The Spiritual Man is a translation of the only book of any substantial size which brother Watchman Nee himself ever wrote. At the time of writing it he felt this work might be his last contribution to the church, although since then God has graciously overruled. Long after the book’s initial publication in Chinese our brother once was heard to express the thought that it should not be reprinted because, it being such a “perfect” treatment of its subject, he was fearful lest the book become to its readers merely a manual of principles and not a guide to experience as well. But in view of the urgent need among the children of God today for help on spiritual life and warfare, and knowing our brother as one who is always open to God’s way and most desirous to serve His people with all that God has given him, we conclude that he would doubtless permit it to be circulated in English. Hence this translation.
Translations used. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible has been used throughout the text unless otherwise indicated. Additional translations where employed are denoted by the following abbrevations:
Amplified—Amplified Old Testament
ASV—American Standard Version (1901)
AV—Authorized Version (King James)
Darby—J. N. Darby, The Holy Scriptures, a New Translation
Young’s—Young’s Literal Translation
Soulical and Soulish. The adjectives “soulical” and “soulish” have been used to convey distinctly different meanings. “Soulical” as herein employed pertains to those proper, appropriate, legitimate, or natural qualities, functions, or expressions of man’s soul which the Creator intended from the very beginning for the soul uniquely to possess and manifest. “Soulish” appears in these pages to describe that man in toto who is so governed by the soulical part of his being that his whole life takes on the character and expression of the soul.
To the Lord whom I serve I offer my heartfelt thanks, for He has given me the privilege of writing this book. I had always hoped another more capable would undertake this work, yet it pleases the Lord to call me to it. If the choice were left to me I should be the last of all to write; for I have the least desire to do such a book. My hesitation lies not in withdrawal from duty but rather in the realization that such a book touching on the way of spiritual life and the stratagem of spiritual warfare is surely beyond the possibility of one whose experience of the Lord has been less than ten years long. The Bible does permit a believer to relate his experience; the Holy Spirit even leads one to do so; how much better though if such experiences as “caught up into the third heaven” be mentioned after “fourteen years.” Now I do not have a “third heaven” experience, neither have I received great revelation, but I have learned through His grace to follow the Lord in the small things of the day. In this work, therefore, my attempt is but to impart to the children of God that which I have received from the Lord in these years.
It was about four years ago that I felt called to write such a book. At that time I was resting from physical weakness in a small hut by the river, praying and reading the Word. I felt the urgent need for a book—based on the Word and on experience—which would give God’s children a clear understanding of spiritual life in order that the Holy Spirit might use it in leading the saints onward and in delivering them from groping in darkness. It was then that I knew I was commissioned by the Lord to undertake this task. I began to compose the chapters which discuss the differentiation of spirit, soul and body, a chapter on the body, and also the first part of the chapter dealing with soul life. But I soon discontinued writing. I had many other claims upon my time besides this one. That was not the main deterrent, however, for I could still find opportunity to write. I lay down my pen chiefly because up to that time many truths were yet to be written which had not been fully proven in my experience. This lack I knew would lessen the value as well as the power of the book. I would prefer to learn more before the Lord and prove His truths through experience. What I wrote would then be spiritual realities instead of merely spiritual theories. Thus the work was suspended for three years.
I can say that during these three years I had the book daily in my heart. Although some might consider the publishing of this work long overdue, I could clearly see the hand of the Lord. Within these few years the truths contained in this book, especially those in the last volume, have liberated many from the power of darkness, demonstrating that we had touched spiritual reality. By the special grace of the Lord I was enabled to understand more of the purpose of God’s redemption in dividing the new and the old creations. I praise the Lord for that. The Lord also gave me opportunities to meet many of his choicest ones during my various travels. This increased my observation, knowledge and experience. In my contacts with people the Lord showed me not only what is genuinely lacking among His children but what is the revealed remedy in His Word as well. Let me therefore tell my readers that this is a manual on spiritual life, every point of which can be experimentally proven.
