Watchman Nee

B. Childress
Nov 17 2013

If we truly know the meaning of God’s work, we will have to acknowledge that the outer man is indeed a great hindrance.  
We can say that God is restricted by man today.  God’s children must understand the function of the church and its
relationship with God’s power and His work.


There was a time when God confined Himself within the body of a man – Jesus of Nazareth.  With that flesh there was
the possibility of either limiting God or manifesting God’s riches.  Before incarnation God’s riches were not limited.  But
after incarnation God’s work and power were limited to this flesh.  God would not do anything apart from that flesh.  God
was willing to be limited by that flesh.  Of course, the Bible shows us that God was not limited in any way by that flesh.  It
could have limited God, but it did not; rather, it manifested God’s riches in a full way.  God’s riches became the riches of
that flesh.

God put Himself into flesh at the time of incarnation.  Today God has put Himself into the church.  His power and work
are found in the church.  At the time of the four Gospels, God did not do anything apart from that flesh.  All of His works
were committed to the Son.  In the same way God has entrusted all of His works to the church.  God does not work
independently; He works exclusively through the church.  From Pentecost until today, God’s work has always been
carried out through the church.  Just as He committed Himself wholly, unequivocally, and unreservedly to one person –
Christ, He has given Himself wholly, unequivocally, and unreservedly to the church.  How great the church’s
responsibility before God is!   The church can limit God’s work; it can limit God’s release.

Jesus of Nazareth was God.  God was manifested in Him.  He did not limit God because everything within and without Him
was taken up by God.  His emotions were God’s emotions.  His thoughts were God’s thoughts.  While He was on earth
He did not come to do His own will but the will of the One who sent Him (John 6:38).  The Son did nothing from Himself;
He only did what He saw the Father doing (5:19).  He did not say anything from Himself.  What He heard from the Father,
these things He spoke to the world (8:26).  In Him we see a man in whom God entrusted Himself.  God could say that this
was the Word becoming flesh, God becoming man in a full way.  When God wanted to dispense His life to men, this One
could readily respond, “If [the grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24).  He was able to release His life.  He did
not become a hindrance or a frustration.  Today God has chosen the church to be His vessel.  He has put Himself, His
power, and His work into the church.  The church is the oracle of God, the vessel through which God manifests His
power and accomplishes His work.  If the church affords God a way today, God’s power and work will be expressed.  If
the church fails, God will be limited.

The fundamental teaching of the Gospels is that God was in a man, while the fundamental teaching of the Epistles is that
God is in the church.  The Gospels tell us that God was only in one man.  He was only in Jesus Christ.  The Epistles
show us that God is only in the church.  He is not in any organization or congregation.  He is only found in the church.  
May our eyes be opened to see this glorious fact.

Once our eyes are opened to this glorious fact, we will spontaneously lift our gaze heavenward and say, “My God, how I
have restricted You!”  When the Almighty God dwelt in Christ, He was still the Almighty One; He was not limited or
diminished in any way.  God’s hope and goal today is that in the church He would continue to be the Almighty One, the
infinite One.  God wants to freely express Himself in the church just as He was expressed in Christ.  If the church is
restricted, God is restricted.  If the church is powerless, God is powerless.  This is a very serious matter.  We can only
speak such a word humbly and respectfully.  Simply put, any obstacle in us becomes an obstacle to God.  Any limitation
in us becomes a limitation to God.  If God is not release through the church, He does not have a way to go on.  God’s
way today is through the church.

Why is the discipline of the Holy Spirit so important?  Why is the dividing of the soul from the spirit so important?  Why
must the outer man be broken by the disciplining work of the Holy Spirit?  It is because God needs to have a way
through us.  We should never think that this is merely about personal, spiritual edification.  It is not merely a matter of
personal, spiritual edification.  It is not merely a matter of personal, spiritual experiences.  It is very much related to God’s
way and work.  This is a big issue.  Should we limit God?  Does God have the liberty in us?  Only as we are dealt with
and broken will God find full freedom in us.

If the church is to afford God a free way, we must undergo His stripping and allow Him to break our outer man.  The
greatest hindrance to this is our outer man.  If the matter of the outer man is not settled, the issue of the church as
God's channel can never be settled.  If our outer man is broken by God’s grace, there is no limit to how God will employ
us as channels to His work.


After the outer man is broken, how does a man approach God’s Word, how does he serve as a minister of His word, and
how does he preach the gospel?  Let us turn our attention to these questions.

