An example of Billy Graham’s fiery preaching in the 1950s.
This article originally appeared in the February 2, 1959, issue of Christianity Today.
Billy Graham’s ministry to the big cities, widened in its outreach by radio and television, is one of the outstanding contributions to the resurgence of evangelical Christianity in our generation. His radio message on “The Sin of Tolerance” has been especially blessed. Reprints are available from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis.
One of the pet words of this age is “tolerance.” It is a good word, but we have tried to stretch it over too great an area of life. We have applied it too often where it does not belong. The word “tolerant” means “liberal,” “broad-minded,” “willing to put up with beliefs opposed to one’s convictions,” and “the allowance of something not wholly approved.”
Tolerance, in one sense, implies the compromise of one’s convictions, a yielding of ground upon important issues. Hence, over-tolerance in moral issues has made us soft, flabby and devoid of conviction.
We have become tolerant about divorce; we have become tolerant about the use of alcohol; we have become tolerant about delinquency; we have become tolerant about wickedness in high places; we have become tolerant about immorality; we have become tolerant about crime and we have become tolerant about godlessness. We have become tolerant of unbelief.
In a book recently published on what prominent people believe, 60 out of 100 did not even mention God, and only 11 out of 100 mentioned Jesus. There was a manifest tolerance toward soft character and a broadmindedness about morals, characteristic of our day. We have been sapped of conviction, drained of our beliefs and bereft of our faith.
The Way Is Narrow
The sciences, however, call for narrow-mindedness. There is no room for broad-mindedness in the laboratory. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. It is never 100 degrees nor 189 degrees—but always 212. Water freezes at 32 degrees—not at 23 or 31.
Objects heavier than air are always attracted to the center of the earth. They always go down—never up. I know this is very narrow, but the law of gravity decrees it so, and science is narrow.
Take mathematics. The sum of two plus two is four—not three-and-a-half. That seems very narrow, but arithmetic is not broad. Neither is geometry. It says that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. That seems very dogmatic and narrow, but geometry is intolerant.
A compass will always point to the magnetic north. It seems that is a very narrow view, but a compass is not very “broad-minded.” If it were, all the ships at sea, and all the planes in the air would be in danger.
If you should ask a man the direction to New York City and he said, “Oh, just take any road you wish, they all lead there,” you would question either his sanity or his truthfulness. Somehow, we have gotten it into our minds that “all roads lead to heaven.” You hear people say, “Do your best,” “Be honest,” and “Be sincere—and you will make it to heaven all right.”
But Jesus Christ, who journeyed from heaven to earth and back to heaven again—who knew the way better than any man who ever lived—said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13,14).
Jesus was narrow about the way of salvation.
He plainly pointed out that there are two roads in life. One is broad—lacking in faith, convictions, and morals. It is the easy, popular, careless way. It is the way of the crowd, the way of the majority, the way of the world. He said, “Many there be that go in thereat.” But he pointed out that this road, easy though it is, popular though it may be, heavily traveled though it is, leads to destruction. And in loving, compassionate intolerance he says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate … because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.”
Our Lord’s Intolerance
His was the intolerance of a pilot who maneuvers his plane through the storm, realizing that a single error, just one flash of broad-mindedness, might bring disaster to all those passengers on the plane.
Once while flying from Korea to Japan, we ran through a rough snowstorm; and when we arrived over the airport in Tokyo, the ceiling and visibility were almost zero. The pilot had to make an instrument landing. I sat up in the cockpit with the pilot and watched him sweat it out as he was brought in by ground control approach. A man in the tower at the airport talked us in. I did not want these men to be broad-minded, but narrow-minded. I knew that our lives depended on it. Just so, when we come in for the landing in the great airport in heaven, I don’t want any broad-mindedness. I want to come in on the beam, and even though I may be considered narrow here, I want to be sure of a safe landing there.
Christ was so intolerant of man’s lost estate that he left his lofty throne in the heavenlies, took on himself the form of man, suffered at the hands of evil men and died on a cross to purchase our redemption. So serious was man’s plight that he could not look upon it lightly. With the love that was his, he could not be broadminded about a world held captive by its lusts, its appetites and its sins.
