Monday, 29 December 2014

Christ - the Explanation of Life

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (John 1:18 RSV)

The great theologian Athanasius once declared, "The Logos is the logic of the universe." He meant that Jesus is the explanation of everything!

1. Only Jesus, as God, can reveal God. Jesus said the same: "No one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals him" (Matthew 11:27). Our critics deny that there could ever be a 'logic', an explanation to all existence, residing in Christ. Let them only look!

2. Only Jesus as The Word can interpret life. Jacques Derrida insisted that all quests to understand the essence of things have failed. John weepingly agrees, in Revelation 5, v 1-4... but for the joyful disclosure that Jesus in his saving death unlocks the scroll of life and its meaning.

3. Only Jesus as the Light can overcome darkness. Once we accept him as the original 'true light' (v. 9), we can recognise that evil is not eternal, but an intruder, representing - as Augustine put it - a 'defection' from original goodness, and therefore destined to ultimate destruction by Christ, the light from which all else is borrowed. This gives us courage!

4. Only Jesus as the Child can introduce glory. Here we think not of the power-mad Caesars, but of the sheer wonder of the eternal God coming as a child to share our existence (v.14), there to live, serve and suffer in the 'glory' that would be Christ's cross.

No other attempts at an 'explanation' have ever satisfactorily succeeded.

In Memoriam: America's Beloved Gospel Singer George Beverly Shea

“HE HAS SUNG TO MORE PEOPLE THAN FRANK SINATRA,” exclaimed Billy Graham, as he introduced Bev Shea at a 1989 meeting in West Ham football stadium. 

“Please, Bill, never say that again about me!” protested the ever-modest Bev Shea, then eighty years of age. Indeed, even by that time America’s Beloved Gospel Singer had sung to more people, face to face, than any artist, secular or religious, in the whole history of music.

George Beverly Shea passed into the next life on April 16th, 2013, at the age of 104.  We salute his memory, as we uphold his wife Karlene. It can perhaps be said of Karlene - whom Bev Shea married after the passing of his first wife – that she did as much as any to extend the ministry of this most remarkable Gospel singer of the twentieth century.  Living high up at Montreat, North Carolina, close to the home of Billy Graham, Bev Shea – with Billy – would descend from the mountain with each fresh opportunity to take the Gospel message to some distant part of the world.

There was considerable initial ignorance about the ‘Hot Gospellers.’ In Germany one journalist even invented a story about a Night Club in which ‘Beverley Shea, the young singing blonde,’ was found drunk!  In Britain, after singing the solo It took a miracle to hang the world in space, a complaint was lodged about the arrogance of the singer who had claimed that ‘It took America to hang the world in space’!

The three men - Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea – were like film stars to us teenagers when they first hit London’s Harringay Arena in the Spring of 1954. Before long we knew - and were singing on the London Underground - not only Fanny Crosby’s hymns, Blessed Assurance and To God be the Glory, but Bev Shea’s solos, I’d rather have Jesus or Softly and Tenderly. It was ultimately to Bev Shea that the world owes the emergence from complete obscurity of Britain’s favourite hymn today, How Great Thou Art. 

He was walking down Oxford Street in London in 1954, when a long-time friend hailed him and passed him the hymn. Not a night went by, during the momentous sixteen week Crusade at Madison Square Garden in 1957, that Beverly Shea did not lead in its singing. From there it has gone world-wide.

  At Brazil’s famous World Cup Maracana Stadium, during a major Billy Graham event

 On the occasion of Billy Graham’s bestowing of a ‘knighthood’ by the Queen, I was privileged to have breakfast with Cliff Barrows in Washington DC. It was a great honour. Finally as I left the hotel dining room - in walked George Beverly Shea and Karlene. “Good morning!” they said, “Come and have breakfast with us!”

I couldn’t resist…. and settled down for a second breakfast. During it I remarked on the fact that Bev had sung to more people than anyone else in history. “Ah,” he replied – immediately turning the compliment aside – that’s only because of being with Billy!” And then he changed the subject.

