THE DISCOVERY OF GOD’S TRUTH
IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Now let us consider the nineteenth century. This century saw a full revival. First, we will consider John Nelson Darby and the revival that he represented.
In 1827 a group of people were raised up in Dublin, Ireland. Among them were men like Edward Cronin and Anthony Norris Groves. They saw that many things in the church were dead, lifeless, and formal. They began to ask the Lord to show them the church according to the biblical revelation. Through prayer and fellowship, they felt that they should rise up and meet according to the principle of 1 Corinthians 14. As a result, they began to break bread at a brother’s home. A short while later, a former Anglican minister, John Nelson Darby, began to join their meeting and to expound the Bible among them. Gradually, more and more expositors were raised up among them, such as William Kelly, C.H. Mackintosh, B.W. Newton, and J.G. Bellett. Through reading their books, I received light to see the error of denominational organizations and to realize that there is only one Body of Christ. The church should not be formed by human opinions but should be under the direct leading of the Holy Spirit. When we consider the present-day church organizations, we see many human traditions and opinions and little direct leading of the Holy Spirit. This is not according to God’s desire. In God’s will, the church should not be under man’s control; it should be directed only by the Holy Spirit. All those who belong to the Lord should learn to be led by the Holy Spirit and should not follow man’s direction. These are all truths discovered by the Brethren.
In addition, the Brethren made many discoveries concerning the millennium, the question of rapture, and the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. They were the most prominent expositors of the various types in the Old Testament. The commentary on the Pentateuch by C.H. Mackintosh is the authority in its category. The evangelist D.L. Moody highly recommended it. The Brethren also made a clear separation between the biblical prophecies concerning the Jews and those concerning the church. A hundred years ago, many people confused the prophecies concerning the Jews with those for the church. They considered that the prophecies concerning the Jews were already fulfilled in the church. In addition to these matters, the Brethren also produced many other writings.
During this period, many spiritual brothers were being raised up in England. In addition to those named above, there were brothers like Charles Stanley and George Cutting. The latter wrote a little book called Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment. It tells people that they can have the assurance of salvation. This book has already been translated into Chinese. The truths concerning the gospel were fully recovered through these brothers.
Besides these brothers there was Robert Govett who saw the matter of Christian reward. He discovered that while it is true that a man is saved by faith, he is rewarded according to his works before God. Salvation is a matter of life, while reward is a matter of living. C.H. Spurgeon once said that Govett was a hundred years ahead of his time because his teachings were so profound. Govett told people that there is the possibility that Christians will be excluded from the millennium. Therefore, a believer must be faithful and diligent. Second, he taught that not all believers will be raptured before the tribulation. Only those overcoming and faithful believers will participate in this rapture.
Expositors were raised up one after another during this period. Another very spiritual brother of great renown was G.H. Pember. He wrote many commentaries. There were others also such as D.M. Panton and Hudson Taylor. The latter wrote a book Union and Communion, which speaks of some profound experiences in Christ. The above-mentioned truths were all great discoveries. Although these different truths of God were recovered, they cannot be considered God’s most central truth.
Afterward God raised up George Müller in England. He learned many excellent lessons concerning prayer and concerning faith in God’s word. He taught that man should claim God’s promises through prayer, and he testified of his way of living by faith in relation to financial needs.
In the United States there was the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The prominent ones among them were A.B. Simpson, A.J. Gordon, and others. They were all very influential. Even Hudson Taylor in England was affected by them. They saw that believers should return to the experience of the apostolic age when men lived by faith. This was a tremendous revelation at that time. Of course, this truth has become widely known among us today.
Gordon and Simpson also discovered the truth concerning divine healing and began to experience it. This matter spread quickly and was much publicized, and many were attracted. However, Simpson emphasized that it was not the healing but the resurrection life that overcame the weaknesses of the flesh. He taught that one can triumph over sickness through knowing Christ as the power and the Deliverer.
At the same time another group of people were raised up who paid attention to the inner life. About sixty years ago, God gained a porcelain merchant by the name of Robert Pearsall Smith. He saw that sanctification comes through consecration. This kind of sanctification is quite different from the sanctification that Wesley spoke of. Smith’s kind of sanctification came through consecration and faith. The sanctification that Wesley preached was a life that one gradually attains to after consecration. Actually, both teachings are of the truth. After the line of Smith, there was Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith who wrote the book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. There were also others like Stocknell (?), Evan Hopkins, and Andrew Murray. They continued the line of truth concerning self-denial preached by ones like Madame Guyon two hundred years earlier in the Catholic Church. These believers began to conduct conferences in Germany, England, and other places. These conferences were the beginning of what we know today as the Keswick Convention. The main speaker at these conventions was Evan Hopkins. He received help both from Smith and from others like Madame Guyon and exerted a definite spiritual influence in that period of time. Although the truth released by Madame Guyon has never been popular throughout church history, it has exercised a profound spiritual influence upon many people. Even Wesley received help from her. John Wesley once said that he wished every believer would read the messages of Madame Guyon and that he owed much grace to her. God gained such a woman in the seventeenth century and through her brought in the main current of the nineteenth century.
In addition to Hopkins, there was H.C. Trumbull who released the truth on the overcoming life at the Keswick Convention. These messages brought in a great recovery concerning the knowledge of the overcoming life and the way for believers to experience this overcoming life in their living.
After Hopkins, God gained another sister, Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis. This sister was very weak physically during the early stages of her life. She was always bedridden. While sick in bed, she read the writings of Madame Guyon and embraced them as her bedside companion. She, however, could not believe that the kind of total self-denial, faith, and love described in these writings could ever be practiced. One day while disputing and arguing with God, she sought desperately for the Lord to bring her into these truths. The Lord heard her prayer. From that time on, she was raised up by the Lord to preach the truth of the cross.
Brother Holden, an ex-missionary of the China Inland Mission, came to know the meaning of the cross through reading Mrs. Penn-Lewis’s books. Mrs. Penn-Lewis was one who truly bore the cross. Through her experiences, many believers were attracted to pursue the truth concerning the cross. Through these men and women, God led many to realize that the centrality of God’s work is the cross. The cross is the foundation for all spiritual matters. Without the work of the cross, a person will not know what is death and what is sin. Many spiritual persons received great help through her. Through the messages she preached, God granted deliverance to many. We can see that the discovery of God’s truth is progressive; the more it advances, the more complete it becomes. By the end of the nineteenth century, almost all of the truths had been recovered.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 11: The Present Testimony (4), Chapter 15, by Watchman Nee)