Text of Billy Graham's report to the Board of Trustees
of Northwestern Schools,
Minneapolis, MinnestotaUSA. November 17, 1947
Collection 285, Box 28, Folder 5
Report of Interim President, December 17, 1947
To the Board of Directors’ Meeting, King Cole Hotel
If I were to take a text for what I have to say today, I would turn to Joshua, the first chapter and the second verse, where we find these words “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise.”
Today, for the first time in many years, there is a vacant chair
in our midst. In that chair has been seated our leader for forty-five years.
Dr. W. B. Riley is dead. Those words cause us to tremble and shudder, and
the echo of bereavement courses through our souls, hearts and minds on this,
a momentous occasion in the history of the Northwestern Schools.
There are some men to whom it is almost impossible to find successors, men of imperial mold, nature’s primates, head and shoulders above other men, born to take the lean; not only possessed of great gifts originally but placed by Providence in situations that are wonderfully expanded to their capacity and make their five talents ten; called to be leaders of great movements, champions of commanding interest, often gifted with an imposing presence and with a magnetic power that subdues opposition and kindles enthusiasm as if by magic. W. B. Riley was such a man. What a bereavement when such a man has suddenly been removed. How poor in comparison those who come next and from among whom successors have to be chosen,
When the Hebrews mourned the death of Samson, the difference in physical strength between him and his brethren could not have appeared greater than the intellectual and moral gulf appears between a great king of men suddenly removed and the bereaved children that bend helpless over his grave.
As the casket of Dr. Riley was being lowered into the grave the other day, I could not help thinking what a tremendous gulf lies between him and any other man whom I have ever known. A feeling of this sort must have spread itself through the host of Israel when it was known that Moses was dead. Speculation as to his successor – there could be none, for not only had God designated Joshua, but before he died, Moses had laid his hands upon him and the people had acknowledged him as their coming leader; and Joshua had already achieved a record of no common order and had been favored with high tokens of the Divine approval. Yet what a descent it must have seemed from Moses to Joshua, from the man who had been so often face to face with God, who had commanded the sea to make a way for the redeemed of the Lord to pass over, who had been their legislator and their judge ever since they were children, to whom they had gone in every difficulty and who for wisdom and disinterestedness had gained the profound confidence of every one of them. That a descent, we say, to this son of Nun, known hitherto as but the servant of Moses, whose name seemed as if it could not couple with that of their imperial leader.
It seemed many times to me that W. B. Riley stood half way in heaven, almost beyond reach of imitation. He was a man of surpassing genius, he commended himself to the entire evangelical world. He was, indeed, to the Northwest a Moses. But now, “Moses my servant is dead.”
The remark has often been made that eras of great creative vigor are often succeeded by periods dull and commonplace. The history of letters and of the fine arts shows that bursts of artistic splendor like the Renaissance or of literary originality like the Augustan age are not followed by periods of equal luster. The same phenomena has been found in the Christian church. Who in all the sub-apostolic age was worthy even to untie the latchet of Peter of John or Paul The inferiority is so manifest that had there been nothing else to guide the church in framing the canon of the New Testament, the difference between the writings of the apostles and their companions would have sufficed to settle the question. The same was true in the age that followed, the names of Calvin, Knox, Luther, Cramer, and others
However, for our encouragement on this December day, if in the second generation after a great outburst of power and grace there are few or no men of equal caliber, it does not follow that “the glory has departed,” or that the school is to droop her head, and wonder to what unworthy course on her part the degeneracy is to b ascribed.
We, as we are gathered today, are to recognize the state of things which God has ordained for wise purposes, although it may not be flattering to us. We are to place ourselves in the attitude in which Joshua was called to place himself when the curt announcement of the text as to Moses was followed by an equally curt order to him “Moses my servant is dead; NOW THEREFORE ARISE.” The question for Joshua and the elders of Israel is not whether he is a fit person to succeed Moses, His mental exercise is not to compare himself with Moses; and note the innumerable points of inferiority on every side. His attitude is not to bow down his head like a bulrush, mourning over the departed glory of Israel, grieving for the mighty dead on whose like neither he nor his people will over look again. If there ever was a time when it might seem excusable for a bereaved nation and a bereaved servant to abandon themselves to a sense of helplessness, it was on the death of Moses; but even at the supreme moment the command to Joshua is “NOW THEREFORE ARISE.” Gird yourself for the new duties and, responsibilities that have come upon you. Do not worry yourself with asking whether you are capable of doing these duties, or with vainly looking within yourself for the gifts and qualities which marked your predecessor. It is enough for you that God in His Providence called, you to take the place of the departed. If He has called you, He will equip you. It is not His way to send men into warfare on their own charges. The work to which He calls you is not yours, but His. Remember, He is far more interested in its success than we are. Think not of ourselves, but of Christ, and go forth under the motto, We will rejoice in Thy salvation and in the name of cur God we will set up our banners.
