Discovering Watchman Nee: God’s Mysterious Ways

Photo of Watchman Nee
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Mick Turner

A worn out, trite, and, at least in some circles, humorous phrase is as follows:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

This old saying outlived its usefulness several centuries ago, but it doesn’t stop Christians from pulling it out of the dust bin and springing it on unsuspecting listeners, especially when confronted with some event that can’t be explained seems at odds with the faith.

I mention all this at the beginning of this article because it bears at least a marginal relation to the topic at hand. Perhaps I best explain myself.

Since my elementary school days, I have been a voracious reader. As an adult, I have spent a small fortune on books over the years and, as anyone who has purchased books in recent years, the prices keep rising at a rate almost equal to the cost of healthcare. I am far from a wealthy man, so the money I have spent on books over the years might seem even more staggering. Most of the books I buy are new and of course that makes them even more expensive.

I tell you about this because there is a certain irony in my relationship with my books in general and my books on spirituality in particular. I find it most fascinating that in spite of the mother lode I have spent on books over the years, one of the most impactful books I ever purchased I bought some twenty years ago at a garage sale in South Miami, Florida for the outrageous sum of seven cents. The lady wanted a dime but I talked her down three cents, just on principle.

I can say without reservation that this little ragged paperback was not on my high priority reading list and I am not sure why I was moved to buy it in the first place. On the way home from the garage sale I stopped to get a coffee and, while drinking it, I chanced to pick up the book and read a few pages.

I couldn’t put it down. I ended up reading the entire book that very afternoon and evening. This little tome spoke to me in a way few books ever had. I can say that it was, in a number of significant ways, life-changing. Why I even picked that book up and bought it I’ll never know. All I can say is:

God works in mysterious ways.

The name of the book was The Normal Christian Life by Chinese author Watchman Nee. I have since learned that this book has been impactful on many Christian lives over the years and was highly popular with the old Jesus People movement, of which I had some contact in the late 60s.

With that little story out of the way, I want to share just a few things Nee talks about in the book and hopefully, if you haven’t read it, you will find yourself a copy and do so at your earliest opportunity.

In terms of the completeness of the gospel, the following lengthy passage from The Normal Christian Life spells out with clarity the scope of Christ’s accomplishments in regards to the forgiveness of sin and the empowerment for living. Specifically, Nee describes what the New Testament refers to as “the last Adam” and “the second man. Nee relates:

In 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, two remarkable names or titles are used of the Lord Jesus. He is spoken of there as “the last Adam” and he is spoken of too as “the second man.” Scripture does not refer to him as the second Adam, but as the “last Adam”; nor does it refer to him as the last Man, but as “the second man.” The distinction is to be noted, for it enshrines a truth of great value.

As the last Adam, Christ is the sum total of humanity; as the second Man, he is the Head of a new race. So we have here two unions, the one relating to his death and the other to his resurrection. In the first place his union with the race as “the last Adam” began historically at Bethlehem and ended at the cross and the tomb. In it he gathered up into himself all that was in Adam and took it to judgment and death. In the second place our union with him as “the second man” began in resurrection and ends in eternity – which is to say, it never ends – for, having in his death done away with the first man in whom God’s purpose was frustrated, he rose again as Head of a new race of men, in whom that purpose shall be fully realized.

When therefore the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross, he was crucified as the last Adam. All that was in the first Adam was gathered up and done away in him. We were included there. As the last Adam he wiped out the old race; as the second Man he brings in the new race. It is in his resurrection that he stands forth as the second Man, and there too we are included. “For if we have become united with him by the likeness of his death, we shall be also by the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans 6:5). We died in him as the last Adam; we live in him as the second Man. The cross is thus the mighty act of God which translates us from Adam to Christ.

I have long been convinced that a principle reason for the church’s seeming impotence flows out of the fact that far too much attention has been given to the last Adam, and far too little to the second Man.

Christ clearly told us that his kingdom was not of this world. And in uttering those words, the Master touched on a reality that his disciples, both then and now, must come to understand. God originally intended for this world to be his world, but Satan managed to sabotage his efforts. As a result, Satan eventually became “the prince  of this world. “

Nee explains:

Thus, in Satan’s hand, the first creation has become the old creation, and God’s primary concern is now no longer with that, but with a second and new creation. He is bringing in a new creation, a new kingdom and a new world, and nothing of the old creation, the old kingdom or the old world can be transferred to the new. It is a question now of these two rival realms, and of which realm we belong.

Nee then goes on to describe what he calls “The Divide of the Cross.”

The Cross was the means God used to bring to an end “the old things” by setting aside altogether our “old man,” and the resurrection was the means he employed to impart to us all that was necessary for our life in that new world.

We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

The greatest negative in the universe is the Cross, for with it God wiped out everything that was not of himself: the greatest positive in the universe is the resurrection, for through it God brought into being all the he will have in the new sphere. So the resurrection stands at the threshold of the new creation. It is a blessed thing to see that the Cross ends all that belongs to the first regime, and that the resurrection introduces all the pertains to the second.

In essence, Nee is saying that the resurrection is significant not only in the sense that Christ defeated death, which was a result of humanity’s disobedience and Satan’s manipulations in the Garden. He rightly sees that with the resurrection God is instituting a brand new creation. In a sense, it is both symbolic and ironic that we restarted the calendar “after the Lord (A.D.).” It was in every sense, a new beginning. I have long believed that Easter is perhaps far more important on the Church Calendar than Christmas and this is but one of the reasons why. Returning to Nee’s discussion of these themes, he states:

We have two worlds before us, the old and the new. In the old, Satan has absolute dominion. You may be a good man in the old creation, but as long as you belong to the old, you are under sentence of death, because nothing of the old can be carried over into the new.

In light of the perspective being described by Nee, I am reminded of the passages of scripture where Paul talks about Christ as the “last Adam” and the “second man.” All that went before, our old nature, our “pre-in-Christ” status, must necessarily be crucified with Christ. It cannot be carried forward into the new life of the kingdom. Nee continues:

The cross is God’s declaration that all that is off the old creation must die. Nothing of the first Adam can pass beyond the Cross; it all ends there. The sooner we see that, the better, for it is by the Cross that God has made a way of escape for us from that old creation.

This theme of old and new, juxtaposed at the Cross, forms the foundation of Nee’s perspective of the unfolding of God’s great story. I can also say that I am in agreement with much of what Nee says regarding these matters. His perspective is cogent and reasonable and, when viewed in its totality, is transformational. In fact, for those who have really studied it in depth, The Normal Christian Life, has been one of the most life-changing books of the 20th Century.

Indeed, one can safely say that God does work in mysterious ways. After spending a king’s ransom on my spiritual library, a seven cent, dog-eared paperback brought me insights I would have never imagined. I have long since purchased a nice hardback copy of the book, but I still have that old paperback, which I have taped together on several occasions. I have also read Nee’s Spiritual Man, which is much longer and a bit more tedious. Still, I garnered much from that book as well.

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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One thought on “Discovering Watchman Nee: God’s Mysterious Ways

  1. Pingback: You Were Made to Fly | YOU DECIDE

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