The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit, by Watchman Nee


Some people are particularly bound by certain things. The Lord deals with them in those particular things. He deals with them item by item, including such minute details as their food and clothing. God will not let them go. How fine the Holy Spirit is! He does not neglect anything. We may love a certain thing without even realizing it ourselves. Yet God knows, and He will deal with us in a very detailed way. When all these things are taken away, we will be completely free. The Holy Spirit deals with many people by touching certain things. He goes after their cherished items relentlessly. Through such dealings, we begin to appreciate the way the Spirit attends to all the details. Even things that we have missed and forgotten are picked up by the Lord. He never forgets anything. God’s work is perfect. He will not stop working until He reaches perfection. He will not be satisfied until He reaches that point. Sometimes God deals with us through men. He puts men around us whom we hate, envy, or despise and deals with us through them. He also puts lovable men around us to deal with us. Before we pass through the dealings, we have no realization of how filthy and impure we are. After we pass through His dealings, we will see how impure we are. We think that we are totally given to the Lord. But after we pass through the discipline of the Holy Spirit, we will realize how much outward things affect us.

Sometimes God touches our thoughts. Our thoughts are confused, wild, self-motivated, and undisciplined. We think that we are clever, that we know everything, and that we can think of things that others cannot think of. Because of this, the Lord allows us to make mistakes and stumble again and again so that we would be wary of our own thoughts. If we find great grace in the Lord, we will shy away from our thoughts as much as we shy away from fire. As soon as the hand touches fire, it pulls back. In the same way as soon as we touch our thoughts, we turn back and tell ourselves, "This is not what I should think. I fear my own thoughts." Sometimes God deals with our emotions through ordering various circumstances for us. Some people are too strong in their emotions. When they are happy, they cannot stop rejoicing. When they are depressed, they cannot be comforted. Their whole life revolves around their emotions. If they are sad, no one can make them sing. If they are happy, no one can make them sober. Their happiness drives away their sobriety, and their sadness leads them into passivity. They are fully manipulated by their own emotions. Because they live in their emotions this way, they even justify their own emotions. For this reason God has to deal with their emotions through all kinds of circumstances. They have to be so dealt with that they dare not be sad or happy any longer; they can only live by God’s grace and mercy, not by their own emotion.

The weakness of some people relates to their thoughts, while with others it relates to their emotions. Abnormal thoughts and emotions, however, are not common to everyone (though not a few have them). The biggest weakness and the most common one relates to the will. Because our will is untouched, our emotion becomes a problem to us. The root lies in the will. It is easy for us to say, "Not according to my will, but according to Your will." But when we go through our experiences, how many times do we truly own Him as Lord? The less a man knows himself, the easier it is for him to talk like this. The less a man is enlightened by God, the more he thinks that he will have no trouble obeying God. The quicker a man makes loud claims, the more it proves that he has never paid any price. Those whose words pretend intimacy with God are probably farthest away from Him. When one does not have the light, it is easy for him to claim intimacy with God. Actually such ones are far from God. A man must go through God’s dealings before he will find out how stubborn and opinionated he is. He always believes in himself and considers his own opinions, feelings, methods, and views to be right. Paul found grace with God in many ways, the chief one of which, I believe, lies in his words in Philippians 3:3: "Have no confidence in the flesh." This means that he no longer trusted in his flesh. We also have to be led by God to realize that we dare not trust in our own judgment. God allows us to make mistakes again and again until we are forced to confess that we have been wrong in the past and that we will be wrong again in the future. We will acknowledge that we need the Lord’s grace. The Lord often allows our judgment to bring us serious consequences. We make certain judgments, and they turn out to be wrong. We make other judgments, and they turn out to be wrong again, so terribly wrong that we cannot even salvage the loss. Time after time the Lord smites us, until a point is reached when as soon as we need to make a judgment, we will say, "I fear my own judgment as much as I fear hell fire. I am afraid that my judgment is flawed. I am afraid that my view and my methods are flawed. Lord, I am prone to mistakes. I am simply a man of mistakes! Lord, unless You grant me mercy and hold me by my hand and protect me with Your hand, I will fall into mistakes!" When we pray this way, our outer man will begin to crumble. We no longer will dare to trust in ourselves. We often make rash judgments; our views are too simplistic. But after a man is dealt with and broken by God time after time, and after he has passed through all kinds of failures, he will humble himself and say, "God, I dare not think, and I dare not decide." God deals with us in many ways through all kinds of things and people. This is the discipline of the Holy Spirit.

The discipline of the Holy Spirit is a lesson that will never slacken in us. Sometimes we lack the ministry of the word or other means of grace. But this means of receiving grace—the discipline of the Holy Spirit—is never lacking. The supply of the word can vary according to limitations in circumstances. But the discipline of the Holy Spirit is not limited by any circumstance. In fact, it becomes more manifest through limitations in the circumstance. Sometimes, we can say that we do not have the opportunity to listen to a message, but we can never say that we do not have the opportunity to obey the discipline of the Holy Spirit. We can say that we do not have the opportunity to receive the ministry of the word, but we cannot say that we do not have the opportunity to receive the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is arranging things every day and providing us with plenty of opportunities to learn our lessons.

If we can yield to God, the discipline of the Holy Spirit will be found to be a very fitting means for us, more so than the ministry of the word. We have to be clear about this way. We should never be mistaken to think that the supply of the word is the only means of receiving grace. Do not forget that the greatest means of receiving grace is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. It is the chiefest among all means of receiving grace. It is not available just to those who are educated, clever, and gifted but to those who are uneducated, dull, and short of gifts as well. The discipline of the Holy Spirit does not grant special favor to anyone. As long as a person is a child of God, he can commit himself unconditionally to God no matter who he is, and he can witness the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Through the discipline of the Holy Spirit, one learns many practical lessons. Some may think that it is good enough for them to have the ministry of the word, the grace of prayer, the fellowship with other believers, and many other means of grace. But they have to realize that no means of grace can replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Prayer cannot replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit, nor can the ministry of the word, the study of the Scriptures, or meditation. This is because we not only need the building up but also the tearing down. There are too many things in us that cannot go into eternity, and these must all be torn down.

(The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit, Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)