Watchman Nee had published a few issues of a magazine entitled The Present Testimony from 1922 to 1925. It dealt with the deep things of God in the experience of His believers. Nee was then burdened to publish The Christian, which forms the content of volumes five through seven of The Collected Works of Watchman Nee. That magazine contained exposition on specific topics related to Revelation and related topics. By 1928 his burden in this regard was discharged, and he realized that God did not intend for him to devote his time to Bible exposition, but to encouragement of the children of God in their lives and living in and with Christ. Thus he resumed publishing The Present Testimony. Volumes eight through eleven contain the messages and letters he wrote for that magazine, and a few letters written on his behalf by Ruth Lee. This volume contains material from issues one through eighteen, and takes us up through November, 1931.
During the period 1928-1930, Watchman Nee suffered much with tuberculosis (private communication from co-workers of his that I knew), though the nature of his disease is not mentioned in the letters to his readers. Somehow, during such a time of intense suffering and weakness, he wrote at least one article for nearly every issue of The Present Testimony, and completed writing The Spiritual Man, to be found in the three volumes that follow these. In 1930 he experienced a sudden, divine healing of his disease, which he recounts in his own testimony of 1936. He had been given a terminal diagnosis by his doctor, but the doctor actually died first, in the 1930's. Nee lived until June of 1972.
The focus of The Present Testimony is to explain the things of the Life of Christ as experienced by the believer, particularly those that, Nee wrote, "ordinary believers cannot fully understand." He went on, "…the testimony of the Lord is so incomparably great that we cannot receive and teach it completely." His intention was to help believers in their spiritual life and warfare. Thus we find a great diversity of topics presented. A few of the articles' titles illustrate this:
What is PrayerI am frequently amazed at his ability to wring every shred of meaning from a short passage or a few verses. For example, in "The War Between the New and the Old" he discusses, not the two testaments or covenants, but our experience of the conflict between our flesh and our spirit, spoken of in scripture as our "old man" and our "new man". One might think this matter could be dealt with very briefly. Paul wrote of putting off the old man and putting on the new man in four short passages, chiefly in Romans 6, and Jesus referred to the matter once, using a different metaphor, that of new wine in old wineskins. Although Jesus' words are typically considered to refer to the Christian faith bursting the "wineskin" of the Jewish religion, it refers equally to the struggle within a believer to overcome the habits of which the old religion is composed. Nee wrote six pages on the subject, pages of rather dense writing that must be read carefully, and calls it the briefest of treatments!
Knowing the Self
The Presenting of the Body
The War Between the New and the Old
The Overcoming Life (the longest in this volume, and a title for a later book)
In "The Overcoming Life" he states that an "overcomer" is a "normal Christian". For this reason an early edition of a later book on the subject was published under the title, The Normal Christian Life. More recent editions are titled The Overcoming Life. The article runs sixteen pages. Nearly each page was expanded into a chapter of the later book.
Some might complain that Watchman Nee's view of the Christian life takes Olympic-level effort to pursue. For this reason, it is necessary to read again and again what he writes, that it is not in us—that is, in our natural life—to live this life. We have the life of Christ within. He lives His life in us, just as the thornbush that Moses saw, being full of flame, was not burned, because God did not use that bush for fuel for His testimony and work: God Himself supplied the "fuel". He intended for Moses to be the unburnt bush full of flame, and the Christian life is on the same principle. It is best to remember this matter as a proverb:
In our natural man, the things of the Christian life are impossible.Always read the writing of Watchman Nee with this in mind. We may be the "bush", but we are not the fuel for the consuming fire of God. We are just the visible "wick" holding the flame, and He supplies the fuel.
In our spirit, they are effortless.