Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit
By Watchman Nee
[Quote] God has to break the outer man before He can use the inner man. He has to break our love before He can use our love to love the brothers. If the outer man is not broken, we are still doing our own things, taking our own way, and loving our own preferences. God must first break our outer man before He can use our "broken" love to love the brothers and before our love can be expanded. Once the outer man is broken, the inner man is released. The inner man must love, but it must love through the outer man. If the outer man has things in its hands, the inner man will have nothing to work through.
Excerpts from Chapters 3 and 6
"Things in the Hands"
Things in the Hands
Our will is strong. It is not only strong; it is also stubborn. When our inner man needs the will, it cannot find it, because our will has been moving too independently and has too many things in its hands. God has given us a heavy blow; He has to smash our will and humble us so much that we are forced to say, with our face in the dust, "Lord, I dare not think. I dare not ask. I dare not decide. I need You in everything." We must be so smitten that our will can no longer act independently. Only then can the inner man take hold of the will and use it.
If the outer man is not available, the inner man will be unemployed. Can we preach God's word if we do not have a physical body? How can we preach without a mouth? It is true that one needs the spirit to preach. But preaching also requires one's mouth. What can a person do if he only has a spirit but not a mouth? At Pentecost there was the work of the Holy Spirit. But at Pentecost there was also the dispensing of the gift of speaking. Without utterance one does not have the word to release and explain God's word. If man does not speak, God has no speaking. Man's word certainly is not God's word, but God's word is conveyed through man's word. If man does not speak, there will be no word of God. There must be man's word before there can be God's word.
Suppose a brother is preparing to speak God's word. He may have the word and a burden in his spirit, and the burden may be very heavy. But if he does not have the suitable thoughts, his burden can never be released. In the end even his burden will disappear. We do not despise the burden, but even if our entire spirit is full of burden, this burden is useless and bound up if our mind is not fruitful. We cannot save men with burden alone. The burden in our spirit must be released through our mind. After we have a burden within us, we still need a mouth. We still need a voice and the help of the body. The trouble today is that while our inner man is available to receive the burden from God, the mind in our outer man is too busy and confused. From morning to night it is giving its own suggestions and expressing its own opinions. Under such circumstances, the spirit does not have an outlet.
Today God's spirit must be released through man. Man's love must be available before others can see God's love. Man's thoughts must be available before others can see God's thoughts. Man's decision must be found before others can touch God's will. But the trouble with man is that his outer man is too busy with his own things. He has his own views, his own thoughts. He is too busy with himself. As a result, the inner man has no way to be released. This is the reason God has to break the outer man. This does not mean that the will has to be annihilated. However, it does mean that the "things in the hands," that is, in the will, have to be stripped so that the will no longer acts independently. It does not mean that our thoughts have to be annihilated. It means that we will no longer think according to ourselves, that we will no longer come up with all kinds of ideas or be led astray by our own wandering mind. It does not mean that our emotion is annihilated. It means that our emotion will be under the control and direction of the inner man. In this way the inner man will find a mind, an emotion, and a will that are available for use.
The spirit needs a mind, an emotion, and a will to express itself. It needs a living outer man, not a dead one, to express itself. It needs a smitten, wounded, and broken outer man, not a sealed and untouched outer man. Today the biggest obstacle is with us. God's Spirit cannot break through us. His Spirit lives in our spirit, yet He cannot come out of our spirit. Our outer man is too full; it is full of things in it hands. We have to ask God for mercy so that the outer man will be broken and the inner man will have a way to come out.
God does not destroy our outer man. But neither will He allow it to remain intact and unbroken. He wants to pass through out outer man. He wants our spirit to love, think, and make decisions through the outer man. If we want to serve God, we have to pass through this basic dealing. If our outer man is not broken, the Lord will not be able to have a way through us. He has to break through out outer man before He can reach others.
Before the outer man is broken, the inner man and the outer man stand in opposition to one another. The inner man is a complete person, and the outer man is a complete person. The outer man is complete and independent; it is free and full of things in the hands. Meanwhile, the inner man is imprisoned. After the outer man is genuinely broken, it no longer acts independently. It is not destroyed, but it no longer stands in opposition to the inner man; it is subject to the inner man. In this way there will be only one person left in us. The outer man will be broken into pieces and ready for the inner man's use.
