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My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

03/16/2011

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

I picked up my copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers a couple of days ago and began thumbing through it. My Utmost is one of those books that I keep on thinking I haven’t read, but then after reading through about a months worth of entries I start thinking “yeah, this seems awfully familiar…”. I have one of those nice little leather bound copies that I picked up a thrift store for dirt cheap; just a perfect, small little devotional.

If I remember correctly, I enjoyed reading My Utmost for His Highest the first time I read through it. I don’t think I have the discipline to follow it as a daily devotional though. My Utmost for His Highest is a collection of snippets from Oswald Chambers’ sermons, put together into a book form by his wife after his death, and in my mind the book largely reflects that. Reading it is similar to reading proof texts from the Bible; it lacks that cohesion that the whole has. Because each day’s reading is a snippet from a sermon, I find myself unable to read just one. I certainly don’t dwell on each one as I would a chunk of scripture or a chapter from another book such as Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. It’s hard to develop a complete idea or teaching in just two or three short paragraphs that were meant to be part of a larger whole. There just doesn’t seem to be enough meat for my mind to grasp on to.

All that to say that in the past couple of days I’ve read maybe 40 or so entries in My Utmost for His Highest, in chunks of 10-12 entries at a time. I found myself reflecting a lot more on the book this time around then before. And there is one idea I just can’t seem to get around: why is this book so popular amongst Christians? I can understand why books such as Augustine’s Confessions or the aforementioned CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity are popular, but I’m sort of at a loss for the popularity of My Utmost for His Highest. Perhaps it’s because of the nature of the book as I mentioned above, and because I read so much, I find short disjointed paragraphs hard to digest. I’ve never seen the appeal of devotionals such as My Daily Bread (“Crouton”), and perhaps this is just a continuation of that.

I don’t in any way mean to suggest that My Utmost For His Highest is trash or not worth reading. I’ve many friends who find daily inspiration in Oswald Chamber’s teachings, and I wouldn’t take that away from them. I think the book is important to many people and should be read by everyone at least once.

There was one thing that stopped me up cold though, as I was reading through some of the entries. It’s a throwaway line, but it instantly raised a red flag in my mind through the Holy Spirit. Oswald Chambers refers to something as “entire sanctification”, and that intrigued me enough to research Oswald Chambers some more. I guess if a document is incredibly important to a lot of people, you should take the time to find out where it came from, who wrote it, what their beliefs are, etc.

And sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed: Oswald Chambers is, for better or for worse, a Christian mystic. Reading through a biography or two of him online, he grew up in a Baptist household, was converted through the ministry of Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers as he’s been called, founded a Bible school, married, and then eventually served as a champlain in World War I, dying at a young age. As for who the influences in his life were, obviously he was raised in a Baptist home, but that is incredibly hard to define as there is no one core set of Baptist beliefs (meaning not all Baptists are Calvinists or Arminians), and converted under Spurgeon’s Calvinism views (Spurgeon also identifies as a Baptist). One biography mentioned that he audibly heard the voice of God at the age of 20 calling him into ministry and service, an experience that led to him becoming involved in a parachurch organization called the League of Prayer (warning sign #1). Like many young folks in such organizations, he found plentiful opportunities to preach from pulpits, whether or not he was qualified and trained in the Word to do so.

Later on, Chambers was heavily involved in Holiness meetings (warning sign #2), and counted as his spiritual leaders such authors as Johann Tauler (a 14th century Christian mystic who allegorized and demoted Scripture in favor of experience and personal holiness)(massive warning sign #3), P. T. Forsyth (contemporary of Chambers who formulated new ideas of “holy souls” and demphasized justification by faith in favor of justification by holiness)(warning sign #4), and the leaders of the Keswick Movement (of whom Chambers heavily influenced in return), a group that emphasized “practical holiness”, achieving a higher level of the Christian life, which is an man-made means of sanctification and separation of Christians into classes (warning sign #5).

Frankly, I consider all of these people and groups as either heretics or else horribly misinformed and deceived. Which is a shame, because I’m sure they all loved the Lord, but their theologies have led thousands astray. Oswald Chamber’s idea of “entire sanctification” can’t be defended Biblically, and seems to be nothing more than a man-made attempt to feel better about themselves. It’s a distinctly human response to the problem of sin that is everyone’s life. Historically the Church has always taught that we are justified by faith, and that sanctification is an ongoing process that will never be completed in this lifetime. There are also three main causes of sin: Satan and demons, this fallen earth, and our fallen human nature. Entire Sanctification and other positions say that in Christ, after a unique experience brought upon by crisis (a “second work” of grace), man’s fallen human nature is essentially gone and done away with, never to trouble us again unless we consciously will it to (therefore, sin is always a conscious choice and can be consciously avoided), and since we have Christ’s authority, we can control on demand the influence of the world and Satan in our lives, thus truly making us “little Christs”. And that’s a completely unbiblical, demonic idea.

