Introductory Note:

Watchman Nee (Ni Tosheng) (1903–1972) was one of the great Christian leaders of the twentieth century. Like George Muller and Hudson Taylor before him, Nee sought a life of abandonment and faith that few know. Eventually he came to head up a dynamic movement of the Spirit known as the “Little Flock,” which was one of the early efforts to forge an indigenous Chinese Christian witness independent of foreign missions and the traditional denominations. It flourished in the 1930s and 1940s with large gatherings of thousands in Shanghai and elsewhere. Perhaps it succeeded too well, for it was severely criticized by the more static missionary establishment.

In 1952 Watchman Nee was arrested by the Chinese Communist government on trumped-up charges and was sentenced to fifteen years of imprisonment. The fifteen years were actually extended to twenty and in all those long years he never betrayed his Lord. On June 1, 1972, while still in prison, he passed into the welcoming presence of God.

Like all of us, Nee made mistakes. Most notably, his “one locality, one church” principle led him into separatism and a denunciation of all churches other than his own, and this inevitably caused deep division in the Christian community. On the other hand, his use of vocational migration evangelism—in which every believer was viewed as an unpaid worker, and the home of every person moving to a new city became a place of prayer and a fresh center of witness—was sheer genius.

Leslie Lyall wrote of Watchman Nee, “When the history of the Chinese church comes to be written it will be impossible to ignore the life and work of an outstanding leader whose influence will last and whose legacy may well be a Christian fellowship (Little Flock) which will survive the fires of persecution and the attempts being made to destroy the Christian church in China” (in the fore- word to Angus I. Kinnear, Against the Tide: The Story of Watchman Nee, Fort Washington, PA, Christian Literature Crusade, 1973, p. ix).

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

1. Lead­ing the Indi­vid­ual Soul to Christ 

How do peo­ple press into the King­dom? We have con­sid­ered at some length how a preach­er of the Gospel needs to be per­son­al­ly pre­pared in spir­it for the task. But what of the hear­ers? What is the min­i­mum require­ment in the sin­ner if he or she is to find the Lord and be saved? This ques­tion now claims our atten­tion, for it is as impor­tant for us to know what we are attempt­ing to do as it is for us to be pre- pared in spir­it to do it.

In the dis­cus­sion which fol­lows we can only deal with a sin­gle point in the preach­ing of the Gospel. I take it for grant­ed that you know the facts of redemp­tion through the aton­ing death of Christ, and that you are also born of the Spir­it. I assume also that you know how to present those facts clear­ly and with pow­er. I am con­cerned here not with the sub­stance of your preach­ing, but rather with the prin­ci­ples that should guide in the actu­al task of lead­ing the indi­vid­ual soul to Christ. 

What is nec­es­sary for a per­son to be saved? How can a per­son be pre­vailed upon to come to the door of the King­dom and enter? How do we bring peo­ple who have only the absolute min­i­mum of knowl­edge or desire for God into a liv­ing touch with Him? These are our ques­tions, and I am going to lay down four guid­ing prin­ci­ples that will, I hope, be found to go a long way towards answer­ing them. 

2. A Three­fold Pro­vi­sion, and One Con­di­tion Demanded

God has made, from His side, a three­fold pro­vi­sion for every per­son in that person’s hour of cri­sis: First­ly, Jesus has come as the Friend of sin­ners; sec­ond­ly, it is He per­son­al­ly (and no inter­me­di­ary) whom we are called to meet; and third­ly, the Holy Spir­it has been poured out on all flesh, to bring to pass in us the ini­tial work of con­vic­tion of sin, repen­tance, and faith, and, of course, all that fol­lows. Then, final­ly, from the side of the sin­ner, one con­di­tion and one only is demand­ed. We are not required—in the first place—to believe, or to repent, or to be con­scious of sin, or even to know that Christ died. We are required only to approach the Lord with an hon­est heart. 

This last state­ment may at first star­tle you, but as we go on, I think you will see how help­ful it is. We will, how­ev­er, take these points in order, begin­ning from the side of God’s provision. 

3. The Friend of Sinners

In the Gospels the Lord Jesus is pre­sent­ed as the Friend of sin­ners, for his­tor­i­cal­ly He was found, first of all, mov­ing among the peo­ple as their Friend before He became their Sav­ior. But do you real­ize that today He is still in the first place our Friend, in order that He may become our Sav­ior? It is clear from the New Tes­ta­ment that the Lord Jesus came as a Friend, in order to help sin­ners to come to Him. Our com­ing to Him was made pos­si­ble by His first com­ing to us. At the hour of cri­sis there are many prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that face the sin­ner. For exam­ple, in the Scrip­tures we are often told to believe. The Word lays stress on the neces­si­ty of faith. But you say, I have not got faith.” A girl once said to me, I can’t believe. I would like to believe but I can’t! It is no use; I haven’t got it in me. The desire is there, but I find faith lack­ing. It is impos­si­ble to believe.” That is all right,” I said, You can’t believe. But you can ask the Lord to give you faith. He is pre­pared to help you to that extent. You pray: Lord, help Thou my unbelief.’” 

4. What the Sav­ior Is at Hand to Do

Or again, the Word tells us that we are to repent. What if we have no desire what­ev­er to repent? I met a stu­dent once who said it was too ear­ly for him to come to the Lord. He want­ed more time in which to taste the plea­sures of sin and to enjoy him­self. He said to me, The thief on the cross was saved, but he had his fling, and it was high time that he repent­ed. But I — I am young.” Well, what do you want to do?” I asked him. He replied, I want to wait anoth­er forty years and have a good time, and then I will repent.” 

