Uncle John’s last lesson to me about service came for me on the day in 2011 that he died. There was a rota amongst the church staff to go down to his residential home and it happened to be my day to go on 27th July. That morning I got there at about 10am. The doctors were clear that he was dying. I sat with him, and at one point read through John 14. He barely acknowledged me. But when one of the Filipino cleaners at the home came in to say goodbye, with a monumental effort John took his hand and rose up out of his bed to kiss it, before slumping backwards. As I was leaving, Uncle John’s closest friends and family began to arrive, but I noted that none of them were given anywhere near the greeting that he had given that young man.
What is John Stott’s legacy in this, the hundredth year since he was born? We could think of his preaching, his writing, his evangelism or his impact on student ministry. But more than any of those, I think his greatest legacy may be his personal godliness.
I joined the staff at All Souls, Langham Place in 1994, and so had the privilege of getting to know “Uncle John” as both a colleague and friend. And it was his godliness that most struck me over the next 17 years. In fact the closer I got to him, the more apparent it became. His secretary Frances Whitehead put it well at his Memorial Service in St. Paul’s Cathedral: “I worked alongside him for 55 years and I want you to know that he was authentic. He lived what he preached.”
“He lived what he preached”—that is perhaps what we most need to remember and learn from as we confront the heartbreaking truth that a number of Christian leaders have failed in this area.
I was at the Keswick Convention for his last public sermon in July 2007. Its central point was this: Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. I have never forgotten these lines:
“There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him, ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow’. I think India would be at our feet today if we Christians lived like Christ.”
As I look back on his impact on me, who he was was more important than all he achieved, character more important than competence. It seemed to me that the heart of his godliness lay in his humility, expressed in a desire to serve others. He had come from an immensely privileged family. The chauffeur would drive him up to his boarding school at Rugby, where he was Head Boy. His father, Sir Arnold Stott, had rooms on Harley Street in London. But having come to Christ as a 16-year-old, John’s longing was to lay aside this privilege and serve others as Christ had served him.