Studying the Word

One undeniable fact in studying God’s Word is that the kind of person we are determines the kind of Bible we have in
our hands.  A man often approaches the Bible with his rebellious, confused, and seemingly clever mind.  What he gets
out of the Bible is the product of his mind; he does not touch the spirit of the Word.  If we want to meet the Lord through
the Bible, our rebellious and uncooperative mind must be broken.  If our mind is always rebellious and uncooperative,
none of our cleverness will do us any good.  We may think that our cleverness is outstanding, but it is a great hindrance
to God.  No matter how clever we are, we can never know God’s thought through our cleverness.

There are at least two things that we should do when we come to the Bible.  First, our thoughts must be identified with
the thoughts of the Bible.  Second, our spirit must be identified with the spirit of the Bible.  We have to think like the
writers of the Bible.  Men like Paul and John had certain thoughts behind them when they wrote the various portions of
the Word.  We have to get into the same thoughts.  We have to begin from where they began, and develop our thoughts
along the same line they developed.  We have to reason the same way they reasoned, and consider the same teachings
they considered.  In other words, our thoughts are like a cog, and their thoughts are also like a cog.  The two cogs have
to interlock with one another.  Our thoughts have to enter Paul’s and John’s thoughts.  As our thoughts enter the Bible’s
thoughts and our mentality becomes one with the mentality behind God’s inspiration, we will understand what the Bible

Some people read the Bible with their mind as the principal organ.  They read in the hope of picking up some ideas from
the thoughts in the Bible.  They have a whole set of doctrines spinning in their minds already, and they only want to
collect material from the Bible to strengthen their doctrines.  When we stand up to speak, an experienced person, after
five to ten minutes of our speaking, knows whether we are quoting Scriptures with our mind or whether our thoughts are
merged with the thoughts of the Bible.  These two are entirely different things.  These two kinds of preaching belong to
two entirely different worlds.  When some stand up to preach, they may be scriptural and their sermons may be very
attractive, but their thoughts are contrary to the thoughts of the Bible; the two are incompatible with each other.  
However, others are different.  When they speak on the Bible, their thoughts are merged with the thoughts of the Bible.  
The two become one and are in harmony with each other.  This is the right way.  But not everyone can do this.  In order
for our thoughts to merge with the Bible’s thoughts, our outer man has to be broken.  If the outer man is not broken, we
cannot even read the Bible.  We should not think that our study of the Bible is poor because we cannot find anyone to
teach us.  It is poor because our very person is wrong; our thoughts have not subjected themselves to God.  As soon as
we are broken, we will cease our own activity.  We will not have any subjective notion of our own.  Gradually, faintly, and
little by little, we will touch the Lord's thinking.  The outer man must be broken before we can enter into the thoughts
behind God’s Word.  When this happens, the outer man is no longer a hindrance.

It is important in our study of the Word to have our thoughts enter into the thoughts of the writers of the Bible and to
have our thoughts enter into the thoughts of the Holy Spirit.  However, this is only the initial step.  Without this step, we
cannot study the Bible at all.  But even when we have made this step, we may not be reading the Bible correctly.  The
Bible is not made up just of thought.  The most important thing about the Bible is that God’s Spirit is released through
this book.  Peter, John, Matthew, Mark, and every writer of the Bible had the same experience: As they were writing the
Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they wrote according to a certain train of thought, but at the same time, their
spirits were released along with the release of the Holy Spirit.  The world can never understand that behind the words of
the Scriptures there is the Spirit.  When the Spirit is released, the prophets come alive, as it were, and speak to us once
again.  If we hear a prophet speaking today, we have to realize that his speaking contains not only words and thoughts
but something else.  This something is mysterious, even though within us we are clear that this “something” is the Spirit.  
The Bible contains not only thoughts but the release of the Spirit.  Therefore, the basic and most crucial requirement of
all in reading the Bible is to be able to release one’s spirit to touch the spirit of the Bible.  We have to strike the spirit of
the Bible with our own spirit before we can understand the Bible.

Suppose a naughty boy breaks a window of a neighbor’s house and the owner of the house runs out to scold the child.  
When the mother finds out, she will scold the child as well.  But there is a different feeling associated with the scolding of
the owner than with the scolding of the mother.  Outwardly, both are scoldings.  But the “spirits” behind the scoldings are
different.  The owner of the house scolds out of anger; his is a spirit of wrath.  The mother’s scolding is filled with love,
hope, and education.  Her rebuke is a rebuke of love, a rebuke of hope, and a rebuke for education.  The two spirits are
entirely different.