I like how this one commenter on My Utmost For His Highest put it in regards to the Christian mysticism and Keswick influence in the book:

The Christian faith he taught is privatized and individualistic. The golden thread of the covenant woven in the Old and New Testament is missing. My Utmost for His Highest communicates a fairly radical version of the Keswick’s movement’s stress on self-denial. It lacks joy and some even term it “morbid.” Its key phrases are “are you prepared to let God take you into union with Himself… are you prepared to abandon entirely and let go?” “yielding to Jesus will break every form of slavery in any human life,” and “God makes us broken bread and poured-wine to please Himself.” My Utmost for His Highest reflects Chambers’ spiritual journey, his focus on introspection, his search for reaching holiness at all cost, and his own experience of what the mystics called “the dark night of the soul,” a period of long agony which was lifted only after he presented himself without reserve to the Lord. Although he rarely referred to it directly and certainly didn’t expect other Christians to imitate him, Chambers’ own mystical experience of “a second blessing,” was based on his reading of 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?”. It was a turning point in his life.

I know this is a hard thing for many to get, and I struggled with it myself, but all my holiness comes as a result of my justification, not my sanctification. I can’t possibly be purified enough to be allowed anywhere near God, my sanctification. The only way I can come near God at all is through Jesus Christ, my justification. The Bible is clear that any all righteousness we bear is no more than dirty menstrual rags in God’s sight; that includes the new born Christians efforts or the old saint’s efforts. Sanctification is a by product of justification, a way for us to grow more like Christ, thus enabling greater unity in the church as well as providing a more visible reflection of Christ to the world around us. But in God’s eyes, it’s less than nothing. Only our justification in Christ matters to God, ultimately.

To me, that’s the most joyful thing I could hear. But to many, such as Oswald Chambers, that’s not enough. And I get that, I truly do. Some pursue a works-based sanctification, doing all they can to grow in personal holiness. Others redefine terminology to trick themselves into believing they are holy (“if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”). I know I’m not holy. Far from it. I learned at a young age that those who are mature in the faith are more certain of their sinfulness, so I internalized that as a truth a long time ago. And it’s born out in my own life: as I grow older, and grow to know the Lord more, the more sinful I realize I am. I am far from holy. And yet I know that through Jesus I am holy before God, justified, freely forgiven. And that is the gospel of grace to me.

I’ve learned that there is very little that is holy about the Holiness movement and all that has come out of it. In its short history, it has produced nearly every single heretic the Church has had to stand up against, starting with Pelagius and up to the present. In the last century and a half it has produced more genuine cults than any other theological branch of Christianity, and probably directly contributed to the spiritual darkness that has descended across America and other countries where these ideas have flourished. If one were to honestly look at the theological beliefs and the fruit these beliefs produce, it can only be concluded as an utter and destructive failure.

And yet it’s born out of a belief to want to live holy before God. What could be more inspiring? Such a shame. I grieve for those caught in these lies.

I still think people should read Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest. There is a lot of good, inspiring stuff there. But I fear that those who are not grounded in the Word and proper theology will be led astray by sentimentality and the zeal for holiness of their own making and not Christ’s. Read with caution, but read.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. coffeehousewife permalink
    07/14/2011 10:44 am

    Hello,

    I am amazed by what you have written here. Everything you wrote has been exactly my experience over the last three days. I read much My Utmost for His Highest in 2009 but put the book aside because it made me feel further from Christ than closer…as if I could never be worthy of Him working in my life.
    I picked the book up again just this week because a relative was encouraging my husband to read it. Noticing my husband’s questioning of his own faith, I realized the connection between his current outlook and Oswald Chambers’ book.
    So, I began to research just exactly who this Oswald Chambers was and who and what influenced his beliefs. I realized that his teachings are all about “works.” Just as you wrote, our righteousness and holiness is only through Jesus Christ. Sanctification is a daily process. We can clearly see that in the Bible when looking the life of David. He had the Holy Spirit, yet he still struggled with the flesh – and God called David “a man after mine own heart.”
    Just this morning I was reading to my husband the collection of information I had found about Oswald Chambers. He was thankful I had taken the time for research. My research lead me to the same conclusion you have made about Oswald Chambers and My Utmost for His Highest. I thank you for your time in researching and in writing this post.

    Hope

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      07/14/2011 12:53 pm

      Hi Hope, thanks for commenting. Ironically, a close personal friend of mine is reading through the book with his girlfriend, and just talked about this issue with me last night in fact. Yes, there is good in Oswald Chambers writings, but too much “bones” amongst the “meat”, especially with ideas that if left to germinate will cause incredible sickness in readers years later.

