The record label of an LP documenting Graham’s 1962 Crusade at McCormick Place in Chicago.
In honor of Billy Graham, a hero of mine, I’m digitizing some of his sermons from long out-of-print records and making them available as MP3s. This sermon is found in a 4-record box set called A Billy Graham Crusade from 1962 (RCA Victor Custom Record Dept. BG4314).
When I preached on the Second Coming recently, I mentioned Jeff, a Sunday school teacher I had once, who said that he didn’t believe in the Second Coming as a literal event. Rather, he said, it was a spiritual event that happens when we are born again and the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. And it continues to happen throughout our lives as we have formative spiritual experiences. I expressed sympathy with Jeff. After all, I have had several experiences like Wesley’s in which I found my heart “strangely warmed.” In those moments, Christ seemed very present to me.
Nevertheless, as I said in my sermon, the Second Coming is something different.
Similarly, in this sermon from 1962, Dr. Graham acknowledges spiritual senses in which Christ “comes again” to us, including the one to which Jeff was referring. Graham also talked about how Christ can be seen in cataclysmic events of history including, he says, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He also believes that Christ often comes to us in death, as he did for his grandmother on her deathbed, when she smiled and said, “There’s Jesus!”
There is a sense in which Christ comes at death. But there’s another sense taught throughout scriptures that he’s coming back at the end of the age. Notice I didn’t say at the end of the world. Oh, the end of the world system, yes, but not the end of the earth. The end of the age. Christ is coming back again.
Notice something here: While Graham, like C.S. Lewis and many Christian thinkers of earlier generations, talks about the afterlife almost exclusively in terms of “heaven,” he clearly understands heaven—at least in its second stage, after the Second Coming—as a place on a renewed and transformed earth. In other words, he doesn’t believe heaven is a place up there somewhere: it’s here. Which goes to show, to Graham’s great credit, that there is some robust biblical theology going on underneath his simple words.
Graham refers to “wild speculations” about the Second Coming that happened about “30 years ago” (in the 1920s or ’30s), which “cause a reaction to set in within the church, so that in order to be intellectually respectable, the average clergyman just didn’t talk about it. Because he didn’t want to be identified with fanatics and extremists.”
Isn’t the same true today? We don’t want to be associated with Hal Lindsey. We don’t want to be associated with Pat Robertson. We don’t want to be associated with Tim LaHaye. So we clergy don’t talk about the Second Coming. In fact, for the sake of “intellectual respectability” we don’t talk about a host of other doctrines, including Satan, final judgment, and hell.
Graham’s primary scripture for this sermon is the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Ezekiel’s reflections on Sodom’s sin in chapter 16. Graham says that the sins of Sodom characterize America in 1962, and I’m sure he’d agree about America in 2014, too. Judgment is coming, he says, and we can see God’s warnings about it through current events in the world.
But for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, our judgment is in the past: Jesus was judged in our place, which means we can face the future without fear.
Toward the end of the sermon, he says:
What should you do about it? In view of the fact that Christ is coming, in view of the fact that the world is moving toward judgment, what should be your attitude? What should you do? Jesus tells us that, too. He says in Matthew 24:42, “Watch, therefore, for you do not know the hour that your Lord comes.” The scripture tells us we’re to look for that blessed hope. Paul said, “Comfort one another with these words.”
Are you tired, discouraged, disappointed? Comfort one another with these words: Christ is coming.
When you die, that’s not the end of it all. Some of you have suffered. Many of you have suffered persecution for Christ’s sake. You’ve been almost alone in your community and in your home for Christ. “The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be ours yonder.” All the way through scripture he says, “Hold on a little while longer. He that endureth to the end, it’s not long before our glory shall be revealed, Christ shall come, and we shall be in the glory with him.” And then in 1 John 3:3, he said, “Secondly, purify yourself, and every man that hath this hope in himself purifies himself even as he is pure.”
In other words, this is the greatest incentive to Christian living I know anything about. One of the answers to the church problem today is to start emphasizing the fact that Christ may come, and we’ll start living as though he were coming. What an incentive to purify ourselves to live for Christ! This is no pie-in-the-sky hope. This is no pie-in-the-sky religion. It affects our daily life here. It affects our attitude in every phase of life. When we live with hope and expectancy that there is a future. This is not the end.
When Eichmann died the other night on the gallows in Israel, his body was cremated and put in the waters of the blue Mediterranean, you said, “Eichmann is finished.” No, Eichmann is not finished. Eichmann still has to appear before a holy God!
Likewise, we will have all have to give an account before God, Graham warns.
Graham concludes the sermon the same way I concluded mine recently, by saying that even if the Second Coming doesn’t happen in our lifetime: “the end of the age will happen for you the moment you die. That’s the end for you. As far as this life is concerned. And then you face God. Are you prepared?”
This is simply a masterful sermon. I’m impressed by how easily Graham relates the problems of the world to the solution found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What an inspiration to those of us who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for a living!
Please note that in Part 2 of my series, Graham preached a sermon from 1964 by the same title, “The Climax of History,” but it was a substantially different sermon. It placed relatively greater emphasis on making the case for the Second Coming.
To listen to sermon, click on play button above, or right-click here to download as a separate .mp3 file.
Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.
Click here for Part 3.
Click here for Part 4.
Click here for Part 5.