John Stott, the elder statesman of evangelical tradition, died aged 90 yesterday afternoon. He was, more than anything else, a man of integrity; and it was that integrity that won him the respect and deep appreciation of those who agreed with him and those who disagreed with him alike. Integrity is not a given, but is nurtured. Here are just a few observations of John’s life:
John was grounded in the local church, in the local neighbourhood. University apart, he lived his entire life within the community of one local church – as boy, curate, rector and rector emeritus – in one wider London community. It was that narrowness, in one sense, and – rather – that depth, that enabled him to serve the global Church, because the global Church is made up of grounded local churches and the local church is part of something far bigger than itself. We would be mistaken to infer from John’s life that everyone should remain in one place; but we would be wise to learn the value of roots that go deep.
John was grounded in spiritual disciplines, such as careful study of scripture, and prayer. Self-discipline is deeply misunderstood today, not least by those who misunderstand the connection between law and grace. Grace does not replace law, freeing us from constraint. Rather, grace enables us to fulfil the higher law – the law of life; not the law of death, which convinces us of our need to be set free. Grace empowers us to take on the disciplines that lead to life, as opposed to the indiscipline which results in death. Again, John was a man grounded: a man whose roots went deep, a tree that survived dry years as well as good, that spread out its branches and consistently bore fruit.
John was grounded in his love of God, as revealed in Jesus. John placed his relationship with God above his work for God. As a result, he wasn’t driven by fear, of what he might lose – through falling into sin; or by God simply choosing to lay us aside in favour of someone else – because his focus was on what could not be taken away, God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. As a result, John was able to live a life of personal integrity which flowed out of love, not fear; and able to equip and raise up many others into leadership, some of whom will be able to say, in the words of Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen a little further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
John was grounded in the world God created. He had interests and passions quite aside from his work, from his serving the church. Most notably, he was a world-class amateur ornithologist. Yes, he drew spiritual parallels from the physical world – as, of course, did Jesus – but he understood that life was more than service: it was gift, to be enjoyed, to be marvelled at. Ninety years old, and never having lost childhood wonder.
John was prepared to speak up for what he believed to be right, even at great personal cost, and in particular the cost of being misrepresented or rejected by others within the church.
John was not prepared to speak out in judgement of other Christians. His wise default position was to reserve judgement on others; and even where he spoke out against views expressed by others, he did not attack them.
John, thank you for the way you lived, for the example you gave us. Father God, thank you for the gift of John to us. May we, too, living after his example, pursue those grounding disciplines that nurture integrity and put to death unworthy desires.