Studies In The Sermon On The Mount: God’s Character And The Believer’s Conduct, by Oswald Chambers
Perhaps most famous for his work My Utmost For His Highest, this mercifully short (only about 100 pages or so) book is deeply uneven, and suggests that the author was deeply unaware of his own critical attitude. Of course, being a person with an intensely critical attitude myself, it can be fairly easy to not realize when one is being less than charitable to others while that lack of charity is conspicuously obvious to everyone else. That is to say, I empathize with the problem of the author because it is one I share in flamboyant abundance. This author demonstrates a marked tendency to afflict the comfortable without a balancing tendency to comfort the afflicted, which is not too surprising from someone who was a part of the holiness movement and a notably stern Scotch Baptist. To be sure, it is nothing too unusual to reflect on the Sermon on the Mount, as that is one of the most notable parts of Jesus’ ministry as a wellspring of material for thought and reflection . This particular exploration is a demanding one, though, and one that carries with it certain unfriendly and unbiblical language that demonstrates the author is not engaged in exegesis so much as proof-texting, although that is a common enough tendency that is rarely provokes commentary.
This book takes a little more than 100 pages to deal with the Sermon on the Mount in five chapters. There is a foreword and a publisher’s foreword that encourages readers to deal with the arcane language of this text in order to gain insight from it. And, to be sure, this is a text that has some insightful comments, although the author (like many) tends to contradict himself from one chapter to another. The first chapter covers Matthew 5:1-20, labeled as His teaching and our training, and then the author calls Matthew 5:21-42 “actual and real,” Matthew 5:43-6:34 “incarnate wisdom and individual reason,” Matthew 7:12 “character and conduct,” and Matthew 7:13-29 “ideas, ideals, and actuality.” The author, as can be seen, has a strong interest in actuality, but his titles are far more arbitrary than they are revelatory. Each individual chapter includes a great deal of material that serves as a scriptural commentary, featuring old-fashioned language (which may have been more common when the author wrote in the early 20th century) and an approach which is not particularly loving at all.
Given that much of this book reeks of a “be you warm and filled” approach, and the author’s language presents a barrier to contemporary understanding and the sort of unloving approach that does not cut much ice in the present age, what is worthwhile about this book. In many ways, this book is useful both because its insights are tough-minded and remind us of the elevated demands of God and His desire to transform us into His image rather than accept us as we are in our original fallen state. Additionally, this book is a reminder of the need for authors to be humble with the biblical texts that we are dealing with. All too often it is easy to forget that when we comment on scripture, we do so at great risk to our own well-being in that if we are foolish in our statements we will suffer accordingly for leading people astray. In this book we see an author who became most famous posthumously for his devotional writings show himself to be an ungenerous critic of his time and, simultaneously, a critic of judging others even after he has done so. He attempts to give the harshest possible meaning for Matthew 7:1-5 and finds that it rebounds on him to make him look particularly hypocritical, something we all ought to remember, lest the same misfortune happen to us. None of us is immune to teaching kindness and showing harshness, and this is especially dangerous for those of us who are intensely critical writers. For that reminder alone this book is of worth to writers and commentators on scripture and culture.
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