Due to my special experience in the physical body during these few years, it has been given me to know more of the reality of eternity and, likewise, the great debt I owe the
church of God. Thus I hoped I would be able to finish this book within a short period. Thanks to God the Father and to some of my friends in the Lord, I was provided with a quiet place for resting and writing. Within a few months I had finished Parts I through IV. Although I have not yet begun the other parts, I am sure God the Father will supply the necessary grace at the needed time.
Now that this volume is shortly to be published and the other volumes will soon follow, let me speak frankly: learning the truths in this book was not easy; writing them down was even harder. I may say that for two months I lived daily in the jaws of Satan. What battling! What withstanding! All my powers of spirit, soul and body were summoned to contend with hell. Such battles are now temporarily suspended, but more parts must be written. You who are Moses on the hill, please do not forget Joshua in the plain. I know the enemy hates this work deeply. He will try every means to prevent it from reaching people’s hands and to hinder them from reading it. Oh, that you would not allow the enemy to succeed here.
This book, which will contain three volumes, is not written in sermonic or expositive form. Differences occur in the length of treatment of various subjects and this the readers should notice. Although all volumes deal with spiritual life and warfare, some sections may lay more stress on spiritual life while others may lay more on spiritual warfare. The book as a whole is prepared to serve as a guide; hence its emphasis is principally a matter of how to walk in this way rather than that of persuading people initially to take this walk. It is written not so much to urge individuals to seek the spiritual way as to help those who are seeking to know the way. May all whose hearts are out to the Lord find help in its pages.
I am deeply aware that the spiritual life of the readers of this book may vary greatly. If you should therefore come to some points difficult to understand, please neither reject them nor try to fathom them mentally. Such truths should be reserved for more matured life. Upon re-reading that difficult part later (say after two weeks or a whole month), you may perhaps grasp it better. Nevertheless, this book deals wholly with spiritual life as an experience. In no other way can it be understood. What appears to be tasteless in the beginning may come to be most precious later. You will understand when you reach that stage. But is it necessary to wait until reaching that stage before understanding? If such were the case, what will be the use of this book! A great mystery surrounds the spiritual experience of a believer. The Lord always gives a foretaste of the outline of a deeper life before He leads him into the full experience of it. Many believers mistake their foretaste for the fullness, not realizing that the Lord is just beginning to lead them in. The teaching in this book will meet the need of those who have tasted but not yet fully drunk.
One thing we must guard against: we should never use the knowledge we acquire from this book as an aid in analyzing ourselves. If in God’s light we see light, we shall know ourselves without losing our freedom in the Lord. But if all day long we analyze ourselves, dissecting our thoughts and feelings, it will hinder us from losing ourselves in Christ. Unless a believer is deeply taught by the Lord he will not be able to know himself. Introspection and self-consciousness are harmful to spiritual life.
It would be well to reflect upon God’s redemptive design. God’s purpose is that through the new life given us at the time of regeneration He might be able to deliver us from (1) sin, (2) the natural, and (3) the supernatural, that is, the satanic force of evil in the unseen realm. These three steps of deliverance are necessary; none can be omitted. If a Christian limits God’s redemptive work by being content with merely overcoming sin, he falls far short of the purpose of God. The natural life (the good self) must be overcome, and so too must the supernatural enemy. It certainly is well to overcome sin, but the work is not complete if the petty self and the supernatural evil are left unconquered. The cross can afford us such victory. I hope through God’s grace I can emphasize these points as we go along.
Aside from the last Part of the concluding volume which will discuss the body, this book may be considered Biblical psychology. We base everything on the Bible and prove all by spiritual experience. The result of our findings, both through studying the Word and through experience, tells us that for every spiritual experience (for example, the new birth) there is a special change in our inward man. We conclude that the Bible divides man into three parts—spirit, soul and body. We shall see further how different are the functions and the realms of these three parts, particularly those of spirit and soul. In this connection, a few words need to be said concerning Part One of this first volume. The differentiation of spirit and soul as well as the difference in their functions are necessary knowledge to those who seek to grow in spiritual life. Only after knowing what is the spirit and what is spiritual can we walk according to the spirit. Because of the great lack of such teachings, I have attempted to explain in detail. To believers with some background this first Part will not present any difficulty to their understanding; but those who are unfamiliar with such a study need only remember the conclusions and may then proceed to the second Part. Part One, consequently, does not deal specifically with spiritual life; it merely supplies us with some necessary knowledge basic to spiritual life. This Part may be better understood if it is reread after the entire book is first finished.
