Come, but Don’t Stay Awhile
Billy Graham, World-view Check
By Jane Tawel
March 4, 2018
Lots of talk about the Reverend Billy Graham, who moved on to a New Address this week, has caused me to reflect of course on his influence on my own particular life. Literally millions have sung Graham’s praises, in a life time lived by a man who knew he was a child of A King. I humorously, like to imagine, he looked down on the corpse lying “in state”, and thought, “well, that’s about the least impressive thing I’ve ever been a part of”. I like to imagine him remembering the sawdust floors of his tent revivals and measuring his heavenly mansion for one. Sawdust is such a wonderful metaphoric and physical joy.
I don’t remember every time I heard Billy Graham speak (and one always called him that: Billy not William, both names not just one). But I will say that any time Billy Graham held a revival meeting within driving distance (and that might mean four hours driving back in my Midwestern youth), my family was there. I remember vividly, as a small tyke, holding my Grandma Frances’ hand and watching Graham, from outside the packed saw-dust floored, hard wooden bench- filled, barn- like “Billy Sunday Tabernacle”, in Winona Lake, Indiana. My many trips to his revivals, include the last time Billy Graham spoke in Los Angeles on November 21, 2004, when Raoul and I hauled our young four children to the Rose Bowl to join over 82,000 others.
No one can report on Billy Graham without talking about God, and as the Los Angeles Times writes, Billy Graham had one message and one alone, “Individuals need to repent of their sins and accept God’s free gift of eternal life through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.”
And it is that repent part that gets us, isn’t it? I remember the weak, shaky feeling in my legs every time I “walked forward” with thousands of others at a Billy Graham meeting. Many were walking forward to “get saved” for the first time, but I had done that back at Bethel Baptist Church when I was just a wee tyke. I walked forward with so many others, to “rededicate my life” to Christ. Because just like Billy Graham, who traveled the world with his message, and packed up his tent and his staff, and his paraphernalia; all those who came to God, were required to “come forward” but no one was expected to “stay awhile”.
This is how it has changed with us today. We now want to “accept God’s free gift” but give nothing in return. Let me be bold: This is so anti-Christ. Christ asks us to come, in the words of Billy Graham’s favorite “come forward song”, “just as we are”, but Christ demands we not stay there. There is a reason it was called “coming forward”.
So I looked up the author of Billy Graham’s iconic song, that not many churches seem to sing much anymore. It was written in 1835 by a woman named Charlotte Elliot. Here is what I found out about her:
In later years, when she was not able to attend public worship, she wrote:— “My Bible is my church. It is always open, and there is my High Priest ever waiting to receive me. There I have my confessional, my thanksgiving, my psalm of praise, and a congregation of whom the world is not worthy, — prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and confessors; in short, all I can want I find there.”[
Dr. Billy Graham wrote that the Graham team used this hymn in almost every one of their crusades. He said it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.” Hymnody historian Kenneth Osbeck wrote that Just As I Am had “touched more hearts and influenced more people for Christ than any other song ever written.” Christian writer Lorella Rouster wrote, “The hymn is an amazing legacy for an invalid woman who suffered from depression and felt useless to God’s service.” Dr John D. Julian wrote:— “Though weak and feeble in body, she possessed a strong imagination and a well-cultured and intellectual mind….. Her verse is characterized by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm. She sang for those in sickness and sorrow as very few others have ever done.”
But fun fact: Charlotte Elliot although raised in a Christian home with a Bishop as a brother, did not become a believer in the Christian Worldview until much later in life, and when she realized she wanted to “come forward to accept Jesus as Savior”, she told her mentor that she needed to “clean up her life” and “get rid of her sins” before she did. And this why she wrote this song, not because she believed that God’s salvation was cheaply bought, but because she realized that God wanted her to come “Just as She Was”. But just as she was, was a mess. Coming as we are today — That is the first step, and perhaps for many of us the hardest. But as Billy Graham and Charlotte Elliot and all great prophets and teachers have taught, it can’t be the only step we take. We are not invited to come forward and then “stay awhile”, looking after our own needs and desires. We are invited to “hit the road”, one shaky step at a time, falling down, getting up through repentance, and taking one more step of rededication, on our own Gethsemane walk down the aisle of Calvary, to the resurrection of our revival in a Resurrected Savior.
The road to Calvary cost Jesus many steps. But during this season, we celebrate – yes, celebrate!—His death on the Roman tool of torture and humiliation. Do we really think we can wave to Jesus from the stands while we thank Him for the freedom we have because of His death? Paul says, in Romans, among so many other places: Romans 6:1-6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We are therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
We rather blithely say that Billy Graham has a new address now. But that is only because He never made his first step, his last one. Graham, as Jesus did on the way to Calvary kept walking forward, even when it meant falling forward. We thank Jesus, that not only did The Christ walk every painful step forward to the Cross of Calvary, but that He did not make even The Cross, His last step. He walked forward even into the pits of hell; walked forward into the grave; walked forward out of the grave; and walked forward up those steps to heaven. As another hymn says, God expects us to keep taking steps, but He doesn’t leave us to do it alone, for “He walks with me, and talks with me, along Life’s narrow way.” We are not meant to sit down and get comfortable. Jesus’ message, as Mr. Dooley said, is that he came to”comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”.
There is another old hymn that comes to mind, that we will sing at the end of this holy season which is really always just the beginning of a new season of Rebirth: “Up From The Grave He Arose”. Jesus shows me the way; that if I walk, frightened, lame and blind, towards my own death to this world, it may feel as if I am walking in darkness and foolishly, backwards. But each step I take daily to “rededicate my life to death in Christ”, is in reality is a step towards the Light, which I can only sense out of the corner of my blinded eyes. Each step away from the treasures of this World is a step towards the true World, Christ’s World of Eternal Life. In the Eternal Kingdom, we all need to Come, “just as we are”; but we dare not, cannot, will not stay there. We are not invited to stay awhile here on this broken planet; just like Charlotte Elliot and Billy Graham, we are meant to keep walking towards our new address. We are meant to take steps toward the change that as Paul also says, means “we will not all die, but we will all be changed”. Change, like that first step is as painful and frightening as birth. But we are not meant to stay in the womb of our broken, fallen lives. We are not meant to stay awhile there. If we keep taking those oxymoronic steps toward death as Jesus lived it, then we will live as we were created to live, as God-imagers – not Just as I am, but Just As He Is.
“Just As I Am”
by Charlotte Elliot (1835)