Oswald Chambers (24 July 1874 – 15 November 1917) was an early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist evangelist and teacher who was aligned with the Holiness Movement. He is best known for the daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest.
“Holiness, not happiness, is the chief end of man.”
Born to devout parents in Aberdeen, Scotland, Chambers moved with his family in 1876 to Stoke-on-Trent when his father, Clarence Chambers, became Home Missions evangelist for the North Staffordshire Baptist Association, then to Perth, Scotland when his father returned to the pastorate, and finally to London in 1889, when Clarence was appointed Traveling Secretary of the Baptist Total Abstinence Association. At 16, Oswald Chambers was baptized and became a member of Rye Lane Baptist Chapel. Even as a teenager, Chambers was noted for his deep spirituality, and he participated in the evangelization of poor occupants of local lodging houses. Chambers also demonstrated gifts in both music and art.
“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone”
From 1893 to 1895, Chambers studied at the National Art Training School, now the Royal College of Art and was offered a scholarship for further study, which he declined. For the next two years he continued his study of art at the University of Edinburgh while being greatly influenced by the preaching of Alexander Whyte, pastor of Free St. George’s Church. While at Edinburgh, he felt called to ministry, and he left for Dunoon College, a small theological training school near Glasgow, founded by the Rev. Duncan MacGregor. Chambers was soon teaching classes at the school and took over much of the administration when MacGregor was injured in 1898.
While teaching at Dunoon, Chambers was influenced by Richard Reader Harris, a prominent barrister(attorney) and founder of the Pentecostal League of Prayer. In 1905, Harris introduced Chambers as “a new speaker of exceptional power.” Through the League, Chambers also met Juju Nakada, a Holiness evangelist from Japan, who stimulated Chambers’ growing interest in world evangelism. In 1906, Nakada and Chambers sailed for Japan via the United States. In 1907, Chambers spent a semester teaching at God’s Bible School, a Holiness institution in Cincinnati, then spent a few months in Japan working with Charles Cowman, a co-founder of the Oriental Missionary Society.
Arriving back in Britain by the end of the year, Chambers found the Holiness movement divided by the advocates and opponents of founding a new denomination and by supporters and detractors of the tongues movement. Chambers did not oppose glossolalia but criticized those who made it a test of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Sailing back to the United States in 1908, Chambers became better acquainted with Gertrude Hobbs, the daughter of friends. They married in May 1910; and on 24 May 1913, Gertrude (whom Chambers affectionately called “Biddy”) gave birth to their only child, Kathleen. Even before they married, Chambers considered a partnership in ministry in which Biddy—who could take shorthand at 250 words per minute—would transcribe and type his sermons and lessons into written form.
In 1911 Chambers founded and was principal of the Bible Training College in London, in an “embarrassingly elegant” property that had been purchased by the Pentecostal League of Prayer. Chambers accommodated not only students of every age, education, and class but also anyone in need, believing he ought to “give to everyone who asks.” “No one was ever turned away from the door and whatever the person asked for, whether money, a winter overcoat, or a meal, was given.” Between 1911 and 1915, 106 resident students attended the Bible Training College. By July 1915, forty were serving as missionaries.
“Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging; therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.“
In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, Chambers suspended the operation of the school and was accepted as a YMCA chaplain. He was assigned to Egypt, where he ministered to Australian and New Zealand troops. Chambers raised the spiritual tone of a center intended by both the military and the YMCA to be simply an institution of social service providing wholesome alternatives to the brothels of Cairo. When he told a group of fellow YMCA workers that he had decided to abandon concerts and movies for Bible classes, they predicted the exodus of soldiers from his facilities. “What the skeptics had not considered was Chamber’s unusual personal appeal, his gift in speaking, and his genuine concern for the men.” Soon his wooden-framed “hut” was packed with hundreds of soldiers listening attentively to messages such as “What Is the Good of Prayer?” Confronted by a soldier who said, “I can’t stand religious people,” Chambers replied, “Neither can I.” Chambers irritated his YMCA superiors by giving away refreshments that the organization believed should be sold so as not to raise expectations elsewhere. Chambers installed a contribution box but refused to ask soldiers to pay for tea and cakes.
Chambers was stricken with appendicitis on October 17, 1917, but resisted going to a hospital on the grounds that the beds would be needed by men wounded in the long-expected Third Battle of Gaza. On October 29, a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy; however, Chambers died November 15, 1917 from a pulmonary hemorrhage. He was buried in Cairo with full military honors.
For the remainder of Mrs. Chambers, she transcribed and published books and articles edited from the notes she had taken in shorthand during the Bible College years and later. Most successful of the thirty books was My Utmost for His Highest (1924), a daily devotional composed of 365 selections of Chamber’s talks, each of about 500 words. The work has never been out of print and has been translated into 39 languages.
“We pray when there’s nothing else we can do; Jesus wants us to pray before we do anything at all.”
Father, men and women such as the Chambers were so filled with love for You and for reaching others. We are still able to read his works due to the diligence of many others after them. Mr. Chamber’s widow took the reins to edit and type so much of her husband’s writings. Thank You for each one who steps forward to Your call to guide and reach future generations, then and now. During the narrow span between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Oswald Chambers came to be used by You in order to reach many in his lifetime and then to continue to reach us all the way into the twenty-first century (and possibly beyond). As one of my favorite devotionals, “My Utmost for His Highest” is filled with daily readings that tend to dive to new depths in me. Thank You for this gift even still today. I praise You, Lord, for blessing me with the words of a man who so loved You and so loved those who came to listen to him. Ever so grateful, I pray in the Name of Jesus. Amen.