“The Pastorates of E. M. Bounds”
by James Beller
excerpt from the book, The Soul of St. Louis
One of the most influential books of all time is Power through Prayer by Edward McKendree Bounds. Several generations of preachers have had their hearts stirred for soul winning, the unction of the Holy Ghost and personal piety through the book. When first released, Power through Prayer was entitled Preacher and Prayer. Referring to this work in 1909, A. C. Dixon wrote:
“This little book was given me by a friend. I received another copy at Christmas from another friend. ‘Well’, thought I, ‘there must be something worth while in this little book or two of my friends would not have selected the same present for me.’ So I read the first page until I came to the words: ‘Man is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men. Man is God’s method.’ That was enough for me and my appetite demanded more until the book was finished with pleasure.”1
Bounds wrote several small books on prayer that became classics after his death, including: The Essentials of Prayer, A Treasury of Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, and Prayer and Praying Men.
Bounds was born in Missouri, in Shelby County in 1835. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in his early twenties. At the age of twenty-four, on the
heels of the great national revival of 1858, Bounds surrendered to preach the gospel. Immediately he began to preach the Monticello Missouri Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He also pastored at Brunswick, Missouri.
When the Civil War began in 1861, the state of Missouri was plunged into the most unusual of all conflicts in the country. Missouri elected a governor who wanted to secede from the Union and a legislature that desired to stay in the Union. A bloody conflict within the conflict ensued. It left its churches in the strangest situation in America. As has been noted, St. Louis, being neither Union nor Confederate, placed its preachers in the precarious predicament of choosing sides or trying to avoid the choice.
Mr. Bounds, being in the southern part of the state, was required to sign an Oath of Allegiance to the Federal Government. This he could not do, due to his strong belief in states rights. He was arrested and brought to the Federal prison in St. Louis. His first place of service in the Gateway City was in the cells of a prison. In those days the prison was located on the hill overlooking Chouteau’s Pond on Eighth and Gratoit Street. The present day site is the Ralston Purina Company.
When the fate of Missouri remaining a union state was nearly settled, Bounds secured a release from prison and WALKING over two hundred miles, joined General Pierce’s Confederate Army in Mississippi. There he served as a chaplain to the Fifth Missouri Regiment. He was captured at the Battle of Nashville and imprisoned again.
It was these imprisonments and in his subsequent pastorates that the seed of his later works were germinated:
“After this order, the early Christians were formed. Men they were of solid mold, preachers after the heavenly type-heroic, stalwart, soldierly, saintly. Preaching with them meant self-denying, self-crucifying, serious, toilsome, martyr business. They applied themselves to it in a way that told on their generation, and formed in its womb a generation yet unborn for God.”2
Bounds came to St. Louis in 1875 to become the pastor of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, South. At the time of his tenure, according to the Compton Pictorial Atlas of St. Louis, 1875, the church was enjoying good growth in a prosperous north St. Louis neighborhood.
St. Louis was growing, its population grew from 300,000 to over 500,000 from 1870 to 1880. The population grew especially to the north and west of the original town environs. Bounds was growing, too, as a Christian and a preacher and a prayer warrior. As an author, he was studying and outlining, often reading and writing as he rode on horseback through the city, making soul winning calls and visiting the sick. He carried his Bible and notebooks in his saddle, a habit held fast from the days of his circuit riding.
In 1876, he married Emmie Barnette. Three years later, he had to leave his beloved city, only to return a short while later. Dr. B. F. Haynes of Nashville, Tennessee, a man saved under Bounds ministry, wrote:
“Our first sight of this great saint was at the close of the Civil War, when he was dropped into our village in Tennessee, with his uniform on. We remember how our childish minds were particularly taken with the gray jeans jacket, closely buttoned with its brilliant brass buttons. He took charge of our little Methodist church. We remember with what soul-stirring pathos and fervor he read those old classic hymns, such as Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds, In Evil Long I Took Delight, and many others. And the sermon! Who can describe it? Simple, direct, soulful, it went where it was invariably aimed-to the heart of the hearer.”
