Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bill Borden of Yale 1909

by Bruce Hendrich

Bill was born into a wealthy family and grew up in Chicago. His mother was the first in the family to trust in Christ and she began taking him to Moody Church. He soon responded to the gospel through the powerful preaching of Dr. R.A. Torrey.

Bill's high school graduation present was a trip around the world. During that trip he was burdened for the multitudes of people who had little or no access to the gospel, and a desire to become a missionary was born. Though many people would question why he would throw his life away in a faraway land, he wrote in the back of his Bible, "No reserves."

Bill entered Yale University as an excellent student and star athlete. Though he was handsome and worth millions, it was his passion for prayer and Bible study that God used to begin a morning prayer and Bible study group with his fellow freshman. It soon grew into multiple groups and impacted the majority of Yale's 1,300 students by the time he graduated four years later. In his passion to reach the lowest of the low, he also founded the Yale Hope Mission while still a student.

After graduating from Yale, Bill turned down several prestigious job offers. Because of his resolve to leave everything behind and become a missionary, his father eventually told him he would never work in the family company again. Below his earlier entry in the back of his Bible, he wrote, "No retreat."

Bill felt called to reach the Muslims of Northern China, so he set out for Egypt where he would do his preparatory language study. A month into his training he contracted spinal meningitis and soon died at the age of 25.

Newspapers all across the United States carried the ironic story of the untimely death of Bill Borden, once heir to the Borden milk and dairy family fortune, who gave up his wealth, and eventually his life, to become a missionary in a distant land. Yet before his death, Bill added a third phrase to the two preceding ones in his Bible, "No regrets."

At first glance Borden's death appeared to be a tragedy. But his willingness to sacrifice everything for the cause of sharing Christ's gospel to those who had never heard it, became powerful motivation to many other young people. They too said "no" to the things of this world and embraced a call to mission service instead.

Bill Borden began his journey to China 101 years ago today. Though he died before reaching his goal, his epitaph summarizes the power Christ has to transform a person's life: "A man in Christ. He arose and forsook all and followed Him, Kindly affectioned with brotherly love, Fervent in spirit serving the Lord, Rejoicing in hope, Patient in tribulation, Instant in prayer, Communicating to the necessity of saints, In honour preferring others. Apart from faith in Christ, There is no explanation for such a life."

This article originally appeared in the Elizabethton Star newspaper, Wednesday, December 18, 2013. Reprinted by permission of Bruce Hendrich, Pastor of Oak Street Baptist Church, Elizabethton, TN.

1 comment:

Jonathan Perreault said...

More details about Bill Borden's conversion are given in the book 40 Fascinating Conversion Stories, compiled by Samuel Fisk (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), pages 21-22:

"The biography relates, 'When William was about seven years old, Mrs. Borden entered upon a new experience spiritually which was deeply to affect his life. A devoted mother before, she now became an earnest, rejoicing Christian. To her, Christ was real and fellowship with Him, satisfying in no ordinary degree.' She became active in the Moody Church, Chicago. 'The result was very evident in the life of her younger son, who owed the strength and grasp of his spiritual convictions largely to that church home.'
'It was there he took his first step in open confession of Christ. Seated by his mother one Sunday morning, he heard Dr. Torrey, then pastor of the church, give the invitation to the communion service about to be held.
'Is it not time that you were thinking about this yourself, William?' his mother whispered.
'I have been,' was the unexpected reply.
'When the elements were handed from pew to pew, to Mrs. Borden's surprise, William quietly took the bread and wine as did those about him. Rather taken aback at this interpretation of her question, Mrs. Borden mentioned the matter to Dr. Torrey who smiled and said, 'Let him come and see me about it tomorrow.'
'Young though he was, his answers to Dr. Torrey's questions made it evident that he was ready for the step he had taken, and the interview led to his joining the church in the regular way.'
Before entering college, while making a round-the-world tour, Borden again heard Dr. Torrey, this time in London, and wrote home to his mother, 'Dr. Torrey spoke about being 'born again,' and mentioned some of the foolish ideas people have about it. His sermon was meant to straighten things out. I know my own ideas were somewhat hazy, and I wasn't at all sure about it. But I am now. The text was John 3:6, and Dr. Torrey gave five proofs by which we can tell whether we are 'born again,' born of the Spirit or not . . . So we have only to believe in Jesus and receive Him, and immediately we have power to become sons of God.'
The result for Borden was sure, and many have since had reason to thank God for it."