Oswald and Biddy Chambers’ Solemn Promise

Solemn promise, Holman Hunt, St. Peter's Cathedral, Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, Jesus, the Light of the World; Oswald Chambers engagement

The Light of the World Wikipedia Commons)

While in London recently, we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral to view the site of a solemn promise.

It wasn’t a promise we’d made–but one pledged between Oswald Chambers and Gertrude Hobbs on November 13, 1908.

Oswald and Biddy–as he nicknamed her (Oswald had a sister named Gertrude so Miss Hobbs became “Beloved Disciple” shortened to BD, chuckled to Biddy)–loved fine art and music and certainly St. Paul’s glorious cathedral had both. But they were particularly drawn to one painting: Holman Hunt’s 1856 “The Light of the World.”

You know this painting, or at least one similar to it, in which Jesus stands at a door knocking. The Scripture passage inspiring it comes from Revelation 3:20:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.”

The door has no doorknob. Jesus cannot come in unless he’s invited in by you (or me, or anyone) opening the door of our heart to him.

Jesus wears kingly robes in this painting, carries a lantern representing himself as the light of the world, and he wears the crown of thorns mockingly thrust upon him prior to his crucifixion.

“The Light of the World” is on the northeastern wall of the nave, not far from the floor of the Sir Christopher Wren dome and where prayers are offered hourly and services daily in the magnificent Anglican cathedral.

The reason for the solemn promise

The Chambers courtship involved several continents and many years. Oswald knew he had little to offer the talented Miss Hobbs beyond his love of the Lord. Click to Tweet

But that, of course, is everything.

Fortunately for him, Biddy shared his passion for serving Jesus Christ, and as their romance flourished–it involved prayers, church meetings, poetry, music, letters and little time together–it became clear their goals were similar.

As David McCasland notes in Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, beginning an engagement in front of this painting was no coincidence:

 He and Biddy were pledging their love, first and foremost, to Jesus Christ, and to His work in this dark world. Their commitment went far beyond a hope for personal happiness to embrace a calling to belong first to God, and then to each other.

Oswald gave her a ring set with three tiny diamonds.

Solemn promise, Holman Hunt, St. Peter's Cathedral, Oswald Chambers, Biddy Chambers, Jesus, the Light of the World; Oswald Chambers engagement

Oswald and Biddy Chambers wedding day; courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections Library

They were married eighteen months later on May 25, 1910.

The results of the solemn promise

The marriage lasted until Oswald’s death on November 15, 1917 and took them from the England to the United States, back to London and ultimately to Egypt. Not much money, but a life rich in love, ministry, teaching and laughter.

It also produced a daughter Kathleen.

My husband and I, who have traveled far and weathered much in our long married life together, wanted to honor a young couple who so long ago made a solemn promise to each other and to God.

Chairs for prayer sit before “The Light of the World,” in the 21st century. It’s tricky to get a good look at the paining owing to the curious lighting and the altar in front of it. We stood, however, and admired and remembered Oswald and Biddy.

Oswald Chambers and Gertrude Hobbs promised, together, to follow God, to provide their utmost to accomplish God’s highest plans.

It amuses me to see what devotional Biddy chose for May 25 in My Utmost for His Highest. Here it is in part:

As soon as you begin to live the life of faith in God, fascinating and luxurious prospects will open up before you, and these things are yours by right; but if you are living the life of faith you will exercise your right to waive your rights and let God choose for you.

Is that how she viewed her marriage?

I think God chose well for Oswald Chambers and Gertrude Hobbs 106 years ago, how about you?


Oswald and Biddy Chambers make a solemn promise at St. Paul’s Cathedral Click to Tweet

The Light of the World painting inspires Oswald Chambers. Click to Tweet


%d bloggers like this: