Watchman Nee, a faithful servant of Christ Jesus, was consecrated to the Lord even before birth. Desiring a son, his mother had prayed to the Lord, "If I have a boy, I will present him to you." Soon afterward, in 1903, Watchman Nee was born in Foochow, China of second-generation Christian parents. He was not only keenly intelligent but also an exceptional student, always ranking first in his class as well as in the entire school from grade school through college. From his youth Watchman Nee was acquainted with the gospel, but he also had the deep realization and conviction that if he received Jesus as his Lord for salvation, he must serve Him absolutely. In 1920, at the age of seventeen, he was saved with this view of lifelong service to the Lord.
Watchman Nee attended no theological schools or Bible institutes, yet he acquired an exceptional knowledge concerning God's purpose, Christ, the Spirit, and the church through his study of the Bible as well as the writings of spiritual men and women. During his early ministry, he spent one-third of his income on books by Christian authors such as D.M. Panton, Robert Govett, G.H. Pember, Jessie Penn-Lewis, T. Austin-Sparks, John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, and C.H. Mackintosh. He was brilliantly gifted in his ability to select, comprehend, discern, and memorize appropriate material. Watchman Nee gleaned all the good, scriptural points from his collection of over 3,000 of the best Christian books, including nearly all the classical Christian writings from the first century on. In addition to the spiritual knowledge he gained, he received much spiritual edification and perfection early in his Christian life from Margaret E. Barber, a former Anglican missionary.
Through this fellowship with Miss Barber, along with his study of the Bible and numerous spiritual books, Watchman Nee received a wealth of revelation. He had the foundational realization that to be a Christian is altogether a matter of the divine life. In fact, his entire ministry testified that he had learned to pay more attention to life than to work. He saw the subjective aspects of Christ’s death and resurrection as well: that he had been crucified with Christ; that it was no longer he that lived, but Christ lived in him. He also realized that in order to experience the death of Christ in a subjective way, he needed to bear the cross. He saw that he had risen with Christ and that the resurrected Christ with the fullness of the Spirit had become his life. Further, he saw that the church as the Body of Christ is simply the enlargement, expansion, and expression of the resurrected Christ. Watchman Nee’s realization that Christ in resurrection is the life and content of the church was far advanced. He was truly a seer of the divine revelation in the present age, a revelation which resulted in the Lord’s twofold burden and commission to him: first, to bear a specific testimony of the Lord Jesus, and second, to establish local churches.
Watchman Nee suffered greatly for the sake of the ministry. He suffered poverty, gravely ill health, intense opposition from Christians, and two decades of harsh imprisonment. His depth of revelation combined with his selfless sufferings issued in a rich ministry of life according to the Lord’s commission to him: the unique New Testament ministry of Christ and of the church.
Although he was a man of God living by faith and fully occupied with the ministry of Christ for the building up of the churches, Watchman Nee did not lead a peculiar, ascetic lifestyle. In 1934 at the age of thirty, Watchman Nee married a sister in the Lord named Charity Chang. The Lord gave them no children. Additionally, in 1939 he began to assist in the management of his brother’s pharmaceutical factory. With the factory profits, he was able to care for the needs of a number of Christians and purchase a training center. He eventually handed over the factory to the work of the ministry as an offering to the Lord.
Early in his ministry Watchman Nee was joined by Witness Lee, a young believer who labored with him for twenty years and became his closest co-worker. In 1949, due to the incursion of Communism, Watchman Nee sent Witness Lee to Formosa (Taiwan) to continue Brother Nee’s ministry of Christ and the church. Watchman Nee felt that the Lord was keeping him in Mainland China to maintain His testimony and to care for the churches. He was arrested by the Communists in 1952, by which time approximately four hundred local churches had been raised up in Mainland China and over thirty throughout Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, under Witness Lee’s ministry, the churches in Taiwan multiplied and flourished.
On May 30, 1972, after twenty years of imprisonment for his belief in Christ and his participation in the local churches, Watchman Nee rested with Christ, Whom he loved and served at the cost of his life. Before his departure, he left a note under his pillow to testify of the truth:
“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.”
He remained a faithful testimony of Christ Jesus according to the burden and commission he had received from the Lord. In fulfillment of his mother’s prayer, he had lived a consecrated life by the Lord’s mercy and grace.