Friends, I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear when I opened up my computer on Thursday morning to read that John Stott had died, aged 90, and gone to be with the Lord.
When I referred to Stott in a sermon, I typically introduced him as the greatest English Christian never to become Bishop—almost certainly a blessing to the wider Christian world! His life revolved around All Souls Church, Langham Place in London, where he was first a parishioner as a child, later the curate (assistant minister), rector (senior minister) and then rector emeritus. But through writing and itinerant speaking, his ministry was global.
I never met the man, but his influence on me is incredible. I read The Cross of Christ during first year at Moore Theological College. I already knew Jesus died for me, but after reading that I understood what a many-faceted gem the atoning work of our Saviour is. I could now never forget how absolutely central it must be to our preaching and our believing.
His book on ethics and Timothy Dudley-Smith's biography, especially the first volume, also shaped me as I gained insights from the way he conducted his Christian life and his gospel ministry. The pastoral staff at St Michael's studied one of his last books, The Living Church, together, and found it full of biblical wisdom expressed with profound simplicity.
I understand from my elders that his influence on the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, which I serve, was absolutely critical in establishing ‘systematic expository preaching’ (that is, continuous explanation of Bible passages in consecutive order, Sunday by Sunday).
We see the fruit of this method in his commentaries on many New Testament books; absolute wonders of exposition. If you see a Stott commentary, buy it! As I reflected, it occurred to me that over the years I have probably quoted John Stott in my preaching more than any other modern author. An electronic search of my sermon texts proved the point; he is not only biblical, he is quotable! Here are some of my favourites (all references to the relevant Bible Speaks Today commentary, unless otherwise noted).
On 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “We must not acquiesce in the contemporary disenchantment with words. Words matter. And the gospel has specific content. That's why it must be verbalised.” (p. 33)
On 2 Timothy 2:8-13: “…Blessing comes through pain, life through death and glory through suffering. It is an invariable law of Christian life and service. So why should we expect things to be easy for us or promise an easy time to others? … It is this principle that took Jesus Christ through a lowly birth and a shameful death to his glorious resurrection and heavenly reign. It is this principle which had brought Paul his chains and his prison cell, in order that the elect might obtain salvation and glory. It would be ridiculous, therefore, to expect our Christian life and service to cost us nothing.” (p. 65)
On Acts 20:28, on the metaphor of shepherding the flock: “I hesitate to apply the metaphor too closely and characterize the people of God as dirty, lousy or stupid! But some people are a great trial to their pastors (and vice versa). And their pastors will persevere in caring for them only if they remember how valuable they are in God's sight. They are the flock of God the Father, purchased by the precious blood of God the Son, and supervised by overseers appointed by God the Holy Spirit. If the three persons of the Trinity are thus committed to the welfare of the people, should we not be also?” (p. 329)
With regard to resisting the false teaching in Acts 20:29-31: “We are frequently told to be positive in our teaching, and never negative. But those who say this have either not read the New Testament, or, having read it, they disagree with it. For the Lord Jesus and his apostles refuted error themselves and urged us to do the same. One wonders if it is the neglect of this obligation which is the major cause of today's theological confusion. If, when false teaching arises, Christian leaders sit idly by and do nothing, or turn tail and flee, they will earn the terrible epithet [‘hired hands’ Jn 10:12] who care nothing for Christ's flock.” (pp. 328-29)
On Jesus' call for his disciples to fish for human beings: “Yet there is a strange reluctance among us to engage in personal evangelism. We sometimes sing ‘Oh for a thousand tongues to sing my dear Redeemer's praise’. But it is a useless wish. For one thing we will never have a thousand tongues. For another, if we had them, we would not know what to do with them when the one tongue we have is often silence.” (The Living Church, p. 98)
On modern church services lacking the fear of God: “The church is not always conspicuous for the profound reality of its worship. In particular, we who call ourselves ‘evangelical’ do not know much how to worship. Evangelism is our specialty, not worship. We seem to have little sense of the greatness and glory of Almighty God. We do not bow down before him in awe and wonder. Our tendency is to be cocky, flippant and proud. We take little trouble to prepare our worship services. In consequence, they are sometimes slovenly, mechanical, perfunctory and dull. At other times they are frivolous, to the point of irreverence. No wonder those seeking reality often pass us by!” (The Living Church, p. 45)
“Far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness, and we can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit.” (The Cross of Christ, p. 12)
On 2 John: “Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love.” (p. 207)
- Mark Thompson, President Anglican Church League, Sydney
- Justin Taylor
- Sydney Anglicans
- Tim Stafford in Christianity Today (lengthier obituary)