Yesterday the world lost an obedient servant of Christ. John Stott, evangelist and author, pastor and statesman, died peacefully in a retirement home south of London, surrounded by loved ones and listening to Handel’s Messiah and a reading of II Timothy. He was 90. He had become quite infirm, having worn out his body through a rigorous and ascetic habit of life that included daily devotions at 5 a.m. and a punishing schedule of teaching, preaching, writing and international travel. Having lost much of his sight and mobility over the last couple of years, in the last few months he was plagued by pain and spoke of ‘the imprisonment’ of his condition. Now he has been liberated, having been saved for his Lord’s heavenly kingdom (II Tim. 4.18).
Although three biographies have already been written about him, it will take many years to take the true measure of John’s impact in the world. In 2005 Time magazine identified him as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and his more than fifty books have been read by millions around the globe. But the sheer range of people who are now feeling compelled to write testimonials and reflections about him is evidence that his influence was beyond what any of us can imagine. Here we have a tribute from Billy Graham, while there we have a touching story of an individual who came to faith through his preaching. Here is an account of John Stott taking a lead in high level ecumenical conversations, while there is the remembrance of the time he swam Arctic waters in an effort to help recover a drowned lad. All yesterday afternoon I received telephone calls from friends wishing to express their sorrow and share their memories, and this too is one of his legacies in my life: he has drawn me into a network of relationships with a great many people who, like me, have been challenged and inspired by him.
John’s influence in Canada was significant. Apart from the hundreds of individuals who knew him personally, or who have been helped by his writing, he was the inspiration for EFAC Canada, the Canadian member of the global Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion, which got its start in the early 1960s. The movement grew out of the convictions of men like Tom Robinson, who had worked closely with John in London, and the fledgling fellowship received a great deal of support from Wycliffe College. But the organisation never had the traction that evangelicals had hoped for. It was difficult not to compare the Canadian version to its British sire, but the geographical context of the Canadian Church made it difficult to bring people together. In the mid 1980s an attempt was made to reboot the group. Barnabas Anglican Ministries was inaugurated, and the executive members of this group were instrumental in bringing together Charismatic and Prayer Book Anglicans in the first Essentials conference in Montreal in 1994.
John Stott paid numerous visits to Canada during the course of his ministry. He led missions at the University of Toronto, UBC, UWO, the University of Manitoba and McGill. He was also a frequent preacher in many of the largest evangelical churches in the country. But he also preached in some of Canada’s smallest congregations. While birdwatching in Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories in 1996, he and I observed the Lord’s Day by holding a service at tiny St Clement’s Church. They had not had a visit from clergy in over 18 months. And John preached to that little group of about eight with as much passion and conviction as he did to a crowd of eighteen thousand at an Urbana conference.
Wycliffe honoured John with a D.D. in 1993. It was one of the few honorary degrees that he agreed to receive – he turned a great many down – because he hoped that his presence might somehow encourage and strengthen the church. I believe he also had a special affection for the College which he regarded as a strategic institution in the evangelical movement in Canada and beyond. In my last conversation with him in his retirement home he made a special point of asking after Wycliffe, and spoke with gratitude of its leadership.
There is no doubt that John’s written legacy and personal example will continue to encourage and strengthen wherever his work is published and stories are told about his life. We give thanks for him, and for the blend of heart, mind and will that shaped and motivated a generation of evangelical witness in Canada. Let us pray that God would make us courageous stewards of what God has given us in the person of John Stott.
The Rt Rev. Dr Stephen Andrews
Bishop of the Diocese of Algoma
Chair of Langham Partnership, Canada