Oswald Chambers was born in Scotland in 1874 and was educated at London’s Royal College of Art and the University of Edinburgh. Although gifted in the arts, he felt at the age of 22, that God was calling him to become a minister. After studying and later teaching in a small theological college in Dunoon, he moved into a preaching ministry that spanned Britain, America and Japan.
In 1908, Oswald Chambers boarded a ship bound for America. He had been asked to look out for a young lady, who was also travelling to America in search of work and adventure.
Gertrude Hobbs (later to become Mrs Oswald Chambers) suffered annual bouts of bronchitis as a child. She left school early to help her mother at home, and to allow her older sister and brother to continue their education. She studied Pitman shorthand and by the time she was old enough to work full time, she could take dictation at the phenomenal rate of 250 words per minute – faster than most people talk! Now in 1908, she was on a ship bound for America and she was getting to know a man who intrigued her.
When the voyage ended, they parted company, but began to write to each other. They soon realised that they had deep feelings for each other and eventually they married in 1910.
The portrait of Beethoven, the sketch of his teenage friend, George Oxer, and the turbulent seascape reveal Oswald’s passages in discovering God’s calling. His desire to serve God through art, music and literature was redirected into becoming a Christian minister – something he vowed never to do. He told George Oxer, “I shall never go into the ministry until God takes me by the scruff of the neck and throws me in.”
It takes me a long while to realize
that God has no respect for anything
I bring Him. All He wants from me
is unconditional surrender.
Oswald Chambers spent nine years (1897-1906) at the Dunoon Theological College, first as a student then as a tutor. It began with great joy in learning and service, but soon became his dark night of the soul, a period he later described as “four years of hell on earth.” A poem written in September 1901 reveals the depth of his struggle:
O Lord Jesus, hear my crying
For a consecrated life,
For I bite the dust in trying
For release from this dark strife.
He emerged from it confident in the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. It also deepened his compassion for all those who struggle in life and faith.
The B.T.C. was a haven for anyone in need. One student observed, ‘The college kept open house for the broken, the bruised, the unfortunate, for the old, the forlorn, and the weary.’
Student fees paid only a portion of the college costs and the difference was met from private donors through the League of Prayer. There was never an endowment, and never more money on hand to meet the needs beyond a week ahead. In spite of that, Chambers maintained a carefree attitude of faith and often paid for needed supplies from his own pocket. The house existed in a spirit of freedom and informality where every one came and went with perfect liberty.
© McCasland, David. Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God. Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Discovery House, 1993. p186.
There will come one day a personal and direct touch from God when every tear and perplexity, every oppression and distress, every suffering and pain, and wrong and injustice will have a complete and ample and overwhelming explanation.
When World War I broke out, Oswald began to feel God was calling him to move on. He wondered how he should serve his country at that time. His prayer was “Lord, I praise You for this place I am in, but the wonder has begun to stir in me – is this Your place for me? Hold me steady doing Your will. It may be only restlessness; if so, calm me to strength that I sin not against You by doubting.”
Hearing God’s call on the matter, he left London to become Chaplain to the troops in Egypt in October 1915, and Biddy and their 2½ year old daughter, Kathleen, followed in December 1915.
Biddy soon took up her ministry of hospitality and Oswald continued his teaching ministry to the troops. At first sceptical, the soldiers soon began to love and respect the Chambers family.
Oswald died of complications following an operation to remove his appendix in 1917. The telegram which his wife sent home to his family in England simply read: “Oswald, in His presence.” 100 men escorted the gun carriage bearing the coffin. Only officers were the bearers. All of them walked the whole funeral route with arms reversed – a special tribute to a well-loved and respected man. Biddy’s chosen song at the funeral was “I to the hills will lift mine eyes.”
During the months before Oswald’s death, Biddy had transcribed his nightly talks from the book of Job. After Oswald’s proofreading, she sent it to the Nile Mission Press. The resulting book, “Baffled To Fight Better,” appeared in late 1917 and was quickly in demand among soldiers and friends in England alike. Each month Biddy sent one of Oswald’s talks in pamphlet form to soldiers in Egypt and France. From this work emerged her sense that God’s calling for her was to give Oswald’s words to the world.
When the last soldiers left Cairo in July 1919, Biddy and 6-year-old Kathleen returned to England. With the encouragement and support of friends, Biddy began what she would always call “the work of the books.”
From shorthand notes of Oswald’s classes, sermons and lectures, taken during their 7½ years of marriage, she began publishing pamphlets and booklets, which were later combined into books.
“My Utmost for His Highest” was first published in 1927, and has remained continually in print ever since. Thousands of people have been blessed and challenged as they have regularly read this daily devotional.
Biddy died in 1966, knowing that she had fulfilled the ministry which God has entrusted to her. Oswald Chambers Publications Association seeks to continue that ministry.
Biddy and Kathleen lived in Muswell Hill, London, and after Biddy died Kathleen continued to live in the same house until her death in 1997. The house was constantly filled with visitors.
Kathleen chose nine months of quotations for Run Today’s Race, a book Biddy had started shortly before her death. Kathleen was a great encouragement to her mother, and to everyone involved in publishing her father’s words. The work continues today much as she would have wanted.