Special Grace and Reserve Grace, by Watchman Nee


The other day a few of us talked together about Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians. For my part I believe that the greatest revelation of life in the entire New Testament is in the Epistles to the Corinthians.

First and 2 Corinthians have their place; they are the only two Epistles that show us the man Paul. In his letter to the Romans he unfolds the matter of salvation in a profound way, and in his letter to the Ephesians he brings forth the deepest revelation. All of these things are from God. However, if we want to know Paul the person, we have to come to 1 and 2 Corinthians. Only these two books give us a clear understanding of Paul; they open up his very own person to us.

Many people cannot minister the word of God apart from inspiration. If at any given time they have no fresh inspiration, their words stop. The source of their ministry of the word is their inspiration. It is a fact that we need inspiration if we are to have a ministry; there is nothing wrong about this. Please bear in mind the fact, however, that inspiration is not given to us in a stream of unbroken continuity. Even in the case of the first twelve apostles and in the case of such a person as Paul, inspiration was not continuous. In one instance he said, "I have no commandment of the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:25a). He did not have a word from the Lord; the Lord did not say anything. The Lord did not say it; he said it. In other words, he did not have revelation, spiritual inspiration, or any fresh word from the Lord.

But there is something amazing here. Paul said, "But I give my opinion as one who has been shown mercy by the Lord to be faithful [or honest]" (v. 25b). Paul was expressing his own judgment. What a terrific thing to do. Over the past nearly two thousand years, theologians have been afraid to touch these utterances of Paul, but Paul knew what he was saying. When he was without immediate inspiration, he was still able to speak.

To speak without inspiration would be presumption on the part of others. Others have no word when they have no inspiration because they do not have extra reserves of grace. God only gives them enough grace for today. This kind of person does not have a word when they do not have immediate inspiration because they rely on special grace to meet the present need. Without special grace, they have nothing to say.

Here, however, we have a man who had a word without immediate inspiration. Paul’s word was God’s word. The Holy Spirit chose the word and put it into the Bible; we believe this was God’s arrangement. Paul repeated several times that it was his word, not the Lord’s. When he spoke, however, he indicated that the word did not seem to be his word, and he concluded with this remark: "I think that I also have the Spirit of God" (v. 40). It is very precious. He was unconsciously moved by the Holy Spirit. Some people are always ready to affirm that the Spirit is moving them. I am afraid that the very fact of their experience of immediate inspiration from the Holy Spirit betrays their shortage of a reserve. It is better to be moved by the Holy Spirit with no consciousness of the fact. Shallow people often doubt that they have not been moved by the Holy Spirit, while those with reserves doubt that they have indeed been moved. Is there some doubt that our word may be the Lord’s word? Or are we "certain" that it is from the Lord?

We find a basic principle here. Paul had something other than immediate inspiration. He had a deposit apart from immediate inspiration. He had this deposit because for many years he had followed the Lord; he had been restricted; he had avoided sin and failure. For years he had learned to fear the Lord. Over these years, things were collecting within him. Although he did not have any immediate inspiration, he still had things to say. These were his reserve, or in other words, his riches.

No other Epistles unveil the person of Paul to us as his letters to the Corinthians. He tells us that he is only expressing his own judgment; he has no specific inspiration from the Lord. Yet we discover that what he uttered is actually a revelation to the church. Here is a man speaking his own words, and they are recorded in the Bible as the word of God. This touches the highest peak of the New Testament, where a man has been edified, carved, purified, and constituted by God to such an extent that his word becomes God’s word. This is wealth. And this is an inward reserve which is the result of God’s many years of work on Paul. Special grace cannot bring one to this peak.

(Special Grace and Reserve Grace, Chapter 1, by Watchman Nee)