I have talked to many people who have seen Billy on television and heard him speak but who have never had the privilege of meeting him. They tell me they would love to experience the joy of knowing him and catching his warm personality. They would give much to see his smile, hear his laugh, and feel the strong grip of his hand. Year after year Billy Graham is ranked as one of the world's most respected persons, an honor not often accorded to a clergyman. They would like to know for themselves why he commands such respect.
What a beautiful prospect, then, for me to be given the opportunity to write this book about a man who for over half a century has been bringing peace, hope, and joy into the lives of millions of people on six continents and the islands of the sea. It is indeed a pleasure to write about him, though I am deeply conscious of my own inadequacy. But by the grace of God, Billy Graham and I are friends. And so I invite you to meet my friend.
Just about everybody who meets Billy Graham personally becomes aware that there is something very different about him. He is a born leader. It was recognized early by his fellow students when he first enrolled at Wheaton College back in 1941. The difference is
not just his appearance nor his voice nor any one particular thing; rather it is the total effect of the man.
What then are the components of this impression? To begin with Billy is a refined southern gentleman, a compliment to his upbringing and an adornment to his heritage. But before that, he is a Christian and an evangelist. He's not exactly like some evangelists you've known. How can I say it? He is spiritually unique.
For example, he is deadly serious about the devil and the wickedness he continues to cause the world. Billy is also acutely aware of the burden of suffering that daily afflicts such a large portion of the human race. He has a tender touch. In recent years he and his wife, Ruth, have personally endured their share of affliction. As a global traveler over several decades, he is also keenly sensitive to the tragic injustices existing in the social environment of different nations, including his own.
But all attempts to explain Billy Graham fail unless they begin at the cross. The apostle Paul said, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel."1 And what is the gospel? It is that Christ died on Calvary's cross to save sinners like you and me. It is that He made atonement for sin with His blood, thus redeeming us from hell and judgment, and then gave us the promise of new life in the Holy Spirit by rising from the dead. This is in essence the Christian message, based on the Bible, and it is what Billy preaches all over the world. The message explains the messenger.
But Billy is also a lighthearted individual. Not many realize that. He feels the joy of being alive in God's creation. He is thrilled by the prospects of future bliss in heaven, and he has made a lifetime career of loving God and loving people. That's the note the media fail to catch. They see the hype and the crowds, but they miss the love of the Spirit and the joy of the Lord. They think Billy's story belongs in the "religious" category, along with promotion and hocus-pocus and bill-boards and sandwich-board prophets and, of course, the money pitch. So they sit down to knock out his story, and it often proves to be a subtle justification for their own sins and a putdown for Billy. It's the blind writers leading the blind readers, and they all end up in the ditch.2
But the crowds who show up at at the stadium without a press
pass they get the message from Billy that Christianity is not a religion at all, but a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. To know Him and be known by Him that is the way to truth and salvation.
God has given Billy unusual insight into what people are really like. He doesn't believe we are naturally good folks with just some bad tendencies. He believes we are naturally bad, unmistakably bad,3 thanks to the devil's enticements, but with a great potential in Christ for goodness and mercy. That's what the Bible teaches, and Billy accepts it as God's Word.
The result is that when he preaches, even though he doesn't indulge in eloquent rhetoric, his message from God's Word seems to get inside the listeners. It's as if he is a soul doctor who knows what's going on in our innermost being. Other pulpiteers can and do expound on the exceeding sinfulness of sin; Billy gets downright personal about it. He doesn't condemn us. He just bores in and lets us condemn ourselves.
Without running out a string of clichés, Billy talks about the love of God in Jesus Christ. He stabs the air with his finger and tells the people, "God is saying, 'I love you. I love you. I love you.' " Sitting in the stands, we think, Man, maybe there's something to this business. The guy rings a bell. Maybe God can tell me what I ought to do about my predicament. My life's a mess. I've got to do something fast. Guess I'll join the others and go down front and check out the Jesus bit.
Ah, those beautiful crowds that stream forward from all over the stadium at Billy's invitation what a marvelous sight! There's nothing to match them anywhere on the planet. And it's still going on, decade after decade. Other sincere evangelists reach hundreds; Billy reaches thousands and even millions! A Christian woman member of India's Parliament, Princess Rajkumai Amrid Kaur, said it well back in 1956: "Billy Graham is one of those rare jewels who tread this earth periodically and, by their lives and teaching, draw millions of others closer to God."