      Glad you found this blog helpful! Keep searching, reading, and being a Berean!

      Stuart

  2. John permalink
    08/30/2011 5:32 am

    Hi Stuart,

    I’m baffled.

    I came to your site through researching Oswald Chambers.

    Your post on OC shows sincerity in your faith, a good level of doctrinal knowledge and some degree of depth to your faith.

    In wanting to find more about you, I went to your home page, and came across your Youtube videos of gaming theme songs and violent death scenes.

    Though you might have reason to question some of OC’s points of view, it surprises me that you do not question some of the other interests you promote on your blog.

    As a Christian, I will research some of the points you mention, the issues you have with OC; but concerning the gaming and so on, I don’t see anything there that will build up my faith, nor where it will build up yours. Rather, the following verse in 1 Corinthians 10:23 comes to my mind:

    GOD’S WORD® Translation (©1995)
    Someone may say, “I’m allowed to do anything,” but not everything is helpful. I’m allowed to do anything, but not everything encourages growth.

    As this verse says, you are free to do anything, but I would encourage you, and indeed urge you, instead of questioning OC, to rather question the helpfulness of some of your other pastimes.

    For me personally, reading OC’s devotional stirs my heart to turn to the Lord. It encourages me and edifies me. It reveals to me, more of who Jesus Christ is and how He calls me to live.

    God bless you in your quest for growth in the Lord. I urge you to be careful where you invest your time as you sincerely seek to grow in Him.

    John

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      08/30/2011 3:37 pm

      Hi John, thanks for commenting.

      I suppose I should ask: why do you think I should question my interests, specifically in regards to video games and music, and why do you suppose I haven’t?

      A bit of background: I was raised in an extreme fundamentalist church, very legalistic. If you’ve heard stereotypes, they are probably not far off. Video games were something my wiser parents allowed me to be exposed to, so it was always well meaning church leaders and private school teachers who tried to lead me to convince me that video games were a waste of time. They would even try to convince me that killing someone in a video game was akin to murder in real life, thus I was committing a sin. Needless to say, that’s ridiculous. Yet I listened dutifully to them and other sources of authority (like my parents and God) and came to the conclusion that I could, in faith, play video games, and especially violent video games.

      Am I allowed to do so? Yes. Is it profitable? I would answer emphatically yes. I know there is no way I can convince you that they are profitable, as you seem to have formed your opinion and are sticking with it, but it’s still enjoyable to dialogue about this since it’s hardly a separation issue. I answer video games are profitable because they have been a great source for ministry and evangelism in my life, to the point where unsaved people would tell me they prefer to talk to me about Jesus over other known Christians because I can relate to them. I meet together fairly regularly with a group of Christian men, both lay people and pastors, and we enjoy fellowshipping together, worshipping Jesus, diving in to the Word, and killing zombies with each other in video games. I’ve also discovered that after a rather stressful day (work or maybe after church, even) video games can help me unwind, relax, and let my mind calm down for a brief role, no different than any other skilled, manual labor activity (such as mowing). These are just some of the reasons that I have found video games profitable in my life, but there are many more.

      Now, regarding your statement about not questioning Oswald Chambers and instead questioning my own interests, we get to the heart of the matter. You are more off put that I question your beloved OC than you are that I play video games or have interests that are not similar to yours. Put simply, taking your list of ways you find OC profitable, I can honestly say the exact opposite happened to me. I found myself growing colder to God through OC, more angry, more mystical, less encouraged, less graceful, more legalistic, less Christ-like, and farther away from who Jesus is than when I started. I think OC, while he might have and does have many good points, is also dangerous to the unmature, undiscerning believer. Are we free to read him? Of course, and I’d encourage anyone to read people they disagree with. But is reading OC profitable? I have not found him to be so, and in fact, quite taxing.

      I receive your blessing and encouragement, John, and I wish you the same. We should all seek to be more careful about how we spend our time. Yet I’ve found that it can be twice as profitable to spend an hour playing a video game than to, say, spend an hour in contemplative mystical prayer with God. Everything in balance, and everything has a season.

      • John permalink
        09/02/2011 1:32 pm

        Hi Stuart,

        Thanks for your lengthy reply with more insight.

        As to the merits of [violent] video gaming You say:

        “I suppose I should ask: why do you think I should question my interests, specifically in regards to video games and music, and why do you suppose I haven’t?”

        I don’t know what I have supposed, but the fact that you seem to indicate that you have questioned those interests, is an indication that there is cause to believe they are indeed ‘questionable’. I’ve read and understood your reasons for gaming. You are indeed free, and I don’t intend to judge you on that.