But he has always been this way. You would watch him delivering a solo in a great football stadium – and once the piece was over, he would turn immediately away from the podium and head back to his seat. No bows, no basking in adulation or applause; he would not have it.   Nor was any Gospel meeting less than unique in his mind. When chairing ‘Mission ‘89’ in London, I can remember seeing him out of the corner of my eye, as enquirers poured forwards during Billy Graham’s final appeal. Bev was weeping. It still gets to him, after all these years, I thought wonderingly.

My wife Pam and I had the massive privilege of having tea with the Sheas in September 2012, at their home in Montreat.  We prayed and read the Bible together. Bev even sang a little.

He was then 103 years of age – though, as he liked to put it, “A hundred years ago I was three!”  

Having recorded over seventy albums, and appearing frequently on television, Bev Shea had ten Grammy nominations in all, receiving the 2010  Honorary lifetime Grammy Award in February 2011, alongside such stars as Julie Andrews – and for which he received a standing ovation. It was when a Japanese man was once asking Bev Shea about the phenomenon of these successes and the great gatherings around the world, that the singer talked simply about “the wonder of it all.”  Eventually the statement became the title of one of the most celebrated of all his songs. 

Bev Shea himself has been a wonder to us all. But he would have been the first to divert the statement heavenwards. 

We commend Karlene to your prayers and love

The last mission appearance: Bev Shea at the Billy Graham New York event 2005

The Blue Riband Evangelical: John R.W. Stott

JOHN STOTT, born on April 27th, 1921, received his final ‘homecall’ at 3.15 pm on July 27th, 2011 - after a lifetime of Bible teaching and writing, that stretched across a canvas that was world-wide.

John was, under God, my own ‘insurance policy’ against anything going wrong. I had known him since I was thirteen years of age, when he drove my younger brother Michael and me in his World War II jeep to a Scripture Union houseparty in Devon, where we made our teenage decisions for Christ, and when Timothy Dudley-Smith – later to be a bishop, and John Stott’s biographer – was our ‘dormitory leader.’

John Stott in his tiny two-bedroom London flat, 1990  (PHOTO: Richard Bewes)

It was the start of a long association and friendship with John. It was not that we met constantly. But inevitably – and particularly on my arrival at Emmanuel College Cambridge – I would look forward to John’s periodic speaking appearances at the university, and – gratifyingly - he would recognise me. The several missions he conducted at Cambridge University were a highlight - with Charles Simeon’s famous Holy Trinity Church packed night after night for his addresses - and through which many scores of students professed faith.

One unforgettable year Billy Graham came from America for the university mission, assisted by John Stott and Maurice Wood. I was on the executive committee of the Christian Union at that time, and a memorable life-changing eight days it proved to be. 

The 39 assistant missioners. John Stott and Maurice Wood are at Billy’s left.

Eighteen months earlier, Billy had conducted an exhausting three-month campaign at Harringay Arena in London – and John, then a young Rector, had given the evangelist and his team hospitality at All Souls Church, Langham Place – and himself attended the historic Harringay meetings every night without fail. As he told me years later about the preaching of Billy Graham, ‘The people were spellbound.’ Those early adventures were part of the beginnings of a great association between two Christian leaders.

Later when I was a curate at Christ Church Beckenham, under Herbert Cragg, John was a kind of iconic figure who could do little wrong. I was to join the Eclectic Society – which he had earlier founded for anglican clergy under the age of forty. In those days, John seemed to be everywhere – at the Eclectics, at Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships, at conferences, consultations and university missions around the world. With his tremendous Biblical acumen, he was extremely formidable.

Later still when I was vicar at Harold Wood (1965-1974), I felt able to write to him for advice, especially in the face of pastoral problems or new fads in church life. He was the anchor man for hundreds of us, and at no time was he ever to forfeit his God-bestowed reputation as holder of the Blue Riband in Bible exposition. There was something of a carnival spirit of expectation when he preached for us at Harold Wood, or in later years at Northwood, when I led the work at Emmanuel church.