This is a simple illustration.  The Spirit behind the writing of the Bible is much stronger than the kind of “spirit” mentioned
above.  The Spirit behind the writing of the Bible is an eternal Spirit.  It is still with us today; it forever saturates the Bible.  
If our outer man is broken and our spirit is released, our thoughts will not only become one with the thoughts of the Bible,
but our whole being will touch the very Spirit that is behind the writing of the Bible.  If our spirit is not released and we are
cut off from the spirit of the authors of the Bible, we will never understand God’s Word; the Bible will be a dead book to
us.  Hence, we are back to the same fundamental issue: The outer man has to be broken.  Only then will God not be
restricted by us.  The problem we face today is that we are constantly frustrating God.  Even in the study of the Bible we
frustrate God and limit His freedom.

Ministering the Word

On the one hand, God wants us to understand His Word – this is the beginning of His work.  On the other hand, He
desires to place one or two words in our spirit.  These words become a burden to us, and He desires that we minister
these one or two words to the church.  Acts 6:4 says, “But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the
word.”  Ministry is service, and the ministry of the word is a service that serves men with God’s word.

What is our problem?  Our problem is that we have the word within us but cannot release it.  Some people have a word
and a very heavy burden within their spirit.  They want to convey this word to the brothers and sisters.  Yet as they
speak on the platform, the burden is bound within them.  After speaking one or two sentences, a minute, or even an
hour, the burden is still not released.  The word cannot be released, and the outer man cannot convey the inward
burden.  They want to discharge the burden and the message that is within them, but their outer man cannot provide
them with any utterance.  No matter how much they speak, they feel that the burden remains unchanged.  They come
with a burden and leave with the same burden.  The only explanation for this is that their outer man is not broken.  Their
outer man cannot render any help to their inner man.  On the contrary, it becomes a stumbling block to the inner man.

If our outer man is broken, it is easy to say what we want to say.  When we have a burden or a word within, our outer
man will come up with a suitable word to fitly express our inner thoughts.  As soon as the word within us is released, the
burden within us is lifted as well.  The more we speak, the lighter we will feel.  We will realize that our work is to serve the
church with God’s word.  Therefore, the burden within must be matched by suitable words from our thoughts without.  If
the outer man is not broken, it will not yield to the will of the inner man.  It will not obey the inner feeling or the spirit
within.  When the outer man tries to probe the feeling of the inner man, it will find nothing.  It will not find the necessary
and suitable words, and God will not be released.  God will be stalled and blocked, and the church will not receive any

We must remember that the outer man constitutes the greatest hindrance to the ministry of the word.  Many people think
that cleverness is somewhat useful.  This is wrong.  No matter how clever a person is, the outer man can never replace
the inner man.  The inner man will come up with the right thoughts and proper words to flow out only as the outer man is
broken and smashed.  The outer shell must be broken by God.  The more this shell is broken, the more the life in the
spirit will be released.  If the shell remains, the burden in the spirit will remain, and God’s life and power will not flow to
the church.  Such a person will not be able to serve as a minister of the word.  God’s power and life primarily are
released through the ministry of the word.  If the outer man is not smitten and does not have any open wounds, the inner
man will have no outlet.  Those who come for the message will hear sound only; they will not touch life.  The speaker
may be eager to deliver something, but the audience will not receive anything.  He will have the word within him, but he
will not be able to speak it out because his outer man is blocking the way.

We find a precious story in the life of the Lord Jesus.  A person touched only the hem of His garment, and she received
His strength.  The hem of His garment is the outermost part of His being.  This person could feel His power even in His
outermost part.  The problem with us is that we have God’s life within us, but this life cannot flow out.  We have the word
within us, but we cannot release this word.  We have God’s word within us, but we have obstacles around us.  As a
result, this word cannot be released.  When God does not have any freedom in us, He cannot flow freely out of us.

Preaching the Gospel

Many people have the wrong concept that a man believes in the gospel because he has heard the right teachings, or
because he is touched in his emotion.  But this is far from the truth.  Those who base their acceptance of the Lord on
emotional impulses will not last, nor will those who are convinced by persuasion in the mind.  There is nothing wrong with
using the mind and the emotion, but these things are not enough.  A man is not saved through emotion and thought.  A
sinner falls at the Lord’s feet because the speaker’s spirit has released light through his speaking.  As soon as our spirit
gushes out, others are struck.  This is the reason we need a released spirit to preach the gospel.

