“The Spiritual Man” by Watchman Nee

BOOK REVIEW SERIES: Part 1 of 3

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” – II Corinthians 10:3 – 5

The spiritual world is real. Perhaps more real than is generally acknowledged by many Christians of today. But whether we believe the spiritual realm exists or not, the reality is that it does. True, we may not see it with our eyes… but then, there are many things we cannot see with our eyes (II Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:1). If we don’t acknowledge the reality and power of the spiritual realm, wouldn’t it follow that we must also deny the fact that “God himself is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”? (John 4:24 and II Corinthians 3:17).

What warrior steps onto the battlefield unless he has first received years of rigorous physical and mental training and has equipped himself with the armour and weapons necessary to meet his foe and win the victory over him? As Christian soldiers, are we any different? Daily, we seek to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. But have we equipped ourselves with “the armour of God” that we may successfully do so? (Ephesians 6:10-20). Hosea 4:6 forebodes that God’s people “are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

Just as laws govern the natural realm, laws govern the spiritual realm as well. God abides by these laws. Evil spirits are subject to these same laws – therefore, they can only begin their manipulative tactics on man’s being if he first gives them ground. But how does man “give ground” to the enemy? Is it wittingly, or is it through deception – or is it both? Let us ask the question with 20th-century evangelist, writer, and Christian martyr Watchman Nee: “What, then are the conditions for the working of the enemy?… This is the crucial question. The Bible characterizes such conditions as “place” or “opportunity” or “ground.” (Ephesians. 4:27). To put it simply, the ground or territory which the believer furnishes to the evil spirits is sin.” (p. 91 Passivity and its Dangers.) But what is “sin”? 1 John 3:4 explains that, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 27-28, Matthew 15:18-20, Mark 7:20-23, Romans 7:7, Galatians 5:14-21, I Corinthians 6:9-11, James 1:14-15, Revelation 21:7-8).

In his three-volume book The Spiritual Man, Watchman Nee gives readers a comprehensive, Scripturally-sound explanation of the workings and laws governing the spiritual world. Romans 7:14, which tells us, “that the law is spiritual,” resounds within the scope of his book. “Christians nowadays,” says Nee, “generally are lacking in two kinds of knowledge: (1) a knowledge of the conditions by which evil spirits work; and (2) a knowledge of the principles of spiritual life. Ignorance here is furnishing Satan and his evil spirits an incredible advantage and is inflicting enormous harm on the church of God.” (p. 90 Passivity and its Dangers). 

Watchman Nee was born in China in 1903 to a second-generation Christian family. He was born-again, saved through the precious blood of Jesus, at age seventeen and was engaged in a passionate ministry of writing and speaking until his arrest for the gospel in 1952, which was followed by an unjust trial that sentenced him to 15 years of imprisonment that ended at his death in 1972. The life and works of this faithful disciple of Jesus remain a powerful testimony and source of revelation to believers all over the world. “God’s purpose,” says Nee, “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.” (p. 12 Preface). “To be filled with might in the inner man,” Nee goes on, “is the urgent need of Christians. However, unless they appreciate how feeble theirs is they will not ask for the invigoration of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 26 A Spiritual Man).

Stalwartly backed by Scripture, harmonizing with the same commission delivered to other writers and testators of the faith such as Andrew Murray, F. B. Meyer, Otto Stockmayer, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Evan Roberts, and Madame Guyon, Watchman Nee shares with us the wisdom gleaned from personal experience, his thorough study of the Word of God, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

In Volume I of The Spiritual Man – which we will explore here in Part 1 of this Book Review Series – Nee exhorts readers to a careful reading of Romans 6 through 8, and unpacks such questions as:

  • What is the difference between the spirit, soul, and body—and why must the spirit and soul (aka: “flesh”) be “divided”?
  • What are the marks of a “carnal” Christian vs. a “spiritual” one, and why is co-death with Christ necessary in order to “mortify the deeds of the body,” (Romans 8:13), overcome the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 2-3), and put on “the new man” (Ephesians 2:15, 4:24)  that our our minds and spirits may be “quickened”? (John 6:63, Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 15:36, I Peter 3:18, Ephesians 2).
  • As believers, how can we allow the Spirit of God to perform its deeper work of true circumcision by way of the cross? (Deuteronomy 30:6 and Philippians 3:3)
  • What is “self” – how can we identify it, overcome it, and deny it entirely by “taking up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23)?
  • What dangers do believer’s encounter when living “a soulish life”?
  • What are the tactics employed by evil spirits to introduce misunderstandings and prejudices in man against God and others?
  • How can we gain deliverance from sin and the soul life?
  • What is the difference between labouring in our soul strength verses labouring in the Spirit’s strength? (Zechariah 4:6-7)
  • Why must the soul come under the spirit’s control, and how does a believer’s “rent-curtain experience” refer back to Mark 15:38, when the curtain of the temple was torn “from top to bottom”?
  • What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the believer’s spirit, and how can we attain the promise of the Spirit through faith? (Galatians 3:14, I Corinthians 6:19-20)
  • What is the responsibility man must discharge in order for his inner man to be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit?
  • How can we attain a walk with God that is deep, firm, and spiritual?

With thorough, Biblically-backed explanations, we learn that man is essentially separated into two parts: the “inner man” (spirit) and the “outer man” (soul). These two elements are contained within the “outermost man” (body). In illustrating the differences between the spirit and the soul, Nee draws upon such teachings as Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Nee commentates: “As the priest of old split the sacrifice, so our High Priest today divides our soul and spirit… God’s Word leads His people into a realm more profound than one of mere sensation; it brings them into the realm of the eternal spirit… The Holy Spirit alone can teach us what is soul life and what is spirit life.” (p. 197 Spiritual Believers and the Soul).