Something of the regard in which he was held by Billy Graham surfaced at EUROFEST ‘75 – a 9-day Bible event involving thousands of young Europeans in Brussels. I was programme chairman, and the highlight

among the seminars was expected in the session on ‘Leadership’ to be led by John. However, before breakfast on the morning in question, I was rung up in my hotel by Mr Graham. “I’m concerned,” he said, “that John Stott has been assigned only one of several seminars to speak at. A man of his stature needs to be heard by us all. Would you mind if, at the close of the plenary Bible study this morning, I announced that the John Stott session is to beplenary, that everyone should be present - and that I will chair it myself?” 

Of course I agreed, and the announcement was duly made. “And,” added Mr Graham, “I want to make sure you all come with a notebook and pen. I too will be coming with my notebook and my pen!”  And sure enough he did, scribbling notes throughout the talk, and whispering urgently for more paper as his own supply gave out.

You could only be aware that in this, as in other congresses - such as at Lausanne and Amsterdam - Billy Graham and John Stott together were weaving a world-wide network of truth and trust among Bible believers everywhere.

“John!” I enthused, “We had a great session with Sammy Escobar this morning!” It was the 1974 Lausanne Conference, and we were taking a break in the countryside. John was driving the car, with a Ugandan leader, Misaeri Kauma (not yet a bishop) in the front passenger seat. Michael Baughen – by then All Souls Rector - and I were in the back. John had not been present at the meeting, and – as he inevitably did when hearing a positive account of any gathering – duly enquired, “And what were the particular emphases that Sammy was making?” I dug poor Michael Baughen in the ribs. “Go on, Michael, you tell him!”

Becoming Rector myself at All Souls in 1983, I found on my study desk

John Stott in the All Souls pulpit

– on the morning of my institution on January 12th – a Staffordshire pottery figure of the renowned preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, with a little note attached from John. It has stayed with me ever since as a reminder of the strong bonds of fellowship generated between fellow-preachers.

Not that I considered myself to be a Bible expositor at all, beside John! However, I never felt threatened by his supportive presence on the All Souls preaching team, although if I was sitting next to him, I could detect any anxieties he entertained about the sermon we were listening to. His fingers would begin to drum on his knee. To me there was a big psychological advantage in having him present. In a big central London church such as All Souls, there is no guaranteed protection against the entry of extremists, exhibitionists or the deranged. Once, when there was a general security alert in London, I remember a bomb threat during Sunday service. But again and again I would see John in church, and think to myself, Nothing can go wrong; John Stott is here!

John gained a reputation everywhere for wishing to disagree with the title of a sermon or address that he had been assigned. One Spring we were preaching our way through a series of sermons on the book of Deuteronomy, and he was due to expound a passage under the title of The Key to the Good Life.

A note was passed under my door. “I would be grateful,” it read, “if someone would be kind enough to explain to me what is meant by ‘The Good Life’, and where in the passage I am expected to find this elusive key!”

His reach, world-wide, was remarkable. He became Uncle John, not only to the congregation, but to countless pastors and students who had benefited from his ministry in a shoal of countries. On certain Sundays when John was away from London, inevitably some of our visitors to the church would be under the blissful impression that it was John that they were shaking hands with at the close of the service.   An Australian woman came up to me one Sunday night, her face glowing. “I’ll never forget you.” she said, “or your wonderful visit to us in Melbourne in 1959!”

I had to let that one go. “Bless you!” I exclaimed, as I shook her hand.

“I’ve just bought a copy of Basic Christianity,” an American exulted at the close of a service.

“That’s a marvellous book!” I acknowledged.

“Well, thank you for writing it!” came the response. I had no option then  but to declare my identity.

“Here is my new copy of Basic Christianity,” beamed a Korean. “Now I want you to autograph it for me!”

“Well,” I hesitated, “If the author John Stott himself was here, I know that he would autograph it for you. Are you sure I’m the person who should be autographing it?”  The Korean looked a little deflated. Then rallying, he flashed his smile again, “I still want youto autograph it!” 

And I did.

One of the best treats for the congregation would be an impromptu question session with John at the close of a Sunday evening service. I would host it – fielding questions from the floor thick and fast… and the experience was like having a dish of strawberries and cream at the Wimbledon tennis.

When I became Rector, John and I would have coffee and prayer together every Saturday night, provided we were both in town. Because my own study tended towards untidiness, we would usually meet in his tiny two-room flat, which was adjacent to our rectory. He would graciously treat me as his ‘Boss’ – but I would then assure him that in my mind he was my ‘Bishop.’