Breaking and Discipline
Consecration and Discipline
In order for our outer man to be broken, we need to consecrate ourselves to the Lord. Consecration, however, does not take care of all the problems. It is only an expression of our intention to willingly give ourselves to God. We can consecrate ourselves to God in just a few minutes. This willingness to offer ourselves unreservedly to Him only constitutes the initial step in our spiritual journey. It does not mean that God has finished all of His work with this one step. Whether or not a man can be used by God does not depend on consecration alone. After consecration there is still the need of discipline from the Holy Spirit. This is very important, and whether or not we will become useful to God depends a great deal on this. The discipline of the Holy Spirit must be added to our consecration before we can become a useful vessel to the Lord. Without consecration, it often will be hard to go on with the discipline of the Holy Spirit. However, consecration alone cannot replace the Spirit's discipline. Therefore, we have to turn our attention to the matter of the Spirit's discipline.
In consecration we offer ourselves to God according to the light we have received. In disciplining us the Holy Spirit deals with us according to the light that He dispenses to us. We can only consecrate according to what we know. We can only consecrate according to what we can see with our spiritual eyes. In reality even we do not know how much is included in our consecration. The amount of light we have received is not infinite; our light is very limited. Even when we think that we have the greatest light, God's eyes still may find us in darkness. What we consecrate to God according to our perceived light will never satisfy His demand. In other words, God's demand is always higher than what we can offer. Our consecration cannot satisfy God's heart because our knowledge is limited and our light is limited. But the discipline of the Holy Spirit is altogether different; it evaluates our need in God's own light. It is not what we see, but what God sees. He knows that we have certain needs, and He operates through His Spirit in the environment for us to experience these things, the purpose of which is to break our outer man. Therefore, the disciplining work of the Holy Spirit goes far beyond our consecration. It is many times greater than our consecration. There is a big difference here.
The work of the Holy Spirit is based on the light of God. The Spirit works according to what God sees. Therefore, only the discipline of the Holy Spirit is thorough and complete. We often are ignorant in ourselves; we do not know what we need to go through. Even our wisest choices are full of errors. What we think we need often is not what we actually need according to God. What we see from our side may only be a tiny fraction of the whole picture. The Holy Spirit, however, orders things for us according to God's light. The discipline of the Holy Spirit far exceeds what our mind can fathom. We often are not prepared for a certain discipline, and we think that there is no need for it. When the Spirit's discipline does come upon us, we are taken by surprise. What the Spirit has ordered for us in the environment is not what we expected. Much discipline from the Holy Spirit comes without any warning from God. Suddenly we are struck with a heavy blow. We may think that we are living under God's light, but to God this light may be a very feeble flicker. He may not even consider it light at all. The Holy Spirit, however, deals with us according to God's light. We think that we know our condition, but actually we do not. Only God knows us. From the time we accepted Him, He has been ordering our environment. Everything that He has ordered is for our greatest benefit because He knows us and He knows our needs.
The work of the Holy Spirit in us has a positive aspect and a negative aspect to it. There is a building - up aspect and a tearing down aspect. After we are regenerated, the Holy Spirit lives in us, yet our outer man limits His freedom. This is like a man wearing a pair of new shoes; the shoes are too stiff and tight, and he finds it difficult to walk in them. The outer man gives the inner man a difficult time. The inner man cannot control the outer man. This is the reason that God has been dealing with our outer man and breaking it from the day we were saved. God does not deal with our outer man according to our perceived need but according to our need as He sees it. He finds out what is tenacious in us and what is beyond the control of the inner man, and He deals with us accordingly to what He knows.
The Holy Spirit does not deal with it by supplying our inner man with more grace. This does not mean that the inner man does not need to be strengthened. It means that God has a different way of dealing with the outer man. The Holy Spirit diminishes our outer man by means of outward things. It is not too easy to tackle the outer man with the inner man, because they are of different natures. It is hard for the inner man to bruise or crush the outer man. The nature of the outer man corresponds to the nature of outward things; the outer man is easily affected by the outward things. The outward things crush, inflict pain, and bruise the outer man much better than the inner man can. Therefore, God deals with the outer man with outward things.
Matthew 10:29 says, "Are not two sparrows sold for two assaria?" Luke 12:6 says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two assarian?" One assarian buys two sparrows, and two assaria buys five. This is cheap. The fifth is a bonus; it is free. Yet, "not one of them will fall to the earth apart from your Father" (Matt. 10:29). The Bible also says, "Even the hairs of your head are numbered" (v.30). Not only are all the hairs counted; they are numbered. This leads us to realize that everything that happens to a Christian is under God's ordering. No environment comes to us by accident. God wants us to see that everything is under His sovereign arrangement.
