Whenever I think of Oswald Chambers, this is one of the themes that comes to mind first: how to lead “the great life.”
For Oswald, the great life is one of clarity and peace. It’s a life that is free of confusion and dread and of being “out at elbows mentally or spiritually.” I love that phrase—an image pops into my mind of a bunch of elbows jabbing themselves into corners of my brain.
Ouch! And yes, please, Oswald: tell me how to make it stop.
Oswald’s first piece of advice in today’s reading is that we must identify where to lay the blame. It doesn’t belong on God or on other people or on our circumstances. If we are perplexed and ill about what to do, we have to search our own attitudes and behaviors until we locate the bug in the system: somewhere, Oswald’s saying, there’s a contradiction inside us. We are trying to serve our own ends and also to obey God, and the two things aren’t one and the same. So a fight begins—a fight which, in his view, is always a fight to the death: “Either sin or God must die in me,” is how he puts it elsewhere.
Oswald is always tough on his readers in Utmost—his wife, Biddy, selected the perfect title for this book—and this entry is no exception. Only total obedience to God’s will, he says, can bring us the “supernatural” peace and ease in decision-making we’re looking for. If we obey, everything will be easy and clear. The life of a saint is at once incredibly demanding and incredibly simple.
How to achieve total obedience? This is a big question, and Oswald answers it only briefly here: through the Holy Spirit. Humans aren’t even remotely capable of “being” God’s will, he knows; they have to be “indwelled,” “suffused,” “filled” with the Holy Spirit, who obeys for them—or who enables them to obey.
Biddy never spells it out in Utmost, but in Oswald’s other works (the sermons and lectures from which she took the readings for Utmost), the idea is fully developed: a human being who wishes to “be” God’s will must undergo the process of Entire Sanctification, or a second baptism by the Holy Spirit.
It’s an idea Oswald came to relatively late in his Christian journey, after finding himself in Holiness circles—a movement in vogue in Britain and America around the turn of the twentieth century. Holiness and Entire Sanctification would become foundations of his theology, and they underpin many readings in Utmost, including today’s. I’ll be exploring the history of the movement and its ideas over the course of this blog.