He chose the bachelor life to devote himself more fully to the gospel–but when he died last Wednesday, thousands mourned the loss of their beloved “Uncle John.” Although Chaplain to the Queen of England, he lived in simple quarters. He was “one of the 100 most influential people in the world,” Time magazine opined, yet he traveled in a small car that was second-hand. Those who knew him best recall his humble spirit and recite his deeds of quiet service. And last Wednesday, July 27, 2011, a few close friends and relatives at his bedside read aloud the words of St. Paul who also fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith. Then, as strains of Handel’s “Messiah” overflowed the room and wafted heavenward to Him who reigns for ever and ever, ninety-year-old John Robert Walmsley Stott fell asleep in Jesus Christ to await the resurrection unto immortality and eternal life.
For half a century, John Stott ministered in association with All Souls (Anglican) Church, Langham Place, London–as curate, rector and, most significantly, as rector emeritus commissioned to serve as pastor/teacher around the world. Stott had known All Souls since childhood, when he and his Lutheran mother went together to the parish church in their neighborhood. Stott’s father, a knighted but agnostic London physician of prominence, did not join them. Truth be told, young John was not always an exemplar of piety either–often sitting in the balcony, from which he sometimes dropped paper-wads on the hats of the ladies sitting below.
The true legacy of John Stott is immeasurable by human perception. He wrote more than forty books, all in longhand with pen and ink. Best known is Basic Christianity, which has sold more than two million copies in more than 50 languages. In 1974, Stott masterminded and then convened the International Congress on World Evangelization which drew believers from 150 nations, until then likely the most wide-ranging meeting of Christians ever held. Stott chiefly wrote the Lausanne Covenant, a theological declaration resulting from the Congress–calling Christians both to evangelism (the Great Commission) and to social responsibility (the Great Commandment). The Langham Foundation, also Stott’s creation, continues serving the Third World church by its twin programs of training pastors and distributing books. Whether delivered in person or in print, John Stott’s biblical exposition was meaningful, clear, and uncontrived.
A decade ago, I was privileged to hear John Stott preach. True to reputation, his messages were simple and filled with power. l also was touched by his deep personal kindness. At the conclusion of the first meeting, I waited in line to shake his hand. “Dr. Stott,” I said, “my name is Edward Fudge, and it is such a pleasure to meet you in person!” A smile came over his face as he asked, “Are you my friend Edward Fudge?” Although honored worldwide for two generations of solid biblical teaching, Stott had recently come under intense attack for stating that he “tentatively” believed that those finally lost would be totally annihilated in hell rather than suffer unending conscious torment. His question reflected his familiarity with my book, The Fire That Consumes. “I hope so,” I replied, honored for him to call me his friend.
Hugh Palmer, the present rector at All Souls Church in London, remembers that Stott often began sermons by asking the Father that “Your written word of Scripture may now and always be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our Teacher and Your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” For fifty years, God was pleased to answer that prayer. Glorifying God by serving him faithfully defines true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. The life of John Stott remains a model of such greatness.