From chapter seven of The Ministers in the Lord’s Recovery – Genuine Ministers of the New Covenant
The Mark of Death and Resurrection on the Ministry of Brother Nee
Like the ministry of the apostle Paul, the ministry in the Lord’s recovery bears the mark of death and resurrection. No ministry in the present age has spoken concerning Christ’s death and resurrection and the application of this truth to the believers’ life and work so extensively, effectively, and experientially as the ministry of Brother Nee and Brother Lee. Their ministry on this subject produces a deep echo of reality because they, like the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul, were crucified and resurrected persons. Brother Nee taught that the principle of death and resurrection is not only “the ground of our acceptance with God” but also “the basis of our life and service for Him.”40 This was borne out in his life and ministry. In a message given in the late 1930s, where he stated that “death and resurrection…mark God-recognized ministry,”41 Brother Nee testified of being decisively broken by the cross over a long period of time before experiencing resurrection:
The Lord graciously laid me aside once in my life for a number of months and put me, spiritually, into utter darkness. It was almost as though He had forsaken me, almost as though nothing was going on and I had really come to the end of everything. And then by degrees He brought things back again. The temptation is always to try to help God by taking things back ourselves; but remember, there must be a full night in the sanctuary—a full night in darkness. It cannot be hurried; He knows what He is doing.
We would like to have death and resurrection put together within one hour of each other. We cannot face the thought that God will keep us aside for so long a time; we cannot bear to wait. And of course I cannot tell you how long He will take, but in principle I think it is quite safe to say this, that there will be a definite period when He will keep you there. It will seem as though nothing is happening; as though everything you valued is slipping from your grasp. There confronts you a blank wall with no door in it. Seemingly everyone else is being blessed and used, while you yourself have been passed by and are losing out. Lie quiet. All is in darkness, but it is only for a night. It must indeed be a full night, but that is all. Afterwards you will find that everything is given back to you in glorious resurrection; and nothing can measure the difference between what was before and what now is!
I was sitting one day at supper with a young brother to whom the Lord had been speaking on this very question of our natural energy. He said to me, “It is a blessed thing when you know the Lord has met you and touched you in that fundamental way, and that disabling touch has been received.” There was a plate of biscuits between us on the table, and I picked one up and broke it in half as though to eat it. Then, fitting the two pieces together again carefully, I said, “It looks all right, but it is never quite the same again, is it? When once your back is broken, you will yield ever after to the slightest touch from God.”42
During the six-year period beginning in 1942 in which he was forced to stop ministering, Brother Nee did not attempt to vindicate himself or recover his ministry. Instead, he remained silent, abiding in the mold of the Lord’s death by enjoying Him as resurrection life (Phil. 3:10). During those years Brother Nee told a certain brother that “there was no possibility to ever resume his ministry.”43 In his mind, his public ministry had been put to death. Much to his surprise, however, after a dark night of six years, the Lord restored Brother Nee’s ministry in 1948 through the labor of a few faithful co-workers, primarily Brother Witness Lee. Many of the saints who had opposed Brother Nee repented of their mistakes, and the church in Shanghai was fully recovered, renewed, and revived. Following the revival, Brother Nee conducted a training in Mount Kuling for four months, which resulted in “a tremendous spiritual explosion”44 and the raising up of hundreds of churches throughout China. In 1950 Brother Nee went to Hong Kong with Brother Lee, and their ministry issued in a great revival that increased the number of saints meeting with the church from about three hundred to more than two thousand. This great blessing upon the saints and churches in China was the issue of the genuine new covenant ministry marked by life out of death. After the resumption of his ministry, Brother Nee repeatedly emphasized the importance of the breaking of the outer man and the release of the spirit for the ministry of life, asserting that “the extent that a man is broken determines the amount of ministry he has.”45 Brother Nee was truly a person broken by the discipline of the Holy Spirit, one who became an outlet through which Christ as the resurrection life could be released to save sinners and supply the saints.
Brother Nee’s life of suffering under the shadow of the cross for the ministry of the resurrection life culminated in twenty years of imprisonment. He was arrested in 1952, following the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China during the Korean War, and was held without trial for four years. In 1956 he was falsely condemned, judged, and sentenced to fifteen years of imprisonment, a term that was extended when he refused to renounce his faith. He died in prison on May 30, 1972. During his imprisonment, although Brother Nee’s outward ministry was terminated, his ministry of life continued. A few months prior to his death he wrote his sister-in-law, “I maintain my joy…I hope you will also take care of yourself and be filled with joy in your heart.”46 His words bear a striking resemblance to Paul’s utterance in Philippians, also written from prison: “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and I rejoice together with you all. And in like manner you also rejoice, and you rejoice together with me” (Phil. 2:17-18). Even in his bonds Paul was a strong factor of the Philippians’ progress and joy of the faith because he lived, magnified, and ministered Christ, functioning in a hidden way as a joint of supply to the Body of Christ (1:19-25; Eph. 4:16; Col. 2:19). Similarly, Brother Nee, though outwardly confined, continued to function as an incalculable means of supply to all the saints.
During his imprisonment Brother Nee surely ministered life to the Body of Christ by prayer. Like the apostle Paul, who ministered to the churches and the believers from prison by unceasingly remembering them and making mention of them in his prayers (Eph. 1:16-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-4; Col. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Philem. 4), Brother Nee undoubtedly continued to minister life through his ceaseless petition and intercession on behalf of the saints day after day. Years later Brother Lee would testify that “in eternity we will see that much of what the Lord has gained in His recovery during the past two decades was due to Brother Nee’s prayer in prison.” Brother Lee also stated that “prayer is the spiritual conclusion to our entire spiritual career.”47 How fitting that in the last years of his life Brother Nee continually burned incense before God in prayer, and that God answered his prayers by dispensing the rich grace of life to the churches and the saints throughout the earth (Psa. 141:2; Luke 1:9-10; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). It was during those years that a number of Brother Nee’s books were translated, published, and made available to the children of God throughout the earth. Through those books, many seeking ones were captured by the Lord to take the way of His recovery and began meeting with the local churches and receiving the ministry in the recovery. It is reserved for God to know how dearly Brother Nee served the church by laying down his life for the release of the divine life to her (1 John 3:16; John 10:10-11) and how greatly we still benefit from his living out Paul’s words: “So then death operates in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12).
40 CWWN, vol. 33, p. 169
41 CWWN, vol. 33, p. 172
42 CWWN, vol. 33, pp. 183-184
43 Life-study of Genesis, p. 1469
44 Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation, p. 223
45 CWWN, vol. 57, p. 263; cf. CWWN, vol. 59, p. 45
46 Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation, p. 182
47 Fellowship Concerning the Urgent Need of the Vital Groups, p. 121
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