Today, the responsibilities of these great schools fall heavily upon your shoulders and, mine. None of us know why God has put us in this position, but this one thing we know ”that God is requesting and commanding us today to gird ourselves for the battle ahead. Indeed, there is to be a battle unprecedented in the history of Northwestern, for I believe that Satan is going to do everything He possibly can to split our ranks, to cause jealousy, division and strife in our midst and to chill and make inoperative the great work which God used W. B. Riley to found.
However, let me say this from the very outset, that I sincerely believe that the work of these three schools is the work of Almighty God - - that it was not essentially W. B. Riley’s. W. B. Riley is dead, but the God of W. B. Riley ever liveth and is here in our midst today to make our decisions for us and through us. One of the greatest dangers to this school at the present hour is the ghost of Dr. W, B. Riley. His ghost is going to walk into every classroom, into every assembly hall, through every corridor, into this meeting today; and many times we are going to say, “This is not the way W. B. Riley planned. it, this is not the way W. B. Riley would have done it.” Let inc caution you today that W. B. Riley’s work is through, but God’s work must go on under a new administration to whom God will give visions and dreams and abilities and capacities to carry on the work to even greater heights than Dr. W. B. Riley ever dreamed in his lifetime.
There are certain principles and policies that he laid down that we shell always adhere to. Certain of our methods will change. Certain phases of our organization will undergo changes, but the basic policies, principles, doctrines and precepts will be kept; and we, as members of this Board, covenant together, today that we shall die before we will turn our backs upon that which he left us. Therefore, let us arise and gird ourselves and as God said to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I swore unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee turn not from it to the right hand or to the loft, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” And God’s promise to Joshua was this: “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.” Therefore, today, let us go by faith, daring to believe God that He is going to give us every place that the sole of our foot shall tread by faith.
With those words, I should like to clarify my position at the present time. I should like to quote from my last letter to Dr. Riley, September 10, 1947, those words:
“Dr. Riley, I have not changed one iota in my thinking from the letter I wrote you at Winona Lake, in which I stated that I felt that at the present time I could not commit myself to the presidency of the Northwestern Schools. I consider it the greatest honor I have ever received.
“Due to circumstances which are beyond the control of any of us, I did consent to become Vice-President-at-Large for the next twelve months, with the clear understanding that I can only give counsel and help as occasion demanded without any other responsibility.
“I feel that my responsibility for the next year lies entirely with YOUTH FOR CHRIST INTERNATI0NAI. I further said in a little talk with you that if in the case of your death before July 1, 1948 I would accept the office of Interim President - the length of time to be determined. by myself and the Board of Directors as the Lord. should direct - also with the clear understanding that my present responsibilities and commitments to YOUTH FOR CHRIST INTERNATIONAL before September 1, 1948 are to be fulfilled.”
My commitment and responsibility and obligation to Dr. W. B. Riley is this: that immediately upon his death I was to become Interim President, for a period of time to be determined by this Board and myself in consultation and prayer. I think that in the minutes of the last Board meeting my words are quoted in which I stated to you practically the same thing as I have quoted from this letter to Dr. Riley.
As most of you know, I have never sought this position. It has been thrust upon me. I wrote Dr. Riley several letters in which I turned down the proposition flatly, even requesting that he would neither negotiate nor write to me anymore; but you know Dr. Riley. When he thought he was right, he hold on tenaciously as a bulldog until he made me give him this promise and commitment. I intend to fulfill my obligation and commitment to Dr. Riley. I consider this a sacred trust. If this Board is unanimous in its feeling, I shall be glad to accept the responsibility as Interim President for a period of six months, during which time I believe God will show you, the faculty, and myself if I am the man to fill this position permanently. But at the present time I am torn between that which I believe God has called me to do and that which He has so wonderfully blessed me in – that is, evangelism, and the opportunity of training young people to go out on fire for their Lord Jesus Christ to the various parts of the world.
