Oswald Chambers (1874—1917) was a Scottish evangelical Bible teacher and military chaplain. Some would describe Chambers as an evangelical mystic. He has become most well-known through books of his teachings that were compiled and published by his wife after his death. His most well-known book is the devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest.
Oswald Chambers was born in 1874 in Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of a Baptist pastor. When he was 15, his family moved to London. There, he and his father went to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. Oswald was touched by the message, and, while walking home, he and his father stopped under a street lamp and Oswald gave his heart and life to Christ.
Oswald grew as a believer and became involved in ministry to the poor, but he was a gifted artist and felt that God’s call for his life was in art. He attended the Royal College of Art in London and then the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Although he enjoyed his studies, he was not content. Some friends suggested that he should enter the ministry, but he did not feel called and said that God would have to make it very clear if he was supposed to change course. Soon, his income from freelance illustrations dried up, and he began to experience financial hardship. One night he decided to spend the whole night in prayer, wrestling with God, to find direction. In the morning he felt called to ministry, and in the morning mail, he received a brochure for the Dunoon Theological Training College. Chambers left an internationally recognized and prestigious university to attend a Bible college with thirty students and one faculty member because that is what he thought God wanted him to do. The reaction of his friends was mixed.
At Dunoon, the students lived and studied in the home of the principal, Rev. Duncan MacGregor, who was a mentor to the students as well as a teacher. MacGregor brought guest speakers and teachers to the school, and Chambers was especially touched by the teaching of F. B. Meyer who spoke about the necessity of being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Oswald felt that was missing in his life. This began a four-year period of spiritual dryness and searching that he described as “hell on earth.” He was overcome by his own sinfulness and confessed that it was only the grace of God and the support of friends that got him through this time. Finally, at a service at Dunoon Baptist Church, he confessed before the whole church that he needed to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
This seems to have been a conscious act of yielding himself to God, and from that time Oswald began to have deeper experience of the power and presence of God, which was evident to others. He also seems to have embraced a form of entire sanctification. He felt it was necessary for one to be totally committed to God, body, soul, and spirit, and that this level of commitment was subsequent to conversion and necessary for the believer to be fully used by God. There is no evidence that Chambers ever considered himself to have reached a state of “sinless perfection.” He explains it this way:
“The mystery of sanctification is that the perfect qualities of Jesus Christ are imparted as a gift to me, not gradually, but instantly once I enter by faith into the realization that He ‘became for [me] . . . sanctification. . . .’ Sanctification means nothing less than the holiness of Jesus becoming mine and being exhibited in my life.
“The most wonderful secret of living a holy life does not lie in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfect qualities of Jesus exhibit themselves in my human flesh. Sanctification is ‘Christ in you . . .’ (Colossians 1:27). It is His wonderful life that is imparted to me in sanctification—imparted by faith as a sovereign gift of God’s grace. Am I willing for God to make sanctification as real in me as it is in His Word?
“Sanctification means the impartation of the holy qualities of Jesus Christ to me. It is the gift of His patience, love, holiness, faith, purity, and godliness that is exhibited in and through every sanctified soul. Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy—it is drawing from Jesus the very holiness that was exhibited in Him, and that He now exhibits in me. Sanctification is an impartation, not an imitation. Imitation is something altogether different. The perfection of everything is in Jesus Christ, and the mystery of sanctification is that all the perfect qualities of Jesus are at my disposal. Consequently, I slowly but surely begin to live a life of inexpressible order, soundness, and holiness—‘. . . kept by the power of God . . .’ (1 Peter 1:5).” (“Sanctification 2” from Utmost.org, accessed 2/14/19)
After spending nine years at Dunoon, Chambers left to preach and teach. He traveled to the United States and spent several months teaching at God’s Bible College in Cincinnati. From there, he traveled to Japan where he visited the Tokyo Bible School. Then he became a traveling teacher and ambassador for the Pentecostal League of Prayer.
In 1908, while on a ship headed for the United States, Chambers met Gertrude Hobbs, and two years later they were married. He referred to her as “Beloved Disciple” or B.D., which became the nickname Biddy, by which she was known ever after. The couple spent a four-month honeymoon in the United States teaching at “holiness camps.”
Chambers read and studied the Bible and other literature on a wide variety of subjects. He rarely spoke using notes, preferring to rely upon the Holy Spirit. Biddy, who had been trained as a court stenographer, began recording his messages using shorthand.
Chambers had dreamed for years of starting a Bible college, and in 1911 he founded the Bible Training College in London. He leased a 19-room house in London, which would house him and Biddy as well as twenty-five students. Classes were held in the lecture rooms, and all ate together in the dining room where the students would question Chambers and further digest what he had been teaching them. In the evenings, Chambers gave lectures that were attended by non-students, and he preached in local churches. Although busy, he began each morning with time in the Bible and prayer.
In 1913 Chambers’ daughter, Kathleen, was born. In 1914 England entered World War I, and Chambers felt called to minister to the troops. In 1915 he traveled to Egypt as a YMCA chaplain for the troops stationed there. After a few months, his wife and daughter joined him in Cairo. There he taught the Bible and encouraged the troops, with hundreds of servicemen packing the sessions. Biddy assisted by recording her husband’s messages in shorthand and entertaining in their home. Each Sunday, she served tea to 700 troops.
In October 1917, Chambers began to experience a decline in health but did not seek medical attention because he did not want to take resources away from injured troops. Finally, he was convinced to seek medical help and had to undergo emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. He died on November 15, 1917, at the age of 43 from complications of the surgery. He was buried at the British Cemetery in Old Cairo with full military honors. His tombstone notes that he was the Superintendent of the YMCA, but at its foot, it summarizes his life: “A believer in Jesus Christ.”
The first Christmas after her husband’s death, Biddy printed one of his sermons and sent it to some soldiers. The response was overwhelming. Soon after, she began doing this on a monthly basis until the demand was so large that the YMCA took over the task, mailing out 10,000 copies of a sermon each month. Biddy then began compiling and publishing books based on the shorthand transcriptions of Oswald’s messages, once again to great response. Biddy stayed in Egypt ministering until the war ended and the camp was shut down.
Upon her return to England, Biddy made it her life’s work to get her husband’s words to the world. In all of this publishing activity, she never mentioned herself, and she supported herself by running a boarding house. By the time of her death in 1966, thirty books had been published. In 1927 she released a book of devotional readings, one for each day of the year. That book, My Utmost for His Highest, has never gone out of print since that time. It has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into forty-five languages.
In his life, Oswald Chambers devoted his life to Christ and to selfless ministry to others. After his death, through the devoted work of his widow, Chambers continues to minister to people today.