The Borden-Yale Revival

Stories of Revival

by   |     |   |  

In 1887 William Whiting Borden was born into wealth. He was the heir to the Borden family fortune earned from their famous dairy company, which is still successful today.

In 1904 when Bill graduated from high school, his parents gave him a trip around the world as a graduation gift. Bill traveled through Asia, the Middle East and Europe and came home with a burden for the broken. Hearing about Bill’s calling to the mission field, a friend expressed concern that Bill was “throwing himself away as a missionary.” His response was to write two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.” It was the beginning of a formula that would define his life.

In 1905 Bill began preparing for ministry at Yale University. His classmates immediately noticed that he was unique—not for his wealth but for his submission to Christ. He quickly became an encouragement to them as his devotion gave him security in his divine purpose.

His first semester in school, Bill began meeting daily with a friend of his for prayer before breakfast. These times of devotion drew people in like moths to flame. After Bill’s freshman year, 150 freshmen had formed groups like the one Bill started. And by his senior year Bill found himself organizing small groups for prayer and time in the Word for 1,000 of Yale’s 1,300 students.

Bill’s ministry not only extended to his peers at school, those within his reach. He also sought out opportunities within his community. 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.”

After graduation, Bill was offered several high paying jobs, but he was devoted to his calling. He would travel to China to witness to the Muslim Kansu people. It was at this time he wrote the second part of his formula: “No retreats.”

Bill Borden attended Princeton Seminary in New Jersey after graduation from Yale in 1909. And after a few more years of study he sailed for China on December 17, 1912. Because he wanted to minister to a predominantly Muslim country, Bill even took the time to stop in Egypt to study Arabic so he could be fully equipped to reach the Muslim people. However, while in Egypt Bill contracted spinal meningitis. On April 9, 1913, Bill Borden died at 25 years old.

Bill hadn’t even begun the calling he was burdened for when he died. He had spent years preparing for it, sacrificing for it, devoted to it. When I first heard Bill’s story, it frustrated me. How could God call a man to something he would never reach? Then I read about the final piece of Bill’s formula. Before he died, Bill wrote two final words in the back of his Bible: “No regrets.”

Bill’s life was not dedicated to a calling. It was devoted solely to serving Jesus the entire time. He didn’t wait to minister. He didn’t wait to pursue the Lord.

His life was never defined by preparing. His life was defined by doing the work of his Father. “No Reserves. No Retreats. No Regrets.” It is this perspective that transforms Bill’s story from tragedy to triumph in the Lord.

Bill’s story has taught me something I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. The key to a revival is not to wait for one—it’s not to prepare for one that we hope will come. The key is to live in light of the fact that revival happened once at the cross. And that should be enough to energize and motivate us every day we have breath in our lungs.

Bill’s formula is the formula of revival. He was able to die with no regrets because he had truly lived.

If I were to die today, I don’t think I could say that I had no regrets. Could you? Don’t wait for revival to come to you. Live for the Lord now. No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.


Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.