God desires not only to break down the outward man, but also to divide it so that it may no longer be entangled in the activities of the inward man. Or, we may simply say, God wants to divide our spirit and soul.
How rare it is these days to find a pure spirit. Usually whenever our spirit comes forth, so does our soul ; they are mixed. So the first requirement in God's work is a pure, not a powerful spirit. Those who neglect this, though their work may be done in power, will find it destroyed due to the lack of purity. Though they may truly possess the power of God, yet because their spirit is mixed, they are destroying what they build. Let us see if we can understand how this is.
Some may think that as long as they receive power from God, all their natural abilities will be owned of Him. Not so ! The more we know God, the more we know and love a pure spirit—a purity which allows no mingling of the outward with the inward. One whose outward man has not been dealt with cannot expect the power that flows from within him to be pure. For spiritual power to be mixed as it comes from oneself, even if the results seem good, constitutes a sin before God.
Many young brothers, knowing well that the gospel is the power of God, still insinuate their own cleverness, their jests, and their personal feelings into their preaching of the gospel ; thus people touch them as well as God's power. Though they themselves may not sense it, others who are pure in spirit will instantly detect such impurities. How often our zeal in labor is mixed with natural pleasure. We are doing the will of God because it happens to coincide with ours. In standing firm for God we are merely expressing our strong personality.
Since our greatest problem is this impurity, God must so work in our lives that our outward man is broken and we are refined of our impurities. While God is breaking our hard outer shell, He is also doing the work of refining. Thus we see His twofold dealings with us: BREAKING DOWN THE OUTWARD MAN, and DIVIDING IT FROM THE SPIRIT. The first is done through the discipline of the Holy Spirit, while the latter is through the Spirit's revelation.
The outward man needs to be broken for the spirit to be released. But when the spirit comes forth, it must not be shadowed by the outward man. This problem takes us further than the release of the spirit, for it touches upon the spirit's cleanliness or purity.
If one is not enlightened as to the nature of the outward man, and is thus not strictly judged before God, his outward man will automatically come out together with his spirit. While he is ministering before God, we can tell that he himself has also come out. He may exhibit God, but he also exhibits his unjudged self. Is it not strange that our most prominent part, our strongest point, always touches others? Our unjudged outward man will project his strongest point on others. This is beyond pretension. How can you expect to become spiritual in the pulpit if you are not spiritual in your room? Can you project yourself into spirituality? However hard you may try, you stand revealed whenever you open your mouth.
If you truly desire to be delivered, God must deal with your strong point in a basic way, not just superficially. Only after He has broken you in this can your spirit be released without impurities being inflicted upon others.
Impurity is the biggest problem in the lives of God's servants. Frequently we touch both life and death in our brother. We find God but also self, a meek spirit but also stubbornness, the Holy Spirit but also the flesh—all in the same person. When he stands up to speak, he impresses others with a mixed spirit, a spirit which is not clean. Thus, for God to use you as a minister of His Word, for you to be God's mouthpiece, you must seek God's favor by praying : "O God, do a work in me, to break, to divide, my outward man." Otherwise, the Lord's Name will suffer loss. You are giving to men that which is of yourself while ministering the Word. The Lord's Name does not suffer because of your lack of life, but because of your flow of impurities. The Church likewise suffers.
Now that we have considered the discipline of the Holy Spirit, what about the revelation of the Holy Spirit? The discipline of the Spirit may precede His revelation, or may follow. There is no fixed order; with some He may begin with His discipline, in others with His revelation. However, it is certain that the discipline of the Holy Spirit exceeds His revelation. We are referring of course to the experience of God's children, and not to doctrine. To most, it will seem that discipline plays a much larger part than revelation.
"For the word of God is living and operative, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is not a creature unapparent before Him; but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes, with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:12,13).
The first thing to be noticed is that the Word of God is living. His Word is sure to be living when we see it. For if we do not find it living; we simply have failed to see the Word. We may have read over the words of the Bible, but if we do not touch something living, we do not see God's Word.
John 3:16 says : "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him may not perish, but have life eternal." Consider how one hears such a word; he kneels down and prays : "Lord, I thank Thee and praise Thee, for Thou hast loved me and saved me!" We immediately know this man has touched the Word of God, for the Word has become living to him. Another man may sit by his side, listening to the very same words but not actually hear the Word of God. There is no living response from him. We can draw just one conclusion : since God's Word is living, he who listens and does not live, has not heard the Word of God.
Not only is the Word of God living; it is also operative. "Living" points to its nature, while "operative" applies to its ability to fulfill the work on man. God's Word cannot return void ; it will prevail and accomplish its purpose. It is not mere word, but word that will so operate as to produce results.