Having paid such a price, he could not be tolerant about man’s indifference toward him and the redemption he had wrought. He said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30). He also said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
He spoke of two roads, two kingdoms, two masters, two rewards, and two eternities. And he said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). We have the power to choose whom we will serve, but the alternative to choosing Christ brings certain destruction. Christ said that! The broad, wide, easy, popular way leads to death and destruction. Only the way of the Cross leads home.
Playing Both Sides
The popular, tolerant attitude toward the gospel of Christ is like a man going to watch the Braves and the Dodgers play a baseball game and rooting for both sides. It would be impossible for a man who has no loyalty to a particular team to really get into the game.
Baseball fans are very intolerant in both Milwaukee and Los Angeles. If you would cheer for both sides in Los Angeles or Milwaukee, someone would yell, “Hey, make up your mind who you’re for.”
Christ said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon … no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). One of the sins of this age is the sin of broad-mindedness. We need more people who will step out and say unashamedly, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).
Jesus was intolerant toward hypocrisy.
He pronounced more “woes” on the Pharisees than on any other sect because they were given to outward piety but inward sham. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He said, “for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within ye are full of extortion and excess” (Matt. 23:25).
The church is a stage where all the performers are professors, but where too few of the professors are performers. A counterfeit Christian, singlehandedly, can do more to retard the progress of the church than a dozen saints can do to forward it. That is why Jesus was so intolerant with sham!
Sham’s only reward is everlasting destruction. It is the only sin which has no reward in this life. Robbers have their loot; murderers their revenge; drunkards their stimulation; but the hypocrite has nothing but the contempt of his neighbors and the judgment of God hereafter. That is why Jesus said, “Be not as the hypocrites” (Matt. 6:16).
Jesus was intolerant toward selfishness.
He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (Luke 9:23). Self-centeredness is the basic cause of much of our distress in life. Hypochondria, a mental disorder which is accompanied by melancholy and depression, is often caused by self-pity and self-centeredness.
Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness. Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.
Jesus was intolerant of selfishness. He underscored the fact that his disciples were to live outflowingly rather than selfishly. To the rich young ruler he said, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven …” (Matt. 19:21). It wasn’t the giving of his goods that Jesus demanded, particularly-but his release from selfishness and its devastating effect on his personality and life.
He was intolerant of selfishness when he said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25). The “life” which Jesus urges us to lose is the selfishness that lives within us, the old nature of sin that is in conflict with God. Peter, James and John left their nets, but Jesus did not object to nets as such—it was the selfish living they symbolized that he wanted them to forsake. Matthew left the “custom seat,” a political job, to follow Christ. But Jesus did not object to a political career as such—it was the selfish quality of living which it represented that he wanted Matthew to forsake.
So, in your life and mine, “self” must be crucified and Christ enthroned. He was intolerant of any other way, for he knew that selfishness and the Spirit of God cannot exist together.
Jesus was intolerant toward sin.
He was tolerant toward the sinner but intolerant toward the evil which enslaved him. To the adulteress he said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). He forgave her because he loved her; but he condemned sin because he loathed it with a holy hatred.
God has always been intolerant of sin! His Word says: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:16). “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” (1 Cor. 15:34). “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts …” (Isa. 55:7).
Christ was “so intolerant of sin that he died on the cross to free men from its power. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Sin lies at the root of society’s difficulties today. Whatever separates man from God disunites man from man. The world problem will never be solved until the question of sin is settled.
But the Cross is God’s answer to sin. To all who will receive the blessed news of salvation through Christ, it forever crosses out and cancels sin’s power. Forest rangers know well the value of the “burn-back” in fighting forest fires. To save an area from being burned, they simply burn away all of the trees and shrubs to a safe distance; and when the fire reaches that burned-out spot, those standing there are safe from the flames. Fire is thus fought by fire.
Calvary was a colossal fighting of fire by fire. Christ, taking on himself all of our sins, allowed the fire of sin’s judgment to fall upon him. The area around the Cross has become a place of refuge for all who would escape the judgment of sin. Take your place with him at the Cross; stand by the Cross; yield your life to him who redeemed you on the Cross, and the fire of sin’s judgment can never touch you.
God is intolerant of sin. That intolerance sent his Son to die for us. He has said “that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish.” The clear implication is that those who refuse to believe in Christ shall be eternally lost. Come to him today, while his Spirit deals with your heart!