Billy Graham, Evangelist
March 4, 1974
The Divine Answer to the National Dilemma
After the gracious words that Joe has given and Dr. McCain and the others, I feel a little like I felt in Philadelphia one time. I was coming down on an elevator and some friends of mine were on the elevator. A man got on about the fifth floor and said, "I hear Billy Graham is on this elevator." They pointed in my direction and said yes there he is. He looked me up and down for about four or five seconds and said "My what an anticlimax." I don't know what he was expecting, and I don't know what you are expecting, but I am sure that it will be anticlimactically when I read the list of speakers that you have had for this very famous series. I feel highly honored to be here.
It is a privilege for me to return to Manhattan. I was here over 25 years ago and inflicted one of my earlier sermons on an audience in this city at that time. Thus I appreciate the forbearance and patience of the people of this area that would listen to a young preacher like that. Since then I have been asked many times and wanted to come, but have not been able to come until today. I feel like the prospector out in the west who was coming down out of the mountains. He hadn't been out of the mountains for over a year. When he arrived in this western town there was a cowboy who was half drunk and was shooting off both of his guns. In order to have some sport, he went over to the old bearded prospector and said, "Old man, have you ever danced?"
And the old man said "No, I have never danced in my life." He said "Well, you are going to start now." He began to shoot at his feet and the old man began to dance. When he had emptied his guns, the old prospector reached in his saddlebag and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. Held it up to the head of the cowboy. He said "Cowboy, have you ever kissed a mule." And the cowboy said "No sir, I have never kissed a mule but you know I have always wanted to." I have always wanted to come back. I stayed at the Wareham Hotel down here and remember very well some of the friends I made here at that time.
I have heard many discussions on the theme "What would have happened to America had Governor Landon been elected thirty-eight years ago." There are those who hold the view that history would have been radically different. Governor Landon has outlived his critics and today all America honors him as our most distinguished elder statesman. Governor Landon, it is a privilege to be here. And my long time friend, Senator Carlson, retired far too soon. We need him in Washington today.
As Governor Landon saddles Red and rides along the Kansas River, he can hold his head high. He has demonstrated the integrity and statesmanship that make millions of Americans wish he had been in Washington instead of Topeka.
Today, tens of millions of Americans are confused, discouraged, cynical, afraid, angry, disillusioned, and in a strange sort of paradox, they are also confident. Future historians may well say that 1974 was one of the most critical years in American history.
Our newspapers and our television screens are telling about one dangerous problem after another every day. If it were not for that eighth wonder of the world, Henry Kissinger and his magic carpet, and the moral courage of Solzhenitsyn, we would have little hope from a human point of view at this present hour. Each day seemingly adds to our already impressive number of problems and crises. A wave of violent crimes sweeps the country, mass murders, political kidnappings, massive drug abuse, rampant inflation, pollution, the breakdown of families, a jittery stock market the list could go on and on.
And the great question we ask ourselves is this, What is wrong? It is almost a paradox that our nation, possessing all the economic affluence for enjoying life, should be in such a mess at this moment. As Americans, we have at our beck and call all the necessary armaments for national security, but we are still insecure. We have all the material possessions deemed essential for happiness, but we are unhappy. Science has brought us close to the material paradise that we dreamed of but we also stand on the very edge of hell. Millions of Americans including many of you here today may seem to be happy on the outside, but deep inside you are searching for a purpose and meaning in life and you haven't found it. A distinguished Britisher was visiting a wealthy American home some time ago. He said they had everything in the home from a material and a technical point of view. But he said, the woman of the house was reading a book entitled, "How to be happy."
Things have become so discouraging that one woman was quoted in the press the other day as saying, "I don't want my child to be born in a world like this." A grandparent wistfully said to me some time ago, "I wonder what kind of world my grandchildren are going to live in. I'm afraid for them."
