AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION
What is the distinction between receiving the truth by the Holy Spirit and receiving the truth by the mind?
First, anyone who receives the truth from a book, a teacher, or even from the Bible itself without praying, dropping his own strength, and relying on the Holy Spirit is receiving the truth by his mind. The meaning of receiving the truth by the mind is to receive the truth directly from books, teachers, and the Bible without going through the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees understood the Bible directly in this way. This is why all they had was dead; they did not have a living experience before God. God’s Word is to draw men to God, and God Himself is Spirit. Therefore, without God’s Spirit, the reading of God’s Word alone will not put one into contact with God.
Second, the Galatians, who believed in the gospel, later turned back to the keeping of the law. Paul then asked them, "Did you receive the Spirit out of the works of law or out of the hearing of faith?" (Gal. 3:2). The apostle said that they had begun in faith but were now trusting in their works. The apostle asked them another question, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (v. 3). The apostle said that they had begun by the Spirit, but now they were trusting in the flesh. From these two questions, we discover one very important principle: everything that issues from the Holy Spirit is by faith, and everything that issues from the flesh is by works. The Holy Spirit is joined to faith in the same way that the flesh is joined to works.
Hence, there is a great difference between pursuing the truth by the mind and pursuing the truth by the Holy Spirit. This difference is that one does not require faith, while the other requires faith.
In order to receive the truth by the Holy Spirit, one has to have faith. To receive by the mind merely causes one to understand, but to receive by the Holy Spirit causes one to believe. Let us consider an example. The believers’ death with Christ is the source of Christians’ life and power. We have emphasized this and have preached much on this. This truth is understood by many believers, and many have risen up to testify for this truth. But how many have really received this truth by the Holy Spirit? Many people’s tone of voice has exposed their true experience. I know one brother who thinks that he knows the truth of co-death very well. Once while he was preaching, he told others that they should die and that if, at times, they could not die, they should put themselves to death by the power of the cross. These words seem spiritual, but actually they are misleading. These words show that he only understands the matter of co-death in his mind and has not received the power of the Holy Spirit.
What do I mean? If a man wants to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in reality, he must first have faith. The Holy Spirit will only work when man believes in God’s Word. Faith comes first, and the work of the Holy Spirit in man follows. If a man does not have faith, all the truth that he knows will only be ideas. The Holy Spirit will not make the accomplishments of the truth real in him.
Let us return to the question of co-death. The Bible teaches us that when Christ died, He already included us in His death. Just as Christ’s dying for us is a fact, our dying with Christ is also a fact. Our death is as real as Christ’s death. Just as we are delivered from punishment by believing in the death of Christ, so we are delivered from the power of sin through believing in our death with Christ. The Word of God teaches us this. Now it is up to us to believe. If we believe, the Holy Spirit will testify for God’s Word and will cause sin to not lord it over us in our experience. Only when we have reached this stage can we say that we have received the truth by the Holy Spirit.
Here we see the order of receiving the truth by the Holy Spirit: first, the teaching of the Bible; second, the faith of the believer; and third, the work of the Holy Spirit. None of the three can be missing. Those who receive with their mind do not have faith. After they have studied the truth themselves or have heard it from others, they begin to understand the reasoning behind co-death. They begin to know that a dead man is free from sin. But they do not have faith, and they do not clearly see the position their old man occupies in the death of Christ. As a result, they cannot say that they are those who are already crucified with Christ. In their conduct, they still strive to put themselves to death. When they exhort others, they unconsciously say, "You should die." Even when they become more advanced and understand the reality of their death with Christ, they may acknowledge with their mouth that they have been crucified, but in their conduct they are still crucifying themselves more than trusting in the accomplished crucifixion on the cross of Christ.
Third, if a truth is received in the power of the Holy Spirit, that truth will surely become a person’s experience. The purpose of the Holy Spirit revealing a truth to the believers is not to furnish them with more material for the mind, but to lead them into the content of the truth. Mental apprehension may result in an admiration for the truth, but it will not cause a person to receive help from that truth. Many people agree with certain truths and love them, but these truths remain only in their heads. If a truth does not have power within a person, then the truth is only in his head, and the power of the Holy Spirit is not there.
