Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), by Watchman Nee


Many believers do not know how to differentiate inspiration from emotion. Actually this is not difficult. Emotion always enters from outside of man, whereas inspiration is given by the Holy Spirit within man’s spirit. For example, when a believer beholds the beauty of nature, a feeling within him spontaneously wells up. He feels the beauty of the scenery and his own joy. This is emotion. Perhaps, when he sees a loved one, some kind of inconceivable feeling rises up within him as though a certain power is drawing him. This is also emotion. Both the beautiful scenery and the loved one are outside the man; hence, the feelings which they produce simply belong to emotion.

However, inspiration is not the same. It is influenced only by the Holy Spirit within man. Only the Holy Spirit can inspire the spirit. Since the Holy Spirit lives within the spirit, inspiration must come from within. It does not need to be stimulated by the beautiful scenery or a dear one; it can take place in the calmest environment. The emotion, on the contrary, becomes instantly dispirited when the outside stimulus is gone. Hence, an emotional believer lives solely according to his environment. He must be stirred up and encouraged in order to go on; otherwise, he stops. Inspiration does not require outside help. In fact, when the emotion is influenced by the external environment, it is confused, resulting in a believer being unable to know which of the two he should follow.

A believer should be careful not to consider calmness and absence of stimulation as spirituality. This is far from the truth. We should know that emotion can cause people not only to be excited but also to be depressed. When the emotion urges us, we feel quite excited; when it impedes us, we feel very depressed. In the same way that emotion excites, it also calms down. Just as excitement belongs to emotion, so does calmness. A believer often commits many errors because he is under the influence of his emotion; but when he is awakened from the state he is in, he will suppress his feelings and consider this as being spiritual. He does not realize, however, that the stirring of his emotion at this point has produced a reaction opposite to excitement which spontaneously calms him down. This calmness or quietness causes the believer to lose interest in much of God’s work; he does not have much affection for many of God’s children. Gradually the believer’s outer man is reluctant to work. The spirit, therefore, is imprisoned, and the life of the spirit cannot flow out. Since he is no longer enthusiastic and has become extremely calm, he may think that he is walking according to spirit. What he does not know is that he is still walking according to his emotion, only this time it is according to another aspect of the emotion.

In reality, the believers who turn to this kind of emotional calmness are few. The majority of them continue to be excited by their emotion. Because of their stimulation, they do many things which are beyond the bounds of the ordinary. As they quiet down and recall their actions under the influence of this function of the emotion, they cannot help but laugh at themselves and consider themselves to have acted nonsensically. This is usually true of the things done according to the emotion. In retrospect a believer often feels embarrassed and regrets his rudeness. It is very pitiful when a believer is influenced by his emotion; his spirit is powerless to subject his emotion to death and deny its control.

There are two reasons believers walk according to their emotion. First, many believers never understand what walking according to the spirit is, nor have they sought to do so; therefore, they walk according to the influence of their emotion. In these circumstances, they do not have much experience and do not know how to reject the impulse of their emotion when it is activated. They are simply driven by their emotion, and they do the things which they should not do. This is not to say that their spiritual sense does not raise any intuitive objection. However, because of their weakness, they listen to their emotion and ignore their intuition. Then their emotion becomes all the more intense until they lose control of themselves and walk according to their emotion. After having done the things which they should not, they once again repent. Second, there are believers who already know the difference between the spirit and soul experientially. When they are influenced by emotion, they know that this is from their soul, and they instantly resist it. Nevertheless, even this kind of believer sometimes walks according to the emotion. This is a successful counterfeit. If the believer is not spiritual, as in the first case mentioned above, he is overcome by the intense feeling of his emotion. If a believer is already spiritual, his emotion often counterfeits his spiritual sense. Outwardly the emotion and the spiritual sense appear identical; therefore, the believer finds it difficult to differentiate between them. Due to his ignorance, the believer is deceived and has many soulish actions.

The believer should realize that if he walks according to the spirit, all of his actions must be according to certain principles. This is because the spirit has laws, tracks, and principles. To walk according to the spirit is to walk according to the laws of the spirit. In spiritual principles, all the "rights" and "wrongs" have a clearly defined standard. If it is "yes," it is "yes," whether the sky is cloudy or clear; if it is "no," it is "no," whether one is excited or despondent. The Christian life follows a definite principle. If a believer does not completely put his emotion to death, his life will be without a fixed criterion. He will live by unstable feelings without a definite principle.

A life of principle differs completely from a life in the emotions. A believer who walks according to his emotion does not take care of principles or ordinary reasonings in considering whether or not to do something; he only takes care of his own feelings. If there is something that he likes, that makes him happy, or that he loves, he will be tempted by them even if he knows quite well that to do so is normally unreasonable and against the principles. If he feels cold, melancholy, and despondent, he will not fulfill his duty because his feelings do not go along with it. If the children of God paid a little attention to their emotion, they would realize how changeable it is and how dangerous it is to walk according to it. When the Word of God—the spiritual principle—agrees with their feeling, they do it; otherwise, they reject it and do not pay any attention to it. This kind of living is altogether at enmity with the spiritual life. Whoever wishes to have a spiritual life must walk according to God’s principle moment by moment.

One distinct characteristic of a spiritual believer in his dealings with his circumstances is the fact that he is most calm. No matter what happens outwardly or if he suffers any provocation, he is always calm and peaceful, maintaining a kind of unchangeable characteristic. This is because his emotion, which is subject to stimulation, has been dealt with by the cross. Furthermore, his will and spirit are full of the power of the Holy Spirit so he can regulate all his feelings. Therefore, outward stimulation cannot move him. But if he does not allow the cross to deal with his emotion, he will be very susceptible to outward influence, regulation, movement, and stimulation. Since emotion easily changes, those who are regulated by emotion are also changeable. Whenever there is a slight threat from outside or a slight increase in work, they panic and are at a loss as to what to do. If they want to arrive at perfection, they must allow the cross to do a deeper work in their emotion.

If a believer could only remember that God does not lead in the midst of confusion, everything would be fine. This would guard him from many errors. He should never decide to do anything or begin to do anything when his heart is in an upheaval and his emotion is in an uproar. This is the time when the emotional impulse is the strongest, and he will commit errors if he walks according to it. Our mind also becomes unreliable when our feeling is in a confused state, because the mind is very easily affected by emotion. Once the mind is weakened, we cannot distinguish right from wrong. At the same time, the conscience is also undependable. When the emotion is agitated and the mind is deceived, the conscience loses its standard for accurately discerning right from wrong. In such a condition, whatever the believer decides to do is bound to be improper and will cause many regrets afterwards. He must exercise his will to reject, stop, and overcome his feelings. Only when his feelings are no longer stirring and are perfectly calm can he make a proper decision.

Likewise, a believer should not do anything which might stir up his emotion. Sometimes our emotion is peaceful and calm, but because we act according to our own will, we stir up the emotion. This kind of experience happens frequently, and it greatly damages our spiritual life. Whatever disturbs the tranquility of our soul (emotion) must be rejected. Not only should we refrain from doing things when our emotion is in turmoil, we should also learn not to do anything which may cause such turmoil. However, we should not think that our actions will be correct just because our emotion is in an undisturbed state. If we are led by the "calm emotion" rather than the spirit, we will stir up our emotions. Those in our midst who have the experience can recall that in meeting someone or in writing a letter, the emotion can become greatly stirred up. These things are then outside of God’s will.

(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 12, by Watchman Nee)