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


Adam existed by the breath of life, which is the spirit. The spirit has God-consciousness; it knows God’s voice, fellowships with God, and has a very keen knowledge of God. After Adam fell, his spirit became dead.

At the beginning, God said to Adam, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they continued to live a few hundred years. This shows that the death that God spoke of was not only physical death. The death of Adam began from his spirit. What kind of death was this death? The scientific definition of death is to be cut off from all fellowship with the environment. When the spirit dies, the spirit loses its fellowship with God. When the body dies, the spirit cuts off fellowship with the body. Therefore, for the spirit to be dead does not mean that the spirit is gone. It merely means that the spirit has lost its keen knowledge of God and is dead to God. Spiritual death means that there is no more fellowship with God. Consider, for example, a dumb person. It is not that this person does not have a mouth or two lungs. He cannot speak because there is some problem with his mouth. His mouth is dead to the human language. When Adam disobeyed God, his spirit died. The spirit was still there, but it was dead to God and had lost its capacity. When man sinned, this sin corrupted the keen intuitive knowledge of God that existed in man’s spirit so that he became dead to the things of the spiritual realm. Thereafter, man may have religion, morality, education, ability, power, and mental and physical health, yet he is dead to God. He can speak about God, conjecture about God, and even preach about God, yet he is dead to God. He can no longer hear or feel the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. This is why many times in the New Testament, God refers to those who live in their flesh as dead people.

The death in the spirit of the first man gradually spread to the realm of the body. Although after his spirit died, he still lived for a long time, during that time death was operating in him. It continued to work in him until his spirit, soul, and body all became dead. At that time, a body that could have been glorified and changed was turned back to dust. When the inner man within him became disorganized and fallen, his outer body was destined to death and destruction.

From that time on, the spirit of Adam (as well as that of all his descendants) was suppressed by the soul. Soon after, through the soul’s suppression, the spirit was merged with the soul, and the two parts became closely knit together. This is why the writer of Hebrews said in 4:12 that God’s word has to pierce and divide the spirit from the soul. The reason that the two have to be divided is that they have become one. Since the spirit became so closely knit to the soul, man began to live in an idealistic world. He began to act according to his intellect or his feelings. At that time, the spirit had lost all its power and senses, and had become dormant. Originally, the spirit had the ability to know God and serve Him. Now it had lost all its ability to function and had fallen unconscious. Although it was still there, it was as if it were not there anymore. This is the meaning of the expression in Jude, "soulish, having no spirit" (v. 19). (In verse 19, the spirit does not refer to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit, because the expression immediately preceding it says "soulish." Since the soul is human, the spirit following this expression must also be human. The position of the article in Greek also confirms this.) This does not mean that man’s spirit no longer exists, for Numbers 16:22 clearly tells us that God is the "God of the spirits of all flesh." Every person in the world still has his spirit. But this spirit is covered up by his sins and cannot fellowship with God.

Although this spirit is dead to God, it still works as actively as the mind and the body. It is indeed dead to God, but it is still active in other areas. Sometimes a fallen one can have a spirit that is stronger than his soul or his body and that can still rule over his whole being. Most people are soulish or are carnal. But the former kind of people are "spiritual"—their spirits are greater than others’. One can find such cases in those who practice planchette, divination, witchcraft, etc. They communicate with the spiritual realm, not through the Holy Spirit, but rather through the evil spirits. The spirits of sinful men are joined to Satan and the evil spirits. Their spirits are dead to God but alive to Satan and receptive to the operation of the evil spirits within them.

The soul becomes subject to the demand of the senses and becomes their slave, so that even when the Holy Spirit would fight for a place for God, the fight is futile. This is why the Scripture says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Gen. 6:3). The flesh in the Bible refers to the life and nature of the soul and body of the unregenerated man. More often it refers to the sinful nature within the body. This flesh is the common nature which man shares with other animals. Now man is completely under the control of the flesh, and there is no possibility of escape. The soul has replaced the spirit as the ruling one, and everything is independent and self-centered. Man now walks according to the desires of the heart. Even in matters of religion and in the most zealous pursuit of God, man exercises the power of his soul and decides on his own to seek after God and to please God apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The soul not only exercises itself in this way but is controlled by the body. The lusts of the body, its feelings and demands, are all summoning the soul to obey, to carry out their commands, and to gratify them. Not only are all the descendants of Adam dead in their spirits, but they are "out of the earth, earthy" (1 Cor. 15:47). They are fully under the control of the flesh and walk according to the soulish life and the carnal nature. Such people cannot have fellowship with God. Sometimes they express their intellectual power, and sometimes they express their lusts. More often, they express both. The flesh controls the whole being without hindrance and without any interference.

This is the kind of people mentioned in Jude 18 and 19: "Mockers, going on according to their own lusts for ungodliness. These are those who make divisions, soulish, having no spirit." To be soulish is the opposite of having the spirit. Now, the spirit that was the highest, that ought to be joined to God, and that ought to rule over the soul and the body has become surrounded by the soul, whose motive and purpose are totally earthy. The spirit has lost its original position. Its condition is now abnormal. This is why the Bible says that they have no spirit. The result of such a fully soulish condition is to mock, to go on according to one’s own lusts, and to make divisions.

First Corinthians 2:14 also speaks of this kind of unregenerated soulish person: "But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually." Such persons are controlled by their souls and are suppressing their spirits. They are the opposite to the spiritual man. Although these ones can be very intelligent and can come up with wonderful ideas and theories, they cannot say anything about the things of the Holy Spirit of God. They cannot receive the revelation from the Holy Spirit. How different is this from the world’s view! The world thinks that man’s intellectual power and his reason are almighty, that he can find out all kinds of truth in the world by his mind. But God’s Word considers these as very vain.

Even when a man is soulish, many times he still realizes the uncertainties of this life and seeks for eternal life in the coming age. However, man can never find the truth of life through his mind or by theories. These are unreliable means. Most of the time, clever people hold divergent views. Theories are liable to lead men to errors. They are castles in the air and lead men to nothing but eternal darkness.

Indeed, unless intellectual power comes under the leading of the Holy Spirit, it is unreliable and is very dangerous. It will take right as wrong and wrong as right. If one is not careful, he will not only suffer temporary loss but will suffer permanent damage. The dark thoughts of man usually lead him into the place of eternal death. It would be well for the unregenerated soulish man to know this.

Yet when man is fleshly, not only is he under the rule of the soul, but his soul is actually joined to his body. Many times, the soul is even directed by the body to commit the vilest sins. The body of sin is full of cravings and lusts. It was created out of the dust of the earth. Therefore, its inclinations and motives are all earthly. Since the serpent’s poison has entered into man’s body, its legitimate desires have now become lusts. Since the soul once obeyed the body to rebel against God’s demand, it has to continue its obedience to the body. At such times, the lusts of the body express themselves in many forms of sin through the soul. The authority of this body is so great that it causes the soul to become powerless to withstand it and only be its obedient slave.

Man is divided into three parts: the spirit, the soul, and the body. God’s original intention is that the spirit remain on top to rule over the soul. After man became soulish, the spirit was suppressed and became a servant to the soul. After man became carnal, the flesh, which occupied the lowest place, became the king. Man was changed from spirit-ruled to soul-ruled, and from soul-ruled to body-ruled. Step by step he became fallen, and the flesh took control. What a pity this is!

Sin has killed the spirit, and now spiritual death has come to all men so that all men die in sin and transgressions. Sin has also caused the soul to become independent so that the soulish life now becomes an independent and selfish life. Furthermore, sin has empowered the body so that now the sinful nature reigns through the body.

(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 4, by Watchman Nee)