Many honours were heaped upon my next-door neighbour of twenty-two years – including from Her Majesty the Queen, whom he had served as honorary chaplain since 1959, up to the time of his death.  but these he wore very lightly. There were no prestigious photographs on display in the flat, and on the couple of occasions when the premises were burgled, nothing was taken – for in reality there was nothing to steal. He would return from a visit to China, India or Indonesia, and there would be perhaps a thousand letters waiting for him, yet everything seemed to be in place.  John’s iron discipline was reflected in his modest quarters, and in everything he did - his rising, his devotional life, his diet, appointments, and arduous correspondence.

One year we were both speakers at the famed Keswick Convention in the North of England. At the hotel where we were staying, I asked the staff member responsible for cleaning our rooms what she thought of the Convention.

“Well,” she replied, “I go down to the Convention, and I hear people praising one speaker and then another. But I judge these men not by their speeches but by their bedrooms!”

“On that basis,” I hazarded, “who is the outstanding speaker at Keswick this year?”

“Oh,” she said, “There’s absolutely no doubt about it. It’s John Stott!”

Keswick speakers’ party 1975: 
BACK: Martin Burch, John Stott, Alan Neech, Eric Alexander; SECOND ROW: John Pollock, Mrs Hugh Orr-Ewing, Cecil Bewes. Billy Graham, Richard Bewes, Hugh Orr-Ewing, FRONT: Stephen Olford, Ruth Graham, Festo Kivengere

Leaving London for a speaking trip, John’s indomitable secretary Frances Whitehead – beloved at All Souls and around the world – would drive him to the airport in her little second-hand blue Vauxhall Corsa car. On arrival, he’d be feasted, filmed, photographed, even garlanded. Then he would fly back to London, and at Heathrow there would be Frances once again, waiting to take John home in the little blue car.

He has been around for pretty well all of my life - indeed, as a sort of insurance policy across several decades. Right to the end of my twenty-two years at All Souls I would look across that church of some seventy different nationalities, and think, It’s all right, nothing will go wrong….  John Stott is here.

His works will follow him into all eternity

John Stott at his favourite haunt by the sea in South Wales

Giving Birth to a Book

THE INNER PROMPTING that caused me to put together ‘The Goodnight Book’ originated in part as a result of two major hospital operations that I was required to undergo, together with the passing of my wife Liz – all in the space of about fifteen months.  In much of that time I had little inclination or energy for serious reading. But ‘thoughts’ were coming at me from a lifetime of Scripture reading, and these were enough to keep my spirit alive until such time as my appetite grew again – and my desire to write once more was renewed.

It is not that ‘The Goodnight Book’ is geared especially to those enduring ill health or sorrow.  Whoever you are, the approach of evening brings to every man and woman at the end of the day an opportunity for review, and for regrouping – and that is the aim of  the book’s nightly readings.

At one point I rang my publisher, William Mackenzie of Christian Focus Publishing: “I’ve done a hundred and twenty-three of these one-page chapters,” I reported, “How many more would you like?”

“Stop!” he ordered. And that was it.

If this book helps you along yourself, consider sending it to a friend for birthday or for Christmas. It may be a useful stocking-filler!

I would be so pleased.  It will be on the Christian Focus website:

GAFCON Jerusalem 2008


WAS THE 2008 GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE CONFERENCE a landmark in the story of the church world-wide? If you can measure an event by its ‘buzz,’ by its unity and harmony, by its ability to draw together world leaders representing over 35 million anglican worshippers, then you could perhaps argue that GAFCON in Jerusalem

The Holy City; centre of the universe (Picture: Richard Bewes)

2008 might in some modest way take its place alongside the epoch-making Council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts chapter 15.  For in both events there were issues being dealt with, that were to influence the direction of the church – and affect the spiritual destinies of vast numbers of people.

