YOURS, O LORD, IS THE GREATNESS,
THE POWER AND THE GLORY.
1 CHRONICLES 29:11
Many times I have puzzled over this question: When one is close to greatness, does any of it ever rub off? Is there fallout? Does the nearness to greatness make one, if not great, at least a near-great?
As I have indicated, Billy and I have had a cordial, if infrequent, relationship over many years. When he sees me, he often greets me with, "How are you, beloved?" I like being around someone like that. I don't recall anyone else using exactly those words with me, and I have certainly been addressed in ways a lot less favorable. But much as I would like to think that greatness is communicable if you get close, I have acknowledge each morning as I look into the mirror that the prospect is dicey. The likelihood of greatness is like the danger from a satellite out of orbit it may come down and hit you but probably won't.
Shakespeare once wrote that "some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."1 He should have added, "And a lot of men and women ain't and don't."
But hold on. The Bible does not classify greatness the way Shakespeare does. There is another source of greatness that may
explain Billy Graham and may even hold out hope for you and me. That other source is "the love of God poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us."2 Alongside this spiritual source, all other "credentials" based on birth, gender, achievement, chance, fate and luck fade into insignificance for those who know the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, sometimes called the greatest of the ancient Romans, once wrote, "No man was ever great without divine inspiration."3 Good man, Tully! (That's how the scholars refer to him). Tully's criterion, given so long ago, would toss out many of the "Persons of the Year" that Time magazine insists on choosing each January. He would say they are not great at all. But my guess is that Tully would make an exception of the issue that carried Billy Graham's picture as "Man of the Year!"
Another interesting quote about greatness is attributed to a noble French lady, Madame Cornuel: "No man is a hero to his valet."4 Often true, no doubt, but surely one of the reasons a person is great is precisely because he (or she) is a hero to his valet (or her femme-de-chambre).
Billy Graham has no valet, but he has a lot of employees. I have known personally most of the men and women who served on Billy's traveling team during and since the years when I edited his magazine, including those closest to him. I am convinced that all of them were and are thoroughly devoted to Billy, even those who have left the team. (Billy often brings them back). Billy on his part has always been extravagant in his praises of those who have worked for him. Does that sound unusual? Remember, we are discussing greatness. Truly great people really are different. If the New Testament tells us anything, it tells us that Jesus did communicate greatness to at least some of His disciples.
Lest you think I am trying to include myself in this discussion, I shall interrupt with a story. Once during a Billy Graham crusade in Denver, Colorado, I needed an overhead crowd photo for Decision, and I was told that none had been schedule. I thought that a pity, as Billy was preaching in Denver's picturesque Mile-High Stadium. Accordingly, on Sunday afternoon I engaged a small plane and a photographer
(Russ Busby was busy) and ordered them to fly over the stadium for some shots.
The Sunday afternoon service began, and just as the crusade choir and George Beverly Shea, soloist, rose to sing, my single-engine wonder came buzzing over the stadium at 800 feet. The pilot made one pass, and then to my excruciating embarrassment, he flew back back and forth over the stadium several times, completely drowning out the music. Cliff Barrows, our beloved song leader, had to apologize to the crowd and then state that at Mr. Graham's request, the anthem would be repeated, which it was.
Oh, how I wished to be somewhere else! Greatness? I felt about as great as a flea on a camel's back. Sooner or later I knew that the culprit would be flushed out me. One of my fellow team members described it this way: "Woody told the pilot to make one pass and get six pictures. Instead he made six passes and got one picture." But, strangely, no rebukes from anyone ever came my way. Billy did not mention the subject.
Another characteristic of greatness is the ability to get along with other people. For example, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a splendid leader of the free world even before he became president of the United States. He managed to mold together as leaders of the Allied forces warriors as disparate as Generals George Patton and Sir Bernard Montgomery. As Allies they made a magnificent team, and under Eisenhower, together with the Russians, they defeated the Nazi armies and smashed Hitler.
Billy Graham has Ike's wonderful ability to mix with people and make friends, whatever their background. I am not just quoting others, for I have known both men.
