The Word on the Week

Billy Graham

The death of Billy Graham this week at age 99 (he would have reached 100 in November) ended his ministry on earth. He was the doyen of evangelists, outliving his contemporaries and continuing to be involved in ministry well into his 90ies.
It was back in 1954 when Billy came to London and the first Crusade took place at the Harringay Arena. It was well prepared. There were 800 people praying through the night before the event began. The Crusade ran from March to the 22nd May to large crowds filling the arena. At its conclusion Dr Fisher the Archbishop of Canterbury said that Billy had taught them to begin again at the beginning with their evangelism speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit of sin and of righteousness and of judgement.
In 1955 the All Scotland Crusade took place in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall. Billy was encouraged when he learned that Glasgow’s motto was “Let Glasgow Flourish by the Preaching of the Word and the Praising of His Name”. He preached to capacity crowds and the sermons were transmitted to many other cities and towns throughout Scotland by telephone lines.
A feature of these events were the provision of trained counsellors. These were ordinary born again believers who had to learn key verses ‘topping and tailing’ them; for example, Romans 3 verse 23 ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’, Romans 3 verse 23. These key verses were explained to ‘enquirers’ (those who had responded to the message) who were then committed to the Lord in prayer and sent home with a booklet to read. The ‘enquirers’ were encouraged to attend a weekly Bible Study where many were grounded in the scriptures and went on to become members of the local church that nourished them.
There were many Crusades in the following years both in these Islands and globally. In many Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife (herself the daughter of missionaries to China where she had lived till the age of 14) was a great help to him, critiquing his sermons and raising his 5 children. On one occasion when she was home alone a man knocked at the door and when she opened it he said he was Jesus Christ!
She asked him why he knocked – why didn’t he come through the door? Dumbfounded the man went away hopefully to reconsider his misguided claim!

In many ways Billy was before his time. He was insistent that “God wants to use you right where you are. Every day you probably come in contact with people who will never enter a church, or talk with a pastor, or open a Bible – and God wants to use you to point them to Christ.” And this in a time when it was largely left to the paid professional!
He saw the need of every person being actively involved in spreading the word by lip and life.
‘Becoming a Christian’, he wrote, ‘is the work of a moment; being a Christian is the work of a lifetime’. He challenged people to pray for their colleagues and to empathise with their struggles. They should also model integrity: ‘Christians should be known in their neighbourhoods or places of business as honest people’. With such words he laid an axe to the root of the fabled Sunday Christian!
Unfortunately, today we have fallen back into the jargon. Jesus said we were to make disciples so we set up discipleship programmes inevitably identifying peoples’ minds with the 12 in the Gospel.
Perhaps we should listen to the simplicity of his language and the clarity he brought to the text. Hear him a few years ago on the subject of his death!
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
There is not much left to say except that he always preached the cross of Christ: –
Just as I am without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God I come.