“The other thing that John was concerned about was to banish apathy from the hearts of those to whom he ministered. Starting with his own congregation at All Souls, Langham Place in London and extending to all the congregations to whom he ministered quite literally all around the world.
Banishing apathy, what did that mean in positive terms? It meant that John summoned us to learn our faith and not be sloppy in terms of our doctrine, and equally not to be sloppy and casual in terms of our service of the Lord whom we love and honour as our Saviour.”
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Unofficial Transcipt of the Sermon the Rev Canon Dr JI Packer preached at a memorial service for the Rev John Stott on Friday 5th August 2011 at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver, Canada
For a moment, let us pray together:
Gracious Father, we ask you to open your word to our hearts and our hearts to your word, that we may understand what you have done and what now, in your strength, we must seek to do, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
In the letter to the Hebrews Chapter 13, verses 7 and 8 read as follows:
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange doctrines”
John Stott was the most modest of men; compliments embarrassed him. He would shrug them off and try to change the subject just as quickly as he could. If he could have briefed me in advance for this message that I am to give now, he would most certainly have said to me: ”˜focus on Christ, don’t focus on me.’
Well this text helps us to do just that.
It is the word of a pastor, at the end of a weighty pastoral letter that he has written. He is suffering, this pastor, from a two-fold anxiety. He is concerned on the one hand about the hostility that his addressees are facing, you see they are converted Jews and the Jews who were not Christians were hostile to them, hated them one might say and they were making life very difficult for them, saying I suppose: ”˜you come back to the Synagogue with us or else.’ Well, they had to live through that and there was in addition, not just hostility around them, but apathy within them. The writer has spoken of that once or twice, calling them to pay attention to the Gospel message, telling them that by now in their discipleship they ought to be teachers, and in fact they are still babes needing milk ”“ they’re not learning, they’re not advancing, they are sluggish, they are stuck! And he is burdened about that too, and as a good pastor so he should be.
Well, into a situation where that is the condition of the people he is addressing, he writes: ”˜remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God’. Remember who they were ”“ clearly they belong to the past history of this congregation. One supposes that the people of whom he is writing are dead now. The verb in the next clause should be translated ”˜those who used to speak to you the word of God.’ ”“ implication: they have been taken from you so that their ministry to you has ceased to be, but remember them, and remember the ministry they fulfilled. ”˜Consider the outcome of their way of life’, consider what it added up to for them, ”˜and imitate their faith’.
And that leads him straight into verse 8 ”˜Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ What’s the link? Clearly in his own mind the link is that Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, was the burden of the ministry of the word of God which these leaders had fulfilled when they were with the congregation. He’s your Lord, says he to the church, just as he’s my Lord, he is our Lord and he doesn’t change, and he wants to be everything to us that he was to them. He’s the same yesterday, today and always will be and this of course is actually what the writer has been affirming and elaborating all the way through the letter.
If you know the letter to the Hebrews, cast your mind back: chapter one Jesus is proclaimed as divine; chapter 2 he is proclaimed as human and as saviour; chapter 5 and on he is proclaimed as high priest; chapter 8 he is proclaimed as bringing in the new covenant, the better covenant, better that is than Old Testament believers knew; chapters 9 and 10 he is proclaimed as the new high priest who brought in the covenant by sacrificing himself at the Father’s will; and now he reigns at the end of chapter 4, and in a number of other places the writer has referred to the Lord Jesus Christ as being now on the throne in the power of his atoning death and resurrection, and one day he will return bringing salvation to those who look for him, ”˜though coming to judge and therefore to be feared by those who are not already his disciples.
It all works out to what he said in chapter 10, just let me read you a bit of it: – Chapter 10 verse 12:
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“this is the covenant that I will make with them after those days declares the Lord, I will put my laws in their hearts and write them on their minds”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore brothers ”¦ [I jump down now to verse 22] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience’ ”“ let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful, [he will keep his word to us] and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
That is the summary of the message of Jesus Christ who is the same today as he was yesterday and will be forever, and the writer’s concern is that the folk he is addressing don’t lose any part of this message. He wants them to live in the energy and joy of the full Gospel, and he doesn’t want them to change, or allow people around them to change any part of the message because that would move them to a false Gospel.
And those concerns get us straight to John Stott whose ministry we celebrate this evening for there too, if ever, was a man concerned with every breath he took that everyone to whom he ministered should enjoy the fullness of the full Gospel in its truth and in its power, and should not change any part of it, because that would mean exchanging the true Gospel for a false one. And throughout the years of his ministry these were the two concerns that he pursued tirelessly and powerfully in just about every sermon that he preached and every book that he wrote.