I also had on May 7, 1963, in Cambridge, England, what was perhaps the last interview with Professor C.S. Lewis before his death. Lewis, whose Christian writings have attracted readers worldwide, was an Anglican layman. In the Church of England today many express disapproval of Billy Graham and his ministry. Such persons would consider him anything but great. Let me therefore quote an excerpt from that interview with Lewis just as it was published in
1970 in the book, God in the Dock, Essays in Theology and Ethics, by C.S. Lewis:
Wirt: Do you approve of men such as Bryan Green and Billy Graham asking people to come to a point of decision regarding the Christian life?
Lewis [after affirming his approval]: I had the pleasure of meeting Billy Graham once. We had dinner together during his visit to Cambridge University in 1955, while he was conducting a mission to students. I thought he was a very modest and a very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed.5
Greatness often does reciprocate greatness. I will give you some other brief examples:
Pearl Goode, the elderly woman of prayer who followed Billy from crusade to crusade from 1954 until her passing in 1972, living in small hotels and praying for Billy in seclusion. In Copenhagen she did her praying in a tub of hot water to keep warm.
Cardinal Wojtyla of Poland, who warmly supported Billy's preaching mission to Krakow in 1978. Just before Billy arrived, the cardinal went to Rome where he was elected Pope John Paul II.
Muhammad Ali, the prize fighter, who paid a visit to Billy and Ruth at their North Carolina home and was astonished when Billy met him personally at the Asheville airport and drove him in his own car to Montreat.
Here is a quite different example: In a South American city a young rabbi came to the platform at the close of an evangelistic service and confronted Billy.
"I suppose," he said ( I am not quoting him exactly), "according to your theology, you would consign me to hell because I am a Jew and you are a Christian."
Billy replied (and I am quoting exactly), "Sir, I am delighted to meet you. We worship the same God. There is just this difference between us: You believe that the Messiah is yet to come. I believe He has already come."
In many ways Billy fits the classic description of a gentleman from the hand of John Henry Newman, a distinguished nineteenth-century English churchman:
The true gentleman carefully avoids all clashing of opinion, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his concern being to make everyone at ease. He is tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. He guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate. He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage or insinuates evil. He observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves toward our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted by insults, is scrupulous about not imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best.6
I am quite aware that when Billy Graham has finished his course, there will be a great outpouring around the world of eulogies, encomiums, and panegyrics in praise of his life. The lengthy obituaries are already in print and on file. Impressive testimonials to his achievements will then be spoken in halls and palaces. Documents will be published and medals struck. One reason for these pages is that I think Billy and Ruth deserve to hear some of that adulation while they are still alive, even though they might modestly object.
Another reason for writing is that when I first began my association with Billy, I was not convinced of greatness because of something that took place in 1959. After our return from Tasmania, Billy asked me to remain in Melbourne and spend some time in bookstores and libraries gathering material for a book he was planning to write. (The book eventually appeared in 1965 under the title World Aflame.) In the following two weeks I accumulated what I thought was some valuable information about the political standoff between Eastern and Western Europe. The Soviets not only had the nuclear
bomb, but they were said to have a hundred thousand spies in New York alone, Castro was installing missile launchers. China was threatening Taiwan. Tito was defying Stalin. The outbreak of war seemed very real.
I also gathered important data about the current social and moral crises facing what we still called the "Allied nations." After preparing this material in typewritten form, I took it in my briefcase on the flight from Sydney to Auckland. During that journey Billy came and sat beside me with a smile and asked how I had made out in Melbourne. We spent perhaps ten minutes going through my typewritten pages together. He expressed deep interest. Then he stood up, smiled, and said, "Sherwood, you've done an excellent job. Now you're going to have sit down and explain all this to me."
He returned to his seat, leaving me stunned. What did he mean? Was he implying that he was unaware of what was going on in the world of 1959? Or that I somehow possessed superior insight? Well, I thought with a touch of ego, I suppose it's conceivable. But is he really that naive?
Looking back, I have had a few chuckles, not at Billy's naiveté, but at my own. I was soon to learn that Billy Graham knew far more than I did about what was going on. He talked and still talks regularly with kings and queens, presidents and cardinals and statesmen, economists and atomic scientists. He is consulted by social experts, both men and women. He visits the Pentagon and the Congress and the World Council of Churches. He fine-tunes the media as no one else does. He reads important books and listens to his brilliant wife.
Yes, Billy is great. I was misled by his humble and ingenuous approach, but I know better now.
