The Most Important Change in Watchman Nee's Theology
by, May 21st 2012 at 10:42 PM (4051 Views)
Within as little as 7 years after he writes A Spiritual Man (1928), Watchman Nee (1903-1972) has backed off his view of the role of obedience and will power in the spiritual life of the believer.
At least by the mid-1930's, Nee 'spiritualizes' our role in the sanctification process to the point where all we are to do is surrender, believe on His promises, pray, praise Him, read the Word, consecrate (or place into His hands) our bodies, and walk by the Spirit -- which is all essential, but clearly insufficient to maximize our change into the stature of Christ in our character, as Nee rightly pointed out in the 1928 A Spiritual Man.
Indeed, in A Spiritual Man Nee emphasized the need to obey and to use our will power to do so, in cooperation with God, throughout the 700+ page treatise. Our will was to be aligned side by side with that of the Lord, yoked in subjection. But it was we who had to will to do God's will.
For instance, in Chapter Two of Part IV of A Spiritual Man, Nee says, "but all which belongs to the soulish, is defiled and defiling and ought to be resisted."
At page 243, he says:
Great is the need of power in the spirit for spiritual warfare with Satan. Only those who have might in the inner man understand how to exercise their spiritual strength in resisting and attacking the enemy. ... In order for the inner man to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit, the children of God must discharge their responsibility. They need to yield specifically to the Lord, forsake every doubtful aspect in their life, be willing to obey fully Godís will, and believe through prayer that He will flood their spirit with His power. Without delay God will answer the expectation of their heart, once all obstacles on their part are removed. Believers do not need to wait for the Holy Spiritís filling, because He has descended already. What they need only wait for is for themselves to fulfill the condition for His filling, which is, they must let the cross perform a deeper incision upon them. Should they be faithful in believing and obeying, then within a very short time the power of the Holy Spirit will saturate their spirit and strengthen their inner man for living and for laboring. ....
In chapter 4 of part 4, p. 272 i think, he says:
Praying in the spirit is most productive in attacking the enemy or resisting his wiles ...
Resistance is one of the indispensable elements in spiritual combat. The best defense is a continuous offense. Oppose with the will as well as with the strength in the spirit. Giving opposition means struggling free from the power of suppression. The opponent will be routed if one fights his way out by the spirit. But should one allow the enemy to attack and not resist in return, then that oneís spirit will surely be depressed, sink very low, and may require many days before it regains its ascendancy. The spirit that does not withstand the enemy is often a suppressed one. ....
During the physical stage, it is a war against sins; in the soulish phase, it is a battle against the natural life; and lastly, on the spiritual level, it is an onslaught against the supernatural enemy. ... A Christian life is an unending engagement on the battlefield. The Christian has no possibility of laying down his arms until he stands before the Lord. ... they must be very careful to guard their spirit from being passive in this warfare. ... On the one side we ought not to do anything in our own strength save to obey the Holy Spirit; yet on the other side we need to be watchful lest our spirit or any part of our being turns mechanical and plunges into inertia. Our inner man must vitally govern our total being and must cooperate actively with Godís Spirit.
In chapter 2 of part 8, at 721, he has an entire chapter called: "The Phenomena of a Passive Mind" He says:
It Is To Be Sorely Lamented that so many Christians, unaware of the basic difference between the activity of evil spirits and that of the Holy Spirit, have unconsciously permitted the enemy to enter and occupy their minds. Let us touch briefly on the phenomena of a mind under the attack of evil spirits. ... According to the ordering of God, each of manís natural abilities (among which is the thought process of the mind) should be subject completely to manís own rule. But should a Christian unknowingly give ground to evil spirits they may occupy his mental life and take direct action therein, unhampered by the victimís will. Consequently, if ever the Chrisitian discovers any independent action in his mind he should realize he is under the assault of the powers of darkness. Inactivity in place of activity, disquietude instead of calm, restlessness due to overflowing thoughts, inability to concentrate or distinguish or remember, confusion beyond control, labors without fruit, worklessness during the day and dreams and visions in the night, insomnia, doubts, unwatchfulness, fear without reason, disturbance to the point of agonyóone and all are nefariously inspired by the evil spirits. ... We cannot expect the powers of darkness to surrender their citadels without a struggle. Quite the reverse, they will fight to the very end. Let us realize that, while it is most easy to cede any ground, it requires an enormous effort to recover it.
In Chapter 4 of part 4 he says:
The Mind Working with the Spirit
In analyzing the discerning-understanding-performing process of a spiritual Christian, we can identify these steps:
(1) the Holy Spirit reveals Godís will in oneís spirit that he may know what it is;
(2) through his mind he comprehends the meaning of this revelation; and
(3) with his volition he engages his spiritual strength to activate the body that it may execute Godís will. ... In walking after the spirit we shall find the mind to be the best helper to the spirit. It is therefore necessary to understand how these two work together.
