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"Stains on the Altar" Address, 1966

Transcript of Graham's closing address at the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin.

Stain on the Altar message Billy GrahamView other documents from the Congress

I believe that this Congress has accomplished many things in the lives of individuals. If it had been held only for me, it would have been worthwhile. An evangelist, a pastor or teacher can give out so much and preach so much that he becomes empty and dry, and he needs to fill up. And this has been a time of filling for me.

There are hundreds of men here this morning who really could have been chosen to give this message. I tried two or three times during this ten days to get out of it because I did not feel that I should give the closing message. I did not feel equal to it, and I feel totally inadequate as I stand before you now.

But I think we have said to the world that the simple gospel is relevant to contemporary man.

In one of the panels I was told about a brother from one country who, after a very deep and involved theological discussion, said, "I don't know what you all have been talking about, but I do know one thing, I love Jesus." That's as good a theology as I know.

When Dr. Karl Barth was visiting in America, a student at a theological seminary asked him in a question and answer period what was the greatest thought that ever went through his mind. Every one was on edge to see what Barth would say. He waited a long time. Then he lifted his head slowly, and he said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

I think secondly, that we have said that the social needs of men can be met in the gospel and only in the gospel. Man's basic need is conversion.

Thirdly, we have said to the world that a great section of the church accepts the authority of Scripture, and that we reject the radical theology of Bishop Robinson and Bishop Pike.

Next week Bishop Pike's picture will be on the front page of Time magazine. The gospel he is proclaiming is another gospel; it's not the gospel of the Bible and it's not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fourthly, we have said to the world that we are a spiritually united fellowship regardless of race, culture, language, denominational or ecclesiastical affiliation. We have been singing together, praying together, discussing together, eating together as brothers. This is the spiritual unity of the Church.

Fifthly, we have said to the world the primary task of the Church is the penetration of the whole world with the gospel. We have our marching orders from the Great Commission, and we will not surrender, nor retreat, nor become discouraged by circumstances and events. But, having said that, we also know the whole world is not going to accept. My job as an evangelist' in preaching the gospel is not to get the whole city converted--they'll never be wholly converted. My job is to vindicate the righteousness of Jesus Christ by confronting men with the gospel, whether they accept or reject.

We have said to the world that we are not only one race and have one gospel and one task, but we have one hope. We have the hope that we can penetrate the world in our generation. We have the techniques to do it. If Coca Cola can get everybody in the world to taste Coca Cola by 1971, we ought to get every man in the world to hear the gospel through our modern technology at least once by 1971. Our hope is also that social reform in areas where it's needed can be done by men who have been converted and who believe the gospel. But, thirdly, our ultimate hope is that Jesus Christ is coming back again. Whether you realize it or not, we've got a mess on our hands in our world, Four nations in Europe at this hour are in a political crisis of major proportions. A war going in Vietnam, but nobody knows the end of it! Pressures from everywhere. Dissension from within. Trouble mounting.

Yesterday The New York Times said that the world has been stunned by the nuclear capability of Red China, which is far more advanced than we ever dreamed. They say that when they get the capability, they are going to use it, because in a nuclear exchange they say they could win even if they lost 400 million people.

The next five years or ten years, brethren, will bring vast changes. Ana there is absolutely no light and no hope except that expressed on page after page in this Book: that our Lord Jesus Christ is going to come and to rule in righteousness, and the Kingdom of God is going to prevail.

When I was here the last time in Germany, I was invited to go see Mr. Adenauer, then the Chancellor. When I walked in (a bit nervous in the presence of such a great man--I didn't know what the conversation would be about), he greeted me, offered me a cup of coffee, and then he turned quickly and said,"Mr. Graham, do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?" I said, "I do." He said, "So do I." He said, "If Jesus Christ is not alive, there is no hope for our world."

When Dag Hanmarskjold died he was one of the most pessimistic men I ever talked to.

This is the private mood of world statesmen at this hour as the world rushes madly toward its rendezvous with destiny.

The question that I want to ask you this morning is a question posed by Jeremiah the prophet. I want to read from the sixth chapter beginning at verse 13, a very familiar passage that presume most of you have preached on many times.

