The breaking of the outward man is the basic experience of all who serve God. This must be accomplished before He can use us in an effectual way.
When one is working for God, two possibilities may arise. First, it is possible that with the outward man unbroken, one's spirit may be inert and unable to function. If he is a clever person, his mind governs his work ; if he is a compassionate person, the emotions control his actions. Such work may appear successful but cannot bring people to God. Second, his spirit may come forth clad in his own thoughts or emotions. The result is mixed and impure. Such work will bring men into mixed and impure experience. These two conditions weaken our service to God.
If we desire to work effectively, we must realize that basically "it is the Spirit which quickens." Sooner or later—if not on the first day of our salvation, then perhaps ten years after—we must recognize this fact. Many have to be brought to their wits' end to see the emptiness of their labor before they know how useless are their many thoughts, their varied emotions. No matter how many people you can attract with your thoughts or emotions, the result comes to nothing. Eventually we must confess : "It is the Spirit which quickens." The Spirit alone makes people live. Your best thought, your best emotion, cannot make people live. Man can be brought into life only by the Spirit. Many serving the Lord come to see this fact only after passing through much sorrow and many failures. Finally the Lord's Word becomes meaningful to them : THAT WHICH QUICKENS IS THE SPIRIT. To let the spirit be released means that sinners may be born anew and saints may be established. When life is communicated through the channel of the spirit, those who receive it are born anew. When life is supplied through the, spirit to believers, it results in their being established. Without the Spirit, there can be no new birth and no establishment.
One rather remarkable thing is that God does not mean to distinguish between His Spirit and our spirit. There are many places in the Bible where it is impossible to determine whether the word "spirit" indicates our human spirit or God's Spirit. Bible translators, from Luther down to present day scholars, who labored on the English versions, have been unable to decide if the word "spirit," as used in many places in the New Testament, refers to the human spirit or to the Spirit of God.
Of the whole Bible, Romans eight may well be the chapter where the word "spirit" is used most frequently. Who can discern how many times the word "spirit" in this chapter, refers to the human spirit and how many times to God's Spirit? In various English versions, the word "pneuma" (spirit) is sometimes written with a capital letter; other times with a small letter. It is evident that these versions do not agree, and no one person's opinion is final. It is simply impossible to distinguish. When in regeneration we receive our new spirit, we receive God's Spirit too. The moment our human spirit is raised from the state of death, we receive the Holy Spirit. We often say that the Holy Spirit dwells in our spirit, but we find it hard to discern which is the Holy Spirit and which is our own spirit. The Holy Spirit and our spirit have become so mingled; while each is distinctive, they are not easily distinguished.
Thus, the release of the spirit is the release of the human spirit as well as the release of the Holy Spirit, Who is in the spirit of man. Since the Holy Spirit and our spirit are joined into one, they can be distinguished only in name, not in fact. And since the release of one means the release of both, others can touch the Holy Spirit whenever they touch our spirit. Thank God that inasmuch as you allow people to contact your spirit, you allow them to contact God. Your spirit has brought the Holy Spirit to man.
When the Holy Spirit is working, He needs to be carried by the human spirit. The electricity in an electric bulb does not travel like lightning. It must be conducted through electric wires. If you want to use electricity, you need an electric wire to bring it to you. In like manner, the Spirit of God employs the human spirit as His carrier, and through it He is brought to man.
Everyone who has received grace has the Holy Spirit dwelling in his spirit. Whether he can be used by the Lord depends not on his spirit but rather on his outward man. The difficulty with many is that their outward man has not been broken. There is not that blood-marked path, those wounds or scars. So God's Spirit is imprisoned within man's spirit and is not able to break forth. Sometimes our outward man is active, but the inward man remains inactive. The outward man has gone forth, while the inward man lags behind.
