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An Eclectic Book Reader: Oswald Chambers

readerOswald Chambers was an eclectic book reader, in addition to being a noted teacher and writer.

He loved the Bible, poetry, novels, and theology–probably in that order.

His many letters and talks are littered with references to poetry and books he read.

Baffled to Fight Better, the only book listing him as author that Chambers saw, took its title from a poem by Robert Browning: Asolando.

Biddy used his favorite poets to title other books published after his death. (With two exceptions, books listing Oswald as author all were published after his death).

What should Christians read?

Obviously, Oswald revered the Bible and studied it every day. But he thought a well-rounded thinker needed to read other material.

When friend John Skidmore complained about his inability to express spiritual truth he knew in his heart, he went to Oswald.

Oswald asked him what he read.

When the man explained he stuck to the Bible and associated texts, Oswald shook his head.

“The trouble is you have allowed part of your brain to stagnate for want of use.”

Oswald then provided a list of more than 50 books covering philosophical, psychological, theological and other types of books devoted to current thought.reader

Later, he wrote John:

“My strong advice to you is to soak, soak, soak in philosophy . . . It is ignorance of these subjects on the part of ministers and workers that has brought out evangelical theology to such a sorry plight.”

The need to know more was apparent when his Bible Training College students and those he taught in Egypt went out into the world.

Oswald relished honest debate and discussion with agnostics, atheists, lazy Christians and the like.

Following a March 2017 class, he described the satisfaction of being quizzed by three Australian soldiers:

“These rough ‘old dogs’ were acquainted intimately with Calvin’s Institute, Pascal, Coleridge, Hugh Miller, Thomas Guthrie, Thomas Boston and the Bible.

“Altogether it was the most delightful question class I have had.”

What kind of reader and book lover was Oswald?

reader

An inscription for Biddy

He always traveled with a box of books–he generally read them all on a 10-day trip to America.

Oswald described the delight of opening one of his boxes in 1907:

“My books! I cannot tell you what they are to me—silent, wealthy, loyal lovers. To look at them, to handle them, and to re-read them!

“I do thank God for my books with every fibre of my being. Friends that are ever true and ever your own. Why, I could have almost cried for excess of joy when I got hold of them again.

“I see them all just at my elbow now—Plato, Wordsworth, Myers, Bradley, Halyburton, St. Augustine, Browning, Tennyson, Amiel, etc. I know them, I wish you could see how they look at me, a quiet calm look of certain acquaintance.”

While on a trip to Niagara falls, he wrote to a friend:

“If you have never read Victor Hugo’s Toiler of the Sea, read it. It gives you something akin to the impressions you have when face to face with this power of nature.”

The Chambers family library contained copies of Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald, Ibsen and even Rider Haggard:

“I have read two books the last few days, very different but both well worth referring to. One is Marmaduke Pickthall‘s Children of the Nile. Pickthall is to my mind the best and most unpretentious analyser of this people.

“The other is Rider Haggard’s The Brethren, it is really a noble idealization of supreme emotions.”

Several days later Oswald laughed his way through J. M. Barrie‘s Little Minister.

Biblical commentary reader

Oswald Chambers spent the last years of his life at Zeitoun’s YMCA camp outside of Egypt.

He relished living in the Bible lands he knew so well from the Scriptures.

(The alleged place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus stopped while fleeing Herod to Egypt was not far away).

Friends sent him the books he needed such as Dr. George Adam Smith‘s Geography of the Holy Land, Dean Inge’s Truth and Falsehood, Dr. Glover’s The Jesus of History and Dr. Orchard’s The Outlook for Religion.

Most evenings, Oswald and Biddy sat around the table following a late dinner to talk about books, God, and life.

Gift Books for Readers

Biddy and Oswald generally exchanged books for gifts.reader

One of the few treasures their daughter Kathleen had from her father was a book given to her on her second birthday.

While he inscribed other gifts, The Life of Jesus of Nazareth is the only one he wrote in for her:

“To our flower of God on her second birthday, May 24, 1915, from Daddy and Mummy.”

Biddy gave Kathleen a children’s copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress for her fifth birthday.

How did Oswald become an author?

Because Biddy chose to honor his words, taken down in shorthand for seven years, and turn them into books.

Oswald would have approved. As his mentor Reader Harris stated:

“The most lasting of all preaching is with the pen.”

(All the quotations come from Chambers, G. (1933). Oswald Chambers : His life and work  London: Simpkins Marshall.)

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Those interested in Oswald and Biddy Chambers might enjoy short monthly stories about God’s leading in writing Mrs. Oswald Chambers (to be released in October 2017 by Baker Books).

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5 Comments

  1. Oswald Chambers’ attitude towards reading was an encouragement to me to read widely in my teen years.

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  March 3, 2017

    And it certainly worked for you, Roscuro! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Yohannes

     /  March 4, 2017

    Dear Michelle, do you happen to have those lists written somewhere by any chance? “Oswald then provided a list of more than 50 books covering philosophical, psychological, theological and other types of books devoted to current thought.”
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  March 4, 2017

      I’ve been looking for that list, Yohannes, but I haven’t found it. Throughout Oswald Chambers: His Life and Works, quotes from OC’s diaries refer to books he’s reading.

      Just reviewing the index in David McCasland’s Abandoned to God, I see the following authors (remember, OC died in 1917, so these will be old books, now). Balzac,Browning, Rev. Dr. P.T. Forsyth, Ibsen, Rev. John Henry Jowett, George MacDonald,Rev. Dr. G. Campell Morgan, John Ruskin, Sir Walter Scott, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Louis Stevenson, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Hudson Taylor, Oscar Wilde, Rev. Dr. Alexander Whyte

      Here are a few titles he sent to a friend:
      “Books of the very best were passed on to me as gifts at various anniversaries. One I prized most highly is a copy of The Disciples. Others were Frances Ridley Havergal’s Memoirs, Tennyson’s poems; George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul, Aurora Leigh, also Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation.

      I had a list somewhere of the books in his personal library, but couldn’t find it while writing this post.

      It’s also important to note that some of what OC says about science in particular (like atoms), is based on knowledge he read at the time and which doesn’t hold up to what we know in 2017.

      Best wishes and happy reading!
      (Chambers, G. (1933). Oswald Chambers : His life and work (p. 39). London: Simpkins Marshall.)

      Reply
  4. Yohannes

     /  March 4, 2017

    Thank you so very much for your prompt and kind reply, Michelle. I searched all references of all the books he read from ‘Abandoned to God’ which I can never get enough of reading it over and over again. Most of them you posted above, I’ve gone far and beyond to collect their PDF versions and praise God, found many of them which my soul is fiesting on now one after another. Who wrote ‘The Disciple’ please, If you happen to know? I hope you share with me the list of books he had in his library when you find it. I truelly appreciate it. God bless you abundantly and look forward to read your book on Biddy. Thanks again!

    Reply

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