"For from the least of them, even unto the greatest of them, every one is given to covetousness, and from the prophet even unto the priest, everyone dealeth falsely." Think of it. Even the prophet and the priest were dealing falsely.

"They have healed also the hurt of my daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace." The number one word in the world today is peace, but there is no peace,,because there is no peace in the hearts of men. There's never going to be world peace until we have peace with God.

"Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush." The moral situation in the West today is such that we are no longer calling sin sin. We don't even know how to blush any more. We have become hardened and calloused to the things that used to make us blush and we are calling evil good and good evil and we don't even know it. Even the prophet and the priest, said Jeremiah.

"Thus saith the Lord!" Two thousand times the priests said, "Thus saith the Lord." And, brethren, I believe God said it.

"Stand ye in the ways , and see , and ask f or the old paths , where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein." Over in the nineteenth verse he said, "Behold, I will bring evil upon this people ... your burnt offerings are not acceptable unto me."

Jeremiah was saying there are stains upon the altar, stains upon our altar. And I want to ask you several questions, as I ask myself, today.

First, Is there a stain on the altar of your conversion? The other disciples never dreamed that in his heart Judas secretly had never come into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. Our Lord said in Matthew 7, "Many will say to me that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Prophesied in thy name! Preached! Cast out devils! Evangelism--even; did evangelism! And did many social works, but never saved. The Scripture says, Make your calling and election sure! Has this conference caused you to doubt your relationship with God? Are you sure?

John Wesley once said, "What a dreadful thing it would be for me if I should be ignorant of the power of the truth which I am preparing to proclaim.

Richard Baxter once said, "God never saved any man for being a preacher."

In our recent London Crusade many clergymen came forward to make sure of their relationship to Christ. Is there a stain on the altar of your conversion? I would not leave Berlin, if I were you, with a doubt about that. You can settle it, just as a little child can settle it, in a simple receiving of Christ and making sure.

Secondly, is there a stain on the altar of your call? I have had three men come to me during this conference for counseling at this point. They are not at all sure they are in the place God wants them to be. One of them is a missionary of many years' standing. Have you been called of God to be where you are? If so, Jeremiah said, "But His Word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones..." Do you sense this burning within your bones?

Too many seminary students in America today are going into the ministry as a profession, just as one would be a doctor or a lawyer or something else, but never having been called of God. The early apostles said, "For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard." Paul said, "for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" He had to do it, because God had called him and he could do no other.

Thirdly, is there a stain on the altar of your devotional life? In a survey of a theological college in the United States--a large one--93 per cent of those students studying for the ministry said, "I have no devotional life." I can tell you they are going to be powerless preachers. They may have all the languages right, and they may have it in their heads, but they won't have it in their bones and in their hearts. They won't communicate because communication in preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit. I don't have to go out and be like a beatnik and live like a beatnik in order to communicate with beatniks.

I remember the story that Dr. John Sutherland Bonnell once told me that he related to his students at Princeton. He said Dwight L. Moody was invited to preach at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York when that church was a center for the educated, the intellectual, the sophisticated and the wealthy. There was a division among the elders as to whether Moody should be invited or not. But they invited him, and he came and decided to preach on Daniel. When Moody got up his collar wasn't right, and his tie was over to one side, and it seemed that he couldn't pronounce the word “Daniel". He said “Daniel”, and in his first few remarks he said “ain't”. In those days “ain't” wasn't in the dictionary. People began to look at each other and everybody was embarrassed; they began to smile and laugh and wink at each other. Moody lost his audience, but he kept right on bringing just a simple gospel sermon on Daniel. Dr. Bonnell recalled that, about half way through the sermon, something began to happen to the audience. Another voice began to speak. When Moody was finished, that audience was sitting on the edge of their seats listening to that other voice. They could no longer hear Moody. Brethren, that's communication and it's supernatural!

Oh, we can be identified, but we're not to go out and do the evils of the world in order to identify and to communicate. And I want to tell you this: you're never going to communicate and you're never going to win souls unless you keep a systematic, daily devotional life. I've tried it. Any day that I leave my room without my quiet time with God I jut look for the devil to hit me from every angle. And he does! There is no shortcut to power in the ministry, because power doesn't come from your own ability. It comes from God. And you get your power from the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit must give a fresh, daily anointing that comes from the time you are with God.