I am not the first to advocate the teaching of the dividing of spirit and soul. Andrew Murray once said that what the church and individuals have to dread is the inordinate activity of the soul with its power of mind and will. F. B. Meyer declared that had he not known about the dividing of spirit and soul, he could not have imagined what his spiritual life would have been. Many others, such as Otto Stockmayer, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Evan Roberts, Madame Guyon, have given the same testimony. I have used their writings freely since we all have received the same commission from the Lord; therefore I have decided to forego notating their many references.∗
This book is written not only for the believers as such, but also to help those who are younger in the Lord’s service than I. We who are responsible for the spiritual life of others ought to know from what and into what we lead them—from whence to where. If we help people, negatively, not to sin and, positively, to be zealous; will that be all the Lord wants us to do? Or is there perhaps something deeper? I personally feel the Bible has given a most definite judgment. God’s purpose is that His children are to be delivered wholly from the old creation and are to enter fully into the new creation. No matter how the old creation may appear to man, it is utterly condemned by God. If we workers know what ought to be destroyed and what ought to be built, then we are not the blind leading the blind.
∗Citations will be added where the direct quotations can be found.—Translator.
New birth—receiving God’s own life—is the starting point of all spiritual life. How useless it is if the end result of all our exhortation, persuasion, argument, explanation and study is but to induce some understanding in the mind, some determination in the will, some feeling in the emotion. It has not assisted people to receive God’s life into their spirit. But if we who are responsible for preaching the gospel truly perceive that unless people receive God’s life into the depths of their beings we have not done anything profitable, then what a drastic reformation will there be in our work! Indeed, such knowledge will bring us to the realization that many who do profess to believe in the Lord Jesus have never actually done so. Tears, penitence, reform, zeal and labor: these are not the hallmarks of a Christian. Happy are we if we know that our responsibility is to bring man to receive God’s uncreated life.
As I recall how the enemy has tried to hinder me from learning the truths written in the last volume, I cannot but be apprehensive that some, though possessing the book, will be hindered by Satan from reading it; or if they do read it, will be made to soon forget it. Therefore let me warn my readers: you should ask God to keep Satan from preventing your reading it. Pray as you read; turn what you read into prayer. Pray that God will cover you with the helmet of salvation lest you forget what you read or simply fill your mind with innumerable theories.
A few words to those who already possess the truths set forth in the following pages. If God has graciously liberated you from the flesh and the power of darkness, you, in turn, ought to bring these truths to others. So after you have digested the book thoroughly and the truths have become your own, will you gather a few saints together and teach them the truths. If it is too much to use the entire book, then one or two parts would be profitable. The hope is that the truths herein will not be left unnoticed. Even lending the book to others to read would be a profitable thing.
Now that this small treatise is in the Lord’s hand, if He is pleased with it, may He bless it toward spiritual growth and spiritual victory in me as well as in many of my brothers and sisters. May the will of God be done. May His enemy be defeated. May our Lord Jesus soon return to reign. Amen.
Shanghai, June 4, 1927
Most happy am I today for I have completed the last Part of the book. I recall when I wrote the earlier preface I had completed but the first four parts. With these last six now done I find I have much yet to share with my readers. Hence this second preface.
Many months have passed since I commenced writing this final portion of the book. I can truthfully say that during these months the burden of this work has been upon me daily. It is natural for the enemy to hate the spreading of God’s truth. As a consequence I have been attacked and assaulted incessantly. Thanks be unto God, His grace has hitherto sustained me. Often I thought it would be impossible to continue writing because the pressure upon my spirit was too heavy and the stamina of my body too weak; yea, I even despaired of life itself. As often as I despaired, however, just as often was I strengthened by the God whom I serve, according to His promise and through the prayers of many. Today the task is finished and the burden is discharged. What comfort I now experience!