No one can deny the fact that our nation faces one of the gravest crises of its history. To be sure, there have been many earlier crises in our national life. We faced a crisis during the Civil War. We faced other crises, but today when Senator Ervin said that this was the greatest crisis that we have ever faced, I thought he was wrong. I now agree that this is perhaps the greatest crisis we have ever faced. Today we face not only the greatest atheistic ideology in history, but according to the morning paper, Mr. Schlesinger says that the Soviet military machine is growing by leaps and bounds and it is the greatest assembled military machine the world has ever known. The various summit talks and conferences of detente should not lull us into a false peace.
But the greatest of all threats is not economic, it's not military, it is moral and spiritual!
Some people have accused me of being a moral alarmist. But I have traveled over the world a great deal, and talked privately to many of our leaders, and I've sifted the fears and concerns of the average American too many times to be overly optimistic about the state of our nation or about your future in this generation. It is now possible to agree with Oswald Spengler that this generation may see the decline of Western civilization. The fissures have appeared and we cannot seem to put them together and cement them. The road ahead is down, unless, unless almighty God has mercy on us and intervenes. I once asked my longtime friend John Steinbeck what he thought was the salvation of America. He thought a moment and said "a catastrophe" that would wake us up and put some moral and spiritual steel in our backbone and our soul. I believe we ought to be realists. I think the most dangerous thing we could do is bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist. I believe we should tell it like it is and if I were giving the State of the Union address, I would look in that camera and tell it just like it is. It is not a pretty picture.
What are these dangers? What is the nature of the crisis that faces America? Do we have the spiritual resources to resist the dangers and survive the crisis?
First of all, we all know there is a political crisis! The furor over Watergate has had a profound and unsettling effect on our nation. We do not know the full facts about Watergate. I think all of these people that have been indicted ought to be presumed in-nocent until found guilty in a court of law. And then we ought to take a look at the system itself that has developed this situation. I think for one thing we demand too much of our president. The national budget has doubled since President Kennedy's time, 1,300 commissions report directly to the president. I doubt if he could call the names of all of them, much less tell you what all they do. And yet we hold one man responsible for everything all these people do. It is clear to me that this affair called Watergate has sent shock waves through our whole political system. To me the most disturbing aspect of Watergate is not the crimes that have been committed, though they are bad enough. The most disturbing thing is the reaction of millions of young Americans who might become disillusioned with America, and with our government and our way of life, and we may lose our freedoms as a result of it. Too many young Americans may say I am not going to enter politics, it's too dirty. If we lose confidence in our democracy, we could come unstuck and unglued. Democracy cannot survive when the people have lost confidence in it, and when confidence has been seriously eroded, no democracy can function efficiently and effectively.
Secondly, we face an economic crisis. All of you who buy groceries and pay bills know that. We enjoy the highest standard of living of any nation in the history of the world. We are the best fed, the best clothed, and the best housed people in history. But we are also beginning to pay the price of our affluent living and our deficit spending. Just to pay the interest on the National Debt costs one-half billion dollars a week. Even an economic fool ought to see that this policy is leading to disaster. Inflation has hit every American. We have spent your money, we have spent your children's money and we may be the last generation of the big spenders. We are told that the energy crisis may be here to stay. We read in the press that a world-wide food crisis grips the world. I was told the other day by a man who ought to know that the world is only one crop away from world-wide disaster, a famine. If we lose one crop, he said, the starvation will be staggering to the imagination.
Thirdly, we face a wave of political terrorism. There is speculation that the plane crash last night in Paris that killed more people than any other plane crash in history was probably caused by bombs on the plane. We all know about Patty Hearst or Reg Murphy in Atlanta. And this could be only the beginning; the problems that are mounting for us at this hour are very similar to pre-Hitler Germany.
But the supreme crisis, the greatest crisis, is neither political nor economic. It is moral and spiritual. If we fail to solve this moral and spiritual crisis, we may be doomed like the great nations of the past who failed to solve the crisis of the human spirit.
