As you may know, Bibles for America (BfA) gives away free copies of the New Testament Recovery Version to US residents. This special study version includes extensive notes, outlines, and cross-references, all of which were prepared by Witness Lee.
Witness Lee and Watchman Nee are also the authors of the free e-books that can be downloaded on our site from anywhere in the world.
BfA chose to give away the New Testament Recovery Version and these particular books because they’ve helped thousands of believers to experience Christ as life and to know God’s eternal purpose.
You may not be that familiar with these two faithful servants of God. Although we can’t present a complete biography in a blog post, we want to give you some idea of their background and their lives with the Lord.
In another post we presented a brief biography of Watchman Nee. In this post, we want to focus on Witness Lee.
Background and salvation
Witness Lee was born in 1905 into a Christian family in northern China. His mother made great financial sacrifices so he could attend a Southern Baptist Chinese school and, later, the Presbyterian English Mission College. He received an excellent education, but he was not saved during that time.
After one of Lee’s sisters was saved, she began to pray for her brother. She also started bringing him to church meetings in their hometown of Chefoo. At one of those meetings, Lee was deeply touched by the gospel preaching of a sister in the Lord and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at the age of 19.
Previously, Lee had had lofty ambitions for his future. But after he was saved, he rejected what the world had to offer and consecrated himself to serve the Lord for his entire life.
From the very beginning of Lee’s Christian life, he loved the Bible. He became a serious student of God’s Word, collecting and reading numerous Bible expositions and Christian writings, including those of Watchman Nee.
Lee received particular help from Nee’s writings concerning the divine life of God and began corresponding with Nee about the Bible. Around that time, Lee also began to meet with the Brethren Assembly in Chefoo to learn from their extensive expounding of biblical truths.
A great turn from knowledge to life
Eventually, Lee realized that though he’d amassed a great deal of learning and scriptural knowledge, he had experienced very little of the divine life. He was deeply convicted of his spiritual deadness. Climbing to the top of a small mountain near his home each morning, Lee cried out to the Lord, wept, and confessed his deadness and fruitlessness to Him. He continued to pray in this way for several months.
In 1932, Lee and other believers in Chefoo invited Watchman Nee to visit them. They had much fellowship, and Nee emphasized to Lee the importance of experiencing the divine life.
In Lee’s biography of Nee entitled Watchman Nee—A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, Lee recounts the effect this fellowship had on him:
“My time with Watchman during those days deeply impressed me with the sweetness, loveliness, attractiveness, and newness of the Lord. Those days provided a new start for me in following the Lord and caused me to have a basic turn from knowledge to life. Because of those days with Watchman Nee, I began to have fellowship with the Lord in a more intimate way. The Lord became more precious to me. That experience was even greater than my experience of salvation. Those days with Watchman affected my pathway in the Lord throughout all the following fifty-nine years, since 1932. For eternity I can never forget those days! What a mercy and grace it was to me.” (pp. 288-289)
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Called to serve the Lord
Shortly after his time with Watchman Nee, Lee began to sense the Lord Jesus calling him to quit his job in order to serve Him with all of his time. After much inward struggle and prayer, Lee obeyed the Lord and in faith, he resigned from his job. His decision to serve the Lord in this way was confirmed afterward by other brothers and by a letter from Watchman Nee concerning the matter. Lee remained faithful to this calling for the rest of his life.
Co-laboring with Watchman Nee
Lee then spent several months with Nee in Shanghai. During that time, they had much fellowship concerning a number of important matters: knowing Christ as life, the Lord’s work in China from the time of Watchman Nee’s salvation, church history, and knowing the Bible in the way of life. In 1934, Lee moved to Shanghai to be with Nee, and Nee entrusted him with overseeing the ministry publication work.
From that point on, Witness Lee and Watchman Nee worked closely together in China, traveling throughout the country to minister God’s Word through spoken messages and written publications. As a result of the labor of these two brothers, more than 400 churches were established in over 30 provinces in China.
Watchman Nee’s commission to Witness Lee
With the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Watchman Nee foresaw that Christians would begin to be persecuted by the new government. Realizing this persecution would imperil the spread of the truths they’d seen in God’s Word, Nee commissioned Lee to go to Taiwan to continue their ministry. Nee wanted to ensure that all the scriptural truths and spiritual principles the Lord had shown them would not be lost, but would continue to nourish and edify believers outside of China.
Witness Lee moved to Taiwan in 1949. Through his labor and the Lord’s blessing, the small number of believers present in 1949 increased rapidly, reaching over 40,000 in the next six years. Lee also continued the publication work in Taiwan, as Nee had commissioned him to do.
In the late 1950s, Lee was invited to minister in London and Copenhagen. He also made several visits to the United States, and he became deeply concerned for the many Christians he met who were hungry for the truths of the Word of God. Then, in 1962, the Lord led Lee to immigrate to the US.
Witness Lee’s ministry in the United States
Witness Lee settled in Southern California and gave his first conference in Los Angeles in December 1962. The messages from this conference now comprise the book The All-inclusive Christ, one of the titles we give away.
Lee began traveling throughout the US, ministering to a number of Christian groups who invited him to visit them. He also traveled to minister in Europe, the Far East, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
Lee continued to publish books in the US, as he had in China and Taiwan.
At almost 70 years of age, Witness Lee undertook two major endeavors. One was a new translation of the Bible from the original Greek manuscripts, the Recovery Version, which included his outlines for each book and rich, insightful notes, as well as extensive cross-references.
The other endeavor can be considered his life’s work, the Life-study of the Bible. This book-by-book exposition of the Bible focuses on the experience of Christ as life as revealed in the Word of God. The entire Life-study took twenty years to complete.
During this time, Lee continued to travel and speak thousands of messages on the Christian life, service, and the church, many of which have been collected and published. His ministry emphasized the experience of Christ as life and the practical oneness of the believers as the Body of Christ.
Lee spoke publicly for the last time at a conference in 1997, just months before his death. At the age of 91, God’s faithful servant went to be with the Lord.
Today, over 2,300 churches have been established globally, and tens of thousands of Christians have come to know Christ as life through the ministries of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee.
Witness Lee’s biography of Watchman Nee, Watchman Nee—A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, is published by Living Stream Ministry, as well as Lee’s entire body of work. For a more detailed biography of Witness Lee, visit witnesslee.org.
In addition, Bibles for America is currently giving away free hard copies of Basic Elements of the Christian Life, vols. 1-3. These booklets contain writings from both Nee and Lee and will help you experience the Lord Jesus in a personal way and grow in the life of God. If you live in the US, you can order your free set here. They are also available to download as e-books here from anywhere in the world.
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