E.M. Bounds, Man of Prayer: His Life and Selected Writings

By Lyle W. Dorsett
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1991). Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 100-101

This is the first sketch of Bounds aside from shorter accounts in dictionaries of biography, pamphlets, and entries in some of Bounds' eight books on prayer. Dorsett is Professor of Ministries and Evangelism and also Director of Urban Ministries, the Institute of Evangelism, Wheaton College, Illinois. Bounds (1835-1913) is today one of the most widely-read men on prayer, especially his Power Through Prayer, also sometimes titled Preacher and Prayer.

Readers until now knew little of this unusual man of prayer. Dorsett searched for every scrap of paper about Bounds he could find and pored over the family's correspondence. He also talked with descendants. Pages 12-66 cover the life of Bounds. After footnotes, pp. 71-254 assemble Bounds' writings on twenty-six topics, including subjects like the Bible, heaven, Christ and prayer, being crazy for God, devotions, the Holy Spirit and prayer, hymns, materialism as a hindrance, revival, and Satan. Some entries have been unavailable since appearing in The Christian Advocate of Nashville, which Bounds edited (1890-1894).

Dorsett traces the Bounds' forefathers from Maryland to Kentucky, then to Missouri. Bounds was 5-feet, 5-inches tall, slender, and with piercing hazel eyes accentuated by bushy brows (pp. 7, 26) and black hair (p. 28). Dorsett only found three pictures of Bounds, taken when he was old with gray or white hair [cited from personal letter to this reviewer, January 18, 1991]. In the book's only picture, a very small one on the cover, Bounds appears very old and austere.

What Dorsett learned about this paragon of prayer, though brief, challenges readers to deepen and lengthen their prayers. Bounds was a chaplain for the Confederacy, then a pastor in Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama, and lived his last nineteen years in Georgia. People remembered him for his gripping public prayers, stirring messages, courage, childlike faith, holiness, and revivalism. Stirred at twenty-four by a serious encounter with God, he took down his law shingle to devote his life to preaching. For many years he prayed daily from 4 to 7 a.m., and at seventy-six lengthened this to 3-7 a.m. He added fragrance to the rest of his daily schedule with seasons of prayer. A pastor friend, Homer Hodge, through zealous effort was instrumental in the publication of most of Bounds' books (cf. a list of eleven, p. 254) after his death.

Dorsett has included many details that should stir Bounds' band of readers that is still growing so long after his departure. It is a pity that he could not include pictures of a younger or even middleaged man. And many of the more serious readers will regret that of the 254 pages, fewer than sixty describe the subject's life and ministry. It is puzzling why very lengthy sections reprint much that is already available in such books as Power Through Prayer. A few outstanding personal incidents are sprinkled through the biography. Could not more pages have been allotted to telling about Bounds and giving anecdotes? After all, many have long wondered about the personal life of this writer who, though gone, speaks and helps encourage people to pray.

Still, all in all, readers can be grateful for Dorsett's portrait of a man God has used so greatly. They will echo Dorsett's sentiments. Bounds' summons to prayer, Dorsett says, "drove me to my knees with renewed vigor, vision, and expectation" and "revitalized by faith in a living and powerful Christ" (p. 7). It is not too much to say that every Christian will grow more in prayer through a willing response to Bounds' summons.