- - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Spreading the good news of the Gospel was Christ’s great commission for his church, and in Christian teaching the commission was meant for every believer. The Gospel according to Matthew tells that upon His resurrection Christ gathered his disciples and said:

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Evangelism has been the first priority of the Christian church since, eventually making Christendom the dominant religious faith in the world. That great commission was never more taken to heart than by Billy Graham, the most distinguished evangelist of his age, who died in his sleep Wednesday at his home in Montreat, N.C., from complications of Parkinson’s disease and other natural causes. He was 99.

His ministry spanned six decades, and his passion for Christ, expressed in revivalist eloquence, attracted a worldwide following. Through his radio and television broadcasts his message of repentance and salvation by faith in Christ touched remote villages in every corner of the Earth as well as the places of the powerful in city after city. He preached to more people than any other preacher in history. He was counselor to every president since Harry S. Truman (who invited him to the White House only once). Presidents after Mr. Truman called on “the chaplain to the nation” regularly, and he offered prayers at inaugurals, funerals and crises of war as well as peace.

He was invited by Queen Elizabeth II to preach in the chapel at Windsor Castle during his first crusade, as he called his revival meetings, in London in 1952. The London crusade was particularly important, because it established his stature in a time and place that was not particularly friendly to the American revivalist tradition.

Nevertheless, crowds grew, and when Mr. Graham gave the invitation to come forward to make a “commitment to Christ,” thousands streamed to the altar to the haunting strains of the revivalist hymn, “Just As I Am.” Newspaper columnists who descended on Haringay Arena to sneer returned to tell a story that caught the attention of the British public.

Mr. Graham eventually conducted similar crusades — he later discontinued calling them that in deference to Muslim sensibilities — in nearly every city of consequential size in America and in many capitals abroad, even preaching in Pyongyang.

The evangelist had movie-star looks, tall and immaculately dressed, with a wide and inviting smile. But in the pulpit he focused on the plain and simple message of the New Testament, often drawn in the context of the Bible verse John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

William Franklin Graham was born on a dairy farm near Charlotte on Nov. 17, 1918 to godly parents, who gathered their children every day to read Bible verses to them. But Billy, as everyone always called him, was not particularly religious. He preferred the pursuit of girls and baseball, and dreamed of playing in the major leagues. That all changed when, at 17, to humor his mother, he attended a revival in Charlotte conducted by the itinerant Kentucky evangelist Mordecai Ham. At the conclusion of the sermon he, like the thousands who would one day answer his own “altar calls,” walked “the sawdust trail” to accept Christ — to be “saved,” in the evangelical vernacular.

“No bells went off inside me,” he recalled in his autobiography, “Just As I Am,” written decades later. “No signs flashed across the tabernacle ceiling. No physical palpitations made me tremble. I simply felt at peace.”

This was the work of the Gospel as he would later lay it out in the simple language of the people, sometimes to the consternation of academics and clergy of the high churches. He dismissed the criticism without rancor or anger, saying he was only a servant of God, spreading the Gospel as best he could. He once told an interviewer that when he gets to heaven he would ask God, “Why me? Why would such a ministry fall on a North Carolina farm boy?”

Believer and skeptic alike can be glad it did. Billy Graham was important to millions, a faithful servant of the Lord he “served to the uttermost” for almost a full century. He ran the race put before him.


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