Positively, we could say, his ministry was concerned to lead us into the fullness of faith, and so into enjoyment of the fullness of Christ and negatively, he was as concerned as anyone ever has been to counter hostility to this Gospel and, yes, he faced hostility just as all of us today still face hostility. Today it calls itself liberalism, but the essence of liberalism is that something different is believed about Jesus from what you have in the New Testament. Something different is affirmed therefore, about Christian discipleship from what you have in the New Testament. And one of the things that marks our liberal friends over and over again is, how can I say it, pride, is that the word to use, obstinacy perhaps is the word that I had better go for, obstinacy in holding on to these false notions and declining to come back to the true ones. Says the writer: ”˜don’t be led astray by diverse and strange teaching’; but that alas is what has happened to many people in our church today, and we all of course know it very well.
Well all through the Anglican Communion when John started his ministry that was going on and well, John stood as a faithful witness against it.
Then the other thing that John was concerned about was to banish apathy from the hearts of those to whom he ministered. Starting with his own congregation at All Souls, Langham Place in London and extending to all the congregations to whom he ministered quite literally all around the world.
Banishing apathy, what did that mean in positive terms? It meant that John summoned us to learn our faith and not be sloppy in terms of our doctrine, and equally not to be sloppy and casual in terms of our service of the Lord whom we love and honour as our Saviour.
John himself as we all know was, well, I call him a 15-talent man of God. 10 the number in our Lord’s parable really doesn’t seem enough. John Stott one sometimes felt could do anything and everything in ministry. He had all the gifts that make up a teacher and a carer and a unifier. He lived in a way which displayed the freedom of self-discipline. I am thinking there of the kind of freedom which in a different department of life a solo pianist or violinist will display. He or she has accepted the self-discipline of learning to master the instrument. Now he or she is able, if one may put it this way, to relax with the instrument and with the sort of inner ease to make it sound and sing out all the music that is there in the notes and which as a soloist the musician wants to convey.
Well, that is a picture an illustration of what I mean by freedom with self-discipline at its heart and you saw that in John as a preacher and teacher and influence in the church. And the self-discipline that lay at the heart of it was a discipline of constant Bible study, constant prayer, constant self-watch and constant refusal to go wild – John never went wild. John observed his own discipline so that he might always be at his best for ministry. And well we know, all of us I am sure, know something about the quality of that ministry, marked as it always was by love and wisdom in whatever form the situation demanded.
I remember back in the early 1950’s, when I was casting around actually, for a church in which to serve as an assistant to start my ministry, I wrote a letter to John to enquire whether there might be a position for me on his staff. Well there couldn’t have been more of love and wisdom in the letter he wrote back to me. What he had to say to me was, absolutely not”¦ [laughter] but the way that he said it and expressed it, you might have thought he was congratulating me on something, But that was John, always with wisdom he showed love, and people loved him for it. Over and above the admiration that they felt for his gifts, they loved him for his Christ-like character.
Oh yes he was a wonderful person, and let me just list some of the things in which he excelled:
During his 25 years as Rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London, he pioneered something which, and I can tell you because I was part of the scenery at that time, something which just wasn’t happening in other evangelical churches: John trained the congregation in ministry – he did! And so the folk in the congregation became that much more able in their witness, and that much more useful to their Lord. And he made All Souls a centre of evangelism, and it was very fruitful evangelism all the time that he was there.
His ministry extended to the Church of England as a whole. I am thinking back now to the years in which he was Chair of the strategising body called the Church of England Evangelical Council; the years in which he chaired the council of an institution that I was deputed to manage called Latimer House; and I am thinking of the way in which he chaired the first and most fruitful National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Keele University in 1967, a congress which put English evangelicalism pretty much on the map, whereas for the previous 50 years, those who were not evangelicals had got into the habit of ignoring it ”“ it wasn’t on their map. But after Keele, evangelicalism was on everybody’s map. And at Keele, John was the leader, the moving spirit, the person through whom the change was brought about.
And his influence did not stop of course with the Church of England. All through the Anglican Communion, he functioned as what we might call an unconsecrated bishop, a senior pastor, who pastured the pastors, who expounded the Bible, who encouraged, celebrated, who envisioned, advanced, and shared his vision so that others came to share it too.
