THE RECOVERY OF TRUTH FROM
THE SIXTEENTH TO THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
Following this we come to the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. In 1524 the Anabaptists, a group of believers who proposed re-baptism after infant-sprinkling, were raised up in Germany. They were followers of the earlier brothers from Lhota who preached the baptism of believers. Before this time the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Lutheran Church sprinkled infants. These Anabaptists not only preached the truth of justification by faith, but they went on further to baptize the believers who were justified by faith. After the Anglican Church was established in England, these people told others that the church should not have anything to do with politics. For this reason they were persecuted and exiled.
After twelve years, in 1536 John Calvin was raised up by God. He was one of the greatest vessels of God in that age. After he was raised up, he faced persecution everywhere, first in Switzerland and then in Germany. Wherever he went, he was met with persecution and exile. Finally, in Scotland he had a fresh beginning and established the Scottish Presbyterian Church.
The period between the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century was the time the Anglican Church was formed in England. This was the beginning of the state church in England. Although it freed itself from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, it found itself linked with British politics. For this reason, various dissenters rose up in England. They opposed the state religion and held opinions different from those of the state religion. They said that the church should not be under the state’s control and that church and state should have a clear separation. Although these dissenters were bold to point out the mistakes of the state church, they themselves did not return fully to the teaching of the New Testament. These are the things that happened in England.
At this time in Germany, God raised up Philipp Jakob Spener. He became a pastor in a Lutheran Church in Frankfurt in 1670. By that time the Lutheran denomination had fallen into a kind of formal religion. By reading his Bible, Spener found out that the church at his time was full of human opinions, something forbidden by God. He saw that the believers should return to the teaching of the New Testament. For this reason he began to lead others into the practice of 1 Corinthians 14. In his meetings he began to teach others to reject the traditional formalities and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, his practice did not last long.
By 1732 the earliest missionary body in the world was conceived, the so-called Moravian Brethren. The word Moravian originates from a place called Moravia. They were the first group of brothers to go throughout the entire world to evangelize. Eighty-five out of one hundred among them eventually became foreign missionaries. Their beginning can be traced to a brother called Christian David. He was regenerated at the age of twenty-two. Before he was saved, he had traveled everywhere in search of the truth concerning salvation but to no avail. One day he found the way to salvation. After he was saved, he returned to his hometown in Moravia and began to boldly proclaim this truth. God did a great work through him. Through this revival, persecution came, and he was chased out of his homeland to Saxony. There he met Count Zinzendorf. The latter was only twenty-two years of age at that time and was a member of the aristocracy in a small kingdom. Due to the persecution in Moravia, the brothers fled from their land and were received by Brother Zinzendorf in his territory. There they began the Moravian Church. Dwelling among the little hills of Saxony, they began to build up a homeland. Gradually different kinds of Christians moved there from their respective places of persecution.
Among these immigrants was a black man from the West Indies by the name of Anthony. After he came to meet the brothers, he discussed with them the condition in the West Indies. Some brothers felt the need to go and preach the gospel there. Through the casting of lots, they selected a few workers to go with Anthony on a mission. This was the first foreign missionary enterprise, around 1732. From that time on, missionaries were produced from among them, and the Moravian Church became the strongest missionary body at that time. Their believers spread to every corner of the world.
At the same time there was a new discovery within the Catholic Church. A group of spiritual people were raised up by the Lord. The most spiritual one among them was Miguel de Molinos, who was born in 1640 and died in 1697. He wrote a book called Spiritual Guide which taught men the way to deny themselves and die with the Lord. This book affected many people at that time. One of his contemporaries was Madame Guyon. She was born in 1648 and died in 1717. She was even more knowledgeable in the matters of the union with God’s will and the denial of the self. Her autobiography is a very good spiritual book.
In addition there was Father Fenelon who was a bishop at that time. He was very willing to suffer for the Lord, and he worked together with Madame Guyon. Through these men and women, God released many spiritual messages. At that time men and women with the deepest experience of spiritual life were found in the Catholic Church. Protestantism was only paying attention to the doctrine of justification by faith.
Along with these three persons, there was Gottfried Arnold. He wrote many books concerning questions of the church. He considered that the church at that time had deviated from the truth and that it must return to the proper ground as revealed in the New Testament before it could be built up. Here we can see two flows. One came from believers like Molinos, Madame Guyon, and Fenelon. The other flow came from men represented by Arnold. In our magazine, The Present Testimony, we have published Madame Guyon’s "Flow of the Spirit." Through her writings, one can see that she was indeed a very spiritual person. Concerning Arnold, he recovered mostly the outward matters. He proposed that Christians return to the scriptural ground of the New Testament.
These two flows eventually merged into one. In 1700 the church in "Philadelphia" was raised up. Philadelphia means brotherly love. At that time, when men read Revelation 2 and 3, they realized that Protestantism had indeed come out of Catholicism. However, the result was only the church in Sardis; there was not yet a full recovery.
When such groups were raised up, unlike other organizations, they did not call people to come out of their original organizations. They did not insist that others leave their denominations. On the contrary, they merely held meetings everywhere. From 1670 on, their testimony was found in England. In Leeds, Bradford, and other places, their meetings were raised up one after another. They were the strongest witnesses in the eighteenth century. While Zinzendorf was still alive, he tried once to absorb this movement into his Moravian Church. However, he did not succeed.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, a great revival broke out in England. In 1729 the two Wesley brothers were raised up by God. They were called the Methodists. Through them, God brought in a great tide of revival. This was the beginning of the Methodist Church. The Wesley brothers were the prime figures of the eighteenth century. Before John Wesley was saved, he strove to be good. Later he went to America to be a missionary. At that point he was not yet saved. He testified that although he had heard the truth of justification by faith, he could not understand it. Later a Moravian brother helped him and told him, "Just preach justification by faith to others until you yourself are assured that you are justified by faith." A short while after this, he was saved. After their salvation, the two brothers immediately began to preach this message everywhere. At that time men were not allowed to preach in the open air but could speak only in a church sanctuary because the church at that time considered that the holy Word could be proclaimed only in a holy sanctuary. However, these two brothers together with George Whitefield began to hold open-air meetings and bring people to the Lord in this way. The main subject of John Wesley’s messages was the doctrine of sanctification. The teaching of the eradication of sin began with him, although he also told others that sanctification came by faith.
After Wesley died, the overseas missionary movement began. The first organization to be established was the London Missionary Society. This organization began as a non-denominational institution but later came under the direction of the Congregationalists. By 1799 the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) was formed. It belonged to the Anglican Church. The Methodists also expanded the scope of their mission organization and became the Methodist Missionary Society of today.
In conclusion, the reforms of the sixteenth century were widespread, while the reforms of the eighteenth century were not. The reforms of the sixteenth century affected the world not only spiritually but politically and socially as well. Those reforms of the eighteenth century exercised their influence mainly on the spiritual side. Of all the movements in the eighteenth century, the most noteworthy was the testimony of the "Philadelphia" church. They assimilated all of the previous major recoveries. Among them, one can find all of the major truths.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 11: The Present Testimony (4), Chapter 15, by Watchman Nee)