THE ADVANCE OF TRUTH
IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Now we come to the twentieth century. Two great events occurred in the twentieth century. The first was the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900. During this rebellion many Christians were martyred. The second event was the great Welsh Revival of 1904. During this revival many towns saw their whole population saved to such an extent that there were no more souls to save. Many phenomena of Pentecost were manifested among them.
The leader of this revival was Evan Roberts, a twenty-two-year-old coal miner. He had not received much education. God called such a one from among the lowly and gave him a partner, Hastwell (?). After he was saved, Roberts often prayed earnestly in the coal mines. His only prayer was, "Lord, bend the church to save the world." Those around him were both bewildered as well as impressed. Gradually, more people joined him in prayer, and soon the entire mine was affected. Many miners rose up to pray. The revival began to spread to the entire region of southern England.
From them we have learned two truths: first, the revival work of the Holy Spirit is brought in through a group of people who are bent and subdued. We do not need to ask God to send us an outward revival. We only need to ask Him to subdue us in a deeper and fresher way. Then life will spontaneously flow out from our being.
Second, from this time on, many began to understand the work of the evil spirits. Before this time, although men talked about this subject, their knowledge of it was not thorough. Brother Roberts understood what spiritual warfare meant. The experience of Ephesians 6 was not thoroughly apprehended until his time. In 1908 while he was lying on his sickbed, he told of his experience of warfare with the evil spirits to Mr. and Mrs. Penn-Lewis. Based on this understanding and the latter’s personal experience, she wrote the book War on the Saints which helped many deceived believers become free. During the past few years, almost all of the messages talked about among spiritual believers have been the teachings of Mrs. Penn-Lewis. They are truths concerning spiritual warfare and the cross.
At the same time that this revival was going on, another new work began in Los Angeles in the United States. From 1908 to 1909, a number of black believers on Azusa Street experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Concerning tongue-speaking, it is true that the practice among many is extreme and improper. Of course, we do not nullify altogether the place of tongue-speaking. We should help others have this Pentecostal experience. Paul’s teaching was, on the one hand, that not all speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:30). On the other hand, he told us, "Do not forbid the speaking in tongues" (14:39). The first verse is for those who overemphasize this matter. The second verse is for those who overlook this matter. We should take note of both aspects.
These individuals saw that the prophecy of Joel 2 was only partially fulfilled at the time of the apostles and that the day of the latter rain must come before the complete fulfillment occurs. Spiritually speaking, "the day of the latter rain" refers to today.
GOD’S WORK TODAY AND
THE CUMULATIVE REVELATIONS OF GOD
From the above discussion we can see the different discoveries of God’s truths that took place before and during this century. Now we need to ask: what is God’s work in China today? What kind of work is God doing today?
Immediately after I was saved, I heard many teachings from the foreign missionaries. Prior to 1920 it was difficult in China even to hear a message on salvation. After 1920 many messages were preached concerning salvation, justification, and regeneration. Before that time, many people did not even know about salvation. At present there are over one hundred and fifty different kinds of denominations. God showed us the error of denominationalism and the mistake of sectarianism. For this reason we began to preach these messages. Later God began to show us one by one the different truths, that is, the truths that we mentioned earlier. Gradually, we began to see the victory of Christ, the resurrection life, the teaching of the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit, and so forth. Everywhere in China men began to understand these things. In the course of our conversation with the Western missionaries, we discovered that many of these truths were also recovered in the same way in the West.
We know that God’s truths are cumulative; later truths do not negate earlier ones. All the past truths of God form the foundation of the truths today. What we see today are the cumulative revelations of God. When God opens our eyes to see this fact, we begin to realize that we are living in the tide of God’s will. This tide is a continuation of all the past works of God in previous ages.
From 1926 on, we began to release many messages concerning salvation, the church, and the cross, and we testified much concerning these things. By 1927 we concentrated our attention on the subjective work of the cross. We saw that concerning the cross, there is not only the truth concerning Christ’s death, but there is also the fact of resurrection. In the past the resurrection which we preached was mainly a matter of faith; it was not related to our experience. What we speak of today is resurrection as a principle of life. It is not just a doctrine but a spiritual fact. It is like a grain of wheat that dies and brings forth many grains; it is the principle of resurrection. After this, God showed us what the Body of Christ is and where the reality of this Body is. We began to realize that as there is only one life of Christ, there is only one church.
