Verse 3:"Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come as a thief, and you shall by no means know at what hour I will come upon you."
How vain it would be if believers would forget what Christ remembers. Here we have two things: the receiving and the hearing. First, we have the grace that they received and the position that stands in grace. Second, we have the word of God which they hear, which is the rule and guidance of their faith and work. They have received grace and have heard God’s word. What God is causing us to remember is not anything that we have not received, but that which we have received. The Lord is holding His church responsible for the grace it has received and the word it has heard. God gave us this word for us to follow, and God gave us this grace to enable us to follow.
This is very relevant to Protestantism and to its many denominations. The Reformation was a great revival and a return to the original ground. Of course, it was only a partial recovery. What they have heard and received at the beginning was an open Bible as the yardstick of all faith and work. Because Protestantism has forgotten what it has heard and received, the Lord called it to draw near to the work of the Holy Spirit once more and to stir up this work which was lost from among them. The Reformation has released the Bible already and has recovered many lost truths. Although these are not complete, Protestantism is slowly forgetting even these things. For this reason the Lord calls them to remember what they have received and heard. They boasted about themselves and allowed the truth that they acquired to slowly drift into death. They did not struggle to recover what the Reformation had not recovered. Although they have not filled themselves up with sin in the way that Rome had, they were more lacking than the corrupted Roman Church in good works. They had the Bible already, yet this benefit only increased their responsibility. What the apostles commanded and what the Bible recorded are things that the church should always keep. However, they have not been the authority and the tradition of the church.
During the past few centuries, the Protestant denominations have received many revivals from the hand of the Holy Spirit. Power, freshness, zeal, fellowship, communion with the Lord, obedience to the Bible—these are the works done by the Holy Spirit during the revivals, but it is a pity that they do not last. The Lord’s calling here is to remind those who were once revived and who have since gone back, of the grace and teachings they had received from the Holy Spirit. The reason the effect of the revivals did not last was not the inadequacy of the power of the Holy Spirit but the absence of an absolute heart towards the Lord and His word. If there were more absolute submission, there will surely be better results.
We should consider the first part of this verse with the last part of the previous verse. "For I have found none of your works completed before My God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard." The Lord is calling them to come back to what they have received from God before. The Lord does not consider the present church to be more modern, and that therefore every church can freely set up its own ordinances. The Lord has not called them to reform themselves. He is reminding the church of their fall from God’s former, unique standard. Here the Lord has not given the church the liberty. The Lord’s word, like the Lord Himself, lasts forever and is always powerful. The church can act contrary to the Bible, but the Bible will not thereby lose its authority. Those who depart from God’s law will surely be judged. The principles of judgment are in the Bible. All those who want to follow the Lord must come back to the Lord’s ordinances. One cannot assume that since circumstances have changed, the apostles have passed away, and the church has been corrupted, one can therefore ignore the word of Christ and can walk according to his own will. The Bible tells us that as sinners we were washed, sanctified, and justified by the Holy Spirit. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit operates according to His own will in the church. Although we do not see the manifestation of tongues, miracles, and healings in some places, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not there. Although the manifestation of the Holy Spirit may be different at times, the fact that He is Lord in the church is immutable. God has not called us to invent some institutions better than what the Bible has revealed. His command is that we walk according to the truth once delivered to us (Jude 3).
What is mentioned here is the first step in the recovery. We should remind ourselves of the special grace that we have received before and the truth that we have heard. These two things are justification and the Bible respectively, which we received at the time of the Reformation. The persons here are judged according to the light that they have received (cf. Matt. 11:21-24). Protestantism will be judged by what it has received in the Reformation, but is it not true that justification by faith and the Bible are now overlooked by Protestantism in faith and conduct? How can it stand before the judgment seat? The Lord wants it to remember. In other words, He wants it to compare the former condition with the present situation so that it will know its lack and will keep God’s commandment.
"And repent." The fact that the Lord put the calling for repentance here proves that these ones are saved. The calling to repentance does not come at the beginning of the letter. If the Lord is speaking to a sinner, he should loudly proclaim the word for repentance first, and then say something else, as He did in the old days when He preached the gospel to people. The repentance here refers to the Lord’s calling for repentance of the believers. They have backslidden. As such, they have to repent. If they compare their former condition with their present situation, they should realize that they have to repent. They should change their conduct and should be more alive in their response to the things of God.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 05: The Christian (3), Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)