So I said, Let us pray.” Oh, I can’t pray,” he answered. Yes, you can,” I said. You can tell the Lord all you have told me. He is the Friend of unre­pen­tant sin­ners like you.” Oh, I couldn’t say that to Him.” Why not? What­ev­er is in your heart, you tell it to Him. He will help you.” Final­ly he prayed, and told the Lord that he did not want to repent and be saved, but that he knew he need­ed a Sav­ior; and he just cried to Him for help. The Lord worked repen­tance in him and he got up a saved man. 

I repeat these inci­dents just to empha­size that what the sin­ner can­not do the Sav­ior is at hand to do for him. It is for this rea­son that we can tell peo­ple that they need not wait for any­thing, but can come to Him imme­di­ate­ly. What­ev­er their state, what­ev­er their prob­lem, let them bring it and tell it to the Friend of Sinners. 

5. Meet­ing Christ

What is sal­va­tion? Many think that to be saved we must first believe that the Lord Jesus died for us, but it is a strange fact that nowhere in the New Tes­ta­ment does it say pre­cise­ly that. We are told to believe in Jesus, or to believe on Him; not to believe that He died for us. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” were Paul’s words. We are to believe first of all in Him; not specif­i­cal­ly in what He has done. 

I do believe in the neces­si­ty of His atone­ment. I trust you will not mis­un­der­stand me there­fore when I say that the appre­ci­a­tion of that work may not be the first step in the sinner’s ini­tial con­tact with the Lord. That appre­ci­a­tion must fol­low, but the main ques­tion is whether or not we have the Son, and not, first of all, whether or not we under­stand the whole plan of sal­va­tion. The first con­di­tion of sal­va­tion is not knowl­edge, but meet­ing Christ.

I have come to see that all that is need­ed for the ini­tial step is that there should be a per­son­al touch with God, and when that is so the rest will sure­ly fol­low. It does not mat­ter, there­fore, which vers­es God elects to use for that first step. After all, we do not need to study the the­o­ry of elec­tric­i­ty and to under­stand it thor­ough­ly before we can turn on the elec­tric light. The light does not say, I am not going to shine for you, for you know noth­ing of the prin­ci­ple on which I work.” And God does not set under­stand­ing as the con­di­tion of our approach to Him. This is life eter­nal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” 

6. It Only Requires a Touch 

Let us take three exam­ples from the Gospels. First, the thief on the cross. When he asked the Lord to remem­ber him when Jesus came into His king­dom, Jesus did not remind him of his evil life, nor did He explain the plan of redemp­tion — no, the Lord had only one answer: Today you shall be with me in par­adise.” The thief rec­og­nized who Jesus was, and he believed in the Lord, and that was enough. 

Con­sid­er the woman who was bleed­ing and was try­ing to touch Jesus. There were many press­ing in on Him, but only one was healed. She was healed because with a spe­cial inten­tion she touched” Him. And it only required a touch; for in her it rep­re­sent­ed a reach­ing out in spir­it to God for help in her deep need. 

Or recall the inci­dent of the Phar­isee and the pub­li­can at prayer in the tem­ple. The Phar­isee under­stood all about offer­ings and sac­ri­fices and tithes, but there was from him no cry of the heart to God. But the pub­li­can cried out, Lord have mer­cy upon me!” Some­thing went out from him to God which met with an imme­di­ate response, and the Lord Jesus sin­gles him out as the one whom God reck­oned as right­eous. For what is it to be reck­oned right­eous? It is to touch God. That is why our first object must be to lead peo­ple to meet Him. 

7. A Cry from the Heart 

We have said that a cry to God from the heart is suf­fi­cient. Because the Holy Spir­it has been poured out upon all mankind, a cry is enough. I always believe that the Holy Spir­it is upon a per­son when I preach to that per­son. I do not mean that the Spir­it is with­in the hearts of unbe­liev­ers, but that He is out­side. What is He doing? He is wait­ing, wait­ing to bring Christ into their hearts. He is like the light. Open the win­dow-shut­ters even a lit­tle, and it will flood in and illu­mi­nate the inte­ri­or. Let there be a cry from the heart to God, and at that moment the Spir­it will enter and begin His trans­form­ing work of con­vic­tion and repen­tance and faith. 

Per­haps the biggest con­di­tion of suc­cess in bring­ing peo­ple to Christ is to remem­ber that the same Holy Spir­it, who came to our help in the hour of dark­ness, is at hand wait­ing to enter and illu­mine their hearts also, and to make good the work of sal­va­tion to which, in cry­ing to God, they have opened the door. 

8. Not a Ques­tion of Points 

We come now to the sin­gle require­ment demand­ed from us. Quite often peo­ple preach the Gospel to a per­son by using a num­ber of points,” only to find that the next day the per­son will say, I have for­got­ten the third point. What was it?” Sal­va­tion is not a ques­tion of points! Sal­va­tion is not even a ques­tion of under­stand­ing or of will. It is, as we have seen, a ques­tion of meet­ing God — of peo­ple com­ing into first-hand con­tact with Christ the Sav­ior. So what, you ask me, is the min­i­mum require­ment in a per­son to make that con­tact possible? 

The basic con­di­tion of a sinner’s sal­va­tion is not belief or repen­tance, but just hon­esty of heart towards God. God requires noth­ing of us except that we come in that atti­tude. For it is a fact of the Gospel, mak­ing pos­si­ble the ini­tial touch with Jesus Christ, that saves the sin­ner, and not the sinner’s under­stand­ing of it. 

Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.). Orig­i­nal­ly from What Shall This Man Do?, by Watch­man Née. Copy­right © 1961 by Angus I. Kin­n­ear. Amer­i­can edi­tion pub­lished in 1978 by Tyn­dale House Pub­lish­ers, Inc. Used by permission.

Text First Published April 1990 · Last Featured on October 2021

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

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