Many Christians are familiar with Oswald Chambers’ spiritual classic, My Utmost for His Highest. What many are less familiar with is Chambers’ experience of profound spiritual depression. American society is generally up-beat and positive as is American Christianity. For many of us, the thought of a spiritual leader experiencing depression is troublesome.Yet, many great saints have suffered either with a sense of God’s abandonment as did Chambers.
After Chambers completed his theological studies, he stayed on at Dunoon College as tutor in moral philosophy. He would assist in the preparation of other young men for ministry in Scottish baptist churches.
He wrote in a letter,
I determined to have all that was going [in terms of spiritual experience], and went to my room and asked God simply and definitely for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, whatever that meant. From that day on for four years, nothing but the overruling grace of God and the kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum. God used me during those years for the conversion of souls, but I had no conscious communion with him. The Bible was the dullest, most uninteresting book in existence, and the sense of depravity, the vileness and bad-motiveness of my nature was terrific.
It’s interesting to note that during this dark night of the soul, Chambers continue to be used by God in the transformation of others. At the same time, however, Chambers himself had no sense that he was communing with God. The things he previously enjoyed as means of grace and experience of God became empty to him. He would later explain that he believed he was guilty of making spiritual experience something of an idol at the time. As a result, Christ withdrew from him the experience of his presence.
In 1902 this dark night of the soul gave way to a clearer sense of the proximity of God, and of the existence of God’s love.
It came during an ‘after meeting’ which is (I believe) the time following a service of worship in which those convicted by God were able to linger in prayer and receive counsel. Chambers describes the experience: “I had no vision of God, only a sheer dogged determination to take God at his word and to prove this thing for myself.” He left the meeting having experienced the beginnings of a change. It seems that the change began when the object of his reflection shifted from his spiritual experience (i.e., why don’t I sense God’s presence?) to God’s covenant promises.He begins to speak to himself of God’s faithfulness and in so doing a change begins.
In this Chambers exhibits the practice that Martyn Lloyd-Jones would later reflect on in his classic, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure. When downcast, the Christian ought to begin to talk to herself about God’s covenant faithfulness. Lloyd-Jones cites the Psalmist: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:5a). Then he goes on to preach to himself: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (42:5b-6).
A couple of days later Chambers was asked to speak at an evangelistic meeting. He recounts, “…I had no vision of heaven or angels, I had nothing. I was as dry and empty as ever, no power or realization of God, no witness of the Holy Spirit…” He spoke and forty people professed faith . Far from being encouraged by the meeting, Chambers left the converts to those working the meeting and went to his mentor, MacGregor.
During his conversion, something inside of Chambers melted and the change he so longed for took place.