by Bernard R. DeRemerMillionaire Missionary
News of William Whiting Borden's untimely death, cabled from Egypt, sent "a wave of sorrow . . . round the world." Many U.S. newspapers carried accounts of his brief but memorable life, and tributes from outstanding Christian leaders as well as fellow students and other acquaintances poured in. Indeed, it was said to be "doubtful whether any life of modern times has [given] the world a more inspiring example."
Borden was born at Chicago in 1887, into a home of wealth and piety. (Contrary to the popular but false rumor, this family was not related to the dairy people.)
Very early he came to know the Lord, and committed his life for divine service, reflecting especially his mother's constant, godly influence. He attended Hill School, a private Christian institution with high standards, where he impressed others because of his "reserve and dignity [with] steady, quiet strength."
This heir to great wealth submitted regular expense statements to his parents! On Oct. 26, 1902 he listed "Contribution, $1.00; pillow, $1.50; posters, $1.05" among other items for a total of $25.68. His wise stewardship of time, talent, and treasure began early and never wavered.
After graduation from Hill at 16, Borden set out in 1904 on a trip around the world, which his parents felt would be advisable before he entered college. From China, Japan, India, and other points William reported on his travels, especially contacts with missionaries. The sights, sounds, and smells of multitudes in heathen darkness profoundly affected him.
Soon after his return to America, he enrolled at Yale, where a whole new world awaited. He found many worldly influences, but rejoiced to discover fellowship with "some fine Christian men."
The YMCA, then strongly evangelistic, provided opportunity for witness and instruction. The Student Volunteer Movement also nurtured his growing missionary interest.
Perhaps the most outstanding contact of those days was with Dr. Samuel Zwemer, the famous missionary to Muslims. From him Borden caught the burning burden of three million Muslims in China, without a Christian witness among them, and he was powerfully moved by their plight.
Meanwhile, New Haven, a seaport town, was drawing vagrants of all sorts, so William helped found the Yale Hope Mission, where he witnessed effectively as often as possible, sending home glowing reports of gospel triumphs.
Even all this could not exhaust his energies. He became a trustee of Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, perhaps the youngest man ever elected to that august board. In addition, he served the National Bible Institute and other organizations in various capacities.
While at Yale, Borden participated in football and other sports, but never to the neglect of studies or spiritual service. Indeed, he was elected president of Phi Beta Kappa, among other honors. However, he was unwilling to join any fraternity or secret society.
After graduation from Yale in 1909, Borden entered Princeton Theological Seminary in further preparation for his field. Wide missionary reading helped to broaden his vision.
He found time for tennis, led in the Student Volunteer Movement, and was always present at its early morning Wednesday prayer service. When possible he even traveled back to New Haven to look over the work of the Yale Hope Mission.
During his final year at Princeton, his weekly class at Marble Collegiate Church numbered from 60 to 100. He also delivered a series of lectures to National Bible Institute students. When a financial crisis threatened that school, Borden took up the entire indebtedness, in addition to his many other benefactions. He was a member of the committee which prepared Moody Bible Institute's comprehensive doctrinal statement, still used today.
To those who expressed surprise that one with his gifts should "throw himself away as a missionary," Borden countered, "You have not seen heathenism."
Late in 1912 he sailed for China under the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship). However, he stopped in Egypt for intensive study of Arabic and Muslim culture. Alas, in April, 1913, he was stricken with cerebral meningitis, and called home to glory before reaching his chosen field.
What a legacy he left, in so many ways! Two remarkable wills were probated within a few days of each other: Borden's and that of J. P. Morgan, whose wealth totaled almost $100 million. The great financier had made a profession of faith (which his life denied), yet at age 75, he left little more than half as much to the work of God as William Borden did at 25!
One missionary spoke for many when he said, "I have absolutely no feeling of a life cut short. A life abandoned to Christ cannot be cut short."