Book Review
by Leroy Gardenier

by Watchman NeeChristian Fellowship Publishers, Inc.; NYCombined edition, 1977; 3 volumes in one

Nee attempts to explain the difference between soul and spirit and with varying degrees of success and misadventure offers both helpful insights as well as frustrating explanations of little or no true substance into this most difficult of subjects. The reader will receive some light from this writing, but will also find a dry well when seeking the waters of the spirit in some matters, especially when seekiing explicit knowledege in regards to the division and spearation of soul and spirit and the details of their functioning realities, side-by-side and intertwined within the 'new man' in Christ.

Man Is Tri-partate


         It was singer John Denver who sang about a "Rocky Mountain High". Although I know none of the details, it is reported that this popular singer was involved in that burgeoning, ancient religion with a modern name, the so-called "New Age Movement". There is nothing to commend and everything to condemn in this most recent amalgam of Satan and self. It must be sadly admitted, however, that there is more actual spirituality (though not from the Holy Spirit) in New Age and occult circles than there is in those alleged forms of Christianity that focus on the body and soul.

Such groups and denominations know nothing about the human spirit and, in practice, want little or nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. It is deeply troubling, even tragic, in these intense times to have to witness the increasing spiritual sensitivity all around us while those who name the Name of Christ remain scripturally dull and even spiritually dead! A spiritual "high" can be a dangerous experience and should not be sought after for its own sake. But the so-called Christian who never goes beyond the pagan, Roman dictum of  “a sound mind in a sound body"; whose religion is confined to his intellect, will and emotions is still worshipping the "god of this world" no matter what banner he marches under.

Ignoring the clear teaching of the Bible, too many "believers" still limit their idea of man to the rational being who is composed of body and soul. They understand the soul to be the loftier, more noble component and the source of the life that is in them. They rather ruefully appreciate the body as a necessary container for the soul but, since it often manifests unruly functions, it constantly calls for pampering or punishment as occasion demands. Ignorant of the existence, or at least the practical functions, of the human spirit these humanists applaud anything that exalts the soul and helps to keep the body in subjection. They esteem, but usually avoid, the "higher practices" of religion, like mediation and contemplation, thinking them somewhat spooky and mystical. Little do they realize that neither of these exercises go beyond the soulish functions of mind, will and feelings and are quite incapable of making contact with God!

"The ordinary concept of the constitution of human beings is dualistic - soul and body." This is the opening line of Watchman Nee's three volume work entitled THE SPIRITUAL MAN. The author goes on to state that while there is some truth to this, it is an inaccurate opinion that comes from fallen man and not from God.

He quotes I Thess. 5:23 ''May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (emphasis mine). One of the great contributions that this lengthy study makes is to explain the true nature of man from God's perspective. The Spiritual Man also clearly shows that true holiness, or sanctification, is available to all. Complete holiness, the author demonstrates, depends on not only the obvious distinction between body and soul but stresses the supreme scriptural importance of "the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Hebr. 4: 12).

For all its careful spiritual distinctions and deep scriptural insights, the humble demeanor of the author gives a slow, steady and uniquely simple presentation of this book's profound truths. I hope that this one paragraph, quoted at length, will capture the simplicity that permeates this honest, straightforward writing.


"Spiritual knowledge is very important to spiritual life. Let us add, however, that it is equally as, if not more, important for a believer to be humble and be willing to accept the teaching of the Holy Spirit. If so, the Holy Spirit will grant him the experience of the dividing of soul and spirit, although he may not have too much knowledge concerning this truth. On the one hand, the most ignorant believer, without the slightest idea of the division of spirit and soul may yet experience such a dividing in real life. On the other hand, the most informed believer, completely conversant with the truth concerning spirit and soul, may nonetheless have no experience of it. Far better is that person who may have both the experience and the knowledge. The majority, however, lack such experience. Consequently, it is well initially to lead these to know the different functions of spirit and soul and then encourage them to seek what is spiritual."


Here, with "the different functions of spirit and soul", we come to the main purpose and presentation of The Spiritual Man. It is the thorough, scriptural explanation of the functions of the body, the soul and, especially, the "organs" of the human spirit. The author realizes that we apprehend outside stimuli through the five senses of our body. Early on, he describes the biblical attitude believers should have toward the body. He completes his entire, exhaustive study with the consideration of God's very life dwelling in our bodies.

