I first heard Billy Graham preach in Boston in October 1964 when I was a freshman theology student. I was deeply impressed with the simplicity of his biblical message and the profound impact it had on his audience.
Conservative New Englanders are skeptical of appeals that play on the emotions and can readily detect hypocrisy or showmanship. The hundreds who responded to Billy’s altar call that evening sensed a sincerity, genuine-ness, and commitment to the living Christ that touched them deeply. Here was a man with the message of Jesus that touched hearts and changed lives.
In an age when a significant number of public evangelists faced challenges in moral and ethical areas, Billy Graham was above reproach. A man of sterling integrity, uncharacteristic humility, moral purity, and unwavering commitment to his Lord and family, he became a model for tens of thousands of young preachers.
Early in his ministry, he and a few close confidants met in Modesto, California. They made a lifelong commitment to hold one another accountable. In this so-called “Modesto Manifesto” each man pledged to never be alone with any woman other than his wife and to be transparent in all his financial dealings.
Billy Graham’s ethical integrity, open transparency, and genuine sincerity are among the hallmarks of his 99 years. Although we never met, his influence on my own life was significant.
Here are three specific ways Billy Graham influenced me: First, I sensed early in my own ministry that the pro-claimed Word has little value if it is not the lived Word. Preachers may draw large crowds, but if their lives do not reflect the gospel they preach, their words will have little impact on their audiences. Second, I was impressed by Billy Graham’s preaching with the simplicity of the gospel. As a preacher sharing the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6–12), I am constantly reminded that the essence of the prophetic message is to lift up Jesus. Third, Billy Graham was not afraid to make appeals. There was a sense of urgency in his preaching. He made powerful appeals, calling people to a decision. In a secular culture, he still believed in the importance of confronting people with the life-and-death message of Scripture.
On a significant number of occasions, individuals who attended his evangelistic meetings and accepted Christ came to my prophetic presentations seeking still more truth. Early in my ministry, I distinctly recall visiting with a woman who was longing for an even deeper understanding of God’s Word. She explained that she had made her commitment to Christ while watching Billy Graham preach on television.
There are countless others rejoicing in the truth of Scripture who had their first flush of faith when they heard Billy Graham preach. He led them to Christ, and Jesus took them on a journey of discovery in Scripture from there. I am reminded of John’s poignant words in the Bible’s last book, Revelation, “‘“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”’
“ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’ ” (Rev. 14:13, NKJV).
Although Pastor Graham rests in Jesus, this powerful preacher’s undying influence still lives on.
[Mark A. Finley, Adventist Review]