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The ten loves of John R.W. Stott

1 November 2011 | by Christopher Idle

The ten loves of John R.W. Stott

John Stott (1921–2011) was the ten-talent man with more than ten loves. But since he appreciated order (in moderation!) these make, if not a complete summary, at least a convenient glance at a multi-faceted life.

  1. He loved his Lord; our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Easy to say; true of every Christian? But how much time do we spend with One we say we love best? John was keener on simply enjoying His company than singing about how much he loved Him! That meant listening, talking and walking with his Lord, championing His precious name and cause, ever-sensitive to any dishonour (‘liberal’ or otherwise) offered to the Saviour.
  2. He loved his Bible. He read it through every year (do you?); he consistently spoke and wrote about it and from it. He adjusted his mindset in its light (do I?), always working ‘outside the box but inside the book’.
  3. He loved the church; in two biblical senses. God called him to stay with his London congregation, All Souls’ Langham Place, far longer than most Anglican clergy; these days, deep-rooted ministries in one spot are often a Free Church commitment. He also treasured the global fellowship, ’the whole state of Christ’s church militant here in earth’. Evangelicals differ about denominations or wider groupings, but John’s servant-heart, often at work among the least affluent and most vulnerable parts of the body, was evident from his passport and his prayer-list. Disunity grieved him; he felt no need to apologise for loving the Church of England or co-founding the ‘Lausanne’ movement.
  4. He loved the world; in the John 3:16 sense, while he well understood 1 John 2:15. He grappled with contemporary culture, but a less ’worldly’ international Christian statesman would be hard to find; his simple tastes and refusal of any supposed ‘promotion’ were a rebuke to many and a challenge to all. He had no love for money (his royalties established the Langham Partnership) or ecclesiastical titles; his focus was both worldwide (100 countries visited) and relevant.
  5. He loved (and lived) the gospel. From the day he willingly embraced it as a seventeen-year-old, the good news that God saves sinners was the motive-power of John’s life. He led over thirty university missions; he was also ashamed of his own ‘guilty silence’ while busily writing on a train journey and ignoring an opportunity of conversation with a fellow-passenger – which he soon corrected! Basic Christianity has stayed in print for fifty years and brought countless readers to faith, while many count his finest book The Cross of Christ.
  6. He loved his friends. The single, celibate life is less popular now than formerly; John’s was not a life-style choice but a costly, rewarding vocation. In more than one dispute, where he over-reacted he was the first to apologise and make peace. Among best friends must be counted sisters, nieces, colleagues, study-assistants, and his secretary for nearly fifty years, Frances Whitehead, who deserves her own biography.
  7. He loved words: for reading, writing, speaking and preaching. The discipline of the first and the clarity of the others are among his richest legacies. His small commentary on the epistles of John reflects the depth, power and simplicity of these letters, in a style that heavier or racier studies cannot match. He was master of the well-honed phrase summing up a paragraph of Paul or a tense late-night debate in a divided assembly.
  8. He loved birds. His knowledge of God’s feathered creatures was legendary. It expressed a sense of creation and redemption; a rounded personality at home in the wild as in the study. Enjoy the memoirs which relate such tiny things as delighted King Solomon and One greater than Solomon!
  9. He loved Wales! His personal retreat, shared with so many to their delight and profit, was ‘The Hookses’ on the Pembrokeshire coast. This, the only property he ever owned, he eventually and characteristically gave away. He cared for the needs of the Welsh people whose guest he felt privileged to be. He established local evangelical initiatives; his ashes were lovingly buried in the village of Dale where the affection was mutual.

You didn’t always agree with him; nor did I! He was indeed ‘this glorious and good man’ (Dick Lucas), but never the infallible evangelical ‘pope’; rather, an outstanding and model leader with whom it was possible to discuss, debate and differ, while honouring him hugely for the work’s sake (1 Thess. 5:13).

  1. He loved to smile; never the professional grin or cynical smirk – nor the frown, the glare, the grim jaw. John smiled readily and naturally; so many photographs radiate that warmth. He loved laughter, languages, letters and London; peace, prayer, poverty and punctuality; he loved fresh thinking… and would love us to keep at it.

Christopher Idle is a retired Anglican minister living in Bromley, Kent.