Yes, that was John. And the Langham Organisation exists now as a continuance of all of that. And you don’t need me to tell you I don’t think, the Langham Organisation, the Langham Trust is a very powerful player in the world evangelical fellowship, powerful that is at clergy level, because the key activity of the Langham Trust is to provide scholarships that bring clergy to universities where they will get evangelical instruction, and so become weighty figures when they return to their own part of the world. Well that, I am sure you knew, was a major part of John’s ministry for the last 30 years of that ministry.
And then he was a university evangelist. There were very few English speaking universities in the world, quite literally, where John Stott did not at one stage or another manage a mission, and John’s missions were very fruitful missions evangelistically, which is why the organisers of Christian ministry in the universities lined up in order to book him up and to get the blessing on their own campus.
And then of course he was an educator. He wrote nearly 50 books not counting pamphlets. He lectured on contemporary issues. He founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He encouraged the study by evangelicals of social ethics, problems of communal behaviour in society, which evangelicals for well 50 years, something like that, had been neglecting. John insisted that we get educated in these matters.
And then in world mission – the largest [what shall I call it?] – the largest sphere of all. John was throughout his ministry the close friend of Billy Graham, and as he had been the pioneer at Keele in 1967 for evangelical Anglicans, so he was the pioneer at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, at which the declaration, which still to my mind is the classic evangelical declaration on the agenda for world mission – that agenda was produced, and it is common knowledge that John virtually wrote it himself, just as then straight away he wrote a book expounding it, and as he continued to expound its themes as long as his ministry lasted.
Well I just mention these things. Again I expect you knew something about all of them. I haven’t time to go into them but you can see perhaps from the words I use that I want to celebrate each single one of them. I want to say John was magnificent in all these spheres ”“ a 15 talent man of God: who loved the Bible and believed in its trustworthiness and expounded it accordingly; who loved the Lord Jesus and believed in the Gospel that proclaimed salvation in Jesus and leads us into the life of communion with Jesus and experience of the power of Jesus.
Thank God for John, that’s what we are doing this evening. Well I say it explicitly: thank God for John right now and don’t stop thanking God for John. He was one of the supreme gifts of God for the renewal of the church in the 20th century. And don’t hesitate to take to heart the words of our text: ”˜consider the outcome of the way of life of those who spoke to you the word of God and imitate their faith’.
Yes, for John, the Bible was supreme; Christ was supreme. I say to you, in the Lord’s name, imitate both those emphases: they are truth; they are wisdom; there’s power in them; they are there for us to follow.
It is a joy to be able to say incidentally that since John’s ministry ended about 10 years ago, the things that he started and the vision which he communicated, those things have continued and gained power in the Anglican Communion. If I just say GAFCON, you will know what I am talking about. The Lord’s people, Anglican people, all round the world, are one feels coming to life, a mighty army in these days. And I am sure that as John lived out his last days, in his retirement home, he knew all this, and rejoiced in it.
It is a wonderful privilege to start something that goes on and grows after you have given to it all that you are able to give. I believe that the kingdom zeal – if I may use that phrase – of evangelicals all around the world, and most certainly Anglican evangelicals, has been greatly increased through John’s ministry. I think that his vision for a renewed church, which was there right from the very start of his ministry – that vision has been picked up and is being maintained and is still exciting people, just as it began to excite people when John expounded it.
Yes, John, by the Grace of God, started something, something wonderful, something rich and comprehensive, and evangelical – if I may say it this way – evangelical to its fingertips.
And, now it’s for us to pick up the torch, and in our own situations, our own churches, our own districts, our own homes, and wherever we go, it’s for us to carry on what John began.
One last thing, John had an amazing gift of friendship, and I am going to leave you with this thought, a thought which sometimes I think pricks rather painfully in evangelical consciences when it is mentioned, ”˜friendship’. Do people find us friendly? In our churches Sunday by Sunday, do people wander in and find themselves ignored at coffee time, or do they find us friendly? Do we make friends easily, do we work at it until we can make friends easily, or do we allow ourselves, for whatever reason, to stand apart: ”˜We are the evangelicals, we are special, we are different, so we don’t come too close to you, and we don’t expect you to come too close to us.’? I see something satanic about that attitude. I beg you, brothers and sisters, take your cue from John Stott, one of the friendliest men I have ever met, and show friendship in Christ as part of your witness and your work for the Saviour.
And so, God enabling us, following up John’s vision, and the things which he began, we go on. Yes, I trust so, God grant it,