The Messenger of the Cross
By Watchman Nee
Recently many people seem to be tired of hearing the word of the cross. However, we thank and praise God the Father that He has reserved for His own great name many faithful ones who have not bent their knees to Baal. Still, I feel that there is one thing the faithful servants of Christ should know. Why, after they have done so much preaching of the cross, have the results been so discouraging, and people have not had much change in their lives after hearing the true Word of God? I think this problem deserves our greatest attention. We who labor for the Lord should understand why we cannot gain others by the gospel we preach. I hope that we would pray quietly before the Lord and ask the Spirit of God to enlighten our hearts that we may know where our failure lies.
The failure of the messenger of the cross
At the present time, we should pay attention to the word which we preach. We do not have to mention those who preach the wrong gospel. Their belief is in error anyway. What we preach is the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and how it saves sinners from the condemnation of sin and the power of sin. When we preach, we pay much attention to the outline, the logic, and the thought. We do our best to make our doctrines clear. In this way, even the most unlearned person may understand. We also pay attention to man's psychology. We try as hard as we can in our homiletics to match man's psyche. What we preach is truthful and scriptural--our topic is the cross of the Lord Jesus. We know that the Lord Jesus died for sinners on the cross so that all who believe in Him can be saved apart from any work. We also know that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus is not only for substitution but also for the crucifixion of the sinner and his sin together with Him. We know the way to be saved. We know how to die with the Lord, how to apply the death of the Lord by faith, and how to die with Him to deal with sin and self. We are also clear about other related doctrines in the Bible. Our preaching is presented in a nice and clear way so that anyone in the audience can understand. The audience pays much attention to us when we preach the cross of the Lord; they like it and are touched by it. We may even be gifted in our eloquence and be able to present the truth in a persuasive way which causes us to think that our work is very effective. We may think that our work is very effective! Under such circumstances, we ought to see many people receiving life and many believers gaining the more abundant life. However, the results are the opposite of what we expect. Although the audience may be touched at the meeting hall, they do not gain anything that we hope to see them gain after they leave the meeting hall, even though the speech is still fresh in their minds. They do not have any change in their lives. They understand what we preach, but it does not have any influence on their daily living. They only store the word preached in their brains. They do not apply it in their hearts.
One possible reason for this is that what you have is only eloquence, words, and wisdom. It seems that behind your speech you do not have the power that touches people's hearts. You have the best words and voice, but behind the words and voice you do not have the kind of authority that "controls" people's lives. In other words, you can make people listen attentively to you at the meeting hall, but the Holy Spirit is not co-working with you. Therefore, your labor is either ineffective or it lacks lasting results. Your words cannot leave a lasting mark on people's lives. Although your mouth flows out words, your spirit does not flow out life to nourish, raise up, and quicken the dying audience.
In recent years, the Lord has told me to be careful about this kind of preaching. We do not want to be popular orators (our Lord is a Life-giver); we want to be channels of life, directing life into people's hearts. When we preach the cross, we should have the life of the cross flowing into others' lives. The saddest thing to me is that so many people are preaching the cross today, but men have not gained God's life. Men seem to agree with and gladly receive our words, but they have not received God's life. Many times as we preach the substitutional death of the cross, men seem to understand the meaning and reason for substitution, and they seem to be touched at the time. However, we cannot see the grace of God working in the audience to the point where they truly obtain the regenerated life. We explain it in a very clear, moving way. At the time when people hear it, they may pray and may make up their minds to die together with the Lord and to gain the experiences of overcoming sin and self. But after the whole thing is over, we do not see them gaining the more abundant life of God. Such results sadden me very much. It humbles me before the Lord to seek His light. If you have the same experience as I have, I hope that you will grieve before the Lord as I do and will regret our failures. What we indeed lack now are men and women who will preach the cross, but what we need more than this are preachers who will preach the cross in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us now read the Word of God. Paul said. "And I, when I came to you, brothers, came not according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, announcing to you the mystery of God. For I did not determine to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and this One crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling; and my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:1-4). In these verses we see three things: (1) the message that Paul preached, (2) the person of Paul himself, and (3) the way Paul preached his message.
