Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham
And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace – just as I am. ~ Billy Graham
Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham is an intimate look at his life, family, and friends. There are many humorous stories, poignant memories, painful lessons, disappointing setbacks, and glorious unheard of undreamt of victories. Billy would live another 19 years after the publication, nearly to age 100, but he knew he was near the end of his journey. He recounts his early life, his call to evangelism, numerous crusades, and many personal relationships. Apart from Christ, he had no greater friend, than his adored and adoring wife Ruth Bell. They were married 64 years when she went home to be with the Lord in 2007. No chapter of the book, excepting those before they met, fails to mention Ruth – either in how sorely she was missed, what joy when together, or what a help she was to him in ministry. Billy admits only one regret – so much time away from Ruth and children. It is a touching testimony.
I received this book as a gift from a friend over a decade ago, but I’d never read it until now. I might have feared it would be convicting – it wasn’t, and I should have known better.
Because upon reading his autobiography, one thing will hit you about Billy Graham – his humility.
I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, “Why me, Lord? Why did you choose a farmboy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?”
Humble, in spite of the fact that he ministered to and befriended, many of the world’s great and powerful, including every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Donald Trump, though the autobiography published in 1997, only goes as far as President Clinton. His relationship with these presidents was refreshing and inspiring. He sincerely considered each one of them as friends (excepting Truman, whom he only met once, and didn’t really know).
President Kennedy said Billy was the only Protestant clergyman with whom he felt comfortable.
President Johnson reportedly never parted company with Billy without imploring – Preacher, pray for me.
Billy, as I feel I am on a first name basis with him now, had a remarkable ability to love people in spite of themselves. He did not excuse the foibles or faults of these men, neither did he titillate with overly intimate stories. He considered himself their Pastor, and thus afforded them confidentiality. He did say, that on more than one occasion, he offered Pastoral rebuke and counsel, but he never stopped loving them. He wrote of them carefully, respectfully, and affectionately. Ironically, his deepest personal friendships were with President Johnson and President Nixon.
Yep…that’s just like Billy.
Of his presidential friends, Billy said…
My own prayer was that God’s will would be done, and that He would grant wisdom, compassion, and integrity to whoever was elected to our highest office.
He was careful to point out, that although he knew many famous and fashionable people – the VAST majority, over 95% of the people he met and ministered to, were common everyday folk – like himself.
He had few critics, and sadly those few were mostly religious leaders. Religious liberals did not like his fundamentalism, and Religious conservatives did not like his ecumenicalism. Sad, but not surprising. There was also a carpenter turned preacher in Palestine several thousand years ago, who was not popular with the religious leaders of his day.
C.S. Lewis had this to say of his Billy's critics…
You know, you have many critics, but I have never met one of your critics who knows you personally.
In turn, Billy admitted that he expected to feel intimidated by C.S. Lewis, but found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious.
Billy was willing to work with anyone who was willing to work with him and the team – because it was really more than just Billy Graham. He was welcomed to preach in Catholic Cathedrals, Jewish communities, communist countries, secular colleges, prisons, and the occasional rock concert.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham ministered together on at least one occasion, and Billy expressed interest in being more active in King’s mission, but King gently declined the offer, suggesting that it might alienate Billy’s followers, that it might not yet be time. King told Billy
…if a leader gets too far out in front of his people, they will lose sight of him and not follow him any longer.
Billy was heartbroken by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
One more example of Billy’s ability to bridge divides. After preaching at Christ the King Cathedral (Catholic), in Katowice Poland, the organist played A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Martin Luther’s hymn, that is nearly the anthem of the Protestant Reformation).
There were numerous Super Televangelists (I doubt Billy would accept either label), in the late 20thcentury, many of whom met with disgrace or embarrassment. But the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Billy personally, managed to stay free of such scandal. In the early days of their ministry, Billy and the team committed to four guiding principles:
--Consipuous transparency with finances. Billy and team members did not receive any portion of the offering. They were salaried employees of the BGEA; Billy's salary was commensurate with the Pastor of a large church. After every Crusade, the finances were audited by external agencies and the audit published in the local papers.
--Members of the team never traveled with, dined with, or met alone with any woman (other than their own wife).
--They did not work independent of local churches
--Integrity in publicity. They took great care not to exaggerate numbers.
But Billy’s legacy is not about the great people he knew, the millions he preached to, or his example of personal integrity. It's about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I have reflected on my own calling as an evangelist, I frequently recall the words of Christianity’s greatest evangelist, the Apostle Paul: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known…”
The human race is infected with a spiritual disease – the disease of sin – and God has given us the remedy. Dare we do anything less than urge people to apply that remedy to their lives.
I will not go to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds. I will go to Heaven for one reason: Jesus Christ died for me, and I am trusting him alone for my salvation.
And although this autobiography was not an evangelical book, theological treatise or Christian instruction, (he wrote numerous works on those topics), I feel compelled to offer something along those lines.
Because we Christians sometimes speak in our own esoteric language…born again, gospel, sin, and even the word scripture, have very precise meanings to me, but perhaps not to everyone. So, in my words, not Billy’s, let me explain the meaning of Gospel – literally it means “good news”
The Gospel, the Good News is…
Let me use a few lines from the hymn which Billy references in the title of his autobiography, and which became the anthem of the Billy Graham crusades: Just as I am by Charlotte Elliott. The beauty of the poetry conveys a simple message
Just as I am
(I am not, nor ever will I be…Good enough)
Without one plea
(I have no defense nor excuse)
But that thy blood was shed for me
(except, that you sacrificed yourself to pay my penalty)
And that thou bid’st me Come to Thee
(and that you invite me, to accept what you have done for me)
Oh Lamb of God, I come
(Dear Jesus, I believe and accept your offer)
Other quotations of Billy Graham:
I had come to realize that there was absolutely no need to apologize for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in academic settings.
This has been an age in which we humanized God and deified man, and we have worshipped at the throne of science.
Peace between nations depends on goodwill between individuals.
We would attempt to lead and love rather than vilify, criticize and beat.
Great men know when to bow.
We know we cannot do everything that needs to be done, but in a world that is never free of turmoil, Christ calls us to do what we can.
I never go to see important people – or anyone else – without having the deep realization that I am – first and foremost – an ambassador of the King of kings and Lord of lords.
An evangelist is called to do one thing, and one thing only: to proclaim the Gospel. Becoming involved in strictly political issues or partisan politics inevitably dilutes the evangelist’s impact and compromises his message. It is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier.
To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe…. ~ excerpt from the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, of which Billy Graham was a signatory