Of British Christians in the evangelical tradition who have influenced the twentieth-century through the printed page, Oswald Chambers ranks probably next to C. S. Lewis. My Utmost For His Highest, his famous devotional classic, has been translated into twelve languages. Yet Oswald Chambers never wrote a book. Thirty-two volumes bear his name on the cover, but he never knew about any of them.

Many devoted readers of these books are aware that Chambers died in 1917 in Zeitoun, Egypt, during his World War I service as YMCA chaplain to British army troops. Some know that he left behind a wife and a four-year-old daughter. Not many realize that his daughter, Miss Kathleen Chambers, is living today in her home in North London, and that for fifty years she and her mother were responsible for the continued influence of Oswald Chambers upon the Christian world.

Undetected appendicitis, which led to peritonitis, caused Chambers’s death in November, 1917, at the age of forty-three. His wife soon returned to Zeitoun and began holding evening prayers in her family bungalow. She continued to conduct devotional meetings for the soldiers every night as well as services on Sundays, just as Oswald had done.

A year later Gertrude and little Kathleen sailed back to England with no money and no prospects. Eventually they took a small cottage outside Oxford, “which had no light and no water laid on.” They held meetings for countrymen from around the district. Mrs. Chambers became a Methodist preacher and also, in response to many requests, began printing some of her husband’s messages.

Moving into a larger house but still in financial straits, Mrs. Chambers and Kathleen looked after four college students. Gertrude (better known as “Biddy”) furnished a study in the basement, and there in 1926 she typed the manuscript of My Utmost For His Highest, selecting and arranging extracts from Oswald’s spoken messages.

“When Mother was a child of thirteen,” Kathleen explains, “she was unable to continue her schooling because of illness. She then undertook to master shorthand, with the ambition of one day becoming secretary to the prime minister. She reached the fantastic speed of 250 words a minute. After she and my father were married she took down everything my father said, for it made it easier for her to understand and remember it. She had a compulsion to take verbatim notes even though she didn’t know what the compulsion was. But she felt it was from God.”

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Oswald and Biddy were married in 1910, and five years later they left for wartime service in Egypt, taking with them the baby Kathleen. The army camp was in open desert under a scorching sun and catered to thousands of men in transit to or from the eastern front. Here Oswald Chambers held nightly Bible lectures during the week and sometimes four services on Sunday, and periodically journeyed out to the lines on days of pastoral mission.

Miss Chambers said that at the beginning of her father’s illness her mother received a verse from God: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4). She thought Oswald was not going to die. Afterward she went into the desert early one morning to ask God to tell her what the verse meant. By slow degrees Biddy learned that the verse meant that books would come out of it and in that sense Oswald would not die. The last six words of the text came home.

Oswald was born July 24, 1874, in Aberdeen, Scotland, the fourth son of Clarence and Hannah Chambers. His father was minister of Crown Terrace Baptist Church. Later his father became a minister in Southgate, London. As a boy Oswald gave himself to the Lord and was baptized, and he soon became a Sunday-school teacher. He showed definite artistic gifts, and in 1895 he returned to Edinburgh to enroll in the university arts course.

One night at Arthur’s Seat, a hill in the center of Edinburgh, the call of God came with startling suddenness to Oswald: “I want you in my service, but I can do without you.” He returned to his lodgings to find in the mail a report from the Training College at Dunoon. His next nine years, from 1897 to 1906, were spent at this school, first as a student, then as a tutor. While teaching art, logic, moral philosophy, and psychology, he went through a deepening experience with God.

By 1902 Chambers had set aside his interest in art, poetry, music, and philosophy and had begun preaching at the Baptist chapel. His niece, Irene, describes his messages:

He always spoke in the same natural way; clear, colloquial, trenchant words in his rather penetrating voice with its Scottish tang. He used no poetic word-spinning and no emotional appeal, for he had no time for intellectual or spiritual bluff. “Be definite” was ever on his lips. The personal relationship of each individual soul to Jesus Christ was the essential of true living to him.

After leaving Dunoon Chambers conducted preaching missions in Japan and America.

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On May 25, 1910, Oswald and Biddy were married. They accepted the challenge to found a Bible training college. The following year it opened at Clapham, and Oswald spent the next four years as principal. Kathleen says that someone once wanted to endow the college, but her father said, “No, If you do that it will probably go on longer than God means it to.”

Students of both sexes, all ages, and many Christian persuasions found their way to Clapham. They looked back on their B.T.C. training as the most gracious days of their lives. A student wrote:

The weekly devotional meeting was a time of inspiration and heart-searching. We were brought face to face with the demands of discipleship. But it must not be supposed that the students took everything lying down. The principal never argued, never sought to force his viewpoint upon us. I remember once hearing a student say, “I can’t believe that,” with reference to a statement in the New Testament, to which he answered cheerily, “Well, no one has asked you to! The New Testament was written for believers.”

Gertrude Chambers typed thirty-one volumes of her husband’s messages, and had started the thirty-second when she herself died in 1966. Her daughter finished the rest of the book, entitled Run Today’s Race. Still unpublished are notes on Isaiah and a few notes on Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Mrs. Chambers was emphatic about leaving royalty money in the fund for books to be reprinted as soon as they went out of print. Even after the Oswald Chambers Publications Association was formed, she would take from the fund £25 a month, no more.

When 40,000 books were lost through fire bombs one night during World War II, Biddy thought it was God’s way of ceasing publication of her husband’s books. She was wrong. Today, as David Lambert, his biographer, remarks, “the influence of Oswald Chambers is stronger than ever.” The words of Oswald Chambers are making up part of the moral fiber of thousands of young Christians around the world, and for that we can say, “To God be the glory!”

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