Perhaps the most striking thing about Billy Graham is his legacy.
We all know of someone who was converted or profoundly touched by Graham’s ministry, especially his crusades.
He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, live, to roughly 240 Million people.
The MCG was built for sport, but Graham’s Melbourne crusade still holds the record for attracting the stadium’s largest ever crowd at 140,000.
Gospel singer George Beverley Shea, who travelled with Graham, still holds the world record for having performed to more people live than any other artist in history. He sang before a combined audience greater than that of Sinatra, Presley and the Beatles put together, all to the glory of God.
In 1953, Graham forbade racially segregated seating at his southern crusades, predating the US Supreme Court’s school segregation ruling by a year.
Records and milestones abound.
What made Graham so great? He reflected on the question himself: “I have been asked, ‘What is the secret?’ Is it showmanship, organisation or what? The secret of my work is God. I would be nothing without him.”
“All that I have been able to do, I owe to Jesus Christ. When you honour me, you are really honouring Him. Any honours I have received, I accept with a sense of inadequacy and humility, and I will reserve the right to hand all of these someday to Christ, when I see Him face-to-face.”
In the very kernel of Billy Graham’s being, it seems, was a singular focus that pointed upward and forward. Upward to God, and forward to meeting Him.
The “big idea” governing his life was the Christian principle of coram Deo: Living before the face of God.
Perhaps this is why Graham’s legacy is so particular.
When a life is lived looking upward to God, and forward to eternity; when it is lived coram Deo, a person’s character and priorities are profoundly changed.
Regarding character, the Apostle John tells us that we will be purified:
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
This draws on Christ’s promise that, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
A pure heart is one of undivided allegiance, wholly sold out to a single, undiluted focus. It’s the heart of Joseph who, when lost, alone, young, enslaved, and tempted still said, “How can I do this great sin against my God?”
Only one thing mattered. Coram Deo.
As a young man, Graham was alone on a golf course when he was troubled in his mind by thoughts of serving God. He recalls finally giving himself up at midnight, “’All right, Lord,’ I said, ‘If you want me, you’ve got me.’"
And it stuck, though opportunity knocked, as one would expect for a man with youth, charisma and talent.
“The offers I’ve had from Hollywood studios are amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.”
And so, from changed character, his priorities would also be profoundly impacted.
In that respect, the witness of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 tells us that our love and focus will be on that which survives the resurrection:
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
The same chapter says they considered themselves, “strangers and exiles on the earth.” Billy Graham himself said, “My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”
If our desires are primarily rooted in the future – “treasure in heaven” – we will focus squarely on the things that matter.
First and foremost, people matter. That is why Graham was so zealous about evangelism: because people survive the resurrection.
That is why ACL believes in religious freedom. Because the proclamation of the truth, and the witness by Christians to the truth is crucial to this very endeavour. The light must be allowed to stay on, because people matter and they must see and hear the truth.
But also, what we do survives the resurrection because that which is done for the glory of God is translated into reward. We are told that such deeds are of eternal significance.
Scripture tells us that these things include good works, witnessing to truth, purity of heart, endurance in trials, overcoming, using our talents for God’s glory, practising righteousness with a pure motive, giving to the needy, prayer and more.
That is why we do good… Speak truth. Have an active faith. Love neighbour. Condemn evil. Promote righteousness. Have courage. Because these things matter both now and for eternity.
That is why ACL has always tried to be a platform for all of those things, through which Christians can be activated and have their voice heard.
But it always comes back to motive. Is it done, coram Deo? For love of God? Or for some other reason?
Joseph once proved that was his motive, and it was the first day of the rest of his life because God saw it.
Daniel too once proved that was his motive, and it was the first day of the rest of his life because God saw it.
The heroes of the faith each proved that was their motive, and God saw it.
Perhaps the first day of the rest of Billy Graham’s life was the day he said, “Lord… you’ve got me.”
God certainly saw it, and made something of it.
The result was a stunning legacy of God’s work.
Many will remember Graham for his mistakes and allegations of imperfect theology. The simple truth is this: none of us are 100% right, but God uses us all the same when our hearts are right.
May we all live coram Deo.