Nee's greater emphasis is on exposing "the good works of the flesh". Carnality, he shows, entails not only the gross offenses of "the body of sin" but also the much more subtle sins of the soul. Even after our body has "withered" through the death of "the old man", the soul remains quite active and invariably centers on self. He goes to great lengths to show that delusion which carnal Christians operate under and how ineffective and downright dangerous the "double life" really is. Quoting Ephesians 2:3, he shows that as sinners we " ... once lived in the passions of our flesh (referring to sins which are related particularly to the body), following the desires of body and mind" (referring to soul life). In concluding this section on the dangers of the soul life, Nee states: "That the Christian's soul life could be deceived and could be used by the devil is indeed beyond common expectation. The alarm must therefore be sounded. It is God's desire that we deny everything we inherit from Adam, even our life and nature. Disobedience to God invariably implies danger." Deliverance from sin is found at the foot of the Cross with our belief in the Atonement. The consequences of this faith can be instantaneous. Deliverance from self is found at the spiritual "altar of sacrifice" where the believer offers himself wholeheartedly to the co-death at the Cross, identification with the resurrection of the Savior, and the continued rule of the Holy Ghost. This spiritual wonderment is not instantaneous and takes some "doing"; even the actual dividing of soul and spirit according to Hebrews 4. The key to real growth and certain progress in the spiritual life is an honest appreciation of God's part and the actual practice of our part. Simply understanding these important matters does not guarantee their attainment, but some insight might help.

The author now leaves the consideration of the soul with its powerful functions of mind and thoughts, emotion and feelings, of will and desires. He goes into a very enlightening explanation of the human spirit and its diverse faculties: intuition, communion and conscience are the main ones. Avoiding any attempts to analyze the substance of the spirit, Nee focuses on the intuition, which is our organ to receive revelation and the vehicle of spiritual discernment.

If our intuition makes it possible for us to receive the truths of God, it is through spiritual communion or fellowship with God that these realities become lodged in our heart. It is through this spiritual faculty that " ... we may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1: 9-10).

Our conscience is the spiritual faculty where God expresses His holiness, correcting and reprimanding us when we fall short of His glory. Conscience is a sort of spiritual bridge between the old life and the new. Even when we are still steeped in the darkness of sin and selfishness, it continues to retain some vitality. When we are regenerated, or truly born-again, our conscience comes alive to God as never before. More than convicting us of sin, it monitors our spiritual matters, warns us before we offend and relieves us of all condemnation. Conscience, intuition and communion are inseparable and they function in the context of our whole being - spirit, soul and body.


I have touched upon only a few scattered highlights of this most informative work. I heartily concur with the author when he states that an understanding of the profoundest spiritual truths are secondary to complete and unreserved obedience to the Holy Spirit. Much of the information in these three volumes is relatively easy to understand because it conforms completely to the Sacred Scriptures.

Other assertions must be pondered and checked out by biblical and spiritual confirmations. All spiritual intelligence from The Spiritual Man can be apprehended and properly applied only through the revelation and keeping power supplied by the Holy Ghost. Besides a majority of positive presentations and correct applications, the author dedicates an entire section to "Walking After the Spirit". In this portion he sternly warns about the real dangers of the spiritual life and the absolute necessity of a proper division between soul and spirit. It may not be a prominent, current problem but in their zeal to "give themselves" to God consecrated Christians can be deluded into thinking that if they determine to do absolutely nothing on their own and open themselves so completely to God, refusing to act, or speak, or even think unless "taken over" by God, then they have reached the pinnacle of spiritual perfection. Nee correctly points out that such an attitude and practice can be a most dangerous deception stemming from our own ignorance or from the Enemy of our souls. God is sovereign and should be so in our lives but never in a way that robs us of our freedom of choice and turns us into robots.

I'm sure that many in the Pietist movement among Protestants; those in the Quietist trend in the Catholic Church; some of the latter-day Quakers; and many from all denominations in the Charismatic Renewal have fallen prey to this delusion and brought spiritual shipwreck into otherwise sincere, dedicated lives. If God does not permit Himself to "take us over"; and we refuse to exercise our God-given faculties under the guidance of the Holy Ghost; then, a host of evil spirits are ready, willing and quite able to deceive and delude us with their counterfeit "godly" suggestions and commands!

Truth sometimes comes from the most unsuspecting sources. A brilliantly clever, but thoroughly debauched Irish poet once wrote about his harrowing experiences in prison. In his poem, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", Oscar Wilde penned this haunting refrain:

"He who lives more lives than one,

More deaths than one must die."

The words and deeds of the Lord Jesus Christ constitute not only "the greatest life ever lived", but the only full and truly authentic human life this world has ever known. The same can be said of His death. And He has made provision for us not only to admire His blessed life, death and resurrection, but actually to participate in and allow it to be realized in us. The unity of Christians is not primarily organizational, nor is it ecumenical; rather, it is organically alive and it is spiritual. "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us .... " (John 17:21).