Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 1, 2007


I can still hear his voice thundering through Stuart Auditorium


          It was the summer after we buried our boy in May. We sought relief from our grief by taking a vacation at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. Still a seminary student studying for the ministry, I persuaded my wife to go the week when Billy Graham was preaching.  

          Sitting under the ministry of Billy Graham for a few days would renew our faith. We admired his strong preaching. The death of our son had not broken us but our hearts were heavy. We needed a time of healing.

          Graham was as stirring as ever. The huge auditorium was packed morning and night as hundreds of people flocked to hear him. We stood in a long line one day and finally got to shake his hand. Like others we were awed by Graham’s persuasive preaching.

          However, Graham shared the pulpit with another preacher, W. E. Sangster from England. And it was Sangster whom God used that week to bring healing to my wounded heart. The man floored me from the moment he began to speak. He spoke with unusual authority, intensity, and conviction.

          Every word he spoke had the ring of truth about it. It was as if God was speaking directly to my questioning mind and answering questions I had not even asked. Never had I been more convinced that God himself was speaking to me. And I listened intently, eager to drink in what I was certain was eternal truth.

          I had many questions. Why had God, if he is love, allowed our son to die? Why had he not healed him in answer to our prayers? Why should a little child have to suffer when he had done no wrong? Why had God given him to us if he was going to take him from us before he could grow up? Was his death punishment for my own sins? Is God really “out there” and if he is, why doesn’t he say something when I beg him for help?

          Finally God did reply. He was silent when David was suffering. Now, two months after our son’s burial, God spoke. He spoke through Sangster. How do I know? I know. I was there. Though it happened 50 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. God answered me through the voice of his servant, Sangster.

          I had felt sorry for Sangster. He would be no match for Billy Graham as a presence in the pulpit. But I was wrong. Sangster was older and wiser than Graham. And though his style was quite different, the man could preach. As the week went on, many of us realized we were listening to two of the world’s greatest preachers.

          What did I hear from God? Not what I wanted to hear, believe me. I wanted something soothing; what I got was shocking.

          Sangster said, “You must stop dealing with your problems. You must deal with God! You get nowhere by grappling with cancer or some tragedy.  You must wrestle with God for God is the sovereign God of the universe and he allows whatever happens to you. He does not will evil but he allows it. The world is not out of control; God is in control and he allows bad things to happen.”

          He went on to insist that God has a purpose in allowing tragedy even though we may never understand why he allows it. We can find peace only by accepting God’s sovereignty in our lives and believing that in all things he is always working for our good. God is not accountable to us for his actions; on the contrary, we are accountable to God for our actions and reactions. And God loves us even when he allows bad things to happen in our lives.

          As much as I was able I surrendered my stubborn, agnostic questioning to God that week. I began to rethink our son’s death in a new way, a way helped me see suffering in a new light. Slowly I tried to embrace the message God gave me through an English preacher I would never hear again. After 50 years I am still embracing his message for it is strong medicine.

          A few years later word came from England that Sangster was dying, having lost his voice to a muscular disease that was paralyzing his nervous system. The great pulpit voice would soon be silent in the grave. But before his death, he wrote a simple message to his new friend Billy Graham: “Tell people that the gospel works when a man is dying.”

          I have journeyed to Lake Junaluska many times, heard many inspiring speakers, and enjoyed the beauty of those North Carolina hills. But never have I been as deeply moved as I was that summer in 1956. On a clear day I can close my eyes and still hear the thundering voice of W. E, Sangster reverberating within the walls of Stuart Auditorium. It was a time when God spoke, and I heard him. + + + +