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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Insights from a Blind Man

Insights from a Blind Man

My Dad recently told his Bible class about a blind man that he once knew. His name was Leonard
Burford. Burford was professor and head of the music department of Abilene Christian College for 24
years. In my Dad's estimation (and now mine), Burford was an amazing man.

Burford, born on September 30, 1905, and his two siblings, Jack and Mabel, were born with the same
eye condition: retinitis pigmentosa. Leonard's vision was always the poorest. When he was 14, his
sight was so poor he couldn't read even large print. His mother, Mrs. J. L. Burford, located a
Braille alphabet, and he taught himself to read it with a paper and punch. By the age of 28,
Burford was completely blind.

He was blind but he accomplished much. After graduating from high school, he went to college at
Abilene Christian College. He graduated with honors in 1925 earning a degree in education. When he
received his degree, his mother was also awarded an honorary degree for her work with her son.
Burford estimated that his mother did 90 percent of his reading from high school through college.

Burford's mother was also his first music teacher when he was eight-years-old. By the time he was
12, Burford was certain that he would seek a career in music. After graduating from ACC, he went on
to study music at several institutions including the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New
York. Burford later earned his doctorate from Columbia University in 1952.

Burford's career in music education enabled him to become a member of the faculty at his alma mater
at ACC in 1932. He founded the A Cappella Chorus that year. He became head of the Music Department
at ACC in 1937, a position he held until his death in 1961, at the age of 55. My Dad, Glenn
Sargent, was a member of the A Cappella Chorus under Burford's direction for three years in the mid

In his life, Burford sought to help others who could not see. He compiled 86 religious songs in
Braille which were printed in two volumes and were distributed by the 14th and Vine Streets Church
of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He also wrote articles and tracts in Braille to help those who were
blind to know about Jesus and His church. He wrote a tract on church music and one on "What Must I
Do to Be Saved?" that were printed in Braille. He wanted all, both blind and seeing, to be saved
from their sins by obeying the Gospel (the Good News) of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the
sins of the world (1 John 2:2).

Perhaps Burford's love for his Lord and his desire for others to know Christ was his motivation for
writing a hymn that came to be loved by many. The hymn was "Come Unto Me," based on the beautiful
invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you
and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For
My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

That same invitation that Burford sought to highlight in his hymn continues to be offered today.
The proper response is what Burford wrote about in his tract, "What Must I Do to Be Saved?".

God will save and give rest and eternal life to those who place their faith and trust in Jesus (Acts
16:30-31), turn from their sins in repentance (Acts 17:30-31), confess Jesus before men (Romans
10:9-10), and are baptized (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). He will
continue to cleanse from sin those who continue to walk in the light of His Word (1 John 1:7-9).

Although he was blind, Leonard Burford had tremendous insight. Through his music and his life, he
continues to extend the Lord's invitation: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I
will give you rest."

Won't YOU accept His invitation?

-- David A. Sargent

* Information gleaned from articles in the Firm Foundation (2/7/56) and the Gospel Advocate
(9/28/61) as viewed at and

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