Mary, Queen of Scots, dreaded the prayers of John Knox more than she did an army often thousand men. His prayers, not his sermons.

Are we man of prayer? In your work as a pastor or teacher or professor, and mine as an evangelist, we can get terribly professional. We have to have an experience that will make us weep over souls. I went to my room last night and I said, "Oh God, give me more tears, more tears."

John Vasser in Boston, the great soul-winner, knocked on the door of a person and asked this lady if she knew Christ as Saviour. She said, "It's none of your business, and slammed the door in his face." He stood on the doorstep and wept and wept and wept, and she was looking out of her window at him weeping. She said it was those tears. Brethren, where are our tears?

Fourthly, is there a stain on the altar of your message? Have you learned that you've been preaching a watered-down man-pleasing message? I read again this morning in Living Letters this translation of the words of the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1:18ff.: "I know how very foolish it sounds to those who are lost when they hear that Jesus died to save them, but we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. For God says, ‘I will destroy all human plans of salvation no matter how wise they seem to be, and ignore the best ideas of men, even the most brilliant of them.' So what about these wise men, these scholars, these brilliant debaters of this world's great affairs? God has made them all look foolish, and shown their wisdom to be useless nonsense. For God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never find God through human brilliance, and then He stepped in and saved all those who believed His message, which the world calls foolish and silly . . . it is foolish to the Gentiles because they only believe what agrees with their science and seems wise to them. So when we preach about Christ dying to save them, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it's all nonsense. . . This so-called foolish plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man, and God in His weakness-- Christ dying on the cross--is far stronger than any man. I decided that I would speak only of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness--timid and trembling. And my preaching was very plain, not with a lot of oratory and human wisdom, but God's power was in my words, proving to those who heard them that the message was from God. I did this because I wanted your faith to stand firmly upon God, not on some, man's great ideas."

Brethren, if that message was relevant to pagan, intellectual immoral Corinth, it's relevant to our day. When Paul stood and preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified, they laughed. And it doesn't agree with our philosophy. It doesn't agree with our times. It doesn't agree with us. Everything was against it, but in the cross there was a built-in power that transformed men, and it will do it today.

I learned a lesson years ago. I was preaching down in Dallas, Texas. We had the Cotton Bowl, a big stadium. On this particular evening it was about half filled, and I preached my heart out. There was very little power in the service and I knew it. I struggled and tried to get across a message, but very few people responded to the appeal. After the service, my good friend John Bolten rode with me, back to the hotel. He said, "Billy, there was no power in the service tonight." I said, "No, John." He said, "Would you mind if I tell you why?" I said, "Please tell me." He said, "Billy, you didn't preach the cross." And he said, "In evangelistic preaching there is no message outside the cross." I determined that every evangelistic sermon I preached from then on would be the cross. There's power in the cross. Paul said, "I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

Is there a stain on the altar of your message?

Fifthly, is there a stain on the altar of your social concern? There is no way that we can fulfill the command of our Lord without having a concern for the material and social needs of man. Frank Laubach had been here at every meeting. He's got a concern that the millions and millions and millions and millions that don't know how will be able to read and write. How can we read the story of the Good Samaritan without realizing that Jesus was moved with compassion when he told the story? Even a casual study of the life of Jesus reveals that He was interested in response to the social problems man faces. He said, "How much more value is a man than a sheep?" Did you know that in some of our big western cities today that people spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on their dogs? Dressing them, giving them baths, polishing their nails, putting perfume on them, feeding them the finest foods? And yet some of those very people would denounce us for being interested in hungry stomachs, and in people who are suffering under tyranny and discrimination.

"There came a leper to Him beseeching Him and kneeling down to Him, and Jesus moved with compassion, put forth His hand and touched him." The dirtiest, the loneliest, the most forsaken person in that world was a leper! Can you imagine what it must have been for Jesus to touch him? What it meant to him to be touched?

Wilfred Grenfell became the "Angel of Labrador" because he went there to live with the people. David Brainerd lived with the people. William Booth lived in London's East End. Not partaking of their sins, but identification in order to win. Didn't the apostle James say something about trying to win a man to Christ and not doing anything for him in his physical needs? Is there a stain on the altar of your social concern?