“The form of this holy, diminutive man, lying prone with a heavenly smile on his face, while his voice shouted the praises of God, in the humble village prayer meeting, is a sweet and familiar picture in our childhood’s memory.”3
Happily, Bounds returned to St. Louis in 1885, in time to participate in the revival led by Sam Jones. He served at First Methodist for one year and then returned to St. Paul’s finishing his pastorate in 1889.
1889 to 1896 finds Bounds in a provocative ministry. For seven years he edited the Methodist paper The St. Louis Christian Advocate. This paper propagated the views of the Methodist Church South, at that time a soul winning, Bible believing Protestant denomination. St. Paul’s M. E. Church South eventually grew to become the largest Methodist Sunday school in the state, with over fifteen hundred in attendance.4
Bounds began to recognize the weaknesses in his denomination which eventually lead to its merging with unbelieving circles. In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Protestant Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South merged to become “The Methodist Church”. In 1968, this group joined with the Evangelical United Brethren to become the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is infamous for its support of seminaries which deny the deity of Christ, the blood atonement, the need for regeneration and other basics of the Christian faith. The last generation has seen the United Methodists support abortion on demand, the social gospel, and the ordination of women and homosexuals.
E. M. Bounds was driven to preserve the powerful piety produced by true religion:
“The pulpit of this day is weak in praying. The pride of learning is against the dependent humility of prayer. Prayer is with the pulpit too often only official-a performance for the routine of service. Prayer is not to the modern pulpit the mighty force it was in Paul’s life or Paul’s ministry. Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work and is powerless to project God’s cause in this world.”5
On December 1, 1879, Bounds was readying to leave the city for a five year hiatus. Mr. Moody was in the midst of his four-month campaign. Rain had fallen all day and had turned to ice. However, the 4:00 P.M. meeting at the First Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Fourteenth and Lucas Place was packed and jammed with those eager to hear the evangelist. Bounds was asked to open the meeting in prayer. As recorded in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, this is what he prayed:
“Our Father, help us to come before Thee with humility and reverence, with some realization of our sinfulness, our guiltiness in Thy sight, some sense of Thy holiness and the demands of Thy law. And, oh, give us a simple and childlike faith in Jesus Christ and let Him be made unto us this evening wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; and in and through the merits of His blood may we have that approach to God, the forgiveness of all our sins, and the sanctification of our natures. Breathe upon us this evening the Holy Ghost, our Heavenly Father, as the gift of Thine infinite love and the gift of our exalted and princely Saviour. Let thy Spirit be poured upon us very richly that it may solemnize our minds; that it may carry conviction and stimulate our consciences into activity; that it may change by the power and authority of Thy word and its own divine operation, the current of our natures and turn us back strongly to God, to serve and love and honor Him. Bless thy servant greatly who shall speak to us this evening. Let Thy Spirit attend his words and the divine unction rest upon him; and may the words reach our consciences and our hearts. Oh, God, let Thy Spirit attend the songs that are sung that the melody may win its way to our souls and soothe our spirits and inflame our imaginations and draw up our thoughts to God and eternity and to the sweet and sublime things of an everlasting life. Breathe upon us a Sabbath evening blessing, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”6
While researching this book, the author came across the address for Bound’s church. Scores of abandoned buildings and acres of urban blight were passed upon approaching the site. A ghostly figure of a building arose as the car approached the address. The front of the building had a facade from the 1920’s, but the rear was aged. The property had a sense of quiet loneliness and abandonment-and yes, sacredness. Sacred not because of its architecture, or because of its former value, but sacred because of the man of God who walked its square footage, prayed down the power of God, and ministered God’s word to hopeful hearts.
The St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, South building burned in an arsonist’s fire in the spring of 1998.