The significance of the moral and spiritual crisis is all around us. Morally and spiritually our country is in mortal danger. Desperately millions are turning to Indian Gurus, the occult, and thank God, millions of students are beginning to turn to the Bible. The popularity of "The Exorcist" I was in New York a few weeks ago and I went around at 8:45 in the morning to see the line completely around the block waiting to see the showing of "The Exorcist" America's fascination with demons, evil and the devil. This too happened in pre-war Germany. The Germans, the young people, the students, became fascinated with demons, the worship of demons, and the occult. It's happening in Europe today and it's happening in America.
If we do not set things right, this decay is going to get worse. Thus the basic problem is "a spiritual problem."
The spiritual problem is an individual problem, not simply a political, governmental, educational or economic problem it is one that rests with you and me. Society is made up of individuals, and there can and will be no lasting social reform and no lasting peace until the individuals who make up society have been changed. The problems of society are caused by men and women in our society. We are a nation of individuals, and we are perilously close to reproducing the life-style of the people in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, of whom it is said: "Every man did what was right in his own eyes." Take a hard look at America and all of its problems. It is not unlike a mirror in which you see yourself, with all the confusion, emptiness and self-centeredness that dwell in you as an individual. Jeremiah the prophet said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." There is a little Watergate in all of us. The first great cover-up of history was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After they had sinned, they ran away from God using fig leaves to hide their nakedness.
Jeremiah lived more than 2,500 years ago. His nation was passing through a series of crises very similar to our own. Like America, Judah had a long history, and had passed through many crises successfully. Jeremiah, however, said that the crisis of his own day was deeper than any previous time. And I say to you, our crisis is deeper.
Like modern America, the people of Jeremiah's time faced external enemies. The nation was threatened by one of the mightiest empires the world has ever known the Babylonian Empire under King Nebuchadnezzar. As a result of this threat, the nation was torn and divided politically. Some advocated surrender. Some sought an alliance with another strong nation to establish a balance of power. Still others wishfully thought nothing was wrong, and cried aloud: "Peace, peace, peace, when there is no peace." (Jer. 8:11) Every time you approach the brink of war, the great word that is used is "peace." Just before World War II, I remember when Chamberlain came back from Munich with his umbrella and said "Peace in our time," just before the war broke.
Like modern America, the people of Jeremiah's time were caught up in an economic crisis. Vast sums of money were spent to fortify cities, they were paying tribute to other nations, and they were trying to buy the friendships of other nations around them.
But also like modern America, the greatest crisis of the kingdom of Judah was moral and spiritual. Jeremiah said, "Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush." God had richly blessed the nation in the past, but the people abandoned God and chose to go it alone. Jeremiah warned that God's judgment would surely overtake them if they did not repent and turn to God.
I am often asked, "Is America at the crossroads?" No, America is not at a crossroads! We have already passed the crossroads. We have already made a decision. We made a decision a long time ago to abandon God and go our own way. In a nation which will pay an actor three million dollars to play in a pornographic film or make a heroine of an actress who displays her talents of sexual perversion on the screen; who not only makes heroes of people who are calling for the overthrow of the government, but pays them high fees for their speeches, then we are in deep trouble.
America reminds me of a mental institution where the patients have taken over and have locked up the doctors. Our values are upside down. We are not thinking straight. The choice was made when America as a nation surrendered obedience to God and to His moral Law. We chose the road of secularism, hedonism, materialism, and moral permissiveness. It is true of course that there are millions of individual Americans, especially in this part of America, who have not abandoned obedience to God or to His moral Law. It is also true that millions of people are responding to the proclamation of the Gospel, but these encouraging facts should not lead us to self-delusion that all will work out, that the coming judgment will be averted, that our nation as a nation is following God; because we are not.
The Bible contains many warnings. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans warned of the danger of deliberately forfeiting the truth of God and accepting "a lie." He said if they continued in this direction they could be sure they would reap the harvest of the evil they had sown. Three times Paul said, "God gave them up." There comes a time in the history of a nation, a community, a family, even an individual, when God says it's enough, you've gone too far and judgment has come. I believe that the events of Viet Nam and Watergate and the energy crisis are the beginnings of the judgment upon our nation, and if we do not repent and turn to God as a nation, more and more, judgments will follow.
