Adapted from: www.watchmannee.org/ March 14, 2004, 11:00 am
Relationship with Witness Lee
Watchman Nee’s closest co-worker was Witness Lee. Having been raised as a Southern Baptist, Witness Lee was saved in 1925 at the age of nineteen. That year Witness Lee began to seek to thoroughly know the Bible and found Watchman Nee’s articles and publications to be the most outstanding on biblical truths. He soon began to correspond with Watchman Nee and was astonished that someone only two years older than he was such a mature Christian. It was not until 1932, when Witness Lee invited Watchman Nee to Chefoo, that the two had their first personal contact. During the time they began to spend together, Watchman Nee’s stress on the divine life rather than on knowledge caused Witness Lee’s fellowship with the Lord to deepen and to grow more intimate. In the same year, believers began meeting in Witness Lee’s home; by the following year, this meeting was thriving. Due to the needs of the church, both men believed that the Lord desired Witness Lee to serve Him full-time. Their time together increased, during which Watchman Nee continually perfected and tested Witness Lee, preparing him to bear more responsibility. Realizing that the Lord’s work in China must be one and that He had begun it in Shanghai through Watchman Nee, Witness Lee moved to Shanghai in 1934 to be able to work more closely with Watchman Nee. They labored, suffered, spread the work, received revelation, and brought in revivals together. Brother Lee edited Watchman Nee’s publication The Christian from 1934 to 1940 and was his best man at his wedding.
In fear of annihilation by the incursion of Communism, Watchman Nee sent Witness Lee and a few others to Taiwan in 1949 to continue the work there. The last contact between Watchman Nee and Witness Lee was in March, 1950 in Hong Kong, twenty-five years after Witness Lee first knew of Watchman Nee. At that time, the two of them had extensive fellowship about Watchman Nee’s return to the mainland. He told Witness Lee,”What shall we do with so many churches on the mainland? I must return to take care of them and stand with them for the Lord’s testimony.”
Watchman Nee was led by the Lord to remain in Mainland China in spite of the threat of Communism, and to sacrifice everything for the Lord’s work there. In this respect he was like the apostle Paul in Acts 20:24: “But I consider my life of no account as if precious to myself, in order that I may finish my course and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus…” Concerning his decision, Brother Hsu Jin-chin testified the following:
Before Brother Nee left Hong Kong, Brother Lee advised him many times not to return to the mainland. But Brother Nee said, “If a mother discovered that her house was on fire, and she herself was outside the house doing the laundry, what would she do? Although she realized the danger, would she not rush into the house? Although I know that my return is fraught with dangers, I know that many brothers and sisters are still inside. How can I not return?” Brother Lee escorted him three times back from the bus stop to his home in Diamond Hill…
Watchman Nee was arrested by the Communists in March, 1952 for his professed
faith in Christ as well as his leadership among the local churches. He was judged, falsely condemned, and sentenced in 1956 to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
During this entire time, only his wife was allowed to visit him. Although there is no way for us to know what he experienced of the Lord during his long imprisonment, his last eight letters provide a glimpse into his suffering, feeling, and expectation during his confinement. While prison censorship did not allow him to mention the Lord’s name in his letters, in his final letter, written on the day of his death, he alluded to his joy in the Lord: “In my sickness, I still remain joyful at heart.”
Watchman Nee was practicing the word of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He died in confinement in his cell on May 30, 1972. Humanly speaking, he died in misery and humiliation. Not one relative or brother or sister in the Lord was with him. There was no proper notification of his death and no funeral. He was cremated on June 1, 1972. His wife had died six months earlier, so it was her eldest sister who was informed of his death and cremation. She retrieved his ashes, and they were buried with Mrs. Nee’s in his hometown of Kwanchao in the county of Haining, Chekiang province. In May, 1989, the ashes of Watchman Nee and his wife were transferred to and buried in “The Christian Cemetery” in Shiangshan in the city of Soochow of Kiangsu province.
The following is an account by Brother Nee’s grandniece, who accompanied Mrs. Nee’s eldest sister to the labor farm to pick up his ashes:
In June 1972, we got a notice from the labor farm that my granduncle had passed away. My eldest grandaunt and I rushed to the labor farm. But when we got there,
we learned that he had already been cremated. We could only see his ashes….Before his departure, he left a piece of paper under his pillow which had several lines of big words written in a shaking hand. He wanted to testify to the truth which he had even until his death, with his lifelong experience.
That truth is—”Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.”
When the officer of the labor farm showed us this paper, I prayed that the Lord would let me quickly remember it by heart…
My granduncle had passed away. He was faithful until death. With a crown stained
with blood, he went to be with the Lord. Although God did not fulfill his last wish, to come out alive to join his wife, the Lord prepared something even better—they were reunited before the Lord.
During Watchman Nee’s imprisonment he was confined, but his ministry was not bound (2 Tim. 2:9). Under the Lord’s sovereignty, his ministry has spread throughout the entire world as a rich supply of life to all seeking Christians.
His ultimate burden was the churches as the house of God, God’s tabernacle. Although his own earthly tabernacle (physical body) has been taken down, the churches, which were so much on his heart, are not only surviving but also continuing to grow vigorously and to spread throughout the earth. By the time Watchman Nee was arrested in 1952, approximately four hundred local churches had been raised up in China through his life and ministry. In addition, over thirty local churches had been raised up in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Today the Lord has multiplied the local churches to over 2,300 worldwide through the rich and faithful ministries of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.
To read the first of this 3-part series, visit “Watchman Nee, Part I – Chinese Missionary Martyr”