From chapter four of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant
THE BETROTHING MINISTRY
Under the ministry of the new covenant the believers are not only fully reconciled to God but betrothed to Christ, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, “For I am jealous over you with a jealousy of God; for I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your thoughts would be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity toward Christ.” Paul was not a dispassionate trainer seeking to one day present the saints as learned theologians to Christ. He had allowed the very jealousy of God to become his own, and so he regarded the believers in Corinth as virgins and his ministry as espousing them to Christ their Husband. Paul feared that just as Eve was diverted by the serpent from the tree of life to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-6), so also the Corinthian believers would be deceived by the Judaizers, the ministers of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15), to become distracted from the pure enjoyment of Christ as their life, life supply, and everything. It is a precious function of the ministry of the new covenant that it betroths the believers to Christ, causing them to love Him in simplicity and purity and enjoy Him as their life and everything in order to become His chaste bride.
The church in Ephesus serves as a tragic example of falling away from the betrothing New Testament ministry. In Ephesus certain dissenters had departed from the simplicity and purity of Paul’s ministry (cf. Acts 20:29-30). When Paul directed Timothy to charge these ones not to teach anything but God’s economy, he indicated that his goal was to keep the saints in love (1 Tim. 1:3-5), implying that the differing teachings were not only causing discord among the saints but also leading to their estrangement from Christ, their Husband. In order for the saints to preserve their bridal love for the Lord and brotherly love for one another, it was imperative that they continue steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles, including Paul’s ministry, which was centered on the unique teaching of the divine economy (Acts 2:42; Eph. 1:9-10; 3:8-9). Sadly, the church in Ephesus did not heed the warning and eventually forsook the apostle Paul’s betrothing ministry (2 Tim. 1:15; cf. 3:2, 4). As a result, she left her first love, her bridal love for Christ, and consequently lost the enjoyment of Him as the tree of life (Rev. 2:4, 7). Furthermore, by departing from Christ her husband, Ephesus sowed the seeds of degradation that would eventually blossom into apostasy. How serious this is! Only by remaining in the betrothing new covenant ministry can we maintain our first love for Christ as our unique Husband and partake of Him as our life and life supply.
We need to see in this negative example a crucial criterion for genuine ministry: does it cause us to love the Lord and love all the saints (1 Tim. 1:4-5)? A great many saints in the Lord’s recovery can attest that the ministry in the recovery has betrothed them to Christ, revealing the loveliness and preciousness of Christ as their husband and encouraging them to love Him with a single and pure heart. Following the pattern of the Lord in Luke 24:27, this ministry opens the Word of God to us by explaining to us clearly in all the Scriptures countless aspects of our dear Lord Jesus, which include the unsearchable riches of the all-inclusive Christ and the immeasurable dimensions of the all-extensive Christ (Psa. 119:130; John 5:39; Eph. 3:8, 18-19; Col. 1:15-20; 2:16-17). As a result, our hearts, like the disciples’, burn with love for Him and with the zeal of God’s house, the church (Luke 24:32; John 2:17).
Moreover, the ministry in the recovery reveals that the intrinsic content and central thought of the Bible is a romance, in the most pure and holy sense, of a universal couple—the Triune God in Christ as the Bridegroom and His chosen and redeemed people as the corporate bride—and that this mysterious couple is the secret of the universe and the fulfillment of the desire of God’s heart (Gen. 2:21-24; S.S. 1:2-4; Isa. 54:5; 62:5-7; Jer. 2:2; 3:1, 14; 31:3, 32; Ezek. 16:8; 23:5; Hosea 2:7, 19-20; Matt. 9:15; John 3:29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2, 9-10; 22:17). The ministry also opens up the practical way to enter into the experience of this romance, leading us to cultivate a personal, affectionate, private, and spiritual relationship with Christ by having much intimate and secret fellowship with Him—even telling Him a thousand times a day, “Lord Jesus, I love You” (John 21:15-17; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; John 14:21, 23).12 Furthermore, the ministry exhorts us to be built together as His corporate bride and to be one with the church-loving Christ to forsake ourselves on her behalf, so that Christ may gain His ultimate rest and satisfaction in His perfected bride, the New Jerusalem (Eph. 4:16; 5:23-27; 1 John 3:16; Rev. 21:2, 9-10).
Brother Lee began his first Life-study training with the classic statement that “the Bible is a romance,” and he concluded his more-than-twenty-year study with Song of Songs, in which he unveiled the progressive experience of a lover of Christ. Surely he had a portion in the betrothing ministry of the new covenant! Indeed, where else have we ever heard of a universal romance between a mysterious divine-human couple? To whom can we go to hear of Christ descending from His majesty to court us, a mere country girl, and by His salvation make us His counterpart, His queen (S.S. 1:1-8; 6:13)? What other ministry unlocks the experience of the high peak of the divine revelation—that God became man to make man God in life and nature (but not in the Godhead)—through the history of love in an excellent marriage as portrayed in the Song of Songs? It behooves any lover of Christ to dive into this ministry that from beginning to end so faithfully and purely espouses us to Him.
