The Crisis of Our “Dustness”: Reflections from the Testimony of Oswald Chambers

“Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man….” -Is. 6.5a

There is a place of crisis to which every saint must come, for there is an inherent humanism in all men and women, and even after conversion to Christ there lingers a dualistic nature. We have tasted of the Divine nature, but we have yet to come into the fullness of Jesus Christ, and unless we see the Lord high and lifted up, and come into a conscious awareness of our own “dustness” in light of God’s own “Godness,” we will lack the ultimate kind of surrender that alone makes the Christian a voice in his generation.

Oswald Chambers reached a great crisis in his mid to late 20’s, after having followed the Lord since his childhood. It was the same brand as Isaiah’s experience, and as excruciating as it was, it pressed him into an encounter with God that refined and authenticated his life. It is the nature of prophetic refinement, and a man comes out transfigured on the other end. But without passing through like seasons with the Lord, there will be something plastic about our profession and living. Listen to Chambers’ experience, and ask yourself, “Have I passed through these kinds of seasons with my Lord?”

“After I was born again as a lad I enjoyed the presence of Jesus Christ wonderfully, but years passed before I gave myself up thoroughly to His work. I was in Dunoon College as tutor of Philosophy when Dr. F.B. Meyer came and spoke about the Holy Spirit. I determined to have all that was going, 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.”

…. He became aware of an abhorrent dualism in his personality. The sham and hypocrisy he detested in others had a foothold in his own heart. He could proclaim that God must be given glory for all his good works, but he enjoyed the praise of men. While many people in Dunoon thought he was a near-perfect saint, he knew the truth about himself. Within him lurked a frightening pride that was beyond his power to conquer.

…. He realized as he had never believed possible what the disposition of sin in him could do.

…. A poem written in September (1901) concluded with this stanza:

O Lord Jesus, hear my crying
For a consecrated life,
For I bite the dust in trying
For release from this dark strife.

Oswald was living dangerously close to the edge of a complete breakdown.

Here he was, a tutor and respected gentleman among students and professors. He was considered a remarkable young man of God, head and shoulders above his pupils in maturity and depth. Yet his heart was crying out for a union with God that transcended all the external good that he was being commended for. He had come to realize that there was a terrible duplicity in his nature, that his propensity for sin, though no one would have expected it of him, was as despicable as that of any man. His soul was crying out in a great and prolonged ache, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man….”

Have we been brought to this place?

All of a sudden, though he had not fallen in gross obvious sin, though virtually nothing had changed in terms of his own moral standing, he felt that though men were impressed with him, his overall life was a sham and a contradiction. He was not entirely surrendered to the Lord in all the nooks and crannies of thought and life, and he came to a place of despair in yearning for the reality of God. He was not convinced that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and all the good deeds and Biblical thoughts had taken him as far as they could. His soul was aching for a greater union with God, one that would make his life true in public places and in secret places; a union that would mark him out as a man of love and joy and reverence and humility in all settings, not merely when the eyes of men were on him. His religious reputation was at stake, but the praises of men had turned to ashes in his mouth. He desperately needed the Spirit of God, and he wasn’t willing to play the game any longer. He goes on to tell the story, and what transpired is awesome to consider:

I see now that God was taking me by the light of the Holy Spirit and His Word through every ramification of my being. The last three months of those years things reached a climax, I was getting very desperate. I knew no one who had what I wanted; in fact I did not know what I did want. But I knew that if what I had was all the Christianity there was, the thing was a fraud.

…. those of you who know the experience, know very well how God brings one to the point of utter despair, and I got to the place where I did not care whether everyone knew how bad I was, I cared for nothing on earth, saving to get out of my present condition.

At a little meeting held during a League of Prayer mission in Dunoon, a well-known lady was asked to take the after meeting. She did not speak, but set us to prayer, and then sang, ‘Touch me again, Lord.’ I felt nothing, but I knew emphatically my time had come, and I rose to my feet.

I had no vision of God, only a sheer dogged determination to take God at His word and to prove this thing for myself, and I stood up and said so. That was bad enough but what followed was ten times worse. After I had sat down the lady worker, who knew me well, said: ‘That is very good of our brother, he has spoken like that as an example to the rest of you.’

I got up again and said: ‘I got up for no one’s sake, I got up for my own sake; either Christianity is a downright fraud, or I have not got hold of the right end of the stick.’ And then and there I claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit in dogged committal to Luke 11.13.

And what was Oswald’s testimony when he broke out of this season and was immersed in the Holy Spirit?

“Glory be to God, the last aching abyss of the human heart is filled to overflowing with the love of God. Love is the beginning, love is the middle and love is the end. After He comes in, all you see is ‘Jesus only, Jesus ever.’ When you know what God has done for you, the power and the tyranny of sin is gone and the radiant, unspeakable emancipation of the indwelling Christ has come.”

Finally (after 4 years of inward agony), the long night was over and peace had come. The citadel of his heart had fallen, not to a conquering Christ, but to the gentle knocking of a wounded hand. In a new and powerful way, at the age of twenty-seven, the story of Oswald Chambers’ life had just begun.

(Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, David McCasland; OCPA, Grand Rapids; pp. 73-86)

All of this transpired many years after Chambers first came to the Lord, and just as Isaiah cried out and was cleansed with fire and commissioned, Oswald would spend the rest of his days living a newly charged life. At the time of his death, his life was called by friends “the greatest demonstration we had ever seen of the Sermon on the Mount fleshed out.” To this day, his devotional can be found in the homes of believers all over the world, and the prophetic nature of his words are reaping the fruits of Christ in thousands of hearts, day after day.

What if he had settled for a decent Christian reputation? What if he had been content with the secret mixture? What if he had ignored his duplicity, and failed to cry out for the Holy Spirit? Would any of us even know of Oswald Chambers? And what about you, dear saint? Have you seen the Lord high and lifted up? Have you cried out from that place of desperation? Are you keeping entire segments of your life away from the reach of consecration and faith? One of my mentors used to say, “Unless you’ve cried out about being a man, you’ve not cried out.” In other words, it’s one thing to know conviction in a moment of failure. It’s another thing to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man….”

It’s from that dark night of revelation that Oswald emerged as a true servant, immersed in the life and power of God. And the verse that initially provoked his soul applies to each of us as well:

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” -Lk. 11.13

No man can bring you to this place, friend. You must face the Lord in the secret place. What men have thought of your personality and spirituality matters not. God Himself is on the Throne, and He waits in kind seriousness for you to come. He will uncover and reveal your soul, purge and refine your motives, stretch and test your heart, and from that place of wrestling with God alone, He will fill you with His own Spirit, and cause you to arise, a son or daughter of the Mighty One. You will declare His great love and holiness, “Jesus only, Jesus ever,” and you will lead many sons to glory.

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