Ruth Bell Graham and Peace With God

Archival materials find their way to the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives in a myriad different ways. Some materials arrive en masse, in shipping pallets or moving trucks. Other materials wander through the Archives’ doors an item or two at a time. While most collections consist of preplanned donations, other items find their way to the Archives’ vault by way of serendipity—a chance discovery in a grandparent’s attic or secondhand bookseller.

In much the same way, this first edition copy of Billy Graham’s Peace with God traveled a circuitous road to the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives. Discovered in a yard sale by a casual browser, the book’s fly leaf revealed a startling previous owner: Ruth Bell Graham.

The fly leaf of this first edition copy of Peace With God lists the Graham family home address in  Montreat, N.C. and contains Ruth Graham’s revisions for the second edition, published in 1984.

Not only did the slim, dark green first edition belong to Ruth Graham, its pages are riddled with her annotations. The unsuspecting yard sale browser quickly realized the unique value of the book and donated it to the Archives in 1997, where it is now housed in Collection 15: Papers of Billy Graham.

Ruth Bell Graham’s distinctive, sloping handwriting.

After finding home at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives, more details emerged about Ruth Graham’s copy of her husband’s celebrated book. Published by Doubleday & Company in 1953, Peace With God was Billy Graham’s fourth book, but quickly became his most recognized. In his 1997 autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham describes the laborious process of writing Peace With God, dictating the first draft into an old-fashioned Ediphone in just ten days. Graham submitted the final manuscript in August 1953 and Peace With God was published three months later, dedicated to Ruth’s father, L. Nelson Bell and becoming an immediate best-seller. To date, Peace With God has been translated into over fifty languages with millions of copies disseminated around the globe (284).

Billy and Ruth Graham standing in front of Blanchard Hall on the Wheaton College campus, 1993.

While Ruth Graham would later become a published author in her own right, she played a pivotal role in the creation of her husband’s first best-seller. “Ruth was my greatest helper in giving me ideas,” Graham writes in Just As I Am, “She has always been a storehouse of stories and illustrations” (284). The Graham’s writing collaboration is all the more illustrated by Ruth’s personal copy of Peace With God, which contains her revisions for the book’s second edition, published in 1984. The best-seller was more than thirty years old when work began on the second edition, and Ruth’s sharp eyes and apt judgments worked to bring the book up-to-date while retaining its core message. With her bold, distinctive handwriting, Ruth covered the pages of Peace With God with marginalia and yellow sticky notes, offering suggestions, observations, quotations, and writing tips. Ruth begins her revisions with a brisk style suggestion on the book’s half title page (“When using quotes, either give credit or avoid quotation marks”) before moving on to overhaul the table of contents, where she re-titled nearly every chapter and section and shuffled their order, changes that appear in the second edition of Peace with God.

pwg table of contents
Ruth Graham’s revised table of contents for the second edition of Peace With God.

In the book’s second chapter, Ruth reflects on the current status of the Bible in American culture, scrawling across the top of page 24: “Bible reading required in Catholic schools in Poland; forbidden in Am. schools.” She also added sticky notes recommending an unidentified Hebrew University study on modern Bible translation and a clipping on the Big Bang Theory. An oft-repeated maxim of Ruth’s, identifying the Bible as “our one sure guide in an unsure world,” appears on pages 24 and 31.

One Sure Guide
A favorite truism of Ruth’s, “One sure guide in an unsure world,” is repeated several times in the book’s second chapter, “The Bible.”

For chapter six, Ruth proposed “The Day After” in lieu of its original title, “After Death—What?” and added several quotations from C.S. Lewis in the margins: “War does not increase death; Death is total in every generation” and “The only certain thing about life is death” (68).

Ruth’s revisions for the beginning of chapter 6. Under the original title she has written, “Should be closing chapter” and recommends “a better verse” in place of I Samuel 20:3.

Quotations from C.S. Lewis are not the only new voices Ruth Graham added to the second edition of Peace With God. Alongside the Oxford don, Ruth suggested quotations from a range of figures, including Blaise Pascal, Bishop Goodwin Hudson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, her brother-in-law, evangelist Leighton Ford, and various newspapers and theological works, such as W. G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology.

MLK quote
In chapter seven, “Why Jesus Came,” Ruth adds a quotation attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr, describing the crucifixion as “The only pain to wring a cry from Him. He was tasting the doom of the damned” (94).

This broad range of authors, theologians, and even politicians reflect Ruth’s own personal reading habits and awareness of social trends. Her comments range from theological statements to cultural observations. On Billy Graham’s central chapter, “The New Birth,” Ruth observed, “Need a statement on the misconception and misuse of being ‘Born Again'” (133), and she later worried about changing attitudes toward sexual ethics in the American Church. “In view of current divorce rate among Christians—needs rewriting” she recommended for Billy’s chapter on the Christian life. Her notes on chapter 15, “The Christian and the Church,” reflect her experiences as a child of missionaries in China and her concern for Christians undergoing persecution around the globe. Headlining chapter 15, Ruth writes, “Needs rewriting in light of E. Europe, N. Korea, the DRC and other countries today” (173). A few pages later she adds, “Keep in mind the ‘underground church, the house churches'” (176).

Pages 186-187 are two Ruth Graham revised most heavily, reflecting her criticisms of “stingy Christians” and the Church’s failure to provide for the needy, while voicing her concern about “The Social Gospel (no such thing, there is only one gospel).”

Ruth Bell Graham’s voluminous revisions for the second edition of Peace With God offer a glimpse into both the Graham’s collaborative work in evangelistic ministry and a sketch of Ruth’s own personality—her curiosity, assertiveness, humor, and unwavering commitment to what she believed was right. In the Preface to the first edition of Peace With God, Billy Graham thanks his “loyal and faithful wife, who has read and reread the manuscript” (8). In the second edition published thirty years later, he credited “my wife, Ruth, who worked many hours on its revision” (10). Whatever the mysterious circumstances that brought Ruth Graham’s personal copy of Peace With God from Montreat, N.C. to an obscure yard sale in Wheaton, Illinois, the Archives is grateful to now hold this item documenting those “many hours.”

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