From chapter six of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant
Afflictions Suffered by Brother Nee and Brother Lee for Their Revelations
The ministry in the Lord’s recovery is not only rich in the divine revelation of the Bible; it is also costly, having been obtained at a great price by those who suffered under the vision they had received. Throughout his Christian life, Brother Nee’s portion was to endure profound suffering for the sake of his ministry. These sufferings are well chronicled in chapter 21 of his biography, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, written by Brother Lee. Brother Nee was led by the Lord not to work as an employee of any organization but rather to live purely by faith in God. Under the Lord’s sovereign care like the lilies of the field (Matt. 6:28-30; S.S. 2:1-2, 16), he learned to serve the Lord even through dire poverty. In the early days of his ministry in Shanghai, there were times when he had nothing but a little bread to eat for the entire day. In 1922, he was burdened to publish a magazine in order to care for the increasing number of newly saved believers, but he had no money to print the magazine. He wrote articles for the magazine by faith, believing that if he completed the draft, God would supply the means to publish it. Shortly afterward he received a donation from a saint that allowed him to print fourteen hundred copies of his first magazine entitled The Present Testimony.
Throughout his ministry Brother Nee also suffered various illnesses. In 1924, due to intense labor and lack of adequate physical care, he contracted tuberculosis, which he suffered from for five years. During this period of illness he spent four months to complete the three volumes of The Spiritual Man. Concerning this labor he testified:
At that time my disease became so aggravated that I could not even lie down. While writing I sat on a chair with a high back and pressed my chest against the desk to alleviate the pain. The writing of this book was a real labor of blood, sweat, and tears. I despaired of life, yet God’s grace brought me through. After completing each time of writing, I would say to myself, “This is my last testimony to the church.”22
Following the publication of the book, Brother Nee was told by a doctor that his medical condition was hopeless and that he had only a few weeks to live. However, he was miraculously healed by standing on the words of the Bible that became God’s living speaking to him: that he would live, stand, and walk by faith (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 1:24; 5:7). Brother Nee was also afflicted with a heart disease called angina pectoris for the last forty years of his life until he went to be with the Lord in 1972. As early as 1934, he told Brother Witness Lee that he might die at any moment. The pain was so intense that many times while speaking in meetings, he would break out in a cold sweat or need to lean on the podium for support. Because of his ill health, he learned to greatly depend on the Lord and to minister not by his physical strength but by resurrection life.
Brother Nee also suffered severe opposition from the denominations, primarily due to his teaching concerning the genuine ground of the church—having only one church in each city for the practical expression of the one Body of Christ in that locality—which annulled the standing of all the denominations (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Rev. 1:11; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). Brother Nee boldly exposed and renounced the denominations’ deviation from the truth in the Scriptures concerning the proper ground of locality, condemning the denominations as divisions (1 Cor. 1:10-13; Gal. 5:20; cf. Rev. 3:8). Consequently, he was fiercely criticized and opposed by both native Chinese Christians and Western missionaries, in secret and in public. The denominations sought to destroy his ministry, despising him and spreading false rumors, just as certain opposers dishonored Paul and his co-workers and disseminated an “evil report” against them (2 Cor. 6:8). This fulfilled the Lord’s prophetic word in Matthew 5:11 concerning His faithful disciples: “Blessed are you when they reproach and persecute you, and while speaking lies, say every evil thing against you because of Me.” Because Brother Nee and his co-workers willingly went forth unto the lowly and suffering Jesus outside the camp of organized Christianity, they bore His reproach, bearing the cross (Heb. 13:13; Matt. 16:24; cf. Exo. 33:7-11).