Sixthly, is there a stain on the altar of your evangelism? Back in your church, back in your area, you haven't been evangelizing.

Jim Bishop, the American columnist, interviewed President Kennedy three weeks before he was assassinated and President Kennedy said this. "Almost all presidents leave office feeling that their work is unfinished. I have a lot to do and so little time to do it." Brethren, we have a lot to do and little time to do it.

There were two tribes--Reuben and Gad. They saw that the territory already taken on the east side of Jordan was good. They thought of their own convenience rather than Israel's inheritance as a whole. Ten tribes and two million had not yet come into inheritance, but these two tribes preferred to escape the peril of warfare and live in ease and safety. Moses was an old man but his eyes blazed and his jaw set and anger came to his face--and there comes a time for holy anger. And Moses said, "Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? If so, be sure your sin will find you out." That verse wasn't given to be used as an evangelistic verse. That was given to people of God for sitting down in apathy and lethargy when men were dying and lost. Be sure your sin will find you out.

Next Monday I will celebrate a birthday. I'll be 48. At best I don't have left more than 10 years of this intensive evangelism that we engage in. Physically it would be impossible. I have been engaged in it now nearly 20 years. Two-thirds of my time is gone. At 58 I may still be able to hold some crusades, of course. But not on the scale we are doing now. Not likely. So little time. And the end may be much nearer than that. We ought to live, brethren, each day as if it were our last.

Seventhly, and lastly, is there a stain on the altar of your relationship to your brethren?

Lord Nelson said, "My victories have come because it has been my happiness to command a band of brothers."

Would it be possible in spite of our differences in culture and race and language and denominational affiliations to leave here today a band of brothers or is that asking too much? They were in one accord at Pentecost.

Peter's ministry was different from John's. Paul, who came later, was totally different in many ways. They could have set up the first church of Peter and the second church of Paul and of all the rest of them. And Apollos came along, and they could have had the first church of Apollos, and the people separate in that way as Paul was deploring to the Corinthians when lamenting this terrible division among true believers. Oh, there's a place for separation. I have written a book on separation and fellowship; I am going to publish it sometime this winter. But I want to tell you I believe that between believers and our Lord Jesus Christ the whole weight of the New Testament is on love and working together as brethren. I don't care what a believer calls himself, he’s a brother in Christ.

There are several things that we owe each other as brothers, and I want this to be the note by which we live. First, we are to love one another. We know that we have passed from death unto life--how? Because we love the brethren! I believe that fact has registered in this conference to the newspaper reporters more than anything else. One secular reporter said, "I came here a sceptic, but I've seen God here in the love and the unity among these delegates."

Secondly, we are to serve each other. Jesus said, "Whosoever of you will be chiefest shall be the servant of all." Think of our Lord washing the feet of Peter and John and James--dirty feet. Servant. Servant! Oh my God, teach me to be a servant.

Thirdly, we are to be patient with each other. "The servant of the Lord," said Paul to Timothy, "must not strive; but be gentle--gentle--unto all men." Have we forgotten that? Gentleness--one of the fruits of the Spirit. "Be patient toward all men," (I Thess. 5:14).

Fourthly, we are to be courteous to one another. "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one for another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous," (I Pet. 3:8). Be courteous. My heart has broken many times when I read some of the religious scandal sheets where brethren are lambasting and cursing each other in the most vitriolic language. Even if a brother is wrong and needs rebuking, it's to be done with great gentleness and love and patience.

Fifthly, we are to set an example to each other. "Set the believers an example," as Paul wrote to Timothy, "in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." We are to set an example.

Sixthly, we are to forgive one another. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32). Why should we be willing to forgive? Because God forgave us. That's why. How often should we forgive our brother, our husband, our wife, our children? How often? As often as God forgives us. And brethren, He forgives me every day. Not because I deserve it, but sheer grace because of Christ. Because of our Lord's death on that cross I must forgive my brother. How much ought we to forgive? Limitlessly, as God forgives. For whose sake ought we to forgive? For Christ's sake. How fully ought we to forgive? Completely; as God forgives us. "But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your sins," said Jesus.