The Message Paul Preached
The message Paul preached was the Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The subject of his preaching was the cross of Christ and the crucified Christ. He did not know anything except this. If we forget the cross and do not make the cross and Christ our unique subject, how much will we and our audience miss? I believe that we are surely not those who do not preach the cross.
Our message and our subject may be good. However, do we not have the experience of having a good message yet being unable to dispense life to others? Let me point out that inasmuch as the message we preach is important, if it cannot give life to others, our work is mostly in vain. We should remember that the goal of our work is to give life to people. We preach the substitutional death of the cross in order that God can give His life to those who believe. If others are stirred up or excited or even repent and agree with what we preach, but do not have God's life in them, what good will this do? They may show their sympathy outwardly, but they are not saved. Therefore, our goal is neither to make people repent by themselves nor to influence them in their mind, but to dispense God's life into them so that they can have life and be saved. Even when we preach the deeper truths or try to help others to understand the truth of co-crucifixion, the same principle holds true. It is easy to make people know and understand what we preach. It is also not hard to make others accept our teachings in their mind. Any believer with a little knowledge can understand if you explain matters to him clearly enough. However, if you want him to gain life and power and to experience what you preach, there is no other way except for God to dispense through you the richer life into him. We should know that our only work is to be the channels of God's life, conveying life into others' spirits. Therefore, even if the subject or the message we preach is good, we still need to find out whether or not we are the suitable channels for God to convey life into others.
The message Paul preached was the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. The message he preached was not in vain because he was a living channel of life. He begat many people through the gospel of the cross. What he preached was the word of the cross. Concerning himself, he said that he was "in weakness and in fear and in much trembling." He was a crucified man! Only a crucified man can preach the crucified word. He had no confidence in himself. He did not rely on himself. Weakness, fear, trembling, being void of self-confidence, considering oneself as totally useless--these are the characteristics of a crucified man. He said, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20) and "I die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31). Only a dead Paul could preach a word on crucifixion. If he had not died in a genuine way, the life of the Lord's death could not have flowed out from him. It is easy to preach the cross, but it is not easy to preach it as a crucified man. Unless one is a crucified person, he cannot preach the word of the cross and cannot give to others the life of the cross. Strictly speaking, unless one knows the cross experientially, he is not worthy to preach the cross.
The Way Paul Preached His Message
Paul's message was crucifixion. He himself was a crucified man, and he preached the cross by way of the cross. It was a man of the cross preaching the message of the cross with the spirit of the cross. Many times what we preach is the cross, but our attitude, our words, and our feeling do not seem like we are preaching the cross! Many preachings of the cross are not done in the spirit of the cross! Paul said, "I...came not according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, announcing to you the mystery of God." Here the mystery of God refers to the word of the cross. Paul did not preach the cross with excellence of speech or wisdom. "And my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." This is the spirit of the cross. The cross is wisdom to God but foolishness to man (1 Cor. 1:23-24). When we preach the word of this foolishness, we should have the form of "foolishness," the attitude of "foolishness," and the speech of "foolishness." Paul gained the victory because he was a truly crucified man. He preached the cross with the spirit of the cross and the attitude of the cross. Those who have not experienced crucifixion will not be filled with the spirit of crucifixion, and they are not worthy to preach the word of the cross.
After seeing the experience of Paul, does it not tell us the reason for our failures? The message we preach may be good, but we should examine ourselves in the light of the Lord--are we truly crucified men? With what kind of spirit, word, and attitude do we preach the cross? May we humble ourselves before these questions so that God can have mercy upon us.
