AN OBSCURE Baptist preacher from Scotland who died 86 years ago has been revealed as the spiritual inspiration for the US president, George Bush, as he prepares to lead his country to war in Iraq.
Mr Bush is making time every morning to read an excerpt from a book of evangelical sermons by Oswald Chambers before having breakfast in the White House.
The First Lady, Laura Bush, told an interviewer her husband enjoyed reading Chambers’ best known work, My Utmost For His Highest, before tackling his presidential duties. "That’s a way for him to start the day, and also, I think, it helps with stress," Mrs Bush said.
Mr Bush’s Christian faith has come under increasing scrutiny as he has couched many of his speeches on the war against terrorism in religious terms.
His selection of Aberdeen-born Chambers as a source of guidance provides further insight into his beliefs and also has strong historical echoes.
Chambers died at the age of 43 during a previous conflict in the Arab world, while preaching to Allied soldiers fighting in Egypt in 1917, towards the end of the First World War.
Chambers’ biographer, David McCasland, said yesterday: "I am surprised that the president is reading this work, but Chambers wrote a lot about war and a lot of what he said about it could easily be applied today.
"He was not anxious for people to go to war and really predicted the impact that war could have on society.
"He was patriotic but not imperialistic."
Chambers was virtually unknown during his lifetime, and his works have always been more popular in the United States than his homeland. He was born in Aberdeen in 1874, the youngest of eight children of a Baptist pastor. Chambers was educated in Perth before going on to study art and archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and then on to a Baptist college in Dunoon where he was ordained.
In his thirties he travelled around the US and Japan preaching, before marrying Biddy in 1910. They had one daughter, Kathleen.
Chambers founded a bible training college in Clapham, London, before he sailed to Egypt on the outbreak of the First World War as a YMCA chaplain. He died after surgery for a ruptured appendix in November 1917.
After his death, Mrs Chambers transcribed her own shorthand notes of his sermons to produce My Utmost For His Highest.
The book, first published in 1924, is in the form of devotional - an excerpt from the scriptures for each day of the year with an author’s commentary attached. It has been in continuous print in the US since 1935 and an updated edition published ten years ago has sold more than two million copies. A company was set up by his daughter, Kathleen, to continue publishing his works, which she ran until her death seven years ago.
Mary Hutchison, who has taken over as general manager of the Oswald Chambers Publications Association, said: "The book has been published in 40 languages, including Tamil and Hebrew, and it is spreading to more and more countries.
"It has always been more popular in the US because I think they are more receptive to his message."
In the US there are 22 books of sermons by Chambers on the market. His US publishers, Discovery House, produces a 1,512-page edition of his complete works.
My Utmost for his Highest was among the devotionals read in the 1930s by the founders of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement, Bill Wilson and Robert Smith, and it appears on AA reading lists.
Mr Bush is known have followed daily Bible readings in the past, and says he overcame his own drinking problems "with the grace of God", but it is only in recent years that he has started reading Chambers.
In his native Scotland, there is hardly any recognition of Chambers’ massive influence abroad. There is no plaque to mark his birthplace and his biographer, McCasland, is an American who travelled around Britain trying to piece together details of his life.
"When I was researching his life I was surprised to find that there was very little interest or archives about him in Scotland", said McCasland.
"I kept thinking that I would discover someone around the next corner who would be a Chambers enthusiast but it didn’t happen."
Ian Balfour, former secretary of the Charlotte Chapel, a Baptist chapel off Charlotte Square in Edinburgh, said: "He’s perhaps a bit too charismatic for Scots people, but if you asked anybody of the over-50s generation, they know of him. He preached in Charlotte Chapel fairly regularly at the turn of the century. When he was training for the Baptist ministry in 1907 he met William Quarrier, who founded the orphan homes, and it was from Quarrier that Chambers learned a simple faith, and a life of simple prayer and faith.
"He was a basic conservative evangelical preacher. It is not puritanical stuff, it is not against things, it is a good devotional book."
David Wright, professor of Patristic and Reformed Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Chambers would be fairly well known within certain traditions of Christianity in Britain. His books are good quality Christian devotional writings with a strong emphasis on practical, personal faith.
"I am impressed that President Bush finds time in his day to read writing of this quality."