Many of us recognize the inspiring title of this famous book of selected Scripture meditations: My Utmost for His Highest. However, fewer people are familiar with the life of the man who made these words his testimony. Although Oswald Chambers lived to be only forty-three years old, his life after his conversion at age fifteen was characterized by a desire to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might.
Oswald Chambers was born on July 24, 1874, in Aberdeen, Scotland. His parents were Clarence and Hannah Chambers. Both of them had been heavily influenced by the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and they had been baptized by Spurgeon himself. Oswald Chambers’s mother was converted under Spurgeon’s preaching, and his father was among the first students at Spurgeon’s Pastors’ College.
Oswald was the seventh child born in the Chambers family. At that time, his father was serving as the pastor at Crown Terrace Baptist Church. Young Oswald flourished in the warmth of his loving Scottish family; he was noted as being a joyful child. Although he was born in Aberdeen, most of his boyhood was spent in Perth, where his father was called to serve as pastor.
Young Oswald showed a keen interest in art from an early age. He drew a golden eagle in chalk on the school blackboard. His teachers refused to erase the excellent picture for a long time! He was excited when, at the age of fifteen, he learned that his parents were moving the family to London. He was hopeful that would have more opportunities there to develop his skills as an artist.
But something greater awaited in London. Soon after their arrival in the great metropolis, his father took the family to the Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear Charles Spurgeon, now nearing the end of life, preach the everlasting Gospel. That night, under the preaching of Spurgeon, the Lord moved in the heart of young Oswald Chambers in a personal way as never before. The youth’s eyes were opened to see his own sin and the perfection of the Savior. On the way home, Oswald told his father of his need to be saved. There, in the streets of London and beneath a street lamp, Oswald Chambers gave himself to God. His life was no longer his own, for he was bought with a price.
For a time, Oswald continued pursuing his interest in art. He attended the University of Edinburgh and studied under the masters. The portrait of Beethoven that he produced is one of the best portraits of the brilliant musician. The young man convinced himself for a time that the Lord could use his skills as an artist for His glory. As some of his friends urged him to become a minister of the Gospel, he always demurred, even telling one friend that he would not enter the ministry unless God took him “by the scruff of the neck.”
As time went on, Oswald sensed that the Lord was indeed leading him to abandon the pursuit of a career in art and to devote himself to full-time Christian ministry. Determined to know for sure, he spent an entire night in prayer at Arthur’s Seat, a rugged, old volcanic peak overlooking Edinburgh, wrestling with the Lord in prayer and eventually surrendering his life entirely into the trustworthy hands of the Almighty.
The next morning, Oswald was surprised to find a piece of mail delivered to him—a brochure from Dunoon Training College. For almost a decade, from 1897 to 1906, Oswald spent many valuable hours under the teaching and mentorship of Duncan MacGregor, a Godly teacher who tried to follow the example of the Lord Jesus in his own discipleship. The teacher and his wife opened their home to the students of Dunoon, sharing meals with them, interacting with them on a daily basis, and teaching practical Christianity, even while the students studied academic subjects, such as Greek, church history, logic, and rhetoric.
Oswald Chambers began receiving invitations to preach in churches in the surrounding towns. He went through a dark period where he was keenly aware of his own weakness and longed for full surrender to the Holy Spirit. God gave him strength to carry on, and he eventually found refuge in the promise of the Lord Jesus given in Luke 11:13, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
Mr. Chambers became active in the beginning of the Holiness Movement and was part of the League of Prayer, although he hesitated making tongues the defining evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, as some in this movement eventually insisted on doing. The young man took a world tour from 1906 to 1910, traveling first to America, then to Japan, preaching in churches and Bible schools.
When Mr. Chambers journeyed to America, on the same ship was Gertrude Hobbs, the daughter of a friend of his. A friendship began on that voyage that soon blossomed into love. He wrote to her during his travels around the world. When he returned home, he took Gertrude on a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. There, he pledged his love to her and asked her to become his wife and companion in the Lord’s service.
At the time of her engagement, Gertrude was trained as a stenographer; however, as Mrs. Oswald Chambers, her skills in taking shorthand would be greatly used by the Lord. Each time her husband preached, she recorded his sermon verbatim in shorthand. Mr. Chambers often called his wife “Beloved Disciple” and this nickname was eventually shortened to the initials “BD,” which the adoring husband pronounced as “Biddy.”
Together, the evangelist and his wife opened a Bible school in south London. They desired to operate their school after the live-in discipleship pattern Mr. Chambers had experienced in the home of his former Dunoon teacher, Duncan MacGregor. The Lord provided a nineteen-room house that could accommodate up to twenty-five students. The Lord blessed the Chambers family with a daughter in 1913. They named her Kathleen.
The Bible school operated for only a few short years before the outbreak of the Great War (WWI) in Europe. England sent her best and bravest to the battlefield. When Mr. Chambers heard of the needs among the soldiers for the Gospel, he volunteered to serve as a chaplain with the YMCA in Egypt.
The evangelist and chaplain spent his final years preaching and ministering among the Australian and New Zealand troops stationed around Cairo, Egypt. His wife and daughter accompanied him. Kathleen, now a toddler, won the hearts of the soldiers as she offered them biscuits (the British term for cookies) and Gospel tracts. Mrs. Chambers regularly served Sunday afternoon tea to a crowd of 700 soldiers who came to hear her husband faithfully preach from God’s Word.
The rigorous schedule, the hot climate, and the disease-carrying flies and mosquitoes all took a toll on Chaplain Chamber’s health. His wife became worried about him and urged him to go to the doctor, but he did not want to take a hospital bed away from the needy troops. When he finally did seek medical attention for severe abdominal pain, it was too late. His appendix had ruptured, and he died suddenly.
Egyptian laborers joined the crowd of high-ranking military officers and diplomats that assembled to follow the funeral procession to the British military cemetery in Cairo. The soldiers who loved their pastor gave him a funeral with full military honors. Friends all over the world were shocked to receive the cable from Egypt, “OSWALD IN HIS PRESENCE.”
Mrs. Chambers would not let the voice of her husband lie in silence. She carefully went through his notes and published a sermon each month. The sermons were printed and distributed to 10,000 soldiers in the Middle East. Before her death in 1966, Mrs. Chambers had typed and printed thirty books, of which the best known was a selection of readings for each day of the year, titled My Utmost for His Highest. That book has been in continuous print since the day it was first presented to the world, inspiring many others to love and serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might.