Thursday, May 14, 2009

E.M. BOUNDS | Stephen Mansfield

Today I came across two things concerning Franklin, Tennessee that caught my attention. First, I found an article that I had read several years ago by Stephen Mansfield; at that time I saved it so that I could reread it later. I tried to find it on where I originally saw it, but was unable to locate it. Anyways I am posting this excellent piece on the life of E.M. Bounds, who is one of my heroes of the faith. Most should be familiar with his writings on the topic of prayer (if not, please buy one of his excellent books on prayer).

Secondly I came across on CNN tonight a story about a body of a Union Civil War soldier being uncovered in Franklin, Tennessee. As you will read below, the Battle of Franklin had a significant impact on the life and ministry of E.M. Bounds.

E.M. BOUNDS by Stephen Mansfield

His name was E. M. Bounds and, though few may know of him, his books still sound a valiant trumpet call to intercession for those who have ears to hear. With titles like Power through Prayer, Prayer and Praying Men, The Essentials of Prayer, and The Possibilities of Prayer, this revered pastor, author, military chaplain, and prayer warrior has issued a Spirit-empowered call that continues to echo through the corridors of time. Yet if few know of him, even fewer may be aware of his incredible ministry during the War Between the States and the amazing impact he had on Franklin, Tennessee, just after that War. It is a story that bears telling, and retelling, among a people called to walk in his steps.

Edward McKendree Bounds was born in 1835 to Christian parents in Shelby County, Missouri. His middle name came from the famous Methodist circuit rider, Bishop William McKendree, who planted churches from the Atlantic coast to Missouri. As befit his name, Edward was an exceptional young man. In 1854, after "reading the law" as was the custom at the time, he was admitted to the bar at the astonishing age of eighteen. He quickly became one of the most respected attorneys in the area, but in 1859, to the surprise of all, he closed his office. Something had changed in Edward, and only his friends knew that it was a fresh encounter with the Lord Jesus. He began to devour the Scriptures and he read every John Wesley sermon in print. He also consumed the writings of Jonathan Edwards, whose biography of David Brainerd filled him with a passion for prayer. Edward's hunger for God increased and as his Heavenly Father filled him to overflowing, his heart longed to draw others into the transforming intimacy he had discovered. Finally, in 1860, his desire was granted when he was "Licensed to preach the Gospel of Christ" in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His first pastorate was in Brunswick, Missouri, yet, in the sovereignty ofGod, it would not last long. In the fall of 1861, six months after the start of the War Between the States, Bounds was sitting quietly in his red brick church when Union troops rode up and took him into custody. He had once publicly voiced his opposition to the confiscation of churches by Union troops and for this offense alone he was beaten and consigned to a federal prison at St. Louis. This injustice would have crushed most men, but Edward was a different breed of man, one who had surrendered fully to his Master. Rather than nurse a destructive bitterness, he began to minister to the angry, hurting souls around him. So effective was his ministry and so respected was the character of this godly man, that following a prisoner exchange early the next year, Edward was sworn in as a Chaplain in the Confederate Army.

He now found himself in John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee and a more war-weary band of soldiers have rarely existed. These veterans had seen many a preacher appeal for converts in the quiet of the camp only to flee to the comforts of home when the firing began. Chaplain Bounds was a refreshing change. The soldiers learned that when the fighting broke out, they could find Bounds on the front lines, exposing himself to danger, and drawing fire as he shouted encouragement to "his flock." The men loved him. He was barely over five feet tall and as thin as a rail and when he made his rounds carrying a full backpack, the men laughingly called him "the walking bundle," for the man could scarcely be seen under the huge load. Edward would always smile, eagerly wave, and then turn to the next soul that required mending.