We must see the difference and relationship between principle and application. Many principles must be revealed through the Holy Spirit. However, the facts have accumulated and teachers multiplied; this makes it possible for many people to understand the principles of spiritual life through these means. This understanding, however, is in the mind. In order to apply these principles to life, one has to rely on the Holy Spirit. The mind can understand the principles, but only the Holy Spirit can turn these principles into applications. In algebra, it is easy for a person to solve an equation, but it is hard for a person to express a problem in an equation. In the same way, it is easy to learn a spiritual principle. But it is beyond the ability of the mind to apply such a principle to life. Those who study geography can tell you the general conditions of great metropolitan cities and of agricultural and commercial communities of the world as well. But they may have never once stepped outside of their door. A man can understand much through searching the Scriptures with his mind. But unless he depends on the Holy Spirit, he will not have any experience.
The present danger is that many seek after biblical knowledge; they understand many mysteries, and they are able to grasp many spiritual principles. They can find out the deeper meaning of things in God’s Word, and they have a certain amount of realization concerning the accomplished work of Christ. Yet, all these things remain in their head; they are not given to them by the Holy Spirit. As a result, they do not have the power to put these things into practice. This makes the Bible the same as any other science book; no contact is made between the writer and reader. Actually, even though God’s words have been spoken and recorded in the Bible, these words, like God Himself, are found in the Holy Spirit. If a reader receives God’s Word directly without trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing will happen between him and God. This will diminish the value of the Bible and turn the Bible into another dead book like those in the world. Although an understanding of the Bible will somewhat clarify a person’s thoughts and concepts, it has no practical effect on the spiritual life and work of a person. This explains why many have preached the truth, but the truth is powerless in them as well as in their hearers. If a truth remains only in the mind of the speaker, it will for sure remain only in the mind of the hearer.
It is useless to have the truth without the Spirit of truth. When the Lord Jesus told the disciples that He was the truth, He went on to tell them that the Spirit of truth would come to lead them into all the truth. A believer is joined to the truth through the Spirit of truth. Otherwise, truth will still be the truth, and a believer will still be a believer. Just as the disciples were not able to understand and experience Christ in a real way before they received the Holy Spirit, the believers today will not be able to understand and experience God’s Word in a real way if they do not trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.
TRUE SPIRITUAL WORK
Many messages today are filled with profound words and spiritual teachings; they are orthodox in faith and they have satisfying explanations. They may even be quite moving and affect the hearers’ conduct and morality. Yet these messages can be something that issues from man’s wisdom rather than from the Holy Spirit. We must realize that the proverbs spoken by profound men throughout the ages can also encourage and change people. But these proverbs are not the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. I am afraid that many messages produce desirable results, even though they are not the work of the Holy Spirit.
A man must be annulled, turned to nothing, and terminated on the cross. God is everything. He has everything, and He can do everything. Consequently, He should do everything. Everything should be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some may think that to do so would annul man and cause great loss to God’s work. Some think that it would cause God’s work to come to a halt, and the fruit would be diminished. But what we really want is fruit before God and genuine spiritual work. Only this will bring in the greatest spiritual benefit. Works produced by man’s wisdom may bring in prosperity in other areas, but they will not have spiritual worth, nor will they be of use in God’s hand. Works that truly belong to God can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The less ground man occupies, the more the power of the Holy Spirit will be manifest. There is more spiritual value to five minutes of work by the Holy Spirit than one hundred years of labor by us. Why labor day and night to get nothing? Why not wait for the Lord to come and give the order and then bring in a full net of fish?
THE PLACE OF MENTAL ABILITY
Is man’s mental ability completely useless with respect to God’s truth? No. The mind has its place. We should differentiate between man’s mind and the function of his mind. It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth, and it is the renewed human spirit that receives the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Only the renewed human spirit can receive revelation. The mind cannot be the organ to receive revelation. The function of the mind is only to communicate revelation. A renewed mind can help a person communicate to others the truth he has received through revelation. But the mind itself cannot discover God’s truth. An unrenewed mind may hinder a man in his work of communication, but if this man’s spirit is renewed, nothing will hinder him from receiving revelation. God has annihilated the old creation. Natural shortcomings will not stop a person from receiving revelations, and natural virtues will not help a person to receive revelations. A brilliant mind may help a person in his communication, but it will never give him or others revelations. Moreover, we have to remember that one who communicates to others receives nothing himself through such communications.