Brethren, in our Christian work today we need a gentleness and a kindness and a love and a forgiveness and a compassion that will mark us as different from the world. The Christian minister is to be a holy man. I'll never forget old Fr. H. C. Morrison, for many years president of Asbury in Wilmore, Kentucky. A great Methodist preacher, he had long white hair, and he used to preach with the Bible in his hand. He said, "you know, when I was converted to Christ I was plowing in the field, and a Methodist circuit rider was coming by on his horse and he never saw me. But I knew him to be such a holy man that I could feel the power of his presence way out there in the field, and I dropped on my knees and gave my life to God." Oh, God, make me a holy man--a holy man.

Seventhly, we are not to judge each other. "Let no man pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Rom. 14:13). "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth" (Rom. 14:4). Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged." The Scripture says, "Love thinketh no evil." The Scripture says, "Love covereth a multitude of sins."

Oh, there comes a time for rebuking in the scriptural way and reproof in the scriptural way. But I read a statement by a man the other day before I came on this trip, and he said God had given him the ministry of rebuking. I don't read of any such ministry in the Scriptures. If I have to rebuke, and I have to do it in my work, sometimes, in a committee or on my team, and they have to rebuke me, we have made it a policy that it's to be done in love and tenderness and brokenness and gentleness and sweetness, but firmly without compromise. We judge people so quickly, We pick up some paper that has misinformation, doesn't have the whole truth, has a text out of context, and we judge and make great statements and damn men. Brethren, this is not of God. It's grieving to the Holy Spirit and keeps back revival.

Eighthly, we're to be subject one to another. "In honor preferring one another" (Rom. 12:10). "Yea, all of you be subject one to another." I don't even know how to apply that. I have tried but I have failed. Oh. God, forgive me.

Ninthly, we are to edify one another. "Let us therefore follow after the things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom. 14:19). "Edify" means to enlighten, instruct, improve, strengthen, fortify. When you’re sitting at a table with another man and you're fellowshipping or you’re talking or you're rooming with him or you're traveling with him, are you constantly seeking ways to build him up in the faith and encourage him and strengthen him? Or is all of our talk light and foolish and empty and we'll be held accountable for every word. Oh, I dread to think of the judgment seat of Christ and what I'm going to have to answer for. God forgive me for the hours of empty conversation I have had in my life.

Richard Nixon and I have played a lot of golf together--I don't take sides politically, but we've been friends for many years. He told me a few months ago, "Billy, I’ve given up golf." I said, "Why?" He said, "I've got only about 15 years of peak-life left and there are too many interesting conversations to hold and too many good books to read, and I don't want to waste an hour." Well, if he can do that for the development of his own mind, I don't want to waste any time as a Christian. I don't think there's anything wrong with golf if it's contributing to your physical well-being. We need it once in a while. But I'm talking about the wasted hours. We don't redeem the time, and I am convicted and the reason I mentioned it is because it's such a conviction with me in my own soul.

Tenthly, and lastly, we are to pray for one another. The Scripture says "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." We say, "We'll remember you in our prayers." And that's the last of it. We ought to have a little book and every time we say that, we ought to write it down and then open it and bring it to our mind when we pray.

Oh, I wish we could leave here promising to pray for each other. We don't know each other's names. This pastor from Africa with his burden, the brother from Indonesia, the man from Hong Kong, the man from Yugoslavia, all the difficulties in those countries, all the people that have spoken, the people that have sat here, each with his burden, each with his problem, maybe a deep personal problem, maybe a family problem, that he couldn’t share with anybody. Let's pledge today that we will pray for each other. I need your prayers more than any time in my life. If I could leave here with the feeling that this group of men were going to pray for me. I need your prayers.

Maybe even in your conversion or your preaching, and to make that right with God you want this to be a moment of rededication in your life. I'm going to ask you to do something. We came in here on the opening night brethren, and we prayed and we sang standing up. If you want to make things right in your life and make it a moment of rededication, I'm going to ask that you kneel with me. There's room there in your seat. Some of you may not be able because of a physical difficulty. But those who can, just turn around and kneel, if God is speaking to you. 


From Collection 14, Audio Recording T13

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