What is the Governing Question of Human History?
Or isn’t there one?
If we look at history from a biblical perspective, we should be able to find one.
Austin-Sparks gave an answer to the question in the second chapter of his book, The Stewardship of the Mystery.
Before I get to his answer, I want to share some other quotes from that chapter that will put it in context.
Austin-Sparks was talking about this statement found in Ephesians: “…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10, ESV)
Have you ever tried to elaborate on that? You may indeed have an idea about what it means. Many do. But for most people, it’s an idea they have never personally articulated.
There are good reasons for this. No matter how eloquent we are, we will fall short of the full idea that Paul had in mind when he wrote that sentence. Plus, we might make get some things wrong, and we wouldn’t want to do that about something so important.
Yet there are also good reasons for trying to say more about what it will look like when these verses are fulfilled. These words were given for our meditation. They are designed to focus our vision and lift it above the things of this world.
Austin-Sparks did elaborate on Ephesians 1:10 in The Stewardship of the Mystery. Below is an example from the second chapter of that book. He had been talking about Ephesians, but these comments are directly about the related promise of Romans 8:29, that we would be “conformed to the image of his Son”:
“Those are not mere words. In the creation according to God there will be nothing but what is of Christ. It is important to realize that. That will govern a good deal that we may have yet to say. Thank God, you and I will not be as we are. It is not to be Christ and us; all is to be Christ. That is to say, Christ will be so corporately expressed that, the question of Deity apart, the moral and spiritual essence of Christ will utterly govern every other unit in the universe. It will be Christ in that sense; one great universal, collective, corporate Christ! Yes, there will be multitudes which no man can number, yet so conformed to the image of Christ that, looking at any one or all of these, spiritual conformity to Christ will be seen. We are not saying that Christ is to lose His individuality, to be absorbed in some inclusiveness where all His own personal distinctiveness ceases; we are saying that, when conformed to His image, we are to be as one great person, the Body of Christ perfected, a corporate and collective expression of what Christ is.”
In this definition, Austin-Sparks stresses unity without sacrificing individuality. Christ keeps his “personal distinctiveness,” and it looks like we do to.
It’s a good definition. It stretches the imagination without sacrificing either conformity or diversity. These two things need to be balanced against each other in our present world, so it’s hard to imagine a world in which they don’t. (The same can be said about freedom and obedience.)
The Place of Humanity in the Eternal Purpose of God
From Adam’s transgression, sin spread to all the world and fills human history.
That says something about the power and influence of sin.
But doesn’t it say just as much, or more, about the power and influence of man?
The devil targeted Adam and Eve with his temptation because he knew the importance of humanity. The influence of sin in creation is really the measure of the influence of mankind.
Sin has power, no doubt. But where did it get its power? From the devil or from man? Adam and Eve had the capacity to make sin a powerless empty lie as far as this world is concerned. Instead, they empowered sin and gave it authority over them.
As T. Austin-Sparks explains, the devil understood that humanity was the key to infecting the universe with sin:
“Now you can see why Satan sought to capture man, and why he went about it in the manner that he did. It is as though he said: Set aside God’s mind, God’s will, God’s desire! In other words, Accept mine instead! Now what have you? The expansion of that thing from a man to a universe! Those moral forces which are other than God intended are cosmic forces now. They have gone far beyond the individual, far beyond the family to a race, and out beyond a race to all the encircling realms of the cosmos. There is a will other than God’s impregnating the very atmosphere. There are other desires, other feelings, other thoughts, all against God.”
So What is the Governing Question of Human History?
Now to Austin-Sparks’s answer to that question:
“This represents the great governing question in history from Adam onward. The great governing question is this: In whom can that which is called eternal life dwell?”
Before Adam and Eve sinned, they had not yet been given this eternal life. After they sinned, it looked like they never would be.
Here’s a little more about what Austin-Sparks understood by “eternal life”:
“We know that eternal life is not mere duration of being. It is a kind of life; it is God’s life, Divine life, the life of the ages. In whom can that life dwell? That is the great governing question of history. The answer to the question is Christ: “…in Him was life….” He is the life.”
But humanity has its important place in the coming ages. Austin-Sparks continues:
“But then, we behold Him not only as personal, individual, separate, but corporate; the creation in Christ.”
Mankind was meant to live on into the coming ages, and to have the capacity to enjoy those ages and contribute to them. The Greek phrase that is usually translated as eternal life can also be translated as life of the ages. And there are more than one, for Paul said in Ephesians 2:7, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (ESV, emphasis added)
Finally, here is one more quote from the second chapter of The Stewardship of the Mystery. No matter how many ages there will be, they are all one in Christ:
“Those ages are being included in Christ. That means that Christ will give them their character. They are to take their nature, their character from Christ, and inasmuch as they are ages, it means that progress, development, increase, expansiveness, extensiveness is all a matter of going on and enlarging unto Christ. The ages are made for Him, and the ages to come are for the showing forth in us of God in Christ. All the Divine fulness is in Christ. These are statements in the Word.”
As Austin-Sparks says several times throughout this chapter, “What a Christ!”
Read Chapter One of The Stewardship of the Mystery by T. Austin-Sparks online here: http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001378.html