Beloved Disciple, Hidden Figure

“My Utmost for His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers, is perhaps the most widely read daily Christian devotional of all time. More than 13 million copies have been sold. I’m on my second copy, having worn out the first. What many people don’t know is that it is not entirely accurate to say that it is by Oswald Chambers.

Chambers was a pastor and started a Bible training college in London, England, in 1911. World War I saw the college closed in 1914 and Chambers, his family with him, volunteered in Egypt. His life was cut tragically short when he died in 1917 at the age of 43, the result of complications from an appendectomy. Chamber’s wife Biddy (Her given name was Gertrude. Chambers called her “Beloved Disciple,” which he shortened to B.D. and was spoken as Biddy.) was a professionally trained court stenographer.

Biddy Chambers used her training to transcribe every sermon, every college lecture, every Bible study her husband ever presented. She meticulously preserved those notes. Upon her return to England in 1919, she began the process of preparing her notes for publication in several books. “My Utmost,” was the first. It is published still today and exists in more than 40 languages. Yet, at her request, Biddy’s name has never appeared on the cover of, or within any of the books she published. They all bear only the name of Oswald Chambers.

According to a short section by David McCasland now included with “My Utmost” (and from which I learned the information shared above), Biddy Chambers believed it was her calling to share her husband’s unparalleled gift of biblical insight with the world. From McCasland:

“In the weeks just after Oswald’s death in Egypt, Biddy wrote to her mother of a friend whose life had been radically changed by reading some of Oswald’s sermons. ‘It confirms me so much in the assurance I have that I am going to go on getting everything I can printed,’ Biddy said. ‘It will be like casting bread upon the waters and we’ll know someday all it has meant in people’s lives.’”

Clearly “My Utmost” and the other books Biddy published in Oswald’s name are the product of the tremendous spiritual gifts of both Oswald and Biddy Chambers. By 21st-century sensibilities, it may strike many as wrong or even unjust for Biddy not to be acknowledged for her vital role in sharing her husband’s gift. To be honest, I felt that way myself when I first learned of Biddy’s role; that her anonymity is a relic of an antiquated notion of what a wife’s role is. Yet, by the time of her death in 1966, such beliefs were changing. But Biddy’s wishes had not. Perhaps the words of the Apostle Paul can help explain why:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV)

Biddy Chambers’ work was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, working in her husband and in her. Proclaiming the testimony about God and the glory it brings to Him is all that mattered to her. It is all that should matter to us as believers.

As a pastor, I know all too well the temptation of making what we do for the glory of God’s Kingdom about us. Each Sunday before I preach, my darling wife Ramona gets up before the congregation and prays that “I get out of the Spirit’s way.” It’s as important as anything I will say after she takes her seat.

Yes, for decades Biddy Chambers was a hidden figure to us. But we can rest assured that the rewards she received in Heaven made clear that God is well aware of the Kingdom work we do. With that assurance, we never have to concern ourselves whether anyone else notices what we do for Him in the here and now.

And let us recognize the amazing love between two people that comes only from a bond centered by Christ.

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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