A coal miner was greatly used by the Lord in preaching the gospel.  He wrote a book entitled
Seen and Heard in which
he described his experience with the gospel.  We were deeply touched by this book.  This brother was not an educated
or gifted man; he was only an ordinary brother.  But his absolute consecration to the Lord became the basis for the Lord
to use him greatly.  Do you know what was so special about him?  He was a broken man.  His spirit could be released
easily.  He started to preach at the age of twenty-three, when he first experienced salvation.  In one meeting the word of
a preacher kindled a burning desire within him to save souls.  He asked to be allowed to speak.  After he stood up, he
was unable to say anything, even though his heart was burning with fire for lost souls.  His tears came down like a
torrent.  In the end he could only utter one or two sentences.  God’s Spirit filled the meeting, and everyone was
convicted of his own sin and waywardness.  Here was a man who, in spite of his young age, was broken in the outer
man.  He did not have much to say, yet his spirit was released and men were saved.  He led many people to salvation
during his lifetime.  When we read his biography, we sense that he was a man with a released spirit.

This is the way to preach the gospel.  The way to preach the gospel is to release the spirit.  When the hardness of the
outer man is removed and the outer man is broken, the spirit is released.  If the very sight of an unsaved person
compels us to do something to save him, it means that our spirit is released.  This is the basic issue.  The preaching of
the gospel has everything to do with the breaking of the outer man.  When the outer man is broken, our spirit will be
released and will touch others.  It is our spirit that reaches others’ spirits.  It is God’s Spirit that touches the darkened
spirit of man.  When this happens, a man is saved, and no reason can account for this change.  However, when the
outer man chokes the spirit, God does not have a way through us and the gospel will not be released.  We always have
to pay attention to the matter of the breaking of the outer man because all of our problems lie in the outer man.  If we,
the person, are not dealt with, it is useless for us to memorize more teachings.  The only thing that will bring salvation to
men is for our spirit to touch others’ spirits.  If our spirit touches others’ spirits, they will fall on their face before God.  If
our spirit is discharged in a strong way, they will have no choice but to prostrate themselves before the Lord.

During these years God has been taking the way of recovery.  God does not want to see a saved person wait for many
years before he deals with his sins.  He does not want to see him wait for many years before he consecrates himself to
the Lord or answers the Lord’s call to follow Him.  The Lord is taking the way of recovery.  The gospel has to be
recovered, and the fruit of the gospel has to be recovered as well.  As soon as a man is saved, he should be delivered
from sin and should consecrate himself absolutely to the Lord.  As soon as he is saved, he should break the power of
mammon in him.  He should be like the ones who were saved by the Lord in the Gospels and in Acts.  If the gospel is
indeed to be recovered, the preachers of the gospel must allow the Lord to cut a free way through them.

We believe that as the Lord takes the way of recovery, the gospel of grace will become one with the gospel of the
kingdom.  In the Gospels we see no separation between the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of grace.  Later, it
seems as though those who heard the gospel of grace did not have a chance to hear the gospel of the kingdom.  The
gospel of grace seems to have been separated from the gospel of the kingdom.  But the time will come when the gospel
of grace will become one with the gospel of the kingdom once again.  Those who receive the Lord will also give up
everything for Him.  Those who accept Him will also consecrate everything to Him.  Men will no longer be saved in a poor
way but in a strong and thorough way.

We have to humble ourselves before the Lord and say, “The gospel needs to be recovered, and the ones who preach
the gospel also need to be recovered.”  In order for the gospel to reach men, we have to allow God to work through us.  
A greater power is needed for the preaching of the gospel.  Even so, a greater price needs to be paid.  If we expect both
the gospel was well as the ones who preach the gospel to be recovered, we have to give everything to the Lord and say,
“Lord, I give my all to You.  I pray that You will find a way through me.  I pray that the church will also find a way through
me.  I do not want to hinder You or the church.”

The Lord Jesus was never a limitation to God.  He never limited God in any way.  Throughout the past two thousand
years God has been working in the church.  The goal is for the church to eventually not be a limitation to Him either.  
Just as Christ was God’s manifestation rather than His limitation, the church should be His manifestation rather than His
limitation.  God has been teaching, buffeting, stripping, and smiting His children continually.  This is how He deals with
the church.  He will continue this work in the church until the church no longer is a limitation to Him but a manifestation of
Him instead.  Today we can only bow down our heads and say, “Lord!  We are ashamed that we have delayed Your
work.  We have frustrated Your life, Your gospel, and Your power.”  Each one of us has to say to the Lord, “I give my all
to You.  I pray that You will have a way through me.”  If we want to see an absolute recovery of the gospel, we have to
have an absolute consecration.  It is foolish to only lament the fact that our gospel is not as powerful as that of the early
church.  We have to acknowledge that our consecration is not as absolute as the consecration of the early church.  In
order to recover the gospel, we have to recover the consecration; both have to be absolute and thorough.  May the Lord
find a way through us.


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