Oswald Chambers and a Bible College Part I

Oswald Chambers; Bible

A sign marks it now.

Many people do not know Oswald Chambers ran a Bible Training College (BTC) in the four years prior to World War I.

The ideas represented in his devotional My Utmost for His Highest were first publicly aired in classes taught by Oswald at the school.

The school had been a dream for Oswald for nearly ten years. He had prayed, thought and prepared and as he spent himself in ministry for the League of Prayer, saw it grow closer to fruition.

The idea was born during his student years at The Gospel Training College in Dunoon, Scotland and honed when he visited missionary work in Japan and taught at summer camp meetings in the United States.  Oswald yearned for students to learn about the Bible in both a focused study and a close residential college setting.

He always believed God’s truths were better “caught” than “taught,” as had been true in his own life.

Oswald spent the first decade of the 20th century as a lecturer for the League of Prayer–an organization focused on presenting Biblical truth and prayer to all men and women. Friends in the League liked his idea of a Bible training college and when the leadership prayed about and considered the concept, they agreed to make it possible.

In the meantime, they proposed Oswald teach a correspondence course using material pertinent to the future school.

He agreed and put in a herculean effort of writing, reading, commenting, grading and returning upwards of 4000 papers the first year.

It was a success.

Bible training college 1913

BTC 1913; Wheaton College Special Collections

Students clamored for an opportunity to study under Oswald’s guidance. Even as he graded papers, he continued a circuit ministry of speaking to League of Prayer meetings throughout northern England in late 1910. He taught a variation on his course Biblical Psychology at three cities during that time, sparking even more interest in a Bible training college.

When the time was right, a large London townhouse became available. The League of Prayer rented it and a month later, in January 1911, the Bible Training College opened with Oswald Chambers as principal and his wife Biddy as “Lady Superintendent” overseeing the residential household arrangements.

The location was excellent: across the street from Clapham Common, the largest parkland in London, with plenty available public transportation–one of the city omnibuses actually stopped in front of the house.

While the townhouse itself, one of five in an enormous six-story building looming over the neighborhood, had room for 24 students and the Chambers family, not to mention staff rooms in the basement, only one student lived in the house that first term of Spring, 1911.

Her name was Violet Richardson and she epitomized the type of student, Oswald hoped to serve.

She’d come to an understanding of who God was in her late twenties, after a life lived “unawakened, vulgar and steeped in the lore of cheap music halls and picture shows,” according to subsequent fellow student Katherine Ashe.

Born again into the kingdom of God, Violet’s change as a result of the BTC was recorded by Ashe:

“her intellect began to stir, and . . . waking the woman’s whole being into a mental perception of Beauty and of Order and of Music, [it] became a marvelous thing to watch. . . . She was very literally a new creature in a new creation.”

Richardson stayed two years at the BTC, took all Oswald’s courses, attended the prayer meetings, sang songs of joy and worked in the house as part of her residence. In sharing everyday life with men and women seeking the same Kingdom of God, Richardson learned how to view it all through the prism of God’s word.

Oswald Chambers; Bible

BTC 2013; topiaries mark the spot.

What made the difference?

Exactly what Oswald expected.

Her mind became harnessed by the truths of Scripture taught in the classes and her ordinary life was challenged in a house with two dozen others required to live out those truths.

Interacting with fellow believers, warts and all, while remaining as pure as possible to the commands of Jesus, Richardson applied and experienced Christianity in action.

She went on to become a missionary in Africa following World War I.

What did Oswald Chambers teach that made such a difference in Violet Richardson’s life?

Read next Tuesday’s post for a description of the classes.

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