Like the people of the time of Jeremiah, God has mightily blessed us in the past. Our nation was founded on firm moral principles with a faith in God. But what happened? We have decided to get along without God, and we are now in danger of being abandoned by God.
This happened to the people of Jerusalem, they were God's chosen people. They were far closer to God than we are, but they mocked the prophet for telling them the truth, they laughed and heckled. They put him in jail, they said that he was an alarmist. But only a few years later God's judgment struck. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and sent its inhabitants into exile and slavery. This could happen to us. God says in 11 Chronicles 7:14, "If my people, which are called by my Name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." I say to you today that that is the prescription for the healing of the wounds of our nation, and thank God the United States Senate has called April 30th as a "Day of Prayer with fasting and humiliation" for the American people. It is high time that we listen.
What is the answer? In the midst of the current crisis the greatest mistake we could make would be to fail to diagnose the illness and go to the answer. The answer for the nation is to repent and to turn to God. And the answer can only be found in Jesus Christ.
Yes, we need election reform laws to prevent another Watergate. Yes, we need to take practical steps to avert a threatened economic recession. Yes, we need to change the structures of society so that there is more justice in the land. But all of these will fail unless we return to God.
I am not suggesting that more interest in religion will save us. Many people in Jeremiah's day were very religious. That is true today as well. A substantial, though declining, numbers of our people go to church on Sunday mornings. Bill Buckley was in Ireland some time ago, and he asked the question if there were any atheists in Northern Ireland. And they said, "Oh yes, there are many Protestant atheists and Catholic atheists." For all too many people, however, religion is merely a formality that has little effect on the way they live and act during the week. Only a vital personal faith in the living God of the Bible can get to "the root" of our problems.
The great problem is, "How can we rediscover the faith that once was a dynamic, revolutionary, life-changing force in our society?" The answer is to be found only in Jesus Christ, the greatest "revolutionary" of all times. He was not concerned primarily with political or economic revolutions. Instead, He came to enter the lives of men and women and revolutionize the most basic and stubborn source of the problem, the human heart! This change of heart is what we need as a nation. This is what you need today as an individual.
As I travel throughout America I find that thousands of people are searching for purpose and meaning. They want peace of heart, they want to get rid of their guilt.
Something vital could happen to America that could change it and something vital is beginning to happen. Thousands of prayer groups and Bible study groups are springing up all over America. I never go to a campus today east, west, north, or south but what strong Christian groups are now growing by leaps and bounds, as students are beginning to march under the banner of Jesus Christ.
Other nations have endured the same sort of agony and crisis that currently exist in our nation, and they were saved from almost certain destruction by a spiritual awakening. Nineveh was going to be destroyed. God said I'm going to destroy Nineveh because their wickedness is great. But he sent Jonah to preach repentance, and they did repent and God spared them. God could do it in America.
Great Britain in the 18th Century was in mortal danger. A little man on horseback rode up and down the country preaching repentance. They threw him out of churches, so he went out in fields and preached. His name was John Wesley. Historians today tell us because of the Wesleyan Revival, Great Britain was saved from the bloodbath of the French Revolution.
In our own country, God has worked again and again in the midst of great social and political crises. Immediately after the Revolutionary War, America was swept by a wave of skepticism and materialism, but then God began to work on the campuses of those great eastern universities Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and a spiritual awakening began on the campuses. At the same time, it began on the frontier at camp meetings, and the intellectuals of New England and the people on the frontier joined together in a mighty spiritual awakening that swept this country.
It happened again in the middle of the last century when some businessmen became concerned about the moral collapse of America. They began to pray on Fulton Street in New York City. From that prayer meeting, there swept this country a mighty religious awakening, and we still feel the impact today.
I tell you it could happen again! And it could start at Kansas State University. The trend of our nation can be reversed. But it will only happen as individuals such as you here today reverse the trend of your own lives by committing yourselves to Jesus Christ. It comes right down to personal commitment. Your problem is not an intellectual problem. Ten years ago I gave a series of lectures at Harvard University, and afterward we would have question and answer periods. I would have those questions recorded. They were all intellectual questions. Today when I go back to the same university, I don't get trick questions. The great questions are heart questions, and it has to do with commitment. Am I ready to pay the price to meet the high demands of discipleship of Jesus Christ? That's the question.
