Evangelist Billy Graham made a powerful statement in his Last Will and Testament. He called on his family to defend the gospel at all costs, he urged everyone reading his will to read the Bible and look to Jesus for salvation, and he put his money where his mouth had always been.
“I ask my children and grandchildren to maintain and defend at all hazards and at any cost of personal sacrifice the blessed doctrine of complete Atonement for sin through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ once offered, and through that alone,” Graham declared in his will, recently released to the public. “I urge all of you to walk with the Lord in a life of separation from the world and to keep eternal values in view.”
By the “doctrine of Atonement,” Graham addressed the central heart of Christianity — the idea that humans have separated themselves from God by sin and only Jesus Christ’s Death and Resurrection can restore that broken relationship. While Christians should live righteous lives, their good deeds do not save them — only the blood of Jesus can bring eternal life.
Graham clearly intended his will to be published widely. Shortly after charging his family to defend the gospel, he spoke to all others who would read the document. “I urge all who shall read this document to read and study the Scriptures daily and to trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation,” he wrote.
Notably, the evangelist wrote a tithe into his will. Not only did he give God 10 percent of his earnings in life, but he dedicated 10 percent of his residual estate — whatever remains after all specific bequests have been carried out. The specific gifts of property and funds to his children or others were not included in the will, although he named as his executor Graeme M. Keith, a U.S. Army veteran and chairman of the Keith Corporation.
Graham also laid out his philosophy on worldly goods, taken from the Bible. “We determined many years ago not to be preoccupied with material things, which leads to covetousness and which the Scriptures call idolatry,” the evangelist wrote. “Jesus said, ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’ We certainly found that to be true” (Luke 12:15).
The evangelist explained that he and his wife lived by this principle. “I had very little in my early life to call my own — and in the first years of our marriage we had very little to live on. We never dreamed that we would be given so much,” he recalled. “We have tried to use our material blessings for the glory of God. We have always tried to keep a somewhat detached attitude from them.”
Graham wrote that he and his wife did not want to be held down by worldly concerns. “We never wanted our roots to be very deep in this world. We wanted to live ‘loose’ so that if all of it were suddenly taken away it would not disturb us. Yet I must confess that we were always faced with a certain dilemma as to how high a standard of living to maintain as servants of the Lord,” he wrote.
He submitted his efforts to the “Judgment Seat of Christ.”
In discussing his wife Ruth, the evangelist called her the “greatest Christian” he had ever known.
“Because of Christ, your mother and I enjoyed a wonderful, thrilling and joyous life together,” Graham wrote to his children. “We have had many problems, difficulties and burdens through the years but the grace of God was always sufficient for them all. I want to thank her for her years of devotion, love, faithfulness and sacrifice. Of all the people I have ever known, she was the greatest Christian.”
Graham will be sorely missed, and when he passed away this February, he left behind him millions who had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ thanks to his efforts. The 10 percent he gave in the tithe he directed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), an organization led by his son Franklin Graham.
Even Graham’s will called readers to regularly engage with the Bible, and charged his family to defend the gospel at all costs. Talk about a spiritual giant.