A Wasted Life? The Short Life of William Borden

"No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets." - notation in William Borden's Bible

"Do not put out the Spirit's fire." -- 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Quotations taken from Borden of Yale, by Mrs. Howard Taylor, Moody Press, Chicago

In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his "desire to be a missionary."

One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was "throwing himself away as a missionary."
In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."

Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden's classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn't that he had lots of money. One of them wrote: "He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration."

During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: "Say 'no' to self and 'yes' to Jesus every time."

Borden's first disappointment at Yale came when the university president spoke in a convocation about the students' need of "having a fixed purpose." After that speech, Borden wrote: "He neglected to say what our purpose should be, and where we should get the ability to persevere and the strength to resist temptations." Surveying the Yale faculty and much of the student body, Borden lamented what he saw as the end result of an empty, humanistic philosophy: moral weakness and sin-ruined lives.

During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. One of his friends described how it began: "It was well on in the first term when Bill and I began to pray together in the morning before breakfast. I cannot say positively whose suggestion it was, but I feel sure it must have originated with Bill. We had been meeting only a short time when a third student joined us and soon after a fourth. The time was spent in prayer after a brief reading of Scripture. Bill's handling of Scripture was helpful. . . . He would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance."

Borden's small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshman were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.
Borden made it his habit to seek out the most "incorrigible" students and try to bring them to salvation. "In his sophomore year we organized Bible study groups and divided up the class of 300 or more, each man interested taking a certain number, so that all might, if possible, be reached. The names were gone over one by one, and the question asked, 'Who will take this person?' When it came to someone thought to be a hard proposition, there would be an ominous pause. Nobody wanted the responsibility. Then Bill's voice would be heard, 'Put him down to me.'"

Borden's outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To try to rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Bill Borden's friends wrote that he "might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ."

Borden's missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. He also challenged his classmates to consider missionary service. One of them said of him: "He certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known, and he put backbone into the rest of us at college. There was real iron in him, and I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of, and heroic missionaries of more modern times."

Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to "realize always that he must be about his Father's business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement." Although Borden refused to join a fraternity, "he did more with his classmates in his senior year than ever before." He presided over the huge student missionary conference held at Yale and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.

Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: "No retreats."

William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

When the news of William Whiting Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. "A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice" wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.

Was Borden's untimely death a waste? Not in God's perspective. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words "No reserves" and "No retreats," he had written: "No regrets."

Portions based on material in Daily Bread, December 31, 1988, and The Yale Standard, Fall 1970 edition.

Chronology / Dates
November 1, 1887 -- birth
1904 -- High school graduation (Chicago)
1905 -- Round-the-world trip
1909 -- Yale graduation
December 17, 1912 -- Sails for Egypt on way to China
April 9, 1913 -- Death in Egypt

It’s not about us...



Romans 8.28: "We are assured and know that [ God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose"

We live in an environment and in a system of social understanding that is bent on “creature comfort” and “well-being”, where to suffer as a victim in anyway is a crime warranting the highest utilization of the current legal system. This philosophy has penetrated the Church today in many different forms such as the “Blessing Movement”, "It's All About You" and “Certain Healing”. 

As Christians we need to guard ourselves from this trend of entitlement thinking as it is a form of deception. God's Eternal Purpose in our lives is not to make us happy or blessed or to even answer all our prayers as we would want; but His Purpose is that Christ would be formed in us - that we would be Christ-like. This of course creates the potential for seemingly unpleasant experiences, personal offenses and loss of opportunity. 

We as finite creatures fail to see beyond our noses, beyond what we can touch, farther than what feels nice or what we can understand. Because of our human limitations we cannot even understand what is the most beneficial for us - we cannot even define what would make us the happiest. People explain well-being and happiness by what they feel inside and what would make them sense acceptance and experience elevation socially, politically or economically.

Why? Why would God want us only to be like His Son? 

We were made for the eternal, the deathless, the enduring, the forever. You can hear it in our love songs on the radio, in films and on the internet. We were made to live beyond our limitations, our fears and our misguided illusions of pleasure - anything less of a life would eventually lead to restless discontentment and wander-lust. 

There is only one thing that lasts beyond death and decay and that is Jesus Christ. This world and all its pleasure, fashion, education and fame will pass and we like our ancestors will meet our certain end at death. 

To allow the Bible to chose for us - to allow our lives to come under the Holy Spirit's leading and to give up the steering wheel to God's Plan; is to start down the path of true happiness, true blessedness and true love. Because only God knows what is best in His Plan for us. This is a scary thought to lose control but here is the way of true freedom. 

We cannot interpret the quality of our lives by what we are experiencing today whether good or bad. We cannot say this way is better or I do not want this in my life - because we are so blinded by our own senses to what is really best for us.

Suffering in our lives is mostly misunderstood as a threat when it is truly the threshold to greater blessing and purer joy than we could have discovered ourselves.

I look at my life and I cannot say that I could have chosen a better way - I see the blessings around me, the people I love in my life and the adventure I live and know that I could not have brought this to pass even if I had tried! 

We have to walk by faith trusting God’s Way is best not living in ignorance to the reason for certain events in our lives. Those things He allows to impact us has a Higher Purpose - that “All things work together for good for them that love God and that are called according to His Purpose” - “to be transformed into the likeness of His Son” so that we can experience the best He has for us.

It's not about us - but how we may lay our life down as Jesus did in His Father's Will...

The Calling Prayer of AW Tozer

So stirred this evening late as I read this prayer of AW Tozer when he was ordained. After the elders and ministers laid hands upon him and prayed, Tozer withdrew and composed the following as a declaration and prayer to his Lord and King. 

"O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou has called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou art about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou hast stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man taketh this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and heard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine, but thine. Thou has said, “I knew thee – I ordained thee – I sanctified thee,” and Thou hast also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command all that I shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine, but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to distinguish the false friend from the true. Give me vision to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet; not a promoter, not a religious manager – but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch of publicity.

Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that could make my life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I should have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that it will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.

Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee, therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with Thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen."

*(Taken from A.W. Tozer, as quoted in America is Too Young To Die: A Call to Revival, by Leonard Ravenhill. Originally published in The Alliance Witness.)