Skip to content ↓

The Philanthropists: William Borden

William BordenWilliam Whiting Borden was a wealthy Christian philanthropist who had a particular passion for the Muslims of Northern China. Born in Chicago in 1887 to William and Mary, Borden’s family became wealthy through wise investments in real estate and the dairy industry. It was this family wealth that Borden would generously distribute before his death at the young age of 25.

His Conversion

Borden began attending Chicago Avenue Church (now The Moody Church) with his mother after she trusted Christ in 1894. It was as a young man under the preaching of the famous evangelist and writer Dr. R. A. Torrey that Borden professed faith in Christ and was baptized. His conversion left an indelible mark that would persist through the rest of his short life so that his friends and family would later attest he rarely wasted a minute of the time given him.

As a high school graduation gift his parents gave him a trip around the world and it was in this time that he developed a passion for mission. When Borden left home to study at Yale University, he led other students in times of prayer and Scripture reading. In fact, the movement spread so much that 1,000 out of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in similar groups by the time Borden graduated. During these meetings, the students would plan how they could reach all the students for Christ, and Borden was known to willingly take on the more hostile students. He also led Yale’s student missionary conference.

After graduating from Yale and then Princeton Theological Seminary, Borden studied Arabic in Egypt to prepare him to minister to the Kansu Muslims of Northern China. Sadly, though, he died of cerebral meningitis at the age of 25. Samuel Zwemer, who had taught Borden while he was in Egypt, officiated the funeral. Thus, Borden forsook his great wealth for the sake of the nations. In his Bible, he wrote the words, “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”

His Contributions

Borden gave $1 million of his family’s wealth to organizations such as the China Inland Mission, Moody Bible Institute, Moody Church, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

But he was more than a philanthropist–he was also an evangelist. While a student, he founded the Yale Hope mission, an organization that rescued drunks off the street, sought to rehabilitate them, and shared with them the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus, it would be shortsighted to focus only on Borden’s wealth. His own passionate influence had a great effect on others. One of his professors at Princeton, Charles R. Erdman, said that Borden was “an ideal missionary volunteer” because of his vision, dedication, example, and influence. Or, as his epitaph reads,

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.

  • Book Reviews Collection cover image

    We Need Qualified Leadership

    A few days ago I happened upon the page of an especially mega-sized megachurch. The church is about to undergo a leadership transition from an older man to a younger one and a page on the site lays out the process through which this new pastor was chosen. I read with a morbid kind of…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 21)

    A La Carte: Making tea and holding hands for the sake of the gospel / When Christian groups subvert religious liberty of Christians / How busy should I be? / 5 ways people worship themselves / A backwards birth into heaven / A new systematic theology / and more.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 20)

    A La Carte: How to support the caregivers in your church / What we gain in following Jesus / The way we feel is not necessarily the way it is / The power and danger of habit / The man who introduced American Evangelicals to C.S. Lewis / and more.

  • Do Not Envy the Wicked

    Do You Envy the Wicked?

    It takes a long time for sinful instincts to become pure, for tendencies toward what is evil to be transformed into tendencies toward what is good, lovely, and pleasing to God. The man who quits drugs will still react when he catches a whiff and the woman who gave up alcoholism will still struggle when…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (June 19)

    A La Carte: The golden rule for hard conversations / Seven reasons you shouldn’t ignore beauty / The early church on entertainment / The uselessness of prayer / A thousand wheels of providence / Impossible, hard, and easy / and more.

  • Our Salvation Through Christ

    This week the blog is sponsored by Moody Publishers and this post is adapted from The Kindness of God by Nate Pickowicz (© 2024). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament teaches that this wonderful salvation is extended to us as a kindness. Paul opens his letter…