William Borden

In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already a millionaire. 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 lost. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his desire to be a missionary. Eventually, Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. One friend expressed surprise that he was “throwing himself away as a missionary.” In response, Bill wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”

Borden spent the next few years of his young life at Yale University. There he was responsible for starting a very influential prayer and Bible study group among students. Borden’s small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshman were meeting for weekly 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.

Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No retreats.” He then went on to graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey.

When William Borden 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 news of William Borden’s death was cabled back to the US., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. Mary Taylor wrote in her introduction to Borden’s biography, “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.”


Howard Culbertson, “William Borden: No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets.” Bethany, OK: Southern Nazarene University, 2002. Accessed 2 September 2009. Available from http://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/regret.htm; Internet.

John MacArthur. 2 Timothy. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, 197 (comments on 4:7).