Justin Taylor|12:00 am CT

No Fool

The best-known line of martyred missionary Jim Elliot is, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

In the archives at Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center you can view Elliot’s journals (published here.) Below is a picture of the page from his journal. (As the Archives note, the underline and asterisk was likely added later after he died.)



  1. Two of his sermons are also in the Wheaton Archives as MP3.http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/elliotsermons.html

  2. [...] See the actual journal entry from Jim Elliot’s most famous line here. [...]

  3. [...] Justin Taylor] “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot [...]

  4. Of course, as a principle such a claim is patently false.

  5. Malcolm Horlock

    It is important to note that Jim Elliott followed his now-famous words by quoting Luke 16. 9.

    Interestingly, Philip Henry, who lived back in the 17th century, was credited with a very similar saying. In the biography which he wrote of his father, the notable Bible commentator Matthew Henry recalled his father’s acts of charity, adding that he used to say, ‘He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose’. (Quoted from ‘The Life of Mr. Philip Henry’, included in ‘The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry’, published by Joseph Ogle Robinson in 1833, page 35. Available online at Google Books.)

    Indeed, some 1300 years before Philip Henry (and some 1600 years before Jim Elliot), Augustine, clearly with Luke 16 in the background, had written not dissimilar words: ‘Give those things to the poor which you cannot keep, that you may receive those things which you cannot lose’. (Quoted by THOMAS WATSON in ‘The Beautitudes’ (under the heading ‘A discourse of mercifulness’) – available online at http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-10/web/watson-beatitudes.html#_Toc411063745.)

    Was Jim Elliot, I wonder, familiar with either (or both) of these earlier sayings? Certainly his linked quotation of Luke 16 verse 9 suggests most strongly that, when he penned his now-famous saying, he (in company with both Augustine and Philip Henry) had in mind particularly the eternal benefits to be ‘gained’ by the believer from giving to the poor. But it is One unspeakably greater than Augustine, Philip Henry or Jim Elliot who would have us know in Luke 16 that treasures in heaven are laid up when treasures on earth are given up.

    (These comments are based on an extract from an article I wrote some time ago in ‘Precious Seed International’, Volume 65, Issue 4, ‘The Parable of the Unjust Steward – Part 2.)

    • Mr. Horlock

      Allow me to take this opportunity to thank you for your writings. I’ve enjoyed them very much. I remember working through Day by Day through the NT and benefiting from the section on Matthew’s gospel the most!


      • Malcolm Horlock

        Thank you, Mike. I very much appreciate the encouragement.


        • You’re very welcome. Mr. Horlock, in about 2 month’s time I plan to study 1 Cor 11.1-16 in conjunction with our assembly’s Bible study. I’m really looking forward to studying this section for myself, but of course it has more than its’ fair share of vexing questions, especially when one has read some of the secondary literature. I recall that you are one of the few brethren writers to interact with this literature (ie, the commentary by Fee). Would you be willing to send me an email, so that I could ask you any questions that come up when I do work through this passage? I know that this request is a stretch, so please feel no pressure to respond. However, if you are willing and able, my email address is mjhknoxATgmail.com.

          Thank you!

  6. [...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/04/01/no-fool/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in KFD. Bookmark the permalink. ← True Conversion Always Shows Fruit Let us not be the spot-finders → [...]

  7. “The Savage My Kinsman” and “Jungle Pilot – Nate Smith”are both great books about the whole story.

  8. [...] Jim Elliot. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” ht Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Christian [...]

  9. I remember the day he was killed. I was a student at Moody.

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