What caused leading archbishops to call for such a conference was the perception that great swathes of the anglican church – not least in the West – were in a condition of drift. GAFCON gave a trumpet call, not to leave anglicanism, but to summon it back to its biblical, creedal, Prayer Book and Reformation roots.  Whether the rest of the church takes any significant notice of ‘The Jerusalem Declaration’ that all 1,200 of us were up on our feet to acclaim and subsequently sign, remains to be seen. Who were we? Present were close on 300 archbishops and bishops, and a host of pastors, theological educators and lay leaders. We had plenary worship and Bible exposition, major addresses on such topics as the Gospel and Secularism, the Nature and Future of the Anglican Communion, and Enterprise approaches

At morning worship (Picture: Richard Bewes)

to Poverty – these going hand in hand with workshop sessions and group Bible studies. It was an intensive programme; yet the whole event was termed a ‘Pilgrimage.’ Many of those attending had never been to Jerusalem, and the take-up on Pilgrimage excursions was considerable, these providing fresh opportunities for open-air worship and fellowship, in blazing sunshine.

On the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem (Picture: Richard Bewes)

But as worthwhile as anything else was the opportunity to meet with fellow-leaders, many of whom were in situations of extreme testing.

Almost on arrival I met with a bishop in The Episcopal Church of America, grappling with the theological and ethical conflicts that have been tearing whole dioceses apart. He told me, “I say to our clergy and other leaders, ‘Right now we are in a storm – but Christ is with us in the boat.  The one thing we must do in our diocese is to keep our eyes on Jesus, and believe that He will guide and protect us. But if we focus on the storm itself, it will destroy us.’”  I said to this godly bishop, “My prayers are completely feeble, but I do want to put you on my prayer list.”

In our small group Bible study we would do some follow up on the passage that had just been expounded in the main session. We would also encourage

Here I am between two bishops’ wives, Ugandan on my right, Sudanese on my left

And here is the Bible of the Sudanese bishop’s wife – in Arabic script

each other in prayer. News would be shared and Email addresses exchanged. The stories! I felt myself at times to be surrounded by Christlike people and suffering people. There ought to have been more of us present from the UK; we could only boast four bishops, whereas the Nigerians produced 150! The Nigerians’ aim? It is to double the numbers of their worshippers by the year 2010. Their wonderful wives struck me as being truly indomitable women of God. But all this vibrancy was also characteristic of the delegates from central and East Africa too, not to mention those from Asia, the East and the guitar-playing bishops of South America! What was this whole exercise 

The Nigerian Mothers’ Union Choir took all by storm (Picture: Richard Bewes)

about? It was an international holding of hands by an army of determined Christian leaders in the face of a group of western anglicans who are challenging ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3)….and so are haemorrhaging precious members and local churches week by week.

If you want to read the final statement of THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION – which started with a blank sheet of paper, was discussed at every level and finally received by unanimous acclamation amid cries and tears of joy – click  and read it for yourself. I believe that Archbishop Cranmer himself would have endorsed it. It is not just a question of words – for there are numbers of church leaders who will cheerfully sign up to the Creeds and 39 Articles of Religion at the back of the old Prayer Book, but who – by a process of hermeneutical gymnastics - will make the plainest statement of Scripture mean something different. It is an insult to the original writers of sacred documents.

At the lowest level, if I write to a friend that I will meet him “at the courts tomorrow,” he would – if he knows me well enough and has done proper research on me – turn up at the tennis courts, not the law courts! The words that I write have only one meaning, and I am insulted if someone makes them mean something else. So, with the mighty stated truths that undergird the Christian faith.  On signing The Jerusalem Declaration, we were saying of those words and of the given formularies that lay behind them, ‘WE MEAN THEM, in the unambiguous intention that lies behind them. And we call on you and the whole church to do the same, and to abide by them.’

Would you think of adding your own name to the signatories of The Jerusalem Declaration? Click to the Anglican Mainstream site, and you will find a facility by which YOU can sign – and join an army of joyful pilgrims!

