Yesterday at 3:15 pm London time, John Stott was welcomed into the presence of Christ, whom he served so faithfully for many decades. Tim Stafford’s eloquent obituary jibes with my own limited experience with this great man. In the presence of John Stott, you were palpably aware that you were among one of God’s giants—not in the usual “American” style of big personalities, but sort of how you might imagine being in the room with a godly grandfather. It’s the humility, graciousness, and intense personal concern that seems most striking to a visitor.
Having met him once before in the States, I visited Dr. Stott at his flat on a couple of occasions years ago while I was studying in England. Reversing the roles as I had imagined them, he fussed over his guest with a cup of tea and open-ended conversation, surrounded by books and work-in-process. A lifelong bachelor, he encouraged me to accept my own singleness up to that point as a gift—at least for a time—to focus on study and labor. Because God did not give him children, he told me, he had spiritual offspring all over the world. He didn’t say it proudly, as if referring to nameless masses, but I suspected he had actual faces in mind. It was a great encouragement. We talked about the state of evangelicalism, which seemed to be a source of encouragement and disappointment. A few years ago I had the honor of writing a foreword for his new edition of Baptism and Fullness: The Holy Spirit’s Work Today.
John Stott belongs to a generation of British evangelical leaders who worked patiently, prayerfully, persistently, and intelligently within the established church. They were not known for their own achievements, networks, and influence, but for their exposition of God’s Word with clarity, dependence upon the Spirit, and concern for both the lost and the gathered.
Even when friends and co-laborers (such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones) disagreed with him, they did not impugn his character. There are so many lessons that we can learn from John Stott’s example, especially in a time and place given so much to self-promotion. Although his hand in shaping the better streams of global evangelicalism is obvious, he always carried on this ministry as a parish pastor of All Souls in London, where he was raised and spent his entire ministry. Looking at this whole ministry from the outside, as a mere acquaintance, I admire his concentration on the ministry of the word rather than on his own impact and legacy.
The evangelical cause around the world has reason to mourn John Stott’s death, but even more reason to praise the Triune God for a legacy that others can now reflect upon precisely because he does not seem to have been obsessed with it himself. In his final hours, according to the obituary, family members gathered around him listening to Handel’s “Messiah.” A completely fitting end to a wonderfully attractive life.