THE VANITY OF NATURAL ABILITIES
Many teachers of God’s Word are able to search, understand, and convey some truths to others through their extraordinary natural talents. They may even be able to render help to many people. But in reality, they have not accomplished anything that is of any true spiritual value. Those who are naturally brilliant have often become the teachers of those who are naturally slow. But many times their spiritual conditions are the same. At other times the teachers are even worse spiritually than those who are being taught.
A very dangerous condition exists in the church today: many people become famous and exalted not because their spiritual condition is better than others, but because they exceed others in natural talents. I am not referring only to those who possess mere worldly knowledge and who are wise in the world; I fear that even some who are renowned in Christianity are in the same condition. Today many Bible teachers and church leaders do not become successful and powerful leaders through knowing the Holy Spirit more than others, but through their bright talent and intellect and through their application of such talent and intellect in biblical and spiritual matters. Many spiritual things are not spiritual at all because the Holy Spirit is not in them! They are merely spiritual thoughts in the mind. Many teachings and sermons are just the results of research; they are not lessons taught by the Holy Spirit. Naturally, they can only render help to the mental thoughts of others.
Many people think that as long as they can apply their natural talents to suitable use, they will perform works that glorify God. But natural talents are just natural talents; they will not please God even if they are applied to spiritual works. The Holy Spirit can use man’s natural talents, but such talents must be fully subject to the Holy Spirit. God needs men who are filled with the Holy Spirit more than anything else. We must be clear whether it is our sharper-than-usual mind or our true knowledge of the Spirit of God that qualifies us to lead others on.
THE INDISPENSABILITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
God wants us to have the deep realization that just as the Bible is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; therefore, the Bible requires the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Bible was written by men moved by the Holy Spirit, the Bible is to be read by men moved by the Holy Spirit. Just as the Bible was written by the Holy Spirit, it also needs the enlightening of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to realize that even the clearest exposition of the Scriptures is not reliable. Our ability should come from the Holy Spirit alone. Although human wisdom will make a person understand the truth in the Bible, it will not bring to that person the benefit of that truth.
Many people seek after the truth with wrong motives. Either they try to understand the truth for the sake of satisfying their intellectual craving, or they do so in order to prepare sermons to teach others. Their goal is to solve the problems in their intellects, not the nourishment of their own spiritual life. Since this is their motive, they feel gratified once they have understood something in their mind; they think that they can teach others and see no more need to seek after spiritual reality.
We have to see that a man is saved only by the Holy Spirit, the truth can be understood only by the Holy Spirit, prayer is answered only when it is offered through the Holy Spirit, and our spiritual life will grow only by trusting in the Holy Spirit. Only after we have realized this will we believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. How many times have we truly sought for God’s light? I am afraid that only a few people have really prayed for God to give them light. I am afraid that more time has been spent on thinking, researching, and pursuing than on praying. This is why many believers are dry in their spiritual life even though they understand many truths.
In modern preaching, man emphasizes mental consent more than life in the spirit. We have to realize that works which are truly worthwhile are accomplished in man’s spirit, not in man’s mind. God only recognizes one kind of work—the work that His Spirit performs within the spirit of man, when Christ’s life is infused into man’s spirit. This is true with respect to the initial work as well as to the later work that He does in giving us the more abundant life. Mere mental consent without the infusion of Christ’s life is empty work.
