Review: The Shadow of an Agony

Rating: ★★★★★


Author: Oswald Chambers was a teacher of the Bible in the United Kingdom, a chaplain to World War I soldiers in Egypt, and author of numerous devotional books, mostly compiled posthumously by his indefatigable wife, Biddy. Chambers’ dense and thought-provoking style has made his book My Utmost for His Highest (again, Biddy’s compilation) the best-selling devotional book of the 20th century.


Overview:

The chief themes of this book are the meaning of regeneration, the origin and meaning of sin, and the Spirit’s discipline. Somewhat similar to Watchman Nee (The Spiritual Man, Spiritual Knowledge), Chambers saw these biblical terms as keys to understanding the whole of human experience. He takes a verse as a heading, but he never attempts any linguistic or theological analysis of the verse; his goal is always to take the broad meaning of the text as it plainly stands and use it to explain what he sees in life.

The movement that Chambers was a part of—dubbed The League of Pentecostal Prayer, though it is not Pentecostal in its modern doctrinal meaning—must have encouraged some novelty of expression and thought. Whether he is teaching his Bible students or addressing soldiers, he takes no care to sound like a preacher. As a single example, rather than speak of “original sin” he speaks of “the curious twist” in life or the “disposition of sin”; he often explains the Bible’s meaning in novel ways without resorting to “Christianese.”


Meat:

Apart from his pithy compilations, Chambers can be surprisingly difficult to read, but Shadow of an Agony is an exception. When I have tried to read Chambers’ older books, I found them to be full of good material, but thematically incoherent. (Thus, the creation of My Utmost for His Highest and other re-arrangements of his thoughts.) This book, though, is much more cohesive than (for instance) Shade of His Hand. He stays closely to his main themes of sin, regeneration, and discipline.


Quotes:

On sin:

“The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin, but that the disposition of sin, i.e., my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race by one man.” (p. 104)

“There is no such thing as sin outside the Bible; sin is a revelation fact, and it is the one fact that accounts for the curious twist we find in things.” (p. 105)

“Sin is a relationship between two of God’s creations. God did not create sin; but He took the responsibility for it; and that He did so is proved in the Cross of Jesus Christ.” (p. 46)

“A man cannot be forgiven for what he is not to blame, but God holds a man responsible for refusing to receive a new heredity when he sees that Jesus Christ can give it to him.”


On regeneration:

“A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ’s by the possession of a new heredity (John 3:3), one who has been brought into personal relationship with Jesus Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God—not one with certain forms of creed or doctrine; these are the effects of his relationship, not the ground of it.” (p. 68)

“If I receive the Spirit of God and become a son of God by right of regeneration, God does not give me my Christian character. I have to make that. He gives me the disposition of His Son. As I obey the Spirit of God and the Word of God, I slowly form the Christian character.”

“In Redemption He has dealt with the disposition of sin.” (p. 105)


On sanctification:

“Our destiny is something fixed by God, but determined by our disposition.” (p. 103)

Character is what we make; disposition is what we are born with.” (p. 102-103)

Character must be attained; it is never given to us.” (p. 94)

“The Spirit of Christ is given to us, but not the mind of Christ. . . .The Spirit of Christ comes into me by regeneration, then I have to begin to form the mind of Christ.” (p. 110)

“Any fool will give up wrongdoing and the devil . . . but it takes a man in love with Jesus Christ to give up the best he has for Him. Jesus Christ does not demand that I give up the wrong, but the right—the best I have for Him, viz., my right to myself. Will I agree to go through my ‘white funeral’ and say I deliberately cut out my claim to my right to myself, deliberately go to the death of my self-will?” (p. 112)


On childlikeness:

“I do not live the Christian life by adherence to principles; I live the Christian life as a child lives its life. You never can calculate what a child will do, neither can you calculate what the Spirit of God will do in you. When you are born from above the Spirit of God in you works in spontaneous moral originality.” (p. 52-53)

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