We are not talking about those who preach a "different gospel." We are talking only about those who preach "the gospel of God's grace." The word is not wrong, our message is not bad, but why do others not gain life? This must be due to the failure of the preacher! It is the person who is wrong, not the word that has lost its power. It is the man who has hindered God's life from flowing, not the Word of God that has lost its effect. When the man who preaches the cross does not himself have the experience of the cross nor the spirit of the cross, he cannot dispense to others the life of the cross. We cannot give others what we ourselves do not have. If the cross does not become our life, we cannot give the life of the cross to others. The failure of our work comes because we love to give the cross to others before we know whether or not we have the cross in ourselves. Those who are good at preaching to others must be good at preaching to themselves first. Otherwise, the Spirit will not con-work with them.
Although the message we preach is important, we must not stress the message too much and forget ourselves. We can gain some knowledge from books about the word of the cross which we preach. We can use our mind to look for many meanings in the Bible. However, all these are borrowed; they do not belong to us. Those who have clever minds are more dangerous than others. A preacher is in more danger than others, because all the studying, reading, researching, and listening may be done for others and not for himself. He may labor for others only to find himself starved spiritually! We can hear deep words about various aspects of the cross or read from books about the meanings of substitution and co-crucifixion. If we have a clever mind, we can even add a proper order to these teachings, so that when we speak, we can develop the things we have heard and thought in a very clear and sincere way, having everything well-organized and all the points clearly presented and the arguments neatly divided up. We may cause our audience to think that they have understood everything. Yet, despite the fact that they have understood everything, there is not an urging power to make the audience pursue what they have understood. They seem to think that to understand the doctrines of the cross is enough. They stop at the things they understand and do not pursue what the cross promises to give them. Even if the speaker understands the audience's mind, has a loud, sincere voice, and urges them not to understand the doctrine only but to pursue after the experience, his audience can only be stirred up at that moment. They still have not received life. They still have the theory only, not the experience. We must never be self-satisfied and think that our silvery tongue can maneuver the audience. They may be affected at that one moment, but have we only given them thoughts and doctrines, or do we need to give life to them? Without giving life to man, we contribute nothing to his spirituality. What use is it to give man only thoughts or doctrines? May this thought be planted deeply into our being so that we would repent of the vanity of our previous work!
The reasons why no one gains life through our preaching of the cross are: (1) we ourselves do not have the experience of the cross, and (2) we do not use the spirit of the cross to preach the word of the cross.
The Reason for the Failure of Those who Preach the Cross
Those who are not crucified cannot be and are not worthy to preach the message of the cross. The cross which we preach should crucify us first.The message we preach should burn in our life first so that our life and our message can be mingled together. In this way our life will become our living message. The cross we preach should not merely be a message. We should daily live out the cross in our life. What we preach should not be merely a message but a life which we daily live. When we preach, we dispense this life to others. The Lord Jesus said that His flesh is meat and His blood is drink (John 6:55). When we partake of the cross of the Lord Jesus by faith, it is like eating His flesh and drinking His blood. But to eat and to drink are not just empty words. After we eat and drink, we digest what we eat and drink so that it can become part of us--become our life. Our failure lies in the fact that many times we study the Word of God with our own wisdom and prepare our notes with our own thoughts. We often take the knowledge we gain from books and the doctrines we hear from our teachers and friends and make them our sermons. Although we have many good thoughts and ideas, and although the audience listens to us with much attention and interest, all the work ends right there. We cannot dispense the life of God to others. Although we preach the word of the cross, we cannot dispense the life of the cross to others. We can only give thoughts and ideas to people. However, what people lack is not good thoughts but life!
We cannot give to others what we do not have. If we have life, we can give life to others. If what we have is only thoughts, we can only give thoughts to others. If we do not have the experience of crucifixion in our life, if we do not have the experience of dying together with the Lord in overcoming sin and self, if we do not have the experience of bearing the cross and following the Lord to suffer for Him, and if we only know the word of the cross from others' speaking and writings but have no experience of it ourselves, we surely cannot give life to others. We can only give the theories of the life of the cross to others. Only when we are transformed by the cross and when we receive the life and the spirit of the cross can we dispense the cross to others. The cross should daily do a deeper work in our life so that we can have solid experiences of the suffering and the victory of the cross. Then when we preach, our life will spontaneously flow out through our words, and the Spirit will pour His life through our life to nourish the dried up ones--the audience. Ideas can only reach man's brain; they only result in more thoughts for man's brain. Only life can reach man's spirit, the result being that man's spirit either receives a regenerated life or a more abundant life.