        I’m not put off that you should question Oswald Chambers. The point I was trying to make was that in my opinion, reading OC is more edifying spiritually, that ‘killing [virtual] zombies].

        I am in a church where the cross of Jesus Christ is preached, not just as a means to salvation, but also as the continued way to sanctification. Just as Christ accepted to take the road that ultimately led him to the cross, we too ,are called to follow in His foot steps, and lose our lives, dieing to our own will and desires, in order to allow His life to be formed in us, and flow out of us, mere useless vessels. Our flesh will constantly stand in the way of accepting to die, for it is opposed to the spirit. Our natural eyes, and common sense logic will never bring us to submit to things of the spirit.

        As I mentioned in my previous post, reading OC has always pointed me to the things of the spirit, never feeding my flesh, but on the contrary challenging me to draw closer to, and knowing Christ.

        Perhaps the following quote from OC well describes what I feel when reading his devotional:

        “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”

        You say: “I think OC, while he might have and does have many good points, is also dangerous to the unmature, undiscerning believer.”

        I think that to the searching believer, they will be able to identify with what OC writes, and will often experience the benefits of finding expression to the truth inside of them in his writings, this, whether they are “mature”, or not.

        I believe that the continued searching, to know Christ and to become like Him is important for our faith, as expressed in Paul’s letter below.

        Philippians 3:10-14 [NIV]

        10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

        If you stand on the point of view that all has been accomplished on the the cross and that there is nothing more that you need to do, then where is the need to “press on” that Paul mentions…

        John

      • stuartblessman permalink*
        09/03/2011 3:53 pm

        John, I had a huge comment written, and WordPress deleted it. When I find time I’ll repost it.

        But I liked this OC quote:

        “The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”

        That’s why I listen to U2!

  3. Alicia K permalink
    09/11/2011 11:22 pm

    Hi Stuart,

    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been feeling as I read My Utmost for His Highest. I think Oswald Chambers does have many good spiritual insights, and there are certainly passages that are inspiring and edifying in his book. However, I have been reading it nightly for the past several months, and even though the book left me feeling discouraged, frustrated, and even angry at times, I kept reading it because I thought my reactions must be wrong, since so many people love the book.

    I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until I read your review and several others. The book discouraged me, made me feel like what it was asking was unachievable. I found myself asking “How?!” all of the time, and I wondered where the mention of the church was, of fellowship with other believers. I think the thing to remember is…once we have been saved, we are saved! God sees us through the transformative veil of Jesus Christ, and in His eyes, we are justified and holy! What freedom is found in this! It’s not up to us to continually strive for some higher plane of existence, never quite reaching it, always questioning if we are doing enough. Sanctification is incredibly important, but the heart of the matter is, we are His, and we are loved.

    To respectfully reply to the previous commenter John. He wrote “Just as Christ accepted to take the road that ultimately led him to the cross, we too ,are called to follow in His foot steps, and lose our lives, dieing to our own will and desires, in order to allow His life to be formed in us, and flow out of us, mere useless vessels. ” I would have to respectfully disagree with calling us “useless vessels.” It is true that we must die to our own will and submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ in our lives, but I think God uses us tremendously if we trust in Him to do so! We aren’t just shells of former people (zombies if you think about it) that are mindlessly moving to the will of Christ. God gave us free will for a reason, because we make the conscious decision every day to submit that will for His glory! And I know that each and every one of us falls at times, because sin is still there, our flesh is still flesh, and we have a battle in our hearts of whether we plant our roots in the Spirit or in the world He loves each and every one of us individually, gave us all gifts and desires, hopes and dreams, and glories in answering our prayers.

    As my pastor at church preached this morning, God’s plan for the world is written in the Great Commission. He has complete authority over all of the peoples and nations, and His plan for reaching them? It’s us!!! We have that responsibility and duty, but it’s not up to us to perform and personally win hearts for Christ–it’s up to us to trust in Him! God doesn’t need us to accomplish anything He desires, but He uses us. I feel like sometimes, when reading Mr. Chambers’ devotional, I felt like I was in bondage to perform a certain way. If my performance wasn’t up to par, then I failed God. If I wasn’t in perfect rhythm with His will, and intimately, instantly knowing exactly what He wanted me to do at every moment, then I wasn’t a true believer. I think our entire focus, each and every day, should go back to the Gospel, where we realize our justification, we relish it, we praise God for His grace and His sacrifice, and out of our transformed hearts will bloom those fruits. Out of our humble realization of the Cross will develop a love, a romance, an intimacy with the Lord.

    Alicia

    • stuartblessman permalink*
      09/11/2011 11:36 pm

      Thanks Alicia, I’m glad it was helpful for you! And your comment challenged and encouraged me as well, and I appreciate it.

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