God arranges all these things according to our need as He sees it. He knows what is best or our inner man and how best to break and dismantle our outer man. He knows that a certain thing will break our outer man, and He orders it to come upon us once, twice, and again and again. We have to see that all the things we have encountered during the past five or ten years have all been under God's ordering and are for our education. If we murmur against any person, we are indeed ignorant of God's hand. If we think that it was bouts of bad luck, we have no idea what the discipline of the Holy Spirit is. We have to remember that all the things that come upon us are measured by our God's hand. All these are for our good. We may not know to choose them, but God knows that they are for our good. I am not sure what misery we would have fallen into had it not been for such discipline from God. Such arrangements keep us pure; they preserve us in God's pathway. They are the best for us. God can give us nothing better. Many people cannot submit themselves. They murmur with their mouth and resent in their heart. This is indeed foolish. We have to remember that everything is measured to us by the Holy Spirit and is the best that it can be.
As soon as a person is saved, the Holy Spirit begins this work. But a period of time has to lapse before He can gain full liberty through this work. When does the Holy Spirit have the full liberty? It is when we consecrate ourselves. The day that a man is saved is the day that the Holy Spirit begins the disciplining work, and the day that he consecrates himself is the day that the Holy Spirit has the full freedom to perform such a work. After a man is saved and before he is consecrated, he still loves himself dearly and has little love for the Lord. One cannot say that the Holy Spirit is not disciplining him; He does order things to bring him to God and to break his outer man. But with an unconsecrated man, He does not have the liberty to do this work. After a man is enlightened by God and has consecrated himself to God, the Holy Spirit will have the liberty to do His work. At a certain point, a man will feel that he can no longer live by himself or for himself. Under the feeble light that he apprehends, he will come to God and say, "I consecrate myself to You. Whether the outcome is death or life, I will consecrate myself to You." When this happens, the Holy Spirit's work in him will be intensified. Consecration is important. Through consecration we allow the Holy Spirit to have the full and unconditional freedom to do His work. We should not be surprised when many things come upon us unexpectedly after we have consecrated ourselves. The only reason for such things to come upon us is that we have committed ourselves unconditionally to the Lord. We have said, "Lord, accomplish in me what is most profitable in Your sight!" Because we consecrated ourselves in this way, the Holy Spirit is free to do His work in us without concern for resistance on our part. Either we do not take the Lord's way at all, or if we do, we have to pay the utmost attention to the disciplining work of the Holy Spirit.
The Greatest Means of Receiving Grace
From the day a person is saved, God has been edifying him through the impartation of grace. A man can receive grace from God through many ways. We call these ways the means of receiving grace. For example, prayer is a means of receiving grace because we can go to God and receive grace through prayer. Listening to a message can also be a means of receiving grace because we can go to God and receive grace through listening. The expression of means of receiving grace, or simply means of grace, is a good expression. The church has been using this expression for hundreds of years. We receive grace through means of grace. From the day we became a Christian, our daily life has been one in which we receive one means of grace after another. Our meetings, our listening to messages, our prayer, and many other things we do are means by which we obtain grace. Here we would like to point out one thing: The greatest means of receiving grace, one which we should never neglect, is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. No other means of grace, such as prayer, Bible study, meeting together, listening to messages, waiting, meditation or praise, can match this means of grace; the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Of all the means of grace that we receive from God, none is more important than this. The discipline of the Holy Spirit is the greatest means of receiving grace.
When we look back and examine our experience of the various means of grace, we will get an idea of how much we have gone on with God. If our spiritual progress has been through prayer, listening to messages, and reading the Bible alone, we have missed the chief means of receiving grace. All the things that come upon us every day in the family, in our school, in our work, or even on the street are arranged by the Holy Spirit for our highest good and profit. If we have not received profit from them and if we remain ignorant and closed to this greatest means of grace, we will suffer the greatest loss. The discipline of the Holy Spirit is too crucial; it is a Christian's main means of receiving grace throughout his life. Our reading the Bible cannot replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Our meetings cannot replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. No other means of grace can replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray, to study the Bible, to listen to messages, and to have all kinds of means of grace. They are all precious, but none of them can replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. If we have not learned the proper lessons in the discipline of the Holy Spirit, we cannot be proper Christians and can never serve God. Listening to messages can nourish our inner being. Prayer can revive us inwardly. Reading God's Word can refresh us within. Helping others can release our spirit. However, if our outer man remains strong, others will encounter mixture when they encounter us; they will realize that we are not that pure. On the one hand, they will feel our zeal; on the other hand, they will sense our mixture. On the one hand, they will see that we do love the Lord; on the other hand, they also will know that we love ourselves. On the one hand, they can say that here is a precious brother; on the other hand, they have to say that here is a stubborn brother. The outer man is not yet broken. We are edified not only when we pray, listen to messages, and study the Bible. Our greatest edification comes when we are under the discipline of the Holy Spirit.