However, I believe that during the next six months God will show us exactly what His mind is in this matter. I want it clearly understood, and I want it advertised as such, that I am only Interim President with absolutely no commitment for any further work and am not obligated any longer than the period of time just stated. At the end of the six months period we shall meet to further discuss this question. In the meantime, Gcd may point to another man who is far better qualified than I, who would have the unanimous confidence of every man on this Board.
I come in much fear and, trembling and great dependence upon the Holy Spirit. There are many things to learn. I feel that in many ways I am not qualified for this position. However, I shall not shirk the work which the Lord has thrust upon me.
In the next few months I can give only a portion of my time to the administrative affairs of the Northwestern Schools. My commitments and responsibilities to Youth for Christ International will have to be kept. I ill not be able to be hero but just a few days in January; and during the month of April and possibly a week into May I am committed to Great Britain and the continent of Europe However, I think I can be here most of March, a great deal in February, and most of May - except on weekends when I shall be out under Youth for Christ International and the Schools.
Secondly, the state of the Schools at this moment shall he summarized as I have observed it during the few days that I have been here:
(1) Spiritually The student body I understand is enjoying a spiritual life and plane that is almost unprecedented in the history of Northwestern. I understand that there has been a semblance of revival among the students, that there is a deepening of the prayer life. I believe God has given a wonderful student body to the Northwestern Schools, this year. We are praying that God will give to us a mighty sweeping revival before the year is out. We are making chapel compulsory in order that every student might get under the preaching of these great men of God that come to our platform from day to days We are also going to institute a series of meetings that might be called an evangelistic campaign, or a deeper life conference for the young people. In addition, we are having a missionary conference the last week of January which should be a moans of many young people dedicating themselves to full-time missionary service. We are going to call days of prayer and emphasize that the student body must be a student body on fire for God in answer to prayer. Our motto is going to be “Knowledge on Fire.”
(2) Financially, the Schools are in real need. The financial statements and reports will be made by another person, but I find we are in desperate need of many things, such as several now faculty members which will drain the already-burdened current expense fund. Also, we are in desperate need of dormitories to be built as soon as God, supplies the need. I think that much revenue for the Schools could be obtained from our students if they lived in dormitories owned by the Schools instead of the profits being made by outsiders. The Bob Jones College and various other institutions that have dormitories for all of their students are able to obtain a heavy revenue for the operation of the school in their current expense fund.
I would like, also, to make several recommendations that we can discuss:
First, Miss Hanna has recommended that a motion be passed to
the effect that William Graham and George Wilson be empowered to countersign
checks in addition to the two deans.
Second, that tuition in the College be increased to $75.00 a term; the Bible School, $50.00; the Seminary, $50.00, effective with the beginning of the fall term I think the student activity fee could be increased to $10.00 to cover an increased athletic program and other expenses that include student activity.
I feel that in these days of high prices and inflation most students have as much as they need for school provided for them in one way or the other and that they can board the added expense; and it would take the tremendous load off the shoulders of this Board and the administration in having to raise additional funds that are needed and brought about by that inflation period in which we find ourselves. If a period of depression should come, e could adjust our fees and tuition according - I would also suggest that the possibility of new dormitory space be looked into immediately. I do not know exactly how we could go about it with our limited funds, but I feel that we are going to suffer financially until this is remedied.
We need a dean for the College, also an Old Testament man, a professor of Archaeology, Phonetics, and various others to help an over—loaded faculty I find that many of our faculty members are teaching double the time they should ho, and there is not adequate time for preparation on their part, due to the heavy duties - many of them extra-curricular.
I should like to say that I do not believe that any school in
the country has any finer type of faculty than we have - they are earnest
and deeply spiritual; they are here because God sent them There is not one
person but what I have found cooperative and sold on the proposition that
this School is God’s place for them.
Concerning our finances, I believe God is going to work some miracles on our behalf. I should like to end this report whore we began) in the book of Joshua, first chapter and the ninth verse, “Have I not commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” I believe the Lord God is with us today. I believe that our prayers are going to be answered. I feel that the problems and difficulties confronting the Schools, now are going to be solved by Him. My faith is strong - not in personalities, but in God.