THE LESSON IN THE WILDERNESS
Brothers, God spent forty years to personally guide the children of Israel through the wandering in the wilderness. He allowed them to stumble and sin for the unique purpose of teaching them about their self. Today God is working on you. In the past, He has allowed you to fail time and again in order that you would know the true character of the self. But even now, you have not learned the lesson well. God wants you to realize that you are powerless, thoroughly corrupt, unable to bear any burden, and your heart toward Him is not perfect or chaste. You have not loved Him as much as you think. You are not that great or that wonderful. You are not an important person; you are quite insignificant. Your past failures should have convinced you of your total vanity. Yet today, you still admire your self. This is why God has to leave you in the wilderness, so that you will experience more of the failures of the wilderness and realize the corruption, vanity, and weakness of your self in the eyes of God. If you do not learn your lesson today, you will continue to fail.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
Several thousand years ago, God gave the law to man. What was God’s purpose for doing this? The law was not given for man to keep. The law was given for man to break. The law was established for man to violate. Do not be surprised at this. This is God’s goal. This is what the Bible has shown us. God knows how corrupt and unbearable we are. All along, His purpose has been for us to be saved through His grace freely. He knows that we are corrupt to the uttermost and that there is nothing we can present to Him. However, although God knows us, we do not know ourselves. This is why God has to use these ways to teach us, so that we would know what He knows—realizing our own corruption and receiving His grace. God’s way is to use the law; He wants us to try to keep the law. If we are good, we will try to keep the law, and if we are corrupt, we will violate the law. In other words, if we violate the law, it means that we are corrupt. The fact that we cannot keep the law shows that our flesh is weak (Rom. 8:3). Only when men see that they are so weak and cannot fulfill the demand of the law will they lose hope in themselves entirely. Only then will they stop trying to save themselves by works and seek for God’s grace. This is why the Bible says, "Why then the law? It was added because of the transgressions," that is, it was added to expose man’s corruption "until the seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19). This is the Lord Jesus and His salvation.
We all know that a man is not saved by works, but by grace. But have you ever wondered why we are not saved by works but by grace? It is because we are corrupt, weak, filthy, and unable to fulfill God’s righteousness, to fulfill God’s law, or to have any good works. This is why we need grace. When God saves us by grace, He is saying that our self is corrupt to the uttermost and that there is no other way except for Him to grant us grace. Brothers, we have all been saved. When we entered the gate of salvation, we realized that we were powerless. Why do we still think that our self is so wonderful? Have we still not learned the lesson God has been teaching for thousands of years through the law?
God allowed the children of Israel to fail so that they would know their self. God allowed those under the law to fail so that they would know their self. Now, God allows you to fail so that you will know your self. You may wonder why the cross of the Lord Jesus has no effect on you. You have heard the truth concerning dying with the Lord and tried to appropriate it by faith. Yet it seems to have no effect on you; you still fail, stumble, and sin. You weep, pray, and strive and yet cannot overcome sin. Why is this the case? Is it because the truth concerning dying with the Lord is only a philosophy? Otherwise, why would it have no effect on you? Brothers, do you still not see your error? Do you really want to die? Do you still believe in the self—hope, trust, resolve, strive, and struggle in the self? Do you not realize how weak you are? This is why God allows you to fail, stumble, and sin, so that you will lose hope in your self completely and surrender to His Spirit fully. Only then will you be victorious. You still do not have a clear understanding of your self and are not willing to reject your own power, wisdom, goodness, and righteousness. Although you have accepted the cross of the Lord Jesus, you have only accepted it in your mind; you have not accepted it in your life. The cross judges, condemns, and crucifies the self. Yet you still believe in the self, trust in it, and admire it. If you do this, how can the cross have its effect on you?
THE PRINCIPLE OF THE CROSS
In our testimony, we pay special attention to the principle of the cross. But we have to realize that the cross is not a kind of magical power which delivers one from his sins once we invoke it. Unless we willingly accept the principle of the cross, we will not see the effect of the cross on ourselves. The cross is a principle, and this principle is the rejection of the self and surrender to God. If we do not realize the corruption of our true nature and expect the cross only to free us from sin when we are in danger, we will find that there is no magical power in the cross.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 08: The Present Testimony (1), Chapter 8, by Watchman Nee)