Man's thought, utterance, and theories can only move and reach man's soul, because they can only move man's provocation, emotion, mind, and will. Only life can reach man's spirit. All the work of the Holy Spirit is in our spirit (Rom. 8:16; Eph. 3:16). Only when we are in the experience of the spirit, flowing out the life of our spirit, will the Holy Spirit pour out His life to others' spirits through us. Therefore, it is a most vain thing to save the sinners and edify the saints by man's own mind, utterance, and theory. Although what one speaks may be very persuasive outwardly, we have to know that the Holy Spirit is not co-working with him. The Holy Spirit is not behind his words and is not working with him through His authority and power. The audience only listens to his words; there is no change at all in their lives. Although they sometimes make vows and resolutions, these are only excitements in their soul. There is no life behind his words. As a result, there is no power for them to gain what they have not yet gained. Where there is life, there is power. In spiritual matters, there is no power if there is no life. Therefore, if you do not let the Holy Spirit pour out His life through your life to others' spirits, others will not have the life of the Holy Spirit and will not have the power to practice what you preach. What we desire is not eloquence but the power of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit of God make us realize that thoughts can only reach man's soul, and only life can flow to man's spirit.
The life we are speaking of here refers to the experience of the word of God in our lives and the experience of the message we preach. The life of the cross is the life of the Lord Jesus. We should first test our message through our experience. The doctrine we understand is only a doctrine. We should let the doctrine work in us first so that the doctrine we understand becomes part of our life and part of the vital elements of our daily living and no longer just a doctrine, but the life of our life. It is like the food we eat becoming the flesh of our flesh and the bone of our bones. Thus, we become a living doctrine. In this way, the word we preach is no longer just a theory we know but our own true life. This is what the Bible means by "doers of the word" (James 1:22). Often we misunderstand the word "doer." We think "doers" are those who try their best to follow the word they hear and understand. But this is not the "doing" in the Bible. It is true that we should resolve to practice what we hear, but the "doing" in the Bible is not a "doing" with one's own strength. Rather, it is to allow the Holy Spirit to live out from one's life the word he knows. This is a kind of living, not a kind of work. If there is the living, there will spontaneously be the work. To have some sporadic works is not the "doing" described in the Bible. We should cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our life through our will so that we can experientially live out what we know. In this way we will be able to dispense life to others.
We will know what to follow if we will look to the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, "so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that every one who believes into Him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15) and, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. But He said this signifying by what kind of death He was about to die" (12:32-33). The Lord Jesus had to be crucified before He could draw all men to Himself and dispense spiritual life to others. He Himself had to die first, experience the cross first, and have the working of the cross within and without, making Him a crucified man in reality first, before He could have the power to draw all men to Himself. The disciple is not over his master. If our Lord had to be lifted up before He could draw all men to Himself, should not we who lift up the lifted-up Lord Jesus be lifted up ourselves and be crucified before we can draw men to the Lord? In order for the Lord Jesus to dispense spiritual life to others, He had to be lifted up on the cross. In the same way, if we desire to dispense spiritual life to others, we must also be lifted up on the cross. Only then will the Holy Spirit pour out His life through us. The source of life dispenses life to others through the cross. Should not the channel of life also dispense life to others through the cross?