Let us review this through some practical problems! Take preaching, for instance. How often we can be earnestly preaching—a well-prepared, sound message—but inwardly feel as cold as ice. We long to stir others, yet we ourselves are unmoved. There is a lack of harmony between the outward and the inward man. The outward man is dripping from the heat, but the inward man is shivering with the cold. We can tell others how great the love of the Lord is, yet we are personally untouched by it. We can tell others how tragic is the suffering of the cross, yet upon returning to our room we can laugh. What can we do about this? Our mind may labor, our emotions may be energized, yet all the time one has the feeling that the inward man is merely observing the proceedings. The outward and the inward man are not one.
Consider another situation. The inward man is devoured by zeal. He wants to shout, but he does not find utterance. After speaking for a long time, he still seems to be circling around. The more he is burdened within, the colder he becomes without. He longs to speak, but he cannot express himself. When he meets a sinner, his inward man feels like weeping, but he cannot shed a tear. There is a sense of urgency within him, yet when he ascends the pulpit and tries to shout, he finds himself lost in a maze of words. Such a situation is most trying. The, root cause is the same : the outer shell still clings to him. The outward does not obey the dictates of the inward : inwardly crying, but outwardly unmoved ; inwardly suffering, but outwardly untouched ; full thoughts within, but without, the mind a seeming blank. The spirit has yet to find a way to pierce the shell.
Thus the breaking of the outward man is the first lesson for everyone who would learn to serve God. He who is truly used by God is one whose outward thought and outward emotion do not act independently. If we have not learned this lesson, we shall find our effectiveness greatly impaired. May God bring us to the place where the outward man is completely broken.
When such a condition prevails, there will be an end to outward activity with inward inertness ; an end to inward crying with outward composure; an end to an abundance of inner thoughts for which there is no utterance. You will not be poor in thought. You need not use twenty sentences to express what can be said in two. Your thoughts will assist instead of hinder your spirit.
Likewise, our emotions are also a very hard shell. Many who desire to be happy cannot express joy, or they may wish to weep yet cannot. If the Lord has stricken our outward man either through the discipline or the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, we are able to express joy or sorrow as we inwardly dictate.
The release of the spirit makes it possible for us to abide increasingly in God. We touch the spirit of revelation in the Bible. Without effort we can use our spirit to receive divine revelation. When we are witnessing or preaching, we send forth God's word through our spirit. Furthermore, we may most spontaneously contact the spirit in others by our spirit. Whenever one speaks in our presence, we can "size him up"—evaluate what kind of person he is, what attitude he is taking, what sort of Christian he is, and what his need is. Our spirit can touch his spirit. And what is wonderful, others easily contact our spirit. With some, we only meet their thoughts, their emotions, or their will. After conversing with them for hours, we still have not met the real person, though we may both be Christians. The outer shell is too thick for others to touch the inner man. With the breaking of the outward man, the spirit begins to flow and is ever open to others.
Once the outward man is broken, man's spirit very naturally abides in the presence of God without ceasing. Two years after a certain brother trusted in the Lord, he read "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. After reading it, he felt grieved at his failure to abide unceasingly in the presence of God like Brother Lawrence. At that time he had hourly appointments to pray with someone. Why? Well, the Bible says, "Pray unceasingly," so they changed it to "Pray every hour." Every time they heard the clock strike the hour, they would pray. They exerted their utmost effort to retreat into God because they felt they could not maintain themselves in the continuous presence of God. It was as if they had slipped away while working and thus needed to retreat quickly back to God. Or they had projected themselves out while studying, and now they must withdraw swiftly to God. Otherwise they would find themselves away the whole day. They prayed often, spending whole days in prayer on the Lord's Day and half-days on Saturday. Thus they continued for two or three years. Nevertheless, the trouble remained : in withdrawing they enjoyed God's presence, but in going forth they lost it. Of course this is not their problem alone ; such is the experience of many Christians. It indicates we are trying to maintain God's presence by our memory. The sense of His presence fluctuates according to our memory. When we remember, there is the consciousness of His presence ; otherwise, there is none. This is sheer foolishness, for God's presence is in the spirit, not the memory.