Take this harried housewife living in Glasgow, Scotland, who came forward in Kelvin Hall at Billy's invitation to give her heart to
Jesus Christ. Later, when talking to a counselor, she burst into tears. Her husband was a "sore trial" to her, she said, and began going into the details. While she was talking, she heard a voice behind her saying, "Don't worry any more, my dear. I'm here too." Her husband had just accepted Christ and joined her.4 Her prayer was answered before she even uttered it. That kind of thing is not unusual.
A newspaper received this letter from a subscriber:
I write on behalf of my husband and myself. Prior to accepting Billy Graham's call I frankly admit that for many years the word happiness was never to be found in our home, owing to continual quarrelling between my husband and myself due to excessive drinking. Now our lives are changed in many ways. To attend church was unheard of in our home for years. Now we attend regularly. Happiness prevails in our home. My husband and I thank God for the wonderful change that has taken place in our lives.5
What about Dr. Graham's own morals? We all know the temptations to which those who minister in the name of Christ are exposed. I can begin to answer that by quoting what Billy once said to me: "I am dead to every woman but Ruth!" And what about his participation in popular American social activities? Is he a recluse? No, but here's something else he told me: "I like occasionally to wear a colorful sports jacket, and that's about as wild as I ever get."
Several books have been written over the years criticizing Billy Graham. You ought to read them! You may have trouble locating one, for they are "remaindered" soon after they're published. Actually their contents border on the hilarious because something is missing, and that something is God Himself. Trying to write a book about Billy Graham apart from God is harder than finding the silver dollar that George Washington threw across the Rappahannock River. I don't doubt the author's sincerity, but I say about their writing what Billy says about a certain California Golden Bear football player. This young man, who was captain-elect, recovered a fumble in the Rose Bowl back in 1929 and ran with the ball the wrong way. He was sincere, but he was sincerely wrong.
This book will take up the question of greatness in relation to Billy Graham. It's not easy, for he insists on giving God a hundred percent of the credit for his success. But in more earthly terms, it's not often that a touch of glory comes our way. It is rarer than Halley's comet; and when it does come, people usually don't recognize it until the person is dead. Then the attacks subside, and the true quality begins to surface. So it will be with Billy for many people.
In the authorized King James Bible appear the words: "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not."6
Billy knows that verse in Jeremiah. Yet the Bible also recognizes that some people are specially anointed of God as His prophets and spokespersons." Touch not mine anointed," warns the Scripture.7 And it was Gamaliel, the wise first-century Jewish rabbi, who suggested that the early Christians ought to be left undisturbed, lest their opponents should find themselves fighting against God.8 He recognized the possibility of glory.
In May 1996, Billy and his wife, Ruth, were awarded a Congressional gold medal by the United States Congress in an unforgettable ceremony in the rotunda of the nation's capitol. It was providential they were there to receive it; so often such recognition of greatness is delayed until it becomes posthumous. More will be said later about that award, as it is another reason for this book.
We who are Billy's friends, who have worked and traveled with him, are keenly aware that there is something special about him, but we also know how human he is. And so were John Chrysostom, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, Abraham Lincoln, Amy Carmichael, and other persons highly regarded by Christians. They were all human, and at the same time they had greatness. The secret is to distinguish the one quality from the other. It's unwise when we ascribe perfection to human beings, all of us being less than perfect. It's unwise to forget that the Spirit of God blows wherever He pleases,9 and the grace of God works in the axles of the universe without any accountability to us mortals. Only God is perfect.
Billy likes to tell a story about the preacher who said in his sermon one Sunday, "Apart from Christ, there never was a perfect man."
A rustic gentleman in the congregation rose to his feet and interrupted him. "Oh, yes, there was," he drawled.
The preacher raised his eyebrows." And who might that be, sir?" "My wife's first husband" was the reply.
To sum up, the special situation of William Franklin Graham II in relation to the famous Christians of history whom we honor is this: At the present writing Billy is here with us now and very much alive. The others have flown away. The question then remains: Is there, indeed, true greatness in our midst? Let the reader decide.
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1. 1 Corinthians 1:17 (KJV)
2. Cf. Matthew 15:14
3. Cf. Romans 3:23-24
4. Tom Allan, Crusade in Scotland (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1955), 77
5. Stanley High, Billy Graham (New York: McGraw Hill, 1956), 214
6. Jeremiah 45:4 (KJV)
7. 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15
8. Acts 5:34-39
9. Cf. John 3:8
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