While delving into various passages in Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, Nee explains the plight of the carnally-minded Christians of Corinth (I Corinthians 1), drawing a helpful picture for us to learn from in our own spiritual walk: “Genuine spiritual knowledge lies not in wonderful and mysterious thoughts but in actual spiritual experience through union of the believer’s life with truth. Cleverness is useless here, while eagerness for truth is insufficient too; the sine qua non is a path of perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit Who alone truly teaches us. All else is merely the transmission of knowledge from one mind to another. Such data will not render a fleshly person spiritual; on the contrary, his carnal walk actually will turn all his “spiritual” knowledge into that which is fleshly. What he needs is not increased spiritual teaching but an obedient heart which is willing to yield his life to the Holy Spirit and go the way of the cross according to the Spirit’s command.” (p. 86 The Fleshly or Carnal Believer. See also John 14:26 and Romans 8:9-17).

In reference to Romans 13:14, Nee says: “For the flesh to operate it needs a harbinger. That is why no provision ought to be made for it. If the flesh is to be kept confined to the place of curse, we must be watchful always.” But what is “the flesh”? Galatians 5:19-20 tells us that “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” While confirming the teaching of Jesus in Mark 7:20-23, Nee continues: “We must examine our thoughts continually to see whether or not we harbour the least self-conceit, for certainly such an attitude will give great opportunity to the flesh. Our thoughts are most important here because what is provided for in the secrecy of our thought life will come forth openly in words and deeds.” (p. 131 The Believer’s Ultimate Attitude Toward the Flesh).

Nee then explores the contrast of the spirit and the flesh while pointing to the cross and the deeper work of the Holy Spirit: “Because the flesh is grossly deceitful,” says Nee, “the believer requires the cross and the Holy Spirit. Once having discerned how his flesh stands before God, he must experience each moment the deeper work of the cross through the Holy Spirit.” (p. 124 The Believer’s Ultimate Attitude Toward the Flesh). Such a work will surely bring forth the Spirit’s fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” spoken of in Galatians 5:22-24 and cross-referenced with John 15 where we learn of our need to “abide in Christ,” Who is our “vine,” and without Whom we “can do nothing.” Romans 8:4-7 explains our need of this miracle in our lives: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”

Each one of us longs for rest in our souls. Unrest attacks us from a million different sources; but true rest comes from only One source. In his discussion on Spiritual Believers and the Soul, Nee points out: “The reason for our hurt feelings lies in the fact that we are not amenable to being treated as our Lord was and are loathe to submit ourselves to the will and ordering of God. Were we to deliver our natural energies to death and capitulate entirely to the Lord, our soul, though so nervously sensitive, would rest in the Lord and not misunderstand Him. The soul which comes under the Holy Spirit’s authority is a restful one.” (p. 205. See also Matthew 11:28-30).

Great affliction visited Watchman Nee during his writing of this book. In his preface to the first edition, written from Shanghai in June of 1927, he says that his book The Spiritual Man was written to serve as a guide, “not so much to urge individuals to seek the spiritual way as to help those who are seeking to know the way.” (p. 9). In light of the powerful insights and practical help his book offers to Christians, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that he endured much suffering prior to the completion of his book. “For many months while writing the book,” he says, “I lived in the jaws of Satan. What battling! What withstanding! All my powers of spirit, soul and body were summoned to contend with hell.” (p. 9 Preface).

He exhorts readers to “Pray as you read; 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.” In his second Preface he expresses that, because of the enemy’s hatred toward the spreading of God’s truth, he had been attacked and assaulted incessantly (p. 15). He did not want the teachings in his book to be thought of as a treatise on the theory of spiritual life and warfare (p. 16-17). They were instead intended to assist the individual in discerning the workings of God, man’s will and volition in his soul, the dangers and deception of living in the flesh, and the splendour and strength of walking in the Spirit.

_________

Have you read The Spiritual Man? Are you facing a spiritual battle in your life right now? Are you seeking to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word and your understanding of spiritual warfare? Are you—or someone you know—seeking deliverance from evil spirits? Do you long for freedom? If your answer is Yes, then I highly recommend that you READ THIS BOOK! You can purchase The Spiritual Man HERE: Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

YouTube: “The Release of the Spirit: The Importance of Brokenness by Watchman Nee

YouTube: “The Normal Christian Life: The Reckoning of Faith by Watchman Nee

“That he [the Lord Jesus Christ] would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengththened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” – Ephesians 3:16

END OF BOOK REVIEW SERIES: Part 1 of 3 for The Spiritual Man. STAY-TUNED FOR PART 2 OF 3 where we will ask questions and explore some of Watchman Nee’s commentary relating to Prayer and Warfare, Intuition, the Believer and Emotion, Affection, Desire, Communion with the Lord, the workings and function of man’s Conscience, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia – “Salvator rosa, san giorgio e il drago” by Salvator Rosa (1615 –1673)

2 thoughts on ““The Spiritual Man” by Watchman Nee

  1. For now, I can say “in obedience to the call of Yahweh at 2 a.m this morning, 24 January 23 In East Tennessee, I came downstairs to fellowship with him (I wanted to sleep), and he directed me to open this post. And what did I find? an answer to prayer” I recently asked Father for resource material on this very topic! And he delivered in such humbling fashion (I’m the one humbled).
    You, Brooklyn are the vessel he chose to send the answer. I am grateful he so did!

    In Christ
    Franklin

    Liked by 1 person

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