Then came the Battle of Franklin. On November 30, 1864, General Hood launched a frontal assault against the entrenched forces of Union General Schofield near a town south of Nashville called Franklin. It was a hasty, rash move and in a charge as dramatic as anything seen at Gettysburg, 18,000 Confederate soldiers were hurled against Union lines. It was a bloodbath and Hood lost 6,252 men that day, including thirteen general officers. Many prisoners were taken, and among them was Chaplain Edward Bounds. For days afterwards, Edward's heart-wrenching task was to dig mass graves for the very men whose souls he had tended. All the while, though, he sang hymns, quoted Scripture aloud, and offered encouragement to his fellow captives. Finally, after more than two weeks of this horror, most of the prisoners were released on condition that they not take up arms again. Edward accepted and left for his home in Missouri. His business in Franklin, however, was unfinished.

Early in 1865, Edward returned to Franklin. With all his heart he had loved the men in those horrible mass graves----he knew their hurts, the names of their wives and children, the shape of their fears----and he simply couldn't leave them there. He conceived a project to properly bury the dead and commemorate their lives. His vision moved a local farmer to donate some land and during the hot summer of 1865 some 1, 496 Confederate soldiers were exhumed and buried in the new cemetery on the hills of the Carter Farm. He even raised seven hundred dollars to pay local men to tend the graves. But it was not enough for Edward. He made a list of all the men from Missouri he buried at Franklin and published it in the Missouri newspapers to inform the families and generate even more support. Tenderly, he placed the list in his own wallet where it remained until the day of his death forty-eight years later. Throughout his life, he visited the families of his men, wrote them letters, and even helped acquire scholarships for the children of the men he had prayed with in those smokey Confederate camps.

But there was something else stirring him, as well. He had noticed, along with other believers, how a spiritual heaviness hung over the town of Franklin. One might expect this of Nashville, for during the War years it had been a center of prostitution, drunkenness, and the occult that was so much in fashion in the mid-1800's in America. Franklin was different, populated largely by Christian people. Perhaps it was the horrible bloodshed of those six hours on November 30th, or perhaps it was the depression of defeat that blanketed the South. Edward did not know why it was there, but he knew it had to go and that prayer was the key.

Since there was no Methodist pastor in Franklin, Edward became the pastor of Franklin's Methodist Episcopal Church. While fulfilling his pastoral duties, he continued to seek God for a strategy to break the darkness that covered the city. Finally, it came. Before long, he called upon the men of the city to join him in prayer. Every Tuesday evening, he proposed, the men would gather in the town square and cry out to God for their city. It must have sounded as strange then as it does today. Yet, the men came, and following Edward's lead, they knelt in the center of the town square and prayed, faithfully, every Tuesday for months. It worked. The darkness began to leave. What is more the Spirit of God began to touch hearts and the city experienced what can only be described as a spiritual awakening. In fact, Pastor Bounds' own church grew from a handful to over five hundred people. Once again, a faithful God granted an outpouring of his Spirit to believers who faithfully persisted in prayer.

Pastor Bounds remained in Franklin for two more years and then moved to Alabama. In time he married, had children, inherited property, and discipled many young men in the ministry. His life was filled with intense seasons of prayer, effective seasons of ministry, and fruitful seasons of writing. Indeed, his books on prayer, filled with wisdom acquired from so many battles both spiritual and human, are still the best to be found on the subjects of prayer and intercession.

Yet nothing stands as a testimony to the man quite like his pastoral ministry to the men who fell at the Battle of Franklin, their families, and the beleaguered city of Franklin. What kind of man is it who risks death to encourage others in Jesus? What kind of man quotes Scripture and sings hymns while burying the men he has pastored? What breed is it that can dig up almost fifteen hundred bodies only to bury them again in a manner that befits their sacrifice? What devotion cares not only for the men who have fallen but their children and even their grandchildren? And what kind of calling leads men to cry out to God for their city when others are lost in blackest despair?

The simple answer is that these are the characteristics of Jesus. What E. M. Bounds had learned was the secret of prayer, and how through the surrender that persistent prayer produces, Jesus pours his life, his heart, and his character. This is the meaning of the life of E. M. Bounds and this is the nature of our Lord.

© 2004 Mansfield Group

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