“I have been asked,” says T. Austin-Sparks, “if I have received the ‘second blessing’, and my reply is: ‘No. I have come into the first blessing.’” He refers to a personal experience which he describes as “when I came into the knowledge of the anointing [of the Holy Spirit]” and as something that came years after his conversion. He regrets this time leap between conversion and anointing as something abnormal and the cause of much limitation. But it had great consequences for his ministry and the fellowship he was ministering to.

These consequences did not result in an attempt to reform the Church at Honor Oak according to principles and patterns that can be found in the New Testament. What happened may be best described with a word that T. Austin-Sparks uses himself: “recovery”. But much care is required to understand him correctly when he talks about recovery, as misinterpretations have led to misleading, schisms and harmful practices among God’s people.

In short, for T. Austin-Sparks “recovery” meant a re-establishment of the greatness of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All else would flow from that. His death, resurrection and glorification would naturally lead to and require a new order of life, an order that is completely different from life under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant speaks of it, foreshadows it, is symbolic for its reality, but has been declared outdated by the Son of God. While awaiting the final fulfillment of the New Covenant order at Jesus’ return, the redeemed of the Lord already live in its reality: resurrection life. That is why the people of God
are people of the Spirit, guided and taught by the holy Spirit, empowered by the Spirit. To show the greatness of His mercy and grace, God, in His wisdom, has chosen not to judge the old order (“the world”) straight after Jesus’ glorification, but to wait till “the fulness of time”. He takes “the risk of love”, as it were, appointing His Son as their heavenly King and High Priest, who knows the perils of life in the flesh, who has learned what obedience means in a human body, so that he can “save them to the uttermost”. Temptations, suffering, conflict and persecution all belong to the new order of the Kingdom of God. Faith, hope, faithfulness and love need to be tested to prove its real value and will find God to be absolutely true to His promises. The life of a believer and of the Christian community will be utterly to the praise of the glory of God.
But the many exhortations to persevere to the end need not to have been written in the New Testament if things could not go wrong. Christians can fall away, but a more subtle danger is syncretism, a mixture of God’s grace in Christ with something else. Over the centuries Christians have proved to be excellent blenders, especially in making concoctions of grace with Old Testament ingredients. It usually starts with the leadership of a Christian community finding that “risk of love” a bit too risky or the guidance of the Spirit a bit too informal. They may also unintendedly cross the border between caring for and lording it over the flock, or think that their sheep will go astray very soon without their protection. The result is often a layer of offices coming in between God and His children, which is a downright repudiation of the New Covenant and may even
violate God’s order of creation (God-Christ-husband-wife, changed into God-Christ-elders/deacons-husband-wife). God is merciful and will always find channels of His blessings and encouragement for His children. He will even sovereignly give seasons of revival within hierarchically structured denominations. So it is not all that bad. But revival was not what happened at Honor Oak, it was recovery.
Some think this recovery entails a rediscovery of Biblical truths concerning the Church of Christ, but that is a total misconception. In fact, T. Austin-Sparks suggested that the congregation at Honor Oak no longer be called “a Church” and pleaded for a “Christian fellowship centre”, providing Bible teaching and retreat, a place where children of God can gather together around the Lord and His Word. During his later years of ministry, others insisted that it be acknowledged as a “local Church” and he finally yielded to the idea without agreeing with it. This meant in fact the end of his public ministry in London.
We may conclude that the Honor Oak recovery was directly linked with a shift from Old Covenant syncretism to a purer perception of New Covenant reality. The mediatory layers of offices in between God and His children were removed at Honor Oak, not by mere decision, but by a greater understanding of the greatness of Christ. Favorite words from the lips of those who shared the Word at Honor Oak were “all-inclusiveness”, “enlargement”, “fulness”, “emancipation” and “universality” and, of course, Sparks’ most favorite phrase, “an open heaven”.

Hugo de Jong