What then does God's Word do for us? It penetrates and divides. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. Its sharpness is demonstrated in the "penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow." Note the analogy here : the two-edged sword against joints and marrow, and the Word of God against soul and spirit. Joints and marrow are embedded deeply in the human body. To separate the joints is to cut across the bones; to divide the marrow is to crack the bones. The two-edged sword is able to work thus in our mystical body. Only two things are harder to be divided than the joints and marrow ; the soul and spirit. No sword, however sharp, can divide them. Even so we are wholly unable to distinguish between what is soul and what is spirit. Yet the Scripture tells us how the Living Word can do the job, for it is sharper than any two-edged sword. God's Word is living, operative, and able to penetrate and divide. It is the soul and spirit of man which are thus penetrated and divided.
Perhaps someone may raise this question : "It doesn't seem that the Word of God has done anything special in me. I have often heard God's words and even received revelation, but I do not know what penetrating is, nor do I understand this dividing. As far as I can tell, I am a stranger to both these processes."
How does the Bible answer this question for us? It says "penetrating to the division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow," but it also goes on to say it is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." "Thoughts" refers to what we deliberate in our heart and "intents" to our motives. Thus the Word of God is able to discern both what we think and what motivates the thinking.
Too often we can easily identify what comes from the outward man. We quite glibly confess, "This was soulish, for it came from self." But we do not really "see" what the soul or self is. Then one day God's mercy comes to us, His light shines upon us and His voice announces to us with severity and solemnity: "What you frequently refer to as your self IS your self. You have talked lightly and easily about the flesh. You must "see" how God hates this and will not allow such to continue."
Before this "seeing" we have been able to jokingly talk about the flesh ; but once we are stricken with light, we shall confess: "Ah, this is it! This is what I have talked about." Thus we have more than an intellectual dividing. It is the Word of God that comes upon us to point out to us what we conceive and purpose in our heart. We receive a two-fold enlightenment : how our thoughts originate from the flesh, and how our intentions are entirely selfish.
To illustrate this let us consider two unconverted persons. One is aware that he is a sinner. He has been to many meetings and heard many messages on sin. Clear preaching has brought him to acknowledge himself as a sinner. Yet when he thus refers to himself, he can mention it laughingly, as if it does not really matter. Another hears the same messages, and the light of God shines upon him. The Spirit so convicts him that he prostrates himself on the ground and prays : "Oh, this is what I am—a sinner!" Not only has he heard, by the Word of God, that he is a sinner, he has also "seen" that this is his true condition. He condemns himself. He is stricken to the ground. Thus enlightened, he can confess his sin and receive the salvation of the Lord. He will henceforth never speak lightly or jokingly of the sin he has "seen." But the first one, who can jokingly describe himself as a sinner, has not "seen" and hence is not saved.
How do you react to this message today that your outward man seriously interferes with God and must be broken by Him? If you can begin talking about it freely and easily, it surely has not touched you. If, on the other hand, you are enlightened by it, you will say, "Oh Lord, today I begin to know myself. Until now I have not recognized my outward man." And as the light of God surrounds you, uncovering your outward man, you fall to the ground, no longer able to stand. Instantly you "see" what you are.
Once you said you loved the Lord, but under God's light, you find it is not so—you really love yourself. This light really divides you and sets you apart. You are inwardly separated, not by your mentality, nor by mere teaching, but by God's light. Once you said you were zealous for the Lord, but now the light of God shows you that your zeal was entirely stirred by your own flesh and blood. You thought you loved sinners while preaching the gospel, but now the light has come, and you discover that your preaching the gospel stems mainly from your love of action, your delight in speaking, your natural inclination. The deeper this divine light shines, the more the intent and thought of your heart is revealed. Once you assumed that your thoughts and intents were of the Lord, but in this piercing light you know they are entirely of yourself. Such light brings you down before God.
Too often what we supposed to be of the Lord proves to be of ourselves. Though we had proclaimed that our messages were given by the Lord, now the light of heaven compels us to confess that the Lord has not spoken to us, or, if He has, how little He has said. How much of the Lord's work, so-called, turns out to be carnal activities! This unveiling of the real nature of things enlightens us to the true knowledge of what is OF ourselves and what is OF the Lord, how much is FROM THE SOUL and how much is FROM THE SPIRIT. How wonderful if we can announce : His light has shone ; our spirit and soul are divided, and the thoughts and intents of our heart are discerned.
You who have experienced this know it is beyond mere teaching. All efforts to distinguish what is of self and what is of the Lord, to separate what things are from the outward man and what are of the inward man—even to the extent of listing them item by item and then memorizing them—have proved to be so much wasted effort. You continue to behave just as usual, for you cannot thus get rid of your outward man. You may be able to condemn the flesh, you may be proud that you can identify such and such as belonging to the flesh, but you still are not delivered from it.
Deliverance comes from the light of God. When that light shines, you immediately see how superficial and fleshly has been your denial of the flesh, how natural has been your criticism of the natural. But now the Lord has laid bare to your eyes the thoughts and intents of your heart. You fall prostrate before Him and say : "Oh, Lord ! Now I know these things are really from my outward man. Only this light can really divide my outward from my inner."
