was coming,
And nearer and nearer He came;
Then suddenly Satan stood by me;
(Rebuke him, O Lord, in Thy name!)
He was dressed in the latest of fashion,
But at once I was sure it was he,
And to Satan I said, He is coming,
My Savior is coming for me.

And Satan looked at me and twisted
His lips as he answered with scorn,
That isn’t your Saviour, your Jesus!
He’ll never come for you, I warn.

I know Him, I said, get behind me
Your presence is not be feared;
He is coming to take me to heaven,

And Satan at once disappeared.

My Saviour came on o’er the river,
And the little boat soon reached the strand,
I walked to the edge of the water,
And He reached out and gave me His hand;
I climbed in the boat and was sitting
My heavenly Pilot beside,
And down in my heart I was thanking
My Lord I was one of the Bride.

We started to cross o’er the river;
Not a word did my Lover Lord say,
And nearer we came to the city
That had seemed once to be far away;
We gently moved onward together,
And soon we were out in midstream—
And then I awoke from my slumber
And, behold, it was only a dream.

But some day I’ll stand by that river,
And some day mine eyes shall behold,
Beyond the dark waters that city,
With its streets that are paved with pure gold;
And I’m sure that the Lord of redemption,
Who died my poor soul to redeem,
Will see that I safely get over,
And then it will not be a dream!

J. Narver Gortner (1874–1961)

  1. Blessed, Jesus, Precious Jesus
  2. Savior, Keep Me Close to Thee
  3. Waiting, Looking, Hoping
  4. Waiting