What does God require of you?
First, he requires that we be honest. Dr. Karl Menninger has written a book entitled "Whatever happened to sin?" God wants us to admit that we have failed and our failure to live up to His moral law is called in the Bible "sin." Give it a psychological name if you want. It's sin! Corporate sin, individual sin. We must admit it, and we must be willing to have our lives changed. You can cover that with all types of argument and rationalization but deep inside, this is the problem.
Secondly, God requires that you must accept His Son Jesus Christ into the very center of your life. The amazing message of the Bible is that God loves you and he loves me. He sees my hypocrisy, he sees my sin, he sees my failure, and he says I love you. I have a plan for your life. Commit your life to me and I will give you the purpose and meaning in your life. I can help you choose your life mate; I can help you in your vocation. I can help you in every area of your life if you will only let me. He stands on the outside knocking. You and I deserve judgment. But he died on the Cross for us. We are now in the Lenten season. We are soon celebrating Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday and Easter tell us that God loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us on that Cross.
When I received Jesus Christ as my Saviour, I was a student. I saw no blazing lights; I had no emotional experience; I heard no ringing bells or singing angels. But one thing happened my life was revolutionized!
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not asking you to turn to Christ in order to save America. That's too cheap a reason. I ask you to turn to Christ so that you can have purpose and meaning in your life, so you can find forgiveness before God, so that you can have salvation and eternal life.
However, as a drop of ink stains a glass of water, so the humblest student in this audience today by the exercise of his moral choices, affects the course of history. A commitment made by you today could reverse the tide of history.
We have seen in recent days an amazing example of moral courage in the person of Solzhenitsyn. He was a bright young mathematician and artillery officer, a dedicated Communist, when he was thrown into the prison system of the Soviet Union. That system became a school where he met other prisoners. He learned about the democracy. But he learned something else while in prison Solzhenitsyn met Cod! The Christian orientation of a Solzhenitsyn and a Pasternak comes to us as a surprise. But as Anatoli Kuznetsov who has sought asylum in Great Britain told Malcolm Muggeridge the other day, there is scarcely a single writer, artist, musician or scientist in the Soviet Union in whom a similar orientation was not to be detected. He said that the intellectuals of the Soviet Union now believe there is a God. Muggeridge asked him how this could have happened, given the enormous anti-religious brainwashing job done on the people, and the absence of virtually all Christian literature. His reply is something we ought to remember. The authorities, he said, forgot to suppress the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
Sitting in our safe homes, or going to a beautiful university like this, there is no single one of us who does not ask himself whether he could have the courage to lay his life on the line as Solzhenitsyn did. Where did he get this kind of courage?
You can find the answer all the way through his writings. He summarized it in a poem that was published in VOGUE Magazine recently. Listen to this
"How simple for me, O Lord, to live with you! How easy to believe in you! When, in confusion, my soul bares itself or bends, when the most wise can see no further than this night, and do not know what the morrow brings: you fill me with the clear certainty that you exist and that you watch to see that all the paths of righteousness be not closed. From the heights of worldly glory, I am astonished by the path through despair you have provided me this path from which I have been worthy enough to reflect your radiance to man. All that I will yet reflect, you will grant me. And, for that which I will not succeed in reflecting, you have appointed others."
"You have appointed others." Is there another here today that will stand with Solzhenitsyn and have the moral courage to stand up and say, "Yes, I want my life to count for something. I want to be something. I am willing to surrender to the same God, to the same Christ." You may be among the "others."
I want to tell you something, then I am finished. I think it is time to believe again in America. It's time to hope again. It is time to sing again. It is time to march again. It is time to stand up and be counted again. But you can only do it and the nation be blessed if first you have peace with God.
It's time to have Purple Pride.
Thank you and God bless you.