Good Plumbing will not Save a Civilisation

MUCH IS MADE in the media today of the irrelevance of Christianity, as far as its contribution to modern society is concerned. True? Maybe…. if your priorities for civilised society are restricted to the necessity of good roads, adequate schools, reasonable petrol prices, banking and mortgage facilities, with satisfying leisure and sporting outlets. If that is all, then you don’t need any sense of a cultural legacy from the past to maintain a proper

Modern Chicago (Photo: Richard Bewes)

momentum. A well-thought out and developed world-view? A credible interpretation of the meaning of life? You can bin it all. But the fragile way of life you are experiencing will not survive. Take the ancient city of Pompeii, the remains of which you can visit today. It had most of the necessary infrastructure for any aspiring civilisation. Naturally it boasted no telephones or computers – and the invention of the internal combustion engine still lay nineteen centuries ahead. But Pompeii had streets with shops in them, banks and businesses, athletics and sports stadiums with tiered seating. There were theatres in Pompeii – complete with royal box enclosures for the notables.

They knew about sauna baths and central heating in Pompeii. On a visit, I recall examining one apartment that had en-suite facilities. One residence, entitled ‘The house of the tragic poet’ still reveals at its entrance a snarling

dog – with the inlaid caption, ‘Cave Canem’ ……‘Beware of the Dog.’ Was there too much wrong with this thriving urban conurbation? After all, children played and went to school, and people were immersed in their businesses.

The other side of it is that Pompeii was a city without any revelation of God – despite its many temples devoted to Venus, Apollo and Jupiter. Christianity was spreading fast, but it had not yet reached Pompeii. Pompeii died as a godless city on August 24th, 79 AD, as the nearby mountain Vesuvius blew its top off.

Would Pompeii have died anyway, as a civilised society? The answer lies in

the declining fortunes of the then greatest empire that the world had ever seen – Rome. Rome could not survive. Other civilisations, too, have flourished and then died. Whatever happened to Nineveh, to Troy, to Knossos? What is it that extinguishes an apparently once-thriving community and way of life?

Shakespeare gives us a clue, when he has Cassius declaring, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

Take Knossos, then – a highly-sophisticated Greek society of around 1,200 BC, antedating even the great poet Homer. It is one of the oldest known cities in the world. But it was only a name to us, until Sir Arthur Evans began his excavations there, at the start of the twentieth century. Then its amazing developments were revealed. Knossos boasted elaborate buildings, staircases, elegant fashion designs, even flush toilets. On a visit there, I could see for myself that its architects had designed an ingenious way of erecting pillars for the city’s buildings that were proof against earthquakes – a feature that plenty of modern cities have yet to establish. Some of the innovations of Knossos had to be re-invented centuries later.

Knossos represented an outstanding ‘civilisation’ that rose, flourished – and died, perhaps violently. As a Scotsman declared, at the end of his visit to the ruins, “Good plumbing will not save a civilisation.”

Cassius had it right. Civilisation fails from within. What gave Europe a cultural heritage that lasted for centuries – affecting art, education, business, politics and architecture – was its Christian thought. With the collapse of the

A great Roman aqueduct at Nimes, France, dating from BC (Photo: Liz Bewes)

Roman empire under an onslaught of determined Barbarian hordes in 410 AD, there rose a rejuvenated biblical faith, fostered by two men. One was Augustine of Hippo, with his massive work ‘The City of God’, in which he compared the decaying cities of this life with the eternal City that is above. The other individual was Augustine’s contemporary, the scholar Jerome, who translated the entire Scriptures into Latin, the common European language of the day. The impact of these two men lasted for a thousand years. There was plenty to disrupt the life of Europe; wars, coups and revolutions abounded. But the basic underlying culture held.

Today all that is being challenged. Europe’s ‘constitution’ fails even to mention its Christian heritage. Try buying a Bible in the religious section of the book department in London’s great store, Selfridges!

So watch this space.

And let us learn from another historian, Arthur Bryant:
Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men put Humpty-Dumpty together again?It is anybody’s guess. But, short of a world-wide religious revival to evoke the selfless and co-operativequalities inherent in men, I can see no other way in which the disruptive and destructive forces threatening to tear modern materialistic society apart can be withstood (‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, Collins)
It is that very necessary revival that may yet rescue the West – even if it has

to come from Africa, Korea or China. Is it on the way? The indications are firm enough. It is already here – if at present only the size of a man’s hand.

