For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV)
This coming Tuesday, 27th April, is the centenary of the birth of John Stott: Christian pastor, preacher, author and statesman.
His life story has been brilliantly told in Timothy Dudley-Smith’s two-volume biography (1), (2). John Stott was born into privilege - his father was a Harley Street doctor, and he went to Rugby School. From his early years, he showed considerable aptitude: he was head boy at school, and a senior scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. But Christ got hold of him, and put him and his gifts to use in enormous usefulness to the churches and the world.
It was on 13 February 1938, that the Revd E J H Nash, pioneer of a Christian work in schools like John Stott’s, spoke at a meeting at Rugby. His text was Pilate’s question, “What shall I do, then, with the one who is called the Christ?” John Stott had been invited to the meeting by a friend, and it was through that that he himself came to discover the Lord Jesus as a living reality.
He went up to Cambridge during World War Two, and it was while he was there that he began to sense that God was calling him to ordained ministry. After a period of struggle with his father about this, he went to train at Ridley Hall. In 1945 he was ordained to a curacy (assistant minister’s job) at All Souls’, Langham Place, London, close to where he had grown up. In 1949, following the death of the Rector, he was appointed Rector of All Souls’, at the age of only 29.
The rest of his ministry remained based at All Souls’: for twenty-five years as Rector, and then from 1975-2011 as Rector Emeritus. This second job title enabled him to devote more time to a ministry of writing and speaking all over the world. He died in July 2011.
We are never, of course, to become followers of individuals in the way we are to follow the Lord Jesus, as Paul warns us (1 Cor 1:12); but Paul also does commend named individuals, telling us who he’s thankful for, and commending their example. In this spirit, I want to mention four personal reasons I have for giving thanks to God for him.
1. His ministry of writing. John Stott wrote over 50 books, on a huge range of subjects, from Christian engagement with contemporary issues, to the Christian life, to Christian doctrine, mission, a dialogue with a theological liberal, and more. He was the co-editor of the series of expositions called The Bible Speaks Today, to which he personally contributed several volumes. Always his aim was to apply the Bible to the contemporary world. (He even managed to draw biblical lessons from birds in a book based on his hobby of bird watching!) His books But I Say to You and The Cross of Christ are two of the most helpful Christian books I’ve ever read, and I know others would agree!
2. A life of personal godliness. John Stott’s final public talk was at the Keswick Convention in July 2007. I will never forget seeing this frail, elderly man start his talk with these words: “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is - God wants his people to become like Christ.” At his memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, person after person spoke of his loving, kind, sacrificial attitude and life style - like his Master. On the one occasion I met John Stott, over a meal, Rachel and I were deeply struck by his humility, kindness and joy. Countless people all over the world who knew him would say the same, and what a spur his example was to godly living!
3. His concern to build strong, united relationships between Bible-believing Christians. He helped found the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion and the Church of England Evangelical Council. But he also built fellowship with Christians of different denominations, all over the globe - including, substantially, in the majority world. That is surely a godly example.
4. His contribution - along with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, William Still and Dick Lucas - to the revival of expository Bible preaching in the UK in the second half of the Twentieth Century. He helped remind everyone that the Bible does speak today, and that careful, thoughtful explanation of Bible passages, in the context of their books, brings God’s nourishment to His people. In this respect, he was following in the footsteps of one of his own heroes, Charles Simeon of Cambridge, two hundred years before. Both of them have the Apostle Paul’s great resolve from 1 Corinthians 2, quoted at the top of this post, carved in their memorial stones.