But persecution came not only from the outside; Brother Nee suffered even more at the hands of those within the church. Two years after the church life began to be practiced in his hometown of Foochow, he was unjustly excommunicated by his co-workers for standing for the truth of the Lord’s recovery and opposing the practice of having the leading co-workers formally ordained as preachers by a denominational missionary. Most of the believers in the church in Foochow had been saved through Brother Nee’s preaching and expressed their disagreement with this unfair treatment. However, Brother Nee was led by the Lord not to vindicate himself but to learn the lesson of the cross by enduring this suffering. He then left Foochow and moved to Pagoda, where he received a burden from the Lord to publish his second magazine, The Christian. He wrote all the major articles for this monthly publication, which had four main burdens: to preach the gospel, to expound the Bible, to speak concerning the church, and to cultivate the believers’ spiritual life. This magazine enjoyed a wide circulation, having ten thousand subscribers. By reading Brother Nee’s articles, many young people throughout China, including Brother Witness Lee, were enlightened to see the truths in the Word, including the degradation of the denominations and the scriptural way to practice the genuine church life. It was through the suffering caused by his unjust excommunication that Brother Nee was able to release these precious messages full of light and revelation, which opened the eyes of many young lovers of the Lord to see Christ and the church unveiled in the Bible (Eph. 5:32).
In 1942 Brother Nee suffered again from dissension within the church life when a great turmoil broke out against him in the church in Shanghai due to a misunderstanding. Brother Nee had been helping his brother’s pharmaceutical business because he felt that the profit from the factory could meet the needs of the co-workers, many of whom had died due to malnutrition or were suffering poverty with their families. Brother Nee would later state in tears that he had been compelled to go into business in order to support his co-workers, just as a widow may be forced to remarry for the survival of her children. However, misconstruing Brother Nee’s intentions, most of the saints in Shanghai, including the co-workers and elders, opposed him so vehemently that he was forced to discontinue his ministry for six years. By passing through this trial Brother Nee was pressed into the mold of Christ’s death for the deepening of his ministry, which became a rich heritage to all the churches in His recovery. He learned by experience that God sovereignly arranges our environment through the discipline of the Holy Spirit in order to break our outer man so that our inner man may be released, enabling us to impart the divine life to others in both our public ministry and our personal contact with them (2 Cor. 4:16; Rom. 8:16, 28-29; 1 Cor. 6:17).
The reason Brother Nee’s ministry is full of supply, always imparting to us more than mere knowledge by ushering us into the experiential reality of the divine revelation, doubtlessly comes down to this one fact: it was acquired at the high price of severe personal sufferings. If we have enjoyed the sweet fragrance of frankincense, the fragrance of resurrection, pervading his writings, it is surely because he followed the Lord in His sweet death to remain on the mountain of myrrh (S.S. 4:6).
Following the footsteps of Brother Nee as his senior co-worker and spiritual father, Brother Lee also suffered much for the experience of the revelations he received. In 1943 Brother Lee was used by the Lord to usher in a great revival in the church in Chefoo. However, at the peak of the revival the city was invaded by the Japanese army, and Brother Lee was imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese military police for about thirty days. After his release he became gravely ill with tuberculosis and was bedridden for six months. As a result, he was forced to leave Chefoo and move to Tsingtao, away from the responsibilities of the church and the work, in order to rest and recuperate. During the subsequent two years of acute limitation, the Lord showed him the vision of the tree of life, revealing that the tree of life not only opens and closes the Scriptures but also forms a line that runs throughout the entire Bible (Gen. 2:9; Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19; cf. Psa. 36:9; Ezek. 47:12; John 6:48; 14:6; 15:1). The Lord used this vision to measure Brother Lee’s ministry, showing him that although he had helped to bring in the revival in Chefoo, his ministry was “still short of the element of the divine life”23 and that “there was much truth but too little life” in his messages.24 Hence, he repented to the Lord, confessing that he was short of life and that his ministry was “deficient in the element of the divine life.”25 He also realized that every problem, either in the church, the work, or the ministry, is the result of a shortage of life. The vision of the tree of life was a great turning point for Brother Lee, and the messages that he spoke on the tree of life in the 1940s laid a foundation for the revival of the church in Shanghai and the resumption of Brother Nee’s ministry in 1948. In accordance with the character of the new covenant ministry, it was by suffering from a life-threatening and protracted sickness that Brother Lee received the vision concerning the tree of life, which has continued to benefit countless children of God throughout the earth to this day.
22 Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, p. 91
23 CWWL, 1983, vol. 1, p. 516
24 CWWL, 1983, vol. 3, p. 332
25 CWWL, 1983, vol. 1, p. 516
© 2023, David Yoon. All rights reserved.