So it is that even our denial of the outward man, and our determination to reject it, will not help. Yes, even the very confession of our sin is for naught, and our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood. How foolish to imagine that we could expose our sin! Only in His Light shall we "see" and be exposed. It must be His work by the Spirit, not our efforts of the soul—i.e. out of our own mind. This is God's only way.
This is why God says, "My Word is living and effectual. My sword is the sharpest of all. When my Word comes to man, it is able to divide the soul and spirit, just as a two-edged sword can divide the joints and marrow."
How does it divide? By revealing the thought and intent of our heart. We do not know our own heart. Beloved, only those who are in the light know their own heart. No one else does, not one ! Yet when God's Word comes, we "see." We are exposed as self-centered, seeking only gratification, glory, pre-eminence, and prestige for self. How blessed is that light which causes us to fall down at His feet.
The Scripture we have been considering continues thus : "And there is not a creature unapparent before Him; but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes, with Whom we have to do." Here the Lord gives us the standard or criterion for dividing. What constitutes a revelation by the Holy Spirit? How much must we see before it is a revelation? Verse 13 can help us answer this. REVELATION ENABLES US TO SEE WHAT GOD SEES. All things are naked and laid bare before Him. Any covering is upon our own eyes, not God's. When God opens our eyes that we may know the intent of our heart and the deepest thought within us in the measure that He Himself knows us—this is revelation. As we are naked and laid bare before Him, so are we before ourselves as we receive revelation. This is revelation : to allow us to see what our Lord sees.
Should God be merciful to us and grant us even a small measure of revelation, so that we can see ourselves as we are seen by Him, we shall immediately be smitten to the ground. We need not try to be humble. Those who live in the light cannot be proud. It is only while dwelling in darkness that we can be proud. Outside of God's light, men can be arrogant and haughty; but under the revelation of the light, they can only prostrate themselves before Him.
As you proceed it becomes more evident that it is extremely difficult to explain this matter of dividing the natural from the spiritual, the outward from the inward. Only as there is revelation, is the problem solved. Whenever you are enabled to discern the thoughts and intents of your heart, you can be sure your soul and spirit are being divided.
If you desire to be used by God, sooner or later you will let the light shine upon you. You will turn to Him and say : "Oh God, I am absolutely unreliable. I do not know whom I am accusing, nor what sin I am confessing. Only in Thy light am I able to know." Before you receive enlightenment, you may say you are a sinner, but you lack a sinner's contrition; you may think you hate yourself, but you have no real sense of self-abhorrence ; you may say you deny yourself, but the feeling of abnegation is missing. Once the light comes, the surface scab is pulled away and the "real" or "original" is revealed. What an unveiling to see I only love myself; to see I am deceived, and cheating the Lord ; to see I do not love Him. This light shows you what you are and what you have been doing. Henceforth you will have the inner knowledge of what belongs to self. Without this judgment by the light, you cannot even imitate, but now as the light of God judges, spirit and soul are divided : imitation is impossible.
What the Lord does is to pierce into our inner man with a penetrating light. It may happen while we are listening to a message, or praying by ourselves, or fellowshipping with others, or even walking alone. This incomparable light shows us how much belongs to ourselves. It reveals to us that scarcely anything that proceeds is from the Lord. In conversation, in activities, in works, in zeal, in preaching, in helping others—in every field of life how all—pervading is our self. Yet once our hidden self is brought to light, our condemnation of the outward man will be spontaneous. On subsequent occasions, whenever it expresses itself, we will instantly regret it and judge it. It is only after such enlightenment that we are able to divide the spirit and soul. We will henceforth live before the Lord with our spirit released. It is pure now and offers no difficulty to the Lord.
Thus the dividing of spirit and soul depends upon enlightenment; that is, we are able to see as God sees. Just what does God see? He sees what we do not see. We are blind to what is of ourselves, thinking it is of God while actually it is not. What we professed to be good, by that light we now condemn. What we considered as right, we now reject. What passed for spiritual we now recognize as soulish. And what we thought was of God, we now know to be of self. We confess : "Lord ! Now I come to know myself. I have been blind for twenty or thirty years, and I did not realize it. I have not seen as Thou hast seen."
Such a seeing delivers you from the dead weight of self. Seeing is His dealing. The Word of God is effective, for it enlightens you to the casting off of the outward man. It is not that after you have heard the Word of God you gradually change yourself, as if seeing is one step and casting off another. No enlightenment is casting off ; the two occur simultaneously. As soon as the light strikes, the flesh is dead. No flesh can live in that light. The moment one comes into the light, he prostrates himself. The light has dried up his flesh, Beloved, this is effectiveness. Indeed the Word of God is living and operative. God does not speak and then wait for you to produce. His Word is effective in your life.
May the Lord open our eyes to see the importance of the discipline of the Holy Spirit and His revelation. These two join hands in dealing effectively with our outward man. Let us look to God for His grace to enable us to place ourselves under His light and to be so enlightened as to bow before Him, acknowledging : "Lord, how foolish and blind I have been all these years in mistaking what flows from me as coming from Thee. Lord, be merciful to me!"
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