But what manner of greatness is it that Billy has? In the jacket copy of one book about him, the publisher writes that the author "describes how Graham's lifelong ambition 'to do something great for God' led him to organize mammoth international conferences that have helped forge a coalition crucial to the worldwide spread of Evangelical Christianity, and to pursue efforts to enhance religious freedom in the Soviet bloc nations and the People's Republic of China...." The publisher adds, "From this book readers will gain
a better understanding of the most successful evangelist in Christian history."
But is that all there was to it mere ambition? Is that what motivated Billy? He had become a follower of Jesus. Is that what motivated Jesus? Let's set the record straight. Factually and theologically, all Billy Graham did was to get out of God's way. He laid his life at the altar and made himself an empty vessel for the Holy Spirit to fill and use. If you don't believe that, ask Billy. His lifelong ambition was and is to let God run his life. No one can possibly understand the "most successful evangelist in Christian history" unless one knows that Billy considers such titles good for selling books and little else.
God is love.7 It was God's loving desire to make His servant an instrument to win millions of people to Himself. That's why He poured out His love into Billy's heart. Billy Graham saw what the Holy Spirit was doing and wanted done, and he showed up for work. A Scottish editor, J.W. Stevenson, expressed it this way:
Every night... he made hundreds of people feel that he was speaking straight to their hearts. The Spirit of God was speaking through him, using him, by-passing him, turning even his mistakes to account, all the time reminding him that this was not his doing, but God's. This is, perhaps, his greatest power. To be with him even for a short time is to get a sense of a man wholly committed, a single-minded man; it shames and shakes one as no amount of ability and cleverness can do. Here is someone who has the purity of heart which sees God.8
Billy's life, and every believer's life, starts in the throne room of heaven. If there is greatness, the greatness is God's.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world."9 Such is the arithmetic of joy, and joy, as Lewis said, is the serious business of heaven (Luke 15:7).10 This book is not a tribute to a man; it is written to glorify God and magnify His greatness in deigning to use the elder son of Frank and Morrow Graham to fulfil His own desires for our generation.
One way to measure greatness is by a person's family. It is not infallible Jesus' own family did not seem to understand Him during His years of ministry. Some Christians have made a great spiritual impact on their generation, only to find their own children a keen disappointment to them. I have also known Christian couples who never achieved much in this life, but whose children grew up to be marvelous men and women of God.
Ruth Graham, and Billy when he was not traveling, brought up five children, all of whom are lovers of Jesus Christ and recognized as outstanding leaders on several continents. To write about these sons and daughters (all of whom are friends) is not within the domain of this book. But because I know and admire them all, I at least want to mention them. God has blessed them all with strong faith and marvelous gifts.
Virginia ("Gigi") Tchivijian has become a superb, distinctive author and speaker and has a wide following of her own. She also has a bountiful family and a talented, professional husband.
Anne Lotz too has a noble family and husband and has in recent years developed an astonishing international gospel ministry of her own. She speaks to large, eager throngs wherever she goes.
Ruth, ("Bunny") McIntyre and I became friends at the Billy Graham Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1964. With a beautiful family, she has become a fine writer and skillful editor for national publishing houses.
Franklin (William Franklin III) has developed into a son worthy of his illustrious parents, and his own thrilling story has won national applause. Read Rebel with a Cause. That's all I can say at this time.
Ned, the youngest (Nelson Edman), and I have known each other a long time. He and I flew the Atlantic together when he was three. As president of "East Gates" ministries, which distributes Bibles, Ned is God's man of the hour both in China and North Korea.
"Behold, children are a heritage of the Lord," says the psalmist. They are also a clue to greatness.
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1. William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 4.
2. Romans 5:5, my translation from the Greek.
3. Franklin P. Adams, F.P.A.'s Book of Quotations (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1952), 401.
4. Mme. Cornuel, in Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (Garden City, N.Y.: 1944), 1005n.
5. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 197), 258-67.
6. J.H. Newman, Idea of a University, 1854 (New York: Holt, Rineheart and Winston, 1966).
7. 1 John 4:8.
8. Tom Allan, Crusade in Scotland (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1955), 25. At the time of Billy Graham's 1955 visit to Glasgow, Stevenson was editor of the Church of Scotland magazine, Life and Work.
9. Wirt & Beckstrom, Living Quotations for Christians (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), No. 2866.
10. Ibid., No. 1813.
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