Personally, I received much help from Mrs. Penn-Lewis. In England Mr. Austin-Sparks also received much help from her. Brother Sparks was a pastor in a Baptist chapel in southeast London. Later the Lord showed him different truths concerning the meaning of resurrection and the meaning of the church life.
We cannot say that the aforementioned truths did not exist before today. However, they have not been revealed as clearly as today. In spite of this, prior to 1928, we did not mention anything concerning the central matters of God. By February of 1928, we began to mention something concerning God’s eternal purpose. From that time on, we began to tell people what God’s eternal purpose is. In that year, we had our first Overcomer Conference. Afterward, we had a second Overcomer Conference. All of the things mentioned in these conferences were matters related to God’s central theme.
Despite the above revelations, it was not until 1934 that we realized that the centrality of everything related to God is Christ. Christ is God’s centrality and God’s universality. All of God’s plan is related to Christ. This is the truth that God is pleased to reveal to us in these days. It is also the message we are preaching during this conference. This is what God showed Brother Sparks also. He saw much of the truth concerning God’s overcomers.
God’s overcomers are a group of people who take the lead to stand in the place of death on behalf of the whole congregation. Their relationship with the church is that of Zion’s relationship with Jerusalem. All of God’s requirements fall upon Zion. When Zion is gained, Jerusalem is gained. When both Zion and Jerusalem are secured, God’s purpose is fulfilled.
Our hearts are full of thanksgiving to God. From all these brothers we have received much help. As Paul said, "Neither did I receive it from man" (Gal. 1:12). In the same way, we can say that although we have received help from our brothers, these revelations were not received from man. We received help from Luther, Zinzendorf, the Moravian Brethren, and the Keswick messages. Today we believe that God’s ultimate goal is to have Christ as everything. One elderly pastor, Dr. F. B. Meyer, also saw this matter. However, by then he was already over ninety years old and could not do much work. I believe that God has only one work today. It is the message of Colossians 1:18 which says that God desires to see Christ have the first place in all things. The basis of everything is the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ. Other than Christ, there is no spiritual reality. This is God’s "present truth."
SOUNDING OUT A CALL
Hence, what are we doing today? We should answer as John the Baptist did that we are a voice in the wilderness (John 1:23). Our work is to sound out the call to God’s children to return to God’s central purpose, to take Christ as the center of all things, and to take His death, resurrection, and ascension as the basis of everything. This is the message of Colossians 1 and 3. We know the position of the church in the New Testament. We realize that this position is lofty and spiritual. We thank God for the help rendered to us from the Western missionaries. Yet God is showing us today that we should bring everything back to God’s central purpose. Our work today is to return to the biblical ground of the church.
All of God’s truth has the church as the starting point. Paul was first put in the church in Antioch. Later he was sent out from the church in Antioch. All of the truths that we preach today have the church as the starting point. This is our work and this is our testimony.
We should mention the miscellaneous truths less. We should do everything we can to show people that the Lord is the Head over all things. We are not here disrupting churches. Rather, we are here returning to the initial work of the apostles. We have to be careful about everything that we do. Everything that is of man we must learn to reject, and everything that is of God we must strive to attain.
We thank God that we can touch God’s grand purpose. We need to humble and prostrate ourselves and to deny ourselves. We need to be clear that our work today is not just to save some souls or to help others become spiritual. Our goal is indeed the greatest and the most glorious. Thank God that we can know God’s "present truth." May God be gracious to us so that we do not become the castaways of the "present truth." May we be watchful, and may we not allow the flesh to come in or the self to gain any ground. May God’s will be accomplished in us.
FOUR RESPONSIBILITIES TODAY
Finally, I would like to add a few words. We have four responsibilities today: (1) Concerning the sinners, we have to preach the gospel. (2) Concerning Satan, we have to realize there is a spiritual warfare. (3) Concerning the church, we have to hold fast what we see today. (4) Concerning Christ, we should testify of the fact of His preeminence in all things. Today this testimony can be found in America, England, France, Spain, Africa, and everywhere. However, the number is not great. Outwardly speaking, their condition is also very poor. We should pray for these places.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 11: The Present Testimony (4), Chapter 15, by Watchman Nee)