We need an absolute consecration on our side. But we can never assume that consecration can replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Consecration affords the Holy Spirit a chance to work on us freely. We should say, "Lord, I commit myself to Your hand. I allow You to work freely. Lord, give me what You think I need." If we yield to the arrangement of the Holy Spirit, we will reap the benefit. The very act of yielding will bring us benefit. But if we do not yield, instead arguing with God and walking according to our own will, we will end up taking the crooked path no matter what way we take. The basic issue is whether or not we can give ourselves to God unconditionally, unreservedly, and unequivocally for Him to deal with us freely. If we realize that all of God's arrangements are for our highest good, including those things that bring us embarrassment, and if we are willing to give ourselves to God in this way, we will find the Holy Spirit dealing with us in many things.
All Kinds of Dealings
Some people are particularly bound by certain things. The Lord deals with them in those particular things. He deals with them item by item, including such minute details as their food and clothing. God will not let them go. How fine the Holy Spirit is! He does not neglect anything. We may love a certain thing without even realizing it ourselves. Yet God knows, and He will deal with us in a very detailed way. When all these things are taken away, we will be completely free. The Holy Spirit deals with many people by touching certain things. He goes after the cherished items relentlessly. Through such dealings, we begin to appreciate the way the Spirit attends to all the details. Even things that we have missed or forgotten are picked up by the Lord. He never forgets anything. God's work is perfect. He will not stop working until He reaches perfection. He will not be satisfied until He reaches that point. Sometimes God deals with us through men. He puts men around us whom we hate, envy, or despise and deals with us through them. He also puts lovable men around us to deal with us. Before we pass through the dealings, we have no realization of how filthy and impure we are. After we pass through His dealings, we will see how impure we are. We think that we are totally given to the Lord. But after we pass through the discipline of the Holy Spirit, we will realize how much outward things affect us.
Sometimes God touches our thoughts. Our thoughts are confused, wild, self-motivated, and undisciplined. We think that we are clever, that we know everything, and that we can think of things that others cannot think of. Because of this, the Lord allows us to make mistakes and stumble again and again so that we would be wary of our own thoughts. If we find great grace in the Lord, we will shy away from our thoughts as much as we shy away from fire. As soon as the hand touches fire, it pulls back. In the same way as soon as we touch our thoughts, we turn back and tell ourselves, "This is not what I should think. I fear my own thoughts." Sometimes God deals with our emotions through ordering various circumstances for us. Some people are too strong in their emotions. When they are happy, they cannot stop rejoicing. When they are depressed, they cannot be comforted. Their whole life revolves around their emotions. If they are sad, no one can make them sing. If they are happy, no one can make them sober. Their happiness drives away their sobriety, and their sadness leads them into passivity. They are fully manipulated by their own emotions. Because they live in their emotions this way, they even justify their own emotions. For this reason God has to deal with their emotions through all kinds of circumstances. They have to be so dealt with that they dare not be sad or happy any longer; they can only live by God's grace and mercy, not by their own emotion.
The weakness of some people relates to their thoughts, while with others it relates to their emotions. Abnormal thoughts and emotions, however, are not common to everyone (though not a few have them). The biggest weakness and the most common one relates to the will. Because our will is untouched, our emotion becomes a problem to us. The root lies in the will. It is easy for us to say, "Not according to my will, but according to Your will." But when we go through our experiences, how many times do we truly own Him as Lord? The less a man knows himself, the easier it is for him to talk like this. The less a man is enlightened by God, the more he thinks that he will have no trouble obeying God. The quicker a man makes loud claims, the more it proves that he has never paid any price. Those whose words pretend intimacy with God are probably farthest away from Him. When one does not have the light, it is easy for him to claim intimacy with God. Actually such ones are far from God. A man must go through God's dealings before he will find out how stubborn and opinionated he is. He always believes in himself and considers his own opinions, feelings, methods, and views to be right. Paul found grace with God in many ways, the chief one of which, I believe, lies in his words in Philippians 3:3 Have no confidence in the flesh. This means that he no longer trusted in his flesh. We also have to be led by God to realize that we dare not trust in our own judgment. God allows us to make mistakes again and again until we are forced to confess that we have been wrong in the past and that we will be wrong again in the future. We will acknowledge that we need the Lord's grace. The Lord often allows our judgment to bring us serious consequences. We make certain judgments, and they turn out to be wrong. We make other judgments, and they turn out to be wrong again, so terribly wrong that we cannot even salvage the loss. Time after time the Lord smites us, until a point is reached when as soon as we need to make a judgment, we will say, "I fear my own judgment as much as I fear hell fire. I am afraid that my judgment is flawed. Lord, I am prone to mistakes. I am simply a man of mistakes! Lord, unless You grant me mercy and hold me by my hand and protect me with Your hand, I will fall into mistakes!" When we pray this way, our outer man will begin to crumble. We no longer dare to trust in ourselves. We often make rash judgments; our views are too simplistic. But after a man is dealt with and broken by God time after time, and after he has passed through all kinds of failures, he will humble himself and say, "God, I dare not think, and I dare not decide." God deals with us in many ways through all kinds of things and people. This is the discipline of the Holy Spirit.