Another big 'for instance' where Nee emphasizes the human will is, of course, his entire part nine of this book:
Part NINE:THE ANALYSIS OF THE SOULóTHE WILL
1 A Believerís Will 569
2 Passivity and Its Dangers 585
3 The Believerís Mistake 599
4 The Path to Freedom 619
At page 626, he says such stunning things (to some), as:
During this period of conflict [undercutting the foothold of the enemy] the Christianís will must be engaged actively in various operations.... To resist is truly a battle. It requires all the strength of the spirit, soul and body. Nevertheless, the main force is the will. To resolve, choose and refuse are primarily questions of attitude; but to resist is a matter of overt practice. It is a conduct expressive of an attitude. It is wrestling in the spirit, which is to say, that the will through the strength of the spirit pushes the evil spirits off the ground they presently occupy. It is an assault against the enemy line. In resisting, one employs oneís will power to drive, push and chase off. The enemy spirits, even should they perceive the believerís hostile attitude against them, will not budge an inch from the ground they occupy. They must be driven out with real force. The child of God must mobilize spiritual power to immobilize and remove the enemy. He must exercise his will to chase them away. A mere declaration of intention is insufficient. It needs to be coupled with practical measures. Resistance without refusal is similarly ineffective, because the ground originally promised to the enemy must be recovered. In retaking surrendered territory the believer must use his will on the one side to resolve, choose and refuse and on the other to resist. He should resolve to fight, choose freedom, refuse ground, and resist the enemy. He must contend for his sovereignty. This element of free will should never be lost sight of. God has granted us an unhampered volition that we may be our own masters, but today the evil spirits have usurped our members and talents. They have become manís master; he has lost his sovereign rights. To oppose this the believer enters the fray. He continually declares: I am not willing to let the evil spirits encroach on my sovereign rights; I will not allow them to invade my personality; I will not permit them to possess me; I will not follow them blindly; I will not consent to their manipulating me; I will not, I verily am unwilling; I intend to be my own master; I know what I do; I resolve to control myself; I prefer to have my entire being subject to myself; I resist all the works of the wicked ones as well as their right to work on me. In resolving, choosing and refusing with our will we arrest any further working of the enemy. Thereafter we must resist with our will.
Further, Nee says:
We need to comprehend the true way by which God leads man, and the relationship between manís will and the will of God. The obedience of the Christian to God ought to be unconditional. When his spiritual life reaches the summit his will shall be perfectly one with Godís. This does not imply, however, that he has no more volition of his own. It is still there; only the fleshly control of it is gone. God always requires manís volition to cooperate with Him in fulfilling His will. By beholding the example of our Lord Jesus we can be assured that the volition of anyone fully united with God is still very much with him. ďI seek not my own will but the will of him who sent meĒ; ďnot to do my own will but the will of him who sent meĒ; ďnevertheless not my will, but thine, be doneĒ (John 5.30, 6.38; Luke 22.42). Here do we see the Lord Jesus Who, though one with the Father, yet possesses His Own personal will apart from that of the Father. He has His Own will but neither seeks nor does that will. The implication is obvious that all who truly are united with God should place their will alongside His.They should not annihilate their organ of volition. In true guidance the Christian is not obligated to obey God mechanically; instead he must execute Godís will actively. God takes no pleasure in demanding His own to follow blindly; He [God]wants them to do His will in full and conscious exercise of their total beings. A lazy person would like God to act for him so that he can simply follow passively. But God does not desire His child to be lazy. He wishes him to prepare his members actively and obey actively. The Spiritual Man he has spent time in examining the will of God. Wherefore in the practice of obedience the believer goes through the following steps: (a) willingness to do Godís will (John 7.17); (b) revelation of that will to his intuition by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.17) ; (c) strengthening by God to will His will (Phil. 2.13) ; and (d) strengthening by God to do His will (Phil. 2.13). God never substitutes Himself for the believer in carrying out His will; consequently, upon knowing the will of God he must will to do it and then draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit to work it out.
None of this cooperation and exercise of the will is allowed in Nee some 7 years later, in the collection of sermons called The Overcoming Life (1935). There, Nee advises the man who wants to quit smoking to keep smoking. He describes how he led such a man to pray and what was said afterward:
"Lord, from now on, I will no longer try to quit. You quit for me. I will not try to quit anymore. I commit everything into Your hand. Thank and praise You. You are able." After the prayer, He was very happy. He got on his feet, picked up his hat, and was about to leave. I said, "Wait a minute. I have something more to say to you. Will you still smoke from now on?" He gave me a very good answer: "I will. Of course, I will smoke. I, Tsai-lin Shi, will smoke. But the Lord Jesus will quit for me." At that word, he left.
On its face, this is a radical departure from Nee's method in his 1928 treatise, A Spiritual Man. Thereafter, one is hard pressed to find any references in his sermons or books to cooperation with God and the use of the human will. To the contrary, he emphasizes that any attempt to get involved with being sanctified seems to foul up the whole mess, as if a regenerate human no longer needs to resist sin and Satan, nor control his or her mind, let alone use will power to obey. In fact, I think I'm sure he would no longer say, "Our inner man must vitally govern our total being and must cooperate actively with Godís Spirit."
Indeed, in his primer for the Christian life, MESSAGES FOR BUILDING UP NEW BELIEVERS, published in 1950, the same omissions and attitude continue, as is the case with Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit (1949).
This signals a substantial shift in Nee's theology, ... and that, without explanation, apparently. In my view, the shift is without justification as well. The legacy of a will-less walk and a non-cooperative progressive sanctification process is not flattering to Nee, nor a healthy influence for the church. That recipe for passivity and failure has crippled much of the body from attaining to the fullness of the stature of Christ in their lifetimes.
Fortunately, we can exert our sanctified free will to choose to read and learn from A Spiritual Man, keeping what is useful, and setting aside that in his later works which contradicts Nee at his best -- at the age of 24.