William Borden was a man of great affluence, having been born into the home of William and Mary Borden, a family of great significance in the city of Chicago and the owners of a prosperous silver mine in Colorado. Upon graduating from high school at age 16, William was gifted a trip around the world from his parents. While traveling through various parts of Asia, young William was struck with an insatiable desire to be a missionary and to share his Christian faith with the myriads of people he encountered. This was immediately met with resentment and insults at the preposterous notion of disregarding the family fortune and business and pursuing the work of God with his life — some even expressing that he was throwing his life away.
Notwithstanding the opposition, though, William was determined to spend and be spent for God, soon enrolling at Yale, and thereafter attending Princeton Seminary. All throughout his studies and preparation for the mission field, he was working and ministering to his classmates, stirring souls to see their need of Christ and seeking out the incorrigible and inferior students to console and counsel them with the gospel.
While at Yale, Borden began the Yale Hope Mission, in which he was able to care for widows, orphans, and the decrepit, while also rescuing the drunk and helping the homeless. As he continued his education, his ministry focus narrowed, honing in on bringing the gospel to the Muslim Kansu people in China. From this undertaking, Will never fluctuated. After finishing his graduate work at Princeton, Borden sailed for China, making a stop in Egypt first, though, to study the Arabic language to aid his ministry to the Muslims. While there, however, he contracted the debilitating virus cerebral meningitis, and within a month, the disease took his life.
He never made it back to China as a missionary.
A faithful failure?
At first glance, Borden’s life seems like a failure. Despite his great wealth and even greater aspirations to serve the Lord in far-away places, he never delivered on his mission. At least personally. Moreover, William turned down a guaranteed life of luxury by turning away from the fortune and success of his father’s business. Upon Borden’s death, though, $1 million was entrusted to the China Inland Mission, among other Christian agencies, in his name. Outnumbering those dollars, though, were the persons he affected with the gospel of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Borden not only gave his wealth, he gave his life.
It is said that Borden’s own Bible was recovered from the field and given to his mother. In the front cover were discovered a few lines written down, each with a date next to them — “No Reserves,” dated shortly after forgoing family fortune in favor of the ministry. “No Retreat” was added after his father had banned him from ever having a place in the family business. Lastly, “No Regrets” was scribbled shortly before his death on the field in Egypt. A waste? No, quite the contrary. Borden’s life epitomizes Jesus’s admonition to his disciples, when he says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:33; cf. 14:26; 18:28) To be sure, I don’t wish to use Borden’s life as an illustration to coerce each one of you reading this to leave everything and depart to some exotic location and preach the Word. Borden’s story serves as more than mere impetus to “be a missionary.” I believe his life reminds us that Jesus is always worth it.
Always worth it.
Going back to Luke 14, Jesus’s exhortation to his disciples is to “count the cost” of discipleship in and followship of the gospel. Essentially he asks them, “Am I worth it?”
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:27–33)
Jesus’s bidding is for believers of all ages to ask themselves, “Is it worth it? Am I really willing to endure pressure and persecution for the sake of the gospel? Is Jesus that good? Is grace that amazing? Is Christianity worth the cost?” No doubt, you’ve asked yourself some of the same questions. I would venture to say that all serious followers of Christ must first engage in these sort of introspective inquiries to determine the reality of their faith. For, if one sits down to “count the cost” of following Christ and living for Jesus and proclaiming the unadulterated gospel of grace, it will be found that, indeed, it’s worth it, every time.
Finding life by laying it down.
Jesus is always worth it. He’s worth your time and your toil, your endeavors and your efforts. The gospel is the only thing that can free us to likewise declare “no reserves, no retreat, no regrets.” For, it’s this gospel of unconditional, unrelenting grace that liberates you to eschew material, temporal life in favor of heavenly, eternal life — that is, it frees you to relinquish your life and rejoice in the Son’s death. The glad tidings of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are the death knell of ever finding life in your life — they’re the divine reminder that Jesus “came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.”1
As you face today, whatever “today” might hold for you, remember that Jesus is always worth it. Even if you’re the only one standing for his sake, take your stand. As the writer to the Hebrews implores, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb 10:23) You can be absolutely certain that your God is infinitely faithful and eternally gracious, on that account, find your life in the One who gave his up for you. Testify, with the apostle Paul, that, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor 15:10)
Is it worth it? Every time.
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996), 158–59.