..A Magazine for all Christians · Nº 19 · January - February 2003


Studying the history of the church we can observe God's fingerprints. His movement has been incessant, His purpose progressing, constantly choosing people through whom He can advance in that purpose.

The Tide of the Spirit

Watchman Nee

If we trace the goings of God throughout the history of man, we can see the flow of divine activity as it sweeps on from generation to generation; and we can see it in this generation— still uninterrupted, still steadily progressive.

Some time ago I was deeply impressed as I meditated on some of Wesley’s writings. God did such a mighty thing through his instrumentality that it is doubtful if the effect of his labors could be matched today; but the fact remains that God has moved on since Wesley’s day. The flow of the Spirit is ever onward. The spiritual tide is a rising tide.

There is a principle to be noted here. If you in your day and generation fully respond to God’s requirements, you will find yourself borne onward in the stream of His purpose. If, however, you hold on to the past, wanting God to do as He has formerly done; wanting Him to repeat something that in your estimation ranks high in spiritual value, you will find yourself out of the main stream of His goings. To be a Luther in the sixteenth century was a good thing, but to be a Luther in the twentieth century would not meet the need. To be a Wesley was of great value to the Lord in the eighteenth century, but it would be inadequate in the twentieth century. Every instrumentality raised up of God has a specific function, and the contribution made to the Church by each one is exactly suited to the need of the hour; but it would not serve to build up the Church at a later stage in the Church’s development.

Unfortunately many people fail to recognize the onward flow of the living stream all through the Church’s history. We who are on the earth today have inherited vast wealth through the saints who have already made their contribution to the Church. We cannot overestimate the greatness of our heritage, nor can we be sufficiently thankful to God for it; but if today you try to be a Luther or a Wesley, you will be a complete failure. You will fall short of the purpose of God for this generation, for you will be moving backward while the tide of the Spirit is flowing steadily onward. The whole trend of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is an onward trend. The record from beginning to end is a progressive unfolding of God’s goings.

From Acts to Hebrews

Once a brother asked me the significance of the epistle to the Hebrews. I asked him if he had noticed any significant difference between that book and the book of Acts. Even within the latter book the progressive nature of divine activity is clearly seen; but the revelation through the epistle to the Hebrews shows a still further advance in the unfolding of God’s purpose. The spiritual advance within Acts in obvious, and the way of the Spirit’s advance follows the program clearly set forth in the first chapter—“in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” From Judea the stream flowed on to Samaria; but having reached Samaria it did not stagnate there; it flowed on to Rome, for it was bound for the ends of the earth.

Although we can watch the steady advance of divine purpose throughout the book of Acts, yet even at its close we find that the Christian concept has not completely clarified.  However, when we read the letter to the Hebrews we see that the Christian has emerged from a transition stage and his personality has become thoroughly integrated. In the Acts he is both Jew and Christian. He meets for fellowship with other Christians outside the temple; nevertheless, he still visits the temple. But when we come to the book of Hebrews we find that he is no longer both Jew and Christian; he is simply a Christian. And he no longer meets with his follow-Christians at times inside the temple, at times outside the temple. What he could do when the Spirit was newly poured out in Jerusalem, he cannot do now that the tide of the Spirit is sweeping onward to the ends of the earth. In Hebrews we find that he has forsaken the temple for “the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man”, and he has forsaken the many sacrifices for the “one offering” by which the believer is “perfected for ever.”

In Acts we read that Paul went into the temple to perform a vow. Do not let us hastily conclude that he was wrong. We dare not apply God’s ultimate standard to His saints in every age, for God’s movement toward His ultimate goal is progressive. What is required of you and me today is not that we attain the ultimate, but that our measure correspond to the stage reached in the development of the divine purpose at this present time. You and I must be found at that point which the tide of the Spirit has reached today—not the stage it reached at some date in the past, nor the stage it will reach at some future date. It was all right for Paul to purify himself in the temple in accordance with the Old Covenant; but what was right then would have been wrong later on. Therefore the writer to the Hebrews explains that the realization of God’s purpose in establishing the New Covenant involved the complete abolition of the old order to which the Jewish believers clung so tenaciously. Once the Old Covenant had served God’s purpose it had to give way to the New.

The book of Acts is progressive from beginning to end, and when the record closes with the 28th chapter, the movement of the Spirit does not cease; the tide flows on throughout succeeding generations and all the while God keeps raising up instruments that will make the specific contribution needed at the specific stage the Spirit has reached in His mighty onward move.

God pursues a purpose

In the Old Testament we see that where God’s good pleasure rested there was no barrenness. God had purposed to have a “seed”; so in no generation did He suffer the genealogical line to be broken, for the securing of His purpose necessitated the perpetuation of that seed. For this reason we are dependent on our spiritual ancestors. But we not only need to accept the heritage that comes to us from them; we have the solemn responsibility of passing it on. The question today is not: Will the tide of the Spirit flow on in this our generation? but: Will you and I be caught up into that tide? If we fail to meet the requirements of God’s purpose for this present time, He will find others who will meet His need. Where is the seal of the Spirit today? Where is spiritual authority today? Is it with us or not?  Only if we have the authority of the Spirit shall we be found in the onward-flowing tide.

As we scan world history and Church history we see the ways of God as He pursues His purpose. He raised up a Luther when He needed a Luther, and though Luther had his weaknesses, he was the instrument suited to the divine need at that time. You and I owe much through God to Martin Luther for we are the fruit of his labors. He in his day offered the on-flowing tide of the Spirit a free way to pursue His course; and we, who have been reached by that same tide, have the privilege of offering ourselves to Him that He may speed a little further on in His course. If He can cleave a way for Himself through these lives, that will be our greatest glory. If not, He will turn in another direction; but for us that will mean tragic loss. The spiritual stream may be flowing this way at present, but where it will be flowing ten years hence we cannot tell. Let us face the issue. Each day the Spirit is by-passing this one and using that one. If we put up a resistance to Him today, He may have to cleave a way for Himself elsewhere. What a solemn thought!

Challenged by our inheritance

Since the dark ages, when the light that illumined the early Church had to a great extent been obscured, the Holy Spirit has been active recovering lost truth through one instrumentality and another, so that by now the whole body of truth has been recovered to the Church. Over a century ago the need of corporate ministry was brought to the notice of the saints, and more recently this truth has been greatly stressed; but there has been a sad lack in the practical outworking of what we know. Recovery of the doctrine concerning corporate ministry is one thing; the reality of corporate ministry expressed through the life of the Church is quite another thing. Since it is our privilege to be heirs of the vast wealth that has been recovered through the past few centuries, we who live in this twentieth century must bear the responsibility to which so rich a heritage challenges us. All this wealth has been made available to us not merely for our enrichment, but for the furtherance of the gospel. Our inheritance of the whole body of truth challenges us to a corporate ministry that will embrace every aspect of truth.

When a full-orbed corporate ministry has been secured, we believe it will provide a condition for the Lord’s return. It is not only the proclamation of the whole truth that is needed today; it is the release of the spiritual reality which the truth expresses and that can only be realized as we allow ourselves to be caught into the mighty on-flowing tide of the Spirit.


From “Twelve Baskets Full”, (http://www.cdlf.org)