Today I reverently offer this book to our God. Since He has performed that which He began, my prayer before Him is that He may bless these pages to fulfill its God-given mission in His church. I am asking God to bless every reader that he may find the straight path and learn to follow the Lord perfectly. My spirit together with my prayer henceforth follows the outgoing of this work. May God use it according to His most excellent will.
Brethren, it is considered politic for a writer not to show too much enthusiasm for his own work, but I shall now proceed to disregard this human convention. I do this not because I wrote the book but because of the deposit of truth in the book. Had it been written by another I think I would be freer to draw people’s attention to it. I must therefore beg your pardon for being beside myself. I know the importance of the truths herein contained and, according to the best of my knowledge of God’s will, I feel they will meet the urgent need of this age. No matter how mistaken I may be, of one thing I am certain: I did not have the slightest intention of undertaking this task: I wrote only because I was commissioned by the Lord so to do. The truths in these pages are not mine; they were given me by God. Even when I was writing He blessed me with many new blessings.
I desire my readers to understand thoroughly that this work is in no way to be considered a treatise on the theory of spiritual life and warfare. I myself can testify that I have learned these truths through much suffering, trial and failure. It can almost be said that every one of these teachings has been branded with fire. And these words are not used lightly; they come from the depth of the heart. God knows from whence these truths do come.
When composing the volumes I did not attempt to group similar and related principles together. I have simply mentioned them as the need arose. Out of consideration for their extreme importance, I may have touched upon one truth or another many times, hoping the children of God would thereby better remember. Only through repetition will the truth be retained and only by reviewing will it be learned. “Therefore the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Is. 28.13).
I realize there are many apparent inconsistencies in the work, but the reader should remember that they are indeed apparent, not actual. Because this book treats of matters in the spiritual realm, there are bound to be many apparent theoretical contradictions. Spiritual things do often seem to be contradictory (2 Cor. 4.8,9). However, these all find their perfect harmony in experience. Hence, though there are places which seem to defy understanding, my request is that you try your best to understand. If anyone desires to misunderstand, he can surely read into these pages that which I have not intended.
I deeply sense that only one class of people will actually understand this book. My original purpose was to supply the need of many believers; obviously only those who have need will be able to appreciate the book. Such ones will find here a guidebook. Others will either look upon these truths as ideals or criticize them as inappropriate. According to the measure of his need shall be the believer’s understanding of what is written here. Unless the reader has personal need he will not find any problem solved through the reading of these pages. This is what the reader must guard against.
The deeper the truth the easier is it to become theoretical. Apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, none can arrive at deeper truth. Thus some will treat these principles as a sort of ideal. Let us therefore be careful lest we accept the teachings in the book with our mind and deceive ourselves into thinking we have possessed them already. This is most dangerous, for deception which comes from the flesh and the evil spirit shall increase day by day.
The reader also should be watchful lest he misuse the knowledge he obtains from these pages to criticize others. It is very easy for us to say this is of the spirit and that is of the flesh; but do we not know we ourselves are no exception? Truth is given to set people free, not to find fault. In criticizing we prove ourselves to be not one bit less soulish or carnal than the criticized. The danger is most serious; consequently we need to exercise great caution.
In my first preface I mentioned one matter which deserves to be repeated and elaborated upon here. It is of the utmost importance that we never try to analyze ourselves. Upon reading such a treatise as this, we may quite unconsciously become over-active in self-analysis. In observing the condition of our inward life we tend to over-analyze our thoughts and feelings and the movements of the inner man. This may result in much apparent progress, yet actually it renders treatment of the self life that much more difficult. If we persistently turn within ourselves we shall lose our peace completely, for we shall soon discover the discrepancy which exists between our expectation and our actual condition. We expect to be filled with holiness but we are found wanting in holiness. This makes us uncomfortable. God never asks us to be so introspective. To do so constitutes one of the main reasons for spiritual stagnation. Our rest lies in looking to the Lord, not to ourselves. In the degree that we look off unto Him to that degree are we delivered from self. We rest on the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, not on our own shifting experience. True spiritual life depends not on probing our feelings and thoughts from dawn to dusk but on “looking off” to the Savior!