The discipline of the Holy Spirit is a lesson that will never slacken in us. Sometimes we lack the ministry of the word or other means of grace. But this means of receiving grace, "the discipline of the Holy Spirit," is never lacking. The supply of the word can vary according to limitations and circumstances. But the discipline of the Holy Spirit is not limited by any circumstance. In fact, it becomes more manifest through limitations in the circumstance. Sometimes, we can say that we do not have the opportunity to listen to a message, but we can never say that we do not have the opportunity to obey the discipline of the Holy Spirit. We can say that we do not have the opportunity to receive the ministry of the word, but we cannot say that we do not have the opportunity to receive the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is arranging things every day and providing us with plenty of opportunities to learn our lessons.
If we can yield to God, the discipline of the Holy Spirit will be found to be a very fitting means for us, more so than the ministry of the word. We have to be clear about this way. We should never be mistaken to think that the supply of the word is the only means of receiving grace. Do not forget that the greatest means of receiving grace is the discipline of the Holy Spirit. It is the chiefest among all means of receiving grace. It is not available just to those who are educated, clever, and gifted but to those who are uneducated, dull, and short of gifts as well. The discipline of the Holy Spirit does not grant special favor to anyone. As long as a person is a child of God, he can commit himself unconditionally to God no matter who he is, and he can witness the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Through the discipline of the Holy Spirit, one learns many practical lessons. Some may think that it is good enough for them to have the ministry of the word, the grace of prayer, the fellowship with other believers, and many other means of grace. But they have to realize that no means of grace can replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Prayer cannot replace the discipline of the Holy Spirit, nor can the ministry of the word, they study of the Scriptures, or meditation. This is because we not only need the building up but also the tearing down. There are too many things in us that cannot go into eternity, and these must all be torn down.
The Cross in Practice
The cross is not merely a doctrine. It has to be carried out in practice. The cross has to be realized in us; all the things that belong to us have to be destroyed. As we are smitten once, twice, many times, there will come a time when spontaneously we will become sober; we will no longer be arrogant. The way is not through denying our arrogance when our memory reminds us of it. That kind of denial will disappear in five minutes. Only after a man passes through God's chastisement will his pride be forever stripped. A man may be proud at first, but after he is smitten by God once, twice, many times, he begin to humble himself, and his arrogance will begin to erode away. No teaching, doctrine, or memorization will destroy the outer man. Only God's chastisement and the Spirit's discipline will destroy it. When a person is dealt with by God, spontaneously he will not dare to be proud. He does not have to force himself to remember this lesson. He does not act this way because he has heard a message a few days ago about it. He is not acting according to teaching. His pride has been knocked out, removed. He abhors his own methods and views them like fire; he is afraid of being burned. We live by God's grace, not by our memory. God has to smite us to the extent that we will be the same whether or not we remember to act that way. Such a work is reliable and lasting. When the Lord finishes such a work in us, we will not only receive grace and be strong in our inner being, but the outer man which was once a hindrance and frustration to the Lord's word, purpose, and presence will now be broken. Formerly, the outer man and the inner man could not be joined together. Now the outer man prostrates in fear and trembling; it has yielded itself to God and is no longer at odds with the inner man.
Every one of us needs to go through dealings from the Lord. In looking back, we find the Lord dealing with us item by item. He is continually breaking our outer shell and knocking down in outward independence, pride and selfishness. When we look back at all that has happened in the past, we have to acknowledge that everything the Lord has done is meaningful.
I hope that God's children would see the significance of the discipline of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to see that we are poor, that we have been going against Him, that we have failed, that we have lived in darkness, walked by ourselves, and been proud and arrogant for a long time. Let us put ourselves in His hand unreservedly and unconditionally, praying that this breaking work will be accomplished in us. Brothers and sisters, the outer man must be broken! Do not try to save the outer man from being wrecked while hoping to build up the inner man. As we pay attention to the work of breaking, we will spontaneously witness the work of building.
Create In Me A Clean Heart
Deceitful Hearts - Part 1
Deceitful Hearts - Part 2
Overcoming the Natural Man by Way of The Cross
BACK TO MENU