The House that Ruth Built

The enduring legacy of  

Ruth Bell Graham 1920-2007 


"YOU’RE LOOKING VERY PRETTY, RUTH." As I left the room where the bedridden Ruth and her evangelist husband Billy Graham had given me tea, in their home at Montreat, I was not to know that these would be the last words I would ever speak face to face to one of the twentieth century’s most captivating people.

Tea at the Grahams – a mighty honour   PHOTO Maury Scobee

I had always been amazed at being known at all by Mr and Mrs Graham; there were plenty of church ministers and Christian leaders far more deserving than myself of the privilege. For me it must have begun at Cambridge University in 1955, when Dr Graham came to conduct a mission – in which I was part of the undergraduate organising committee. Since then I was to be drawn, one way or another, into a number of the activities surrounding this remarkable world ministry.

But now the seemingly ever-enduring Ruth is no longer with us. Born in China as the child of missionaries, and then from her college days in America deflected from intended missionary service by her marriage to history’s most effective-ever evangelist, Ruth Bell Graham died on June 14th 2007 - in the same house of logs devised and planned by herself in 1955, half way up a mountain in North Carolina. The house itself is a testimony to the simple life-style – hailed, following a visit by boxing champion Muhammed Ali, as ‘the kind of house a man of God would live in.’ Such is part of the legacy left by Ruth. It was here that a family was raised, and to which its members  would be returning again and again across half a century.

Pictured at their front door. ‘I love the wife of my youth more every day’
said Billy Graham
PHOTO Richard Bewes

The house – “Little Piney Cove” - was built of old wood, mostly acquired by Ruth from the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains or from nearby salvage yards. Chestnut, pine and oak were all put to use.  Only the framework was of new wood. Centrepiece of the main living room is a fireplace mantel, carved with words from Martin Luther’s hymn;  Eine Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott – “a Mighty Fortress is our God.” Over the years there have been a succession of dogs in the homestead, the latest was called Chyna – but generally it seemed to be the cat that ruled the household.

Although it was Billy Graham who would, in the course of his preaching, visit some 185 countries and take the full brunt of his world calling, it would be inaccurate to assume that Ruth was no more than the home-maker and family stay.  An avid Bible

Ruth’s study area at Little Piney Cove

student in her own right, she would have several Bibles on the go - and permanently open. She would have her own input into the many best-sellers written by her husband. A lover of books, she would press upon a visitor to the house some volume, whose treasures she wished to pass on. She had her own unique and imaginative way of communicating - through her Bible discoveries, poetic gifts and personal memoirs – an outlook that revealed someone who had unmistakably established a credible relationship with the universe. This world-view found expression in the books that she created and compiled over several decades. 

It will never be known in this life just whom Ruth Graham was touching and assisting towards a knowledge of God; pastors, neighbours, battered people, wounded people and seeking people from a very wide spectrum of life. She would have something for each person.

Travelling with close friend Jean Wilson one day, she remarked that she had heard nothing from me over in the UK for some while! This prompted her immediately to scribble a little poem in her very distinctive handwriting on a scrap of paper.

Has anyone had news of Bewes? Study, Pulpit? Choir or Pews?

If they don’t say then we must pray 
That somehow, some way, some place, some day
Someone will give us news of Bewes
Good news, we pray, some how, some way
Has anyone had news of Bewes?

‘Animation’ is the best single word to describe Ruth.  Creative, inquisitive and forever alert, she had a mischievous streak in her personality that was utterly irrepressible, despite the constant pain to which she was subject in her later years – and of which she never complained.

How we all loved Ruth Graham – “one of the great women in the world’ was how my late wife, Liz, described her. At Billy Graham’s Amsterdam Congress of 2000, we got Britain’s most

Richard Bewes & Sir Cliff display the millennium tea cloth  (Photo BGEA)

successful-ever entertainer, Sir Cliff Richard (a friend of the Grahams), to sign one of the teacloths selling on the streets of London shortly after the release of Cliff’s top-selling millennial song of the Lord’s Prayer – as a special love-memento from 12,000 evangelists.

To see Ruth at home with her famous husband was to be reminded of what was said about the famed evangelist D.L. Moody and his wife Emma, a century and more earlier. Their niece Mary had once observed: “Aunt Emma and Uncle Dwight were so perfectly one that no one could possibly tell which was the one”

The same has been manifestly true of Ruth and Billy Graham.