This lesson is most difficult to learn. When man’s flesh rebels against God, it likes to sin and does not submit to God’s law. But when a man tries to please God, he stands independent from God and thinks that he can serve Him without receiving any power from Him. Therefore, man will never trust in God’s Holy Spirit. Even in the pursuit of truth, he thinks that his own wisdom is sufficient. God is thus forced to allow His children to pass through many painful experiences so that they will know that everything they gain through self-strength and self-wisdom will not be of any help to them or others. In this way they are willing to deny all fleshly power that comes from themselves and seek after the Holy Spirit and His power. Many works are prosperous at the beginning, but as time goes on they are not as glamorous and even gradually die down. This causes the workers to realize that their work is wrong in some aspect. The glamour caused by the flesh is but temporary. God is leading His workers to realize the vanity and uselessness of their works so that they would have a new beginning in the Holy Spirit. How painful are such experiences!
There are many other believers who think that they have much understanding. They think that they can be more than conquerors through these truths. Yet they still fail most of the time! Although they struggle to hold on to these truths, it is to no avail. When warfare comes, the truths that they know become but weapons of hay and stubble. They weep and cry. Is it the truth of God that is wrong, or is it something else that is wrong? God wants them to realize that the sword of the Holy Spirit can only be brandished by the Holy Spirit Himself; the flesh using the weapons of the Holy Spirit is as unsuitable as David putting on Saul’s armor. Although these believers have understood the truths in their head, they have not put these truths into their lives through the Holy Spirit.
THE PROCESS OF RECEIVING THE TRUTH
God’s truth comes to the believers in two phases. One may say that it has two comings: (1) to the head and (2) to the spirit. The coming to the spirit is often later than the coming to the head, sometimes as late as a few months or a year. Once God has given a truth to a believer, that is, after the believer has understood the truth in his mind, God will work in the environment and lead the believer to the point where he can only overcome through such a truth. Only then will the believer know this truth in the power of the Holy Spirit, and only then will he have the full experience. But unfortunately, after a believer has understood God’s truth in his head, he feels satisfied and does not seek after the full experience. Instead, he goes to teach others this truth, making it harder for God to bring him into the reality of the truth.
NO MISTAKE IN HAVING OR NOT HAVING THE POWER
We need to constantly realize one thing: the Holy Spirit is full of life and power. Therefore, everything that is of the Holy Spirit should be full of life and power. When we see a person who knows a certain truth but has not received any help in life or increase in power, who merely has some beautiful thoughts which enable him to analyze things but do not help him in times of fierce temptations, we have to doubt if he has the work of the Holy Spirit. We should not think that words which are full of meaning are necessarily good. We must seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Many times men speak about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, yet they do not have the power of the Holy Spirit. What believers lack is the life of God, not anything else.
The interesting thing is that if a man understands God’s truth with his mind, he has to hold on to this truth all the time. But if he understands the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit and keeps this truth by the power of the Holy Spirit, in a time of need, he will not need to hold on to it like a drowning man grasping for a rope for help. Instead, the Holy Spirit will cause the truth to lay hold of him and deliver him. The difference is most clear.
Even God’s truth is dead if it is separated from God’s Spirit. Just as man’s life cannot be interrupted for a moment, the power from the Holy Spirit must also be constantly renewed and must continue all the time. What He has done once cannot become a guarantee that He will do the same thing every time. Every time we contact Him, we only receive the strength for that time. There is no once-for-all experience in our dealing with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in receiving the truth of God, we have to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit all the time. For example, when we hear about others’ spiritual experiences, it is very natural for us to imitate them and wish that God would lead us in the same way and grant us the same results. However, we are often disappointed. The reason for this is that others’ experiences are of the Holy Spirit, but our encounter is only of the mind. God has to disappoint us all the time so that we will seek after Him directly through the Holy Spirit. All imitations from the mind are futile. Even to quote verses from the Bible will not make any difference. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We may think that by quoting more Scriptures we will have the strength. Actually, this never happens. The Holy Spirit must repeat the word to us again before the power will be there.
Therefore, what we must now pursue is the Holy Spirit’s dispensing of life to us through the truth. We should seek after His revelation and application and allow Him to move the truth from our head into our spirit. Let us fully trust in God’s Word. Let us wholeheartedly believe that all of His words are real and not be satisfied with the knowledge of biblical theories.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 08: The Present Testimony (1), Chapter 23, by Watchman Nee)