Regrettably, in organized Christianity many preachers and leaders have used their gifts and charisma to draw groups of Christians after themselves to create a following, their own “increase.” The ministers of the new covenant in His recovery never did this. Instead, they presented to us Christ as our Husband, the most pleasant person in the universe, and unveiled to us through the Word His supreme preciousness, unrivaled loveliness, and surpassing worth, stirring up our love for Him that we may be His increase, His bride (Phil. 3:8; John 3:29-30). Although we at times may become distracted by idols, vain substitutes for Christ, in the world or in our heart (Ezek. 14:3; 1 John 5:21), whenever we encounter the ministry—whether by reading a few pages of a publication, listening to a message, or singing a hymn—we are motivated to love the Lord again, being captivated afresh by His unsurpassed beauty and brought back to the enjoyment of Him as our Husband and our life supply. As a case in point, for many years I have been immensely supplied by Brother Lee’s poignant description of His profound love for the Lord Jesus:
Since I was a little boy, I learned to sing that little hymn, “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, For the Bible Tells Me So.” At that time I was taught to love Him because He died for me. That is good, but we must not merely love Him because He died for us. That is not sufficient. Oh, we love Him because He is so lovable! If He would throw me into hell, I would still love Him, because He is altogether lovely. I care more for what He is! I just love this person.13
The love that Brother Nee and Brother Lee had for the Lord Jesus could not be quenched by many waters of trials or drowned by many floods of persecution, because to them the Lord was the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely (S.S. 8:7; 5:10, 16). Because their ministry has opened our eyes to the Lord’s inestimable loveliness, despite our passing through fiery ordeals, we cannot but love Him, treasure Him, and remain loyal to Him (1 Pet. 2:4, 7; cf. Dan. 3:13-18; 1 Pet. 1:6-8). Now we, too, have seen that He is fairer than the sons of men and is altogether desirable (Psa. 45:2).
Because Brother Nee and Brother Lee were ardent lovers of Jesus, those who gave Him the preeminence in all things and sacrificed everything for His interest (Rev. 2:4; Col. 1:18), their ministry is able to produce many such lovers of Jesus. Both Brother Nee and Brother Lee were like Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to His word; they received the revelation concerning the Lord’s incomparable preciousness and, in expressing their love for this precious One, broke their alabaster flask to pour ointment of great value on Him, “wasting” upon Him all that they had and were for the satisfaction of His heart (Luke 10:39, 42; Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9). As a result, the fragrance of Christ fills the church as the house of the living God (2 Cor. 2:14-15; John 12:3; 1 Timothy 3:15). Each time we read their publications or sing their hymns, we not only see the revelation concerning the precious Lord but also breathe in this sweet aroma. It is this rare and exquisite fragrance of Christ that creates in us a deep and lasting spiritual hunger to know and love the Lord and motivates us to demonstrate our love for Him by breaking our own alabaster flask, consecrating ourselves to Him unreservedly for His satisfaction.
In the past century innumerable saints in the local churches have seen the Lord’s utmost worthiness through the help of this ministry and have followed the footsteps of our brothers to willingly and joyfully pour out on the Lord their material possessions, advanced degrees, promising careers, respectable positions, and even costly spiritual treasures (S. S. 1:8). They did so under no compulsion other than the constraining love of Christ in response to His incomparable loveliness as revealed in the Bible and opened up through this ministry (2 Cor. 5:14). Upon coming into contact with the ministry in the Lord’s recovery, many former clergymen in organized Christianity, out of their love for the Lord, laid aside their titles and salaries as pastors, took up common jobs in the secular world, and served the Lord and the saints simply as brothers in the churches. Under the ministry that encouraged them to love the Lord as their Husband to the uttermost, thousands of brothers and sisters have set aside their bright futures or well-paying jobs in order to serve the Lord full-time, while countless others, though holding a secular job, have lived to the Lord by spending on Him their being, their time, and their energy (2 Cor. 5:14-15; 12:14-15). Many saints have answered His call to set aside their careers or migrate to the ends of the earth, following the Lamb wherever He may go in order to please Him and meet His need (Rev. 14:4; 2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; Rom. 12:1-2). Dear saints, let us close our ear to anyone who would distract us from the purity and simplicity of the betrothing ministry. May we continue to receive the ministry in the Lord’s recovery that presents to us the lovely Christ, reveals His incalculable value, and kindles our fervent love for Him so that we may be produced to be Marys, who waste ourselves on the Lord.
12 CWWL, 1972, vol. 1, “Life and Building as Portrayed in the Song of Songs,” p. 235
13 CWWL, 1973-1974, vol. 2, p. 11. In saying “If He would throw me into hell, I would still love Him,” Brother Lee was speaking hypothetically to make a point. This statement recalls the declaration of Daniel’s three friends when king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into the blazing furnace of fire (Dan. 3:1-16): “If it be so, God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the blazing furnace of fire, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods nor worship the golden image that you have set up.” (vv. 17-18). Being abundantly clear regarding the assurance and security of the believers’ eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9; Eph. 5:8; John 10:28-29), Brother Lee certainly was not suggesting that the Lord would allow one of His believers to perish. He was merely testifying that the Lord is lovable not only for what He has done and will do for us, but even more for who and what He is; even if the Lord would not do anything for us, nevertheless, He would still be altogether lovely.
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