The Channel of Life
We have said that our work is to dispense life to others. However, we ourselves do not have the life to give to others, to enliven others, and to nourish others. We are not the source but the channel. The life of God flows through us and flows out from within us. We are the channels. The channels should not be silted or else water cannot flow through. The word of the cross is doing the dredging work, removing all that belongs to Adam and the natural man, so that we can receive the life of the Holy Spirit and be saturated with the Holy Spirit. In this way, our spirit will constantly bear the cross of the Lord to the extent that our life becomes the life of the cross. We will cover this point shortly. Since we are saturated with the Holy Spirit and have the life of the cross, the Holy Spirit will use us to pour out the life of the cross from within to those who are surrounding us. If we truly allow the cross to do a deep work in us, to the extent that we become filled with the Holy Spirit, we will spontaneously flow out life to nourish those whom we touch whenever we speak or preach in public or to individuals. This is something that requires no intentional effort or pretension; it will be something very spontaneous. Spontaneously we will bear fruit. This is what the Lord Jesus means in John 7:38: "He who believes into Me, as the Scripture said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water." There are several meanings here. The innermost being of the believer must first be emptied and must first receive the full work of the cross. His innermost being must be filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit. The life in him is not only sufficient for his own need, but is overabundant and sufficient to the extent that out of him flow rivers of living water to supply others with the same living water. We should heed the word "flow" here. It is not by maneuvering, by voice, by psychology, by eloquence, by doctrine, or by knowledge. Although these methods may help us sometimes, they are not the living water. Neither is the employment of these methods the flowing out of the living water. To flow is something very natural; it does not require any human labor. Rather, everything glides along. We do not need any eloquence or theory. We only need to preach the word of the cross of the Lord faithfully, and others will receive the life which they lack. The life and power of the Holy Spirit will somehow spontaneously flow through our spirit. Otherwise, even if we teach diligently, the audience will listen indifferently! Sometimes one's audience may listen attentively and may understand and be touched by what they hear. Yet they will only respond with the word, "Wonderful." They will still not have the power and life to carry out what they hear. Oh, may we be the channels of God's life today!
In order to be the channels, we must have the experience. We have covered this in the above discussion. Unless we have this, the Holy Spirit will not work with us. After we have received the power of the Holy Spirit, all our works will be in the nature of a witness (Luke 24:48-49). Actually, all our work is a witness to the Lord. A witness cannot witness what he has not seen. One cannot even witness what he has heard from others. One cannot witness what he has not experienced. Seriously speaking, one bears false witness if he has not experience in what he preaches! If we do this, the Holy Spirit will not work with us. Another thing we should know is that whether it is the Holy Spirit who is working or the evil spirit who is working, there must be men as the outlets of power. If we have no experience in what we preach, the Holy Spirit will definitely not be able to use us as His channel through which He pours His life into people's hearts.
Hence, may the cross we preach crucify us on it! May we bear the cross we preach! May we first gain the life which we want to dispense to others! May the cross we preach be the cross which we daily experience in our life! If the message we preach is to have a lasting effect, it must first become the food of our spirit. It must be deeply engraved on our heart and be burned and seared into our life through the sufferings in our daily living. By this, our every move will bear the brand of the cross. Only those who bear in their bodies the brands of Jesus (Gal. 6:17) can preach the Lord Jesus. Brothers, let me tell you, although the thoughts that suddenly come across your mind or the knowledge that you gain from books earn you your audience's smile, they will not have a lasting effect. If our work is just to make people smile, we may think that we are doing a great work with our sermons by merely collecting some material from the mind and the emotion. This, however, is not the goal of our work!
The success of the Apostle
The message of the cross deeply touched Paul. His life was a manifestation of the life of the cross. He was not only one who preached the cross but one who lived the cross. The cross he preached was the cross he lived. Therefore, when he spoke of the cross, he could add to it his own experience and testimony. He not only knew the Lord Jesus' substitutional death, but he took the Lord Jesus' cross as his own cross in experience. He was able to say, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20) and, "The world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (6:14). His meekness, endurance, infirmities, weepings, sufferings, and chains were all the manifestation of the life of the cross. Because he was one who lived the cross, he could preach the cross. Men sometimes criticize others as being those who do not practice what they preach. Yet, in reality, no one can ever preach what he does not practice! Because Paul was able to live out his gospel, he was able to beget many spiritual sons and daughters through the gospel. He himself possessed the life of the cross. As a result he was able to "reproduce" this cross in others' hearts.
Part Two: The Cross and it's Messenger
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