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Who was Oswald Chambers?

Who was Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)and why should anyone be interested in him?

Who was Oswald Chambers?, My Utmost for His Highest, Biddy Chambers, Christianity WWI, YMCA chaplains, London, Egypt, Bible
For most people now alive, he’s known as the author of the famous devotional My Utmost for His Highest, first published in 1927 and never out of print since.

A noted British evangelist and Bible teacher, “OC” was born in Aberdeen, Scotland of devout parents.Notably talented in music and art, he played the organ and trained at the Royal College of Art and the University of Edinburgh.

He thought he’d have a career in the arts: he loved literature in addition to music and painting.

But one night, he accompanied his father Clarence to hear Rev. Charles Spurgeon preach at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle.

On the way home, OC told his father  he would have given himself to the Lord at the service if given an opportunity.

Who was Oswald Chambers?, My Utmost for His Highest, Biddy Chambers, Christianity WWI, YMCA chaplains, London, Egypt, Bible

Charles Spurgeon

His wise father said, “You can do it now, my boy.”

OC gave his life to God that 1890 night.

Training and Preaching

While at art school in Edinburgh, OC found himself drawn to the things of God more than the art world. He enrolled at Dunoon Bible College, not far from Glasgow. There,  Rev. Duncan McGregor tutored, taught and challenged him. Eventually, OC himself began teaching classes.

In 1905 OC met a Japanese evangelist named Juji Nakada with whom he traveled to teach at God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio–affiliated with the Holiness Movement.

Afterwards, he decided he’d like to see how international evangelism worked and continued on with Nakada to Japan, where he became friends with Charles Cowman, co-founder of the Oriental Missions Society and his wife Lettie. (Lettie Cowman was the author of the noted devotional Streams in the Desert).

(Isn’t it interesting the people who knew each other?)

Who was Oswald Chambers?, My Utmost for His Highest, Biddy Chambers, Christianity WWI, YMCA chaplains, London, Egypt, Bible

Oswald and Biddy; photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections library

Upon his return from traveling around the world, OC began working with the Protestant Prayer League and spoke all over England.

During a 1908 sailing to America for another round of teaching and preaching, OC became well acquainted with Gertrude Hobbs, whom he quickly nicknamed “B.D.” for “beloved disciple.” Her nickname segued into Biddy, which is what she was known by for the rest of her life. The two wed in 1910.

Bible Training College and the YMCA

Shortly after their marriage OC became principal and Biddy helped found and run the Bible Training College located at 45 North Side, Clapham Common in London.

OC felt Christianity was more easily “caught” than taught when followers of Christ could dwell together–which was the point of the BTC.

In addition to daily lectures, OC also taught a large number of students in correspondence classes–at one point grading up to 300 lessons a week.

His only child, Kathleen, was born in 1913.

The Bible Training College was designed to prepare individuals for ministry–and many students went on to work in the missions field around the world. It focused on knowing Jesus and studying Scripture.

Biddy took shorthand of all her husband’s lectures. Her speed? 250 words a minute–faster than most people can talk.

When war began in 1914, OC and Biddy decided to close the Bible Training College in summer 1915 “for the duration” of the war. OC became a chaplain “applying spiritual first aid,” with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Egypt.

Several months after his departure, Biddy and Kathleen were granted permission to join him in Egypt. They served together there until OC’s death from appendicitis complications in November, 1917.

How did he write the books?

In his lifetime, Oswald Chambers only produced one book: Baffled to Fight Better–which concerned itself with the book of Job. Chambers had preached on Job during the last year of his life to hundreds of Commonwealth soldiers stationed in Egypt.

Biddy Chambers devoted the rest of her life to fulfilling the tasks set into motion by her husband. She remained at the YMCA camp in Egypt until the close of the war, wherein she returned to England. Using her years of transcribed notes, she put together the books that bear OC’s name. The words are all his; the organization hers.

The title for My Utmost for His Highest was taken from one of Chambers’s sermons, where he says “Shut out every consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only- My Utmost for His Highest.”

The devotional has been translated into 39 languages and never out of print.

Why is Oswald Chambers important?

Who was Oswald Chambers?, My Utmost for His Highest, Biddy Chambers, Christianity WWI, YMCA chaplains, London, Egypt, Bible

OC’s Bible

Were he still alive, he’d tell you he wasn’t important. It was his steadfast love and faithfulness to Jesus Christ that set him apart from others. A cheerful man of generous nature, deep reading and thought, Chambers was dearly loved y his students and the soldiers whom he counseled in the Egyptian desert.

His preaching and teaching at the YMCA camps in Egypt, spiritually prepared many soldiers for battle. Unlike other YMCA camps, OC didn’t entertain his troops so much as make the Word of God available to them.

He made a difference in their peace of mind as they faced death in Egypt and France.

Signature Quotes

Among Oswald Chamber’s signature quotes were the following:

“The process of being made broken bread and poured-out wine means that you have to be the nourishment for other people’s souls until they learn to feed on God. They must drain you completely— to the very last drop.”

~My Utmost for His Highest; February 9 

“Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.” ~My Utmost for His Highest; December 31

Why is Oswald Chambers important to me?

Like many, I’ve read My Utmost for His Highest as a devotional for many years. OC challenges my thinking, encourages me to focus on God and His plan, not my own and often leaves me gasping in shock at the errors in my own way of looking at life. I’ve benefited greatly from reading this devotional.

How about you?

Who was Oswald Chambers?, My Utmost for His Highest, Biddy Chambers, Christianity WWI, YMCA chaplains, London, Egypt, Bible

Photo courtesy Wheaton College Special Collections

For more information:

David McCasland wrote the definitive biography of Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God. You can find it on Amazon.

Discovery House Publishers maintains www.utmost.org, where My Utmost for His Highest is updated every day. I read it there on my Ipad.

You can view a video about Oswald Chambers’ life here.

You can view more photos on my Pinterest board Oswald and Biddy Chambers, or through Wheaton College’s Special Collections Library.

The official society: Oswald Chambers Publication Association

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7 Comments

  1. Karen O

     /  September 26, 2014

    Michelle, Streams in the Desert was actually written by Charles Cowman’s wife, Lettie, while he was gravely ill.

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  September 26, 2014

    Thanks, Karen. I went looking for that information–thinking the same thing–but didn’t find it. OC knew them both, well.

    Reply
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