To solve this problem, we must first settle the question of the breaking of the outward man. Since neither our emotion nor our thought has the same nature as God, it cannot be joined with Him. The Gospel of John, Chapter four, shows us the nature of God. God is a Spirit. Our spirit alone is of the same nature as God; therefore, it can be eternally united with Him. If we try to get the presence of God by directing our thought, then when we are not concentrating, His presence seems to be lost. Again, if we seek to use our emotion to summon the presence of God, then as soon as our emotion relaxes, His presence seems to be gone. Sometimes we are happy, and we take this as having the presence of God. So when happiness ceases, the presence flees! Or we may assume that His presence is with us while we mourn and weep. Alas, we cannot shed tears all our life. Soon our tears will be dry, and then God's presence disappears. Both our thoughts and our emotions are human energies. All activity must come to an end. If we try to maintain God's presence with activity, then when the activity ceases, His presence ends. Presence requires the sameness of nature. Only the in ward man is of the same nature as God. Through it alone can His presence be manifested. When the outward man lives in activities, they can disturb the inward man. Thus the outward man is not a helper but a disturber. When the outward man is broken, the inward man enjoys peace before God.
Our spirit is given to us by God to enable us to respond to Him. But the outward man is ever responding to things without, thus depriving us of the presence of God. We cannot destroy all the things without, but we can break down the outward man. We cannot put a stop to all the things without; these millions and billions of things in the world are utterly beyond our control. Whenever anything happens, our outward man will respond ; thus we are not able to enjoy God's presence in peace. We conclude, therefore, that experiencing the presence of God is contingent upon the breaking of our outward man.
If, through the mercy of God, our outward man has been broken, we may be thus characterized : Yesterday we were full of curiosity, but today it is impossible to be curious. Formerly our emotions could be easily aroused, either stirring our love, the most delicate emotion, or provoking our temper, the crudest. But now no matter how many things crowd upon us, our inward man remains unmoved, the presence of God unchanged, and our inner peace unruffled.
It becomes evident that the breaking of the outward man is the basis for enjoying God's presence. Brother Lawrence was engaged in kitchen work. People were clamoring for things they wanted. Though there was the constant clatter of dishes and utensils, his inward man was not disturbed. He could sense God's presence in the hustle and bustle of a kitchen as much as in quiet prayer. Why? He was impervious to external noises. He had learned to commune in his spirit and deny his soul.
Some feel that to have God's presence, their environment must be free of such distractions as the clatter of dishes. The farther away they are from mankind, the better they will be able to sense the presence of God. What a mistake! The trouble lies not in the dishes, nor in other people, but in themselves. God is not going to deliver us from the dishes; He will deliver us from our responses! No matter how noisy it is outside, the inside does not respond. Since the Lord has broken our outward man, we simply react as if we had not heard. Praise the Lord, we may possess very keen hearing, but due to the work of grace in our lives, we are not at all influenced by the things pressing on our outward man. We can be before God on such occasions as much as when praying alone.
Once the outward man is broken, one no longer needs to retreat Godward, for he is always in the presence of God. Not so with one whose outward man is still intact. After running an errand he needs to return, for he assumes he has moved away from God. Even in doing the work of the Lord, he slips away from the One he serves. So it seems the best thing for him is not to make any move. Nevertheless, they that know God do not need to return, for they have never been away. They enjoy the presence of God when they set aside a day for prayer, and they enjoy the same presence in much the same degree, when they are busily engaged in the menial tasks of life. Perhaps it is our common experience that in drawing near to God, we sense His presence; while if we are engaged in some activity, in spite of our vigilance, we feel that somehow we have drifted away. Suppose, for example, we are preaching the gospel or trying to edify people. After a while we feel like kneeling down to pray. But we have a sense that we must first retreat into God. Somehow our conversation with people has led us a little away from God, so in prayer we must first draw closer to Him. We have lost God's presence, so now we must have it restored to us. Or we may be occupied with some menial task such as scrubbing the floor. Upon completing our fob, we decide to pray. Once again we feel we have taken a long trip and must return. What is the answer? The breaking of the outward man makes such returns unnecessary. We sense the presence of God in our conversation as much as in kneeling in prayer. Performing our menial tasks does not draw us away from God, hence we need not return.
Now let us consider an extreme case to illustrate. Anger is the most violent of human feelings. But the Bible does not forbid us to be angry, for some anger is not related to sin. "Be angry but sin not," the Bible says. Nonetheless, anger is so strong it borders on sin. We do not find, "Love but do not sin, nor "Be meek but do not sin," in God's Word, because love and meekness are far removed from sin. But anger is close to sin.
Perhaps a certain brother has committed a serious fault. He needs to be severely reprimanded. This is no easy matter. Rather would we exercise our feelings of mercy than bring our feelings of anger into play, for the latter can fall into something else with the least carelessness. Thus it is not easy to be properly angry according to the will of God. However, one who knows the breaking of the outward man can deal severely with another brother without his own spirit being disturbed or God's presence interrupted. He abides in God just as much in dealing with others as in prayer. Thus, after he has taken his brother to task, he can pray without an endeavor to retreat to God. We acknowledge that this is rather difficult, yet when the outward man is broken, such can well be the case.
When the outward man is broken, outside things will be kept outside, and the inward man will live before God continuously. The trouble with many is that their outward man and inward man are joined together, so what influences the outward influences the inward. Through the merciful working of God the outward man and inward man must be separated. Then what affects the outward will not be able to reach the inward. Though the outward man may be engaged in conversation, yet the inward man is fellowshipping with God. The outward may be burdened with listening to the clatter of dishes, while the inward abides in God. One is able to carry on. activities, to contact the world with the outer man, yet the inner man remains unaffected, for he still lives before God.
Consider an example or two. A certain brother is working on the road. If his outer and inner man have been divided, the latter will not be disturbed by outside things. He can labor in his outward man, while at the same time he is inwardly worshipping God. Or consider a parent : his outward man may be laughing and playing with his little child. Suddenly a certain spiritual need arises. He can at once meet the situation with his inward man, for he has never been absent from the presence of God. So it is important for us to realize that the dividing of the outward and inward man has a most decisive effect upon one's work and life. Only thus is one able to labor without distraction.
We can describe believers as either "single" or "dual" persons. With some their inner and outer man are one ; with others the two have been separated. As long as one is a "single" person, he must summon his whole being into his work or into his prayer. In working he leaves God behind. In praying later, he must turn away from his work. Because his outward man has not been broken, he is forced to launch out and retreat. The "dual" person, on the other hand, is able to work with his outward man while his inward man remains constantly before God. Whenever the need arises, his inward man can break forth and manifest itself before others. He enjoys the unbroken presence of God. Let us ask ourselves,. Am I a "single" or a "dual" person? Whether the outward man is divided from the inward does make all the difference.
If through the mercy of God you have experienced this dividing, then while you are working, or outwardly active, you know there is a man in you who remains calm. Though the outward man is engaged in external things, these will not penetrate the inward man.
Here is the wondrous secret! Knowing the presence of God is through the dividing of these two. Brother Lawrence seemed to be busily occupied with kitchen work, yet within there was another man standing before God and enjoying undisturbed communion with Him. Such an inner division will keep our reactions free from the contamination of flesh and blood.
In conclusion, let us remember that the ability to use our spirit depends upon the two fold work of God: the breaking of the outward man and the dividing of spirit and soul, i.e., the separating of our inward man from the outward. Only after God has carried out both of these processes in our lives are we able to exercise our spirit. THE OUTWARD MAN IS BROKEN THROUGH THE DISCIPLINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT; IT IS DIVIDED FROM THE INWARD MAN BY THE REVELATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Heb. 4:12).
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