Let not any reader be misled into thinking he must resist all supernatural occurrences. My aim is simply to impress upon you the necessity of testing whether or not something is of God. I most sincerely believe many supernatural experiences come from God; I have witnessed a great number of them. However, I must acknowledge that today many supernatural phenomena are false and deceptive. I do not have the slightest intention of persuading any to refuse everything supernatural. I merely point out in this book the basic differences in principle between these two types of manifestation. When a believer is faced with any supernatural phenomenon, he ought to examine it carefully according to the principles revealed in the Bible before he decides to accept or to reject it.
As to the matter of soul, I honestly feel most Christians swing from one extreme to the other. We on the one hand usually consider emotion as soulish; consequently those who are easily moved or excited we normally categorize as soulish. On the other hand we forget that being rational does not at all constitute one as being spiritual. This misjudgment of spiritualizing a rational life must be guarded against equally as much as against that of mistaking a predominantly emotional life for spirituality. Proceeding one step further, we should never reduce the function of our soul to deadly inactivity. Formerly we may never have viewed our soulish feeling and excitement with any degree of concern and thus we walked accordingly. Later, however, and recognizing our former error, we now suppress these emotions altogether. Such an attitude to us may appear to be quite good, but it will not make us a whit more spiritual. If my reader should misunderstand on this point, and no matter how minor may be this misunderstanding, then I know his life is going to become very “dead.” Why? Because his spirit, without any opportunity to express itself; will be imprisoned by a deadened emotion. And beyond this lies a further danger; namely, that in overly-suppressing his emotion, the believer will develop eventually into a rational, not a spiritual, man; and thus, though in another form, he still remains soulish. Yet the excitement of the soul, if it expresses the spirit’s feeling, is extremely valuable; and the thought of the soul, if it reveals the spirit’s mind, can be most instructive.
I would like to say something about the concluding Part of the book. Considering the frailty of my body, I would seem to be the least qualified to write on such a matter; perhaps, though, this very frailty affords me a deeper insight since I suffer more weakness, sickness and pain than most people. Countless times my courage has seemed to fail but, thank God, I have been able to finish writing this portion. I hope those who have had similar experiences in their earthly tents will accept what I have written as offering some light out of the darkness through which I have gone. Naturally innumerable are the controversies which have revolved around divine healing. Since this is a book which deals primarily with principles, I refrain from entering into argument with other believers on details. I have said in the book what I feel led to say. What I now request of my reader is that in the phenomena of sicknesses he discern and distinguish as to which come from God and which from self.
I confess there is much which is incomplete in this work; nevertheless, having done my best, I offer that best to you. Knowing the seriousness of the message herein, I asked God with fear and trembling to lead me through it all. What I have set down I present to the conscience of God’s children—for them to weigh what is said.
I recognize that a work which seeks to uncover the wiles of the enemy shall certainly incur the hostility of the power of darkness and the opposition of many. I have not written with the thought of courting the approval of men. This opposition I consider therefore as of no account. I also realize that if God’s children derive help from reading this book they may think more of me than is proper. Let me speak honestly that I am but a man, the weakest of all men. The teachings of these pages reveal the experiences of my weaknesses.
The book is today in the readers’ hands. This is wholly God’s grace. Should you have the courage and perserverance to read through the first Part and continue on with the others, perhaps God will bless you with His truth. If you already have finished reading the whole work, may I entreat you to reread it after some time has elapsed. Beloved, let us turn our hearts once again to our Father, cast ourselves upon His bosom by faith and draw from Him His life. Let us confess anew that we are poor but He is rich, that we have nothing but He has everything. Except we are given grace we are but defenseless sinners. May we thank Him with gratitude in our hearts, for the Lord Jesus has given us grace.
Holy Father, what You have entrusted to me is now here in this book. If it seems good to You, may You bless it. May You in these last days keep Your children from corrupted flesh and wicked spirits! Father, may You build Your Son’s Body, destroy Your Son’s enemy, and hasten the coming of Your Son’s Kingdom! Father God, I look to You, I cast myself upon You, and I desire after You!
Shanghai, June 25, 1928