Billy Graham Has Gone Home
"My home is in Heaven," said the Rev. Graham with regularity. "I'm just traveling through this world."
“My home is in Heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.” Billy Graham spoke those words often.
Born Nov. 7, 1918, he went home this morning at the age of 99. A friend, who spent years working with Graham’s ministries, observed, “Can you imagine the line of people waiting to say,‘Thanks for sharing Christ with me!’”
“America’s Pastor” wanted to be a baseball player early in life, but after attending a Christian revival at age 16, his life was forever changed. Over the course of his life, he preached the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to hundreds of millions in 185 countries, and his message, broadcast via radio, TV, Decision magazine, newspaper columns, the Internet and 29 books, touched many millions more. The Billy Graham Crusades ran from the 1940s until his last New York City crusade in 2005, by which time Parkinson’s Disease had rendered him too weak to keep up the crusade pace.
If you had the privilege of being among those in attendance, count yourself blessed. If not, many of his messages are available online, including his last public sermon in 2006, which my children attended:
Graham consulted and prayed with every American president from Harry Truman forward, and even presided at the graveside service for Lyndon Johnson and gave a eulogy at the funeral of Richard Nixon.
In 1996, on the occasion of being presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award by Congress, Graham offered these observations about our nation:
America has gone a long way down the wrong road. We must turn around and go back and change roads. If ever we needed God’s help, it is now. … If ever we needed spiritual renewal, it is now. And it can begin today in each one of our lives, as we repent before God and yield ourselves to Him and His Word. After World War II … we had the opportunity to rule the world. … Something has happened since those days and there is much about America that is no longer good. … The list is almost endless. … We have confused liberty with license — and we are paying the awful price. We are a society poised on the brink of self-destruction.
What is the problem? The real problem is within ourselves. … I believe the fundamental crisis of our time is a crisis of the spirit. We have lost sight of the moral and spiritual principles on which this nation was established — principles drawn largely from the Judeo-Christian tradition as found in the Bible… What must be done? Let me briefly suggest three things. First, we must repent. In the depths of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called for special days of public repentance and prayer. Our need for repentance is no less today…
What does repentance mean? Repentance means to change our thinking and our way of living. It means to turn from our sins and to commit ourselves to God and His will. Over 2,700 years ago, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah declared, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55: 6-7)
Second, we must commit our lives to God, and to the moral and spiritual truths that have made this nation great. Think how different our nation would be if we sought to follow the simple and yet profound injunctions of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. But we must respond to God, Who is offering us forgiveness, mercy, supernatural help, and the power to change.
Third, our commitment must be translated into action — in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our society. Jesus taught there are only two roads in life. One is the broad road that is easy and well-traveled, but which leads to destruction. The other, He said, is the narrow road of truth and faith that at times is hard and lonely, but which leads to life and salvation. … What are YOU going to do? … As I look out across this distinguished group gathered here, I see more than a few men and women who have what it takes, under God, to lead our country forward “through the night.”
And indeed, that charge undergirds our mission every day.
In 1982, presenting Graham with the Templeton Prize, Sir Geoffrey Howe introduced him stating, “It is with the Bible that he has armed himself above all else. His characteristic refrain, ‘The Bible says…’ exposes both the foundation of his preaching and the explanation for his extraordinary combination of humility and authority.” We will miss that familiar refrain in his native North Carolinian accent.
Graham preached not only to world leaders but also to the very poorest in Third World villages and everywhere in between. He defied boundaries of class and race to present a timeless message of hope for all people.
He was among the earliest national Christians leaders condemning segregation. At a 1953 crusade in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Graham personally removed the rope barriers separating white and black attendees – insisting the event be fully integrated. (My great grandfather, Robert Henry Williams, was a counselor at that event.)
Graham’s outspoken objections to racial bigotry accounted for his enduring friendship with Martin Luther King.
Amid all the world travel, he was, first and foremost, a family man. His wife of 64 years, Ruth Bell Graham, was a Wheaton College classmate. Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China. Billy and Ruth married in 1943 and had five children, and now 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Mrs. Graham died in 2007. Their eldest son, Franklin, officially took the helm of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 2000, and many of his other children and grandchildren are involved in ministry.
Accordingly, Graham devoted many of his messages to marriage and family. I treasure a framed personal letter from him written in 2014, which is on the wall next to my workstation — a constant reminder of what is really important in life. It closes, “Continue to fight the good fight, Mark. Don’t ever retire from life. Continue to lead Ann and your children for all the years that our Lord gives to you.” I have sometimes failed as a husband and father, but, by the Grace of God, have been forgiven, and indeed, will never retire from life.
Of his own life, Graham said, “My one purpose is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.” When asked by his son Franklin what he wanted on his headstone, Rev. Graham replied simply, “Preacher.”
Knowing that he’d lived a long life dedicated to that purpose, he also said, “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.”
He was laid to rest in a simple wooden casket made by inmates at Angola Prison in Louisiana, lifers for whom he had preached and prayed.
On behalf of all our Patriot editors and staff, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Welcome home.
A retrospective on Billy Graham’s life: