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


In John 12:24-25 the Lord Jesus again talked about the problem of the soul-life: "Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his soul-life loses it; and he who hates his soul-life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life." Later on, He explained the meaning of these two verses, saying, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. But He said this signifying by what kind of death He was about to die." This chapter of the Bible records the most successful time of the Lord Jesus’ whole life. Lazarus had resurrected, and because of Lazarus, many Jews believed in the Lord. Besides this, even the Greeks wanted to see Him. At this time He entered Jerusalem to be welcomed by men. According to man’s viewpoint, it seemed that the cross was unnecessary and that the Lord could draw all men to Himself without going to the cross. However, He knew that there was no other way that man could be saved except by the cross. Although His work was very prosperous outwardly, He knew that if He did not die, He could not give life to man. If He died, He would then draw all men to Himself and really give life to them.

Here the Lord clearly stated the function of the cross. He considered His own self as a grain of wheat. If a grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die, no matter what, it is still one grain. If the Lord would be crucified on the cross and die, He would then give life to many men. Here the Lord pointed out that the condition of all fruit-bearing is death. Without death there is no fruit. There is no other way of bearing fruit except through death.

Our goal, however, is not to stop at an examination of how the Lord Jesus Himself was. What we especially want to pay attention to is how this relates to our soul-life. The Lord Jesus related the grain of wheat to Himself in verse 24, but in verse 25 He indicated that such a death as His and such fruit-bearing as His should not apply only to Himself. He indicated that whoever is His disciple should walk according to His footsteps. He pointed out what the meaning of the grain of wheat is in relation to Christians. He considered the grain as representing their soul-life. If a grain of wheat does not die, it cannot bear fruit. Accordingly, if the soul-life is not lost in death, neither can it bear fruit. What the Lord Jesus stressed here is the matter of the fruit-bearing work. Although a believer’s soul-life is very powerful, this power cannot produce a work of bearing fruit. All talents, gifts, knowledge, wisdom, and power that issue from the soul-life are unable to cause the believers to produce many grains. Just as the Lord Jesus had to die in order that He could bear fruit, so also the believers must die that they may be able to bear fruit. The Lord indicated that although the power of the soul-life is good, it is useless in God’s fruit-bearing work.

When the believers are doing the Lord’s work, the greatest danger is that they would be self-reliant and use all the power of their soul-life: their ability, gifts, knowledge, persuasive power, eloquence, and cleverness. In the experience of many spiritual believers, the soul-life is very active in doing work for the Lord unless they concentrate all their attention to put the soul to death. On the one hand, they must ask the Lord not to allow the soul-life to have any opportunity of intruding, and on the other hand, they must watch not to let the soul-life have any function. Thus, how could those who are unwilling to deny the soul-life and watch and pray in such a way guard themselves from being intruded by the soul-life? All things belonging to the soul should be put to death. We should be willing not to depend on them at all. We should be willing to let God lead us through the darkness of death without any dependence, without any feeling, without any seeing, without any understanding, but in calmness, trusting the working of God Himself. Then God will cause us to gain a more glorious soul-life on the side of resurrection. "He who hates his soul- life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life." The soul-life is not lost; rather, it is allowed to pass through death. When we die and can neither see nor feel anything, God—not ourselves—will be able to use the soul-life to impart His life to us. If the soul-life is not lost in death, the believer will suffer the greatest loss. If the soul-life is lost, it will be kept unto eternal life and always be used by God.

Here we must not misunderstand, thinking that we should no longer use our mind and ability. This verse of the Bible explains clearly: "He who hates his soul-life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life." Apparently, we have lost our soul, but actually we keep it unto eternal life. To put the soul to death is not to destroy or give up the function of the different parts of the soul, just as "that the body of sin might be annulled" (Rom. 6:6) is not to destroy the hands, feet, ears, and eyes of the human body. We are told to "present our...members as weapons of righteousness to God" (v. 13) after destroying the body of sin. Likewise, putting the soul-life to death and taking up the cross to follow the Lord does not mean that henceforth we become like wood and stone, without sensation, without thought, and without idea, giving up the use of all the faculties of the soul-life. The members of the body and the function of the soul still exist and still are completely used, except that they are being renewed, strengthened, and directed by the Holy Spirit. The question is whether the faculties of our soul are being strengthened and directed by the soul-life or by the Holy Spirit through the human spirit. The faculties still exist, except that the life directing them and animating them is put to death. Thus, the Holy Spirit, through the transcendent life of God, is afforded the opportunity to be the life of these faculties.

Each faculty of our soul, although passing through loss in death, still exists. Putting the soul-life to death does not mean that henceforth our mind, emotion, and will are completely abolished and become emptiness. We can clearly read in the Bible about God’s thought, will, joy, satisfaction, love, and gladness. Even with the Lord Jesus, the Bible often says that He "loved," "exulted," "grieved," and also "wept." When He was in the garden of Gethsemane, He "offered up both petitions and supplications with strong crying and tears" (Heb. 5:7). Therefore, the faculties of the soul do not vanish, nor does the believer become a sensationless, unsympathetic, and icy, cold person. Man’s soul is man’s own self, man’s personality, and all the faculties of his own life. If these do not receive vitality from the life of the Spirit who is from above, they must receive the power of their living from man’s natural soul-life. The soul in the sense of the faculty of the soul still exists; but the soul in the sense of the life of the soul must be denied completely. All it has must be put to death. Only this can enable the Holy Spirit alone to use each faculty of the soul without any interference of the natural life.

Here we see the resurrection life. If man has not gained the transcendent life of God, once he is lost in death he is dead and cannot resurrect. The Lord Jesus could die and resurrect because in Him there is God’s uncreated life. This life can pass through death, not be destroyed, and be manifested again in the freshness and glory of resurrection. The Lord Jesus poured out His soul unto death and gave His spirit into God’s hand. Since His spirit had God’s own life, He could resurrect. His death only caused Him to be free from the soul-life and caused His life, the life of God’s Spirit, to be manifested greater and brighter. If a man without God’s life is dead, although his spirit remains forever, he cannot resurrect in eternal life as the Lord did.

It is hard for men to understand that God, having given His life to us, still wants us to have an experiential death with the Lord, thereby making His own life in us pass through death and resurrect again. Nevertheless, this is the law of God’s life. Because we have the life of God, we can pass through death and remain living. Such a death causes us to lose our soul-life, thus enabling us to be in the resurrected eternal life where we gain God’s life more richly and more gloriously.

God’s goal is to have His life within us lead our soul-life through death so that when His life resurrects, it will cause the soul-life to be resurrected with Him and bear fruit unto eternity. This is the highest and deepest lesson of the spiritual life. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us how indispensable resurrection is and thereby cause us to know how indispensable death is also. May the Spirit of revelation make us know that if we do not hate our own life and put it to death, our spiritual life will suffer much loss and be unable to bear fruit. When God’s life within us and our soul-life pass through death and resurrect together, we have the possibility of bearing fruit that remains unto eternal life.

(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 14, by Watchman Nee)