And the house that Ruth built was but the outward symbol of what her whole life was given to – the secure building of a life, a ministry and a testimony for the sole glory of Jesus Christ. Her works will follow her into all eternity.

It won’t be long – the sun is slowly slipping out of sight; lengthening shadows deepen into dusk;
still winds whisper; all is quiet; it won’t be long – till night.
It won’t be long – the tired eyes close, her strength is nearly gone;
Frail hands that ministered to many
Lie quiet, still;
Light from another world!
Look up, bereaved! It won’t be long – till Dawn!

Ruth Bell Graham, ‘Sitting by my laughing Fire’ 1977, page 141

Shrimps can Become Whales

WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, aged eight when his father died, might have found it difficult to believe that two hundred and fifty years on, his own picture would feature on British postage stamps, to mark the passing of a Parliamentary bill abolishing the slave trade, following a long campaign spearheaded by himself and an army of associates and trusted colleagues.

Issued, March 22nd, 2007

The momentous story has now been well catalogued in TV programmes, film and the printed page. An poorly nourished-looking child, young William was small for his age, and when he read aloud before the other pupils at Hull Grammar School, he had to be lifted onto the table by Isaac Milner, brother of the headmaster, the Rev Joseph Milner.

Later he was to study at St John’s College Cambridge, where his time was frittered away, but he was to meet again with Isaac Milner, and toured Europe with him. It was arising out of their conversations together that William’s conversion to a personal faith in Jesus Christ took place. By then he was already a member of Parliament. And still he remained a physically unimposing shrimp-like figure.

But as history has recorded, it was in and through his lifelong exertions in Parliament that his opposition to the Atlantic slave trade was to bring its reward in the finally successful bill of 1807.  As the Scottish writer and chronicler, James Boswell, observed,“The shrimp grew and grew, and became a whale.”

In the teeth of opposition from vested commercial and political interests, Wilberforce – spurred on by the Quakers who were first to condemn the slave trade – joined hands with the most powerful group of Christian lay people in the land, known as ‘The Clapham Sect.’ No sectarians in fact, they were all Evangelicals, and all were associated with the Anglican parish church of Holy Trinity Clapham, led by the Rev John Venn, their   

John Venn, 1759-1813
(from ‘John Venn & the Clapham Sect’, by Michael Hennell, Lutterworth Press)

inspirer and theologian. Charles Grant (Chairman of the East India Company), Zachary Macaulay (former Governor of Sierra Leone), Lord Teignmouth (former Governor-General of India) Henry Thornton (wealthy banker and merchant) and the brilliant London celebrity and playwright Hannah Moore – these and others were all associated with the work emanating from Holy Trinity, perhaps the most influential single church that the world has ever known. As well as these there was the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ - the Rev John Newton - whose turbulent past as a slave trader provided a dramatic background to the role he played in support of Wilberforce’s campaign.

In his book of ‘England’, covering the years 1870-1914, the radical historian RCK Ensor commented that no one will understand nineteenth century England who doesn’t understand its Evangelical influence. He wrote, “If one asks how nineteenth century English merchants earned the reputation of being the most honest in the world (a very real factor in the prominence of English trade), the answer is, Because hell and heaven seemed as certain to them as tomorrow’s sunrise, and the Last Judgment as real as the week’s balance sheet” (page 137).

The slave trade was not going to escape attention from the Clapham Sect. Wilberforce’s maiden speech in the House of Commons in 1789 saw it as a world issue:
“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House – a subject in which the interests , not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity are involved, I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common indeed with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty – we ought to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others.”
Let John Wesley have the final word. In the last letter that he ever wrote - six days before his death - he encouraged Wilberforce in his campaign:
“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils, but if God is with you, who can be against you? O be not weary in well-doing. Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it.” (Feb 24, 1791)
The story of Wilberforce, like that of David and Goliath, is given to encourage the feeblest contender for righteousness in the face of widespread hostility, that love and goodness must have the final victory. A minority movement, perhaps; but if God is in it, then it represents the overwhelming minority. The smallest shrimp can become a whale!