Final words of wisdom
Over the years, John Stott’s writings have nourished my soul. His faithful exposition of Scripture, always beguilingly simple, never fails to engage my heart and mind, and always spurs me on to greater obedience and fuller adoration. Now he comes to old age, and he ends his life as he lived it, namely, well.
In The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, Stott reflects biblically on eight issues, and then closes his public ministry with a word of Farewell. This slim volume is good reading, a lovely immersion into the truth of God’s revelation in Scripture, full of wise words for those who find themselves on a pilgrimage through a dark world towards a City filled with divine light. The brief excerpts that follow are not intended as summaries of Stott’s chapters, but as appetizers intended to stimulate you to read the book.
Nonconformity. “We are not to be like reeds shaken by the wind, bowing down before gusts of public opinion, but as immovable as rocks in a mountain stream. We are not to be like fish floating with the stream (for ‘only dead fish swim with the current,’ as Malcolm Muggeridge put it), but to swim against the stream, even against the cultural mainstream” [p. 27].
Christlikeness. “Why is it that our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given, and I must not oversimplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim” [p. 35-36].
Maturity. “When I was traveling in the 1990s in the interests of the Langham Partnership International, I would often ask an audience how they would summarize the Christian scene in the world today. I would receive a variety of answers. But when invited to give an answer to my own question, I would sum it up in just three words, namely, ‘growth without depth’” [p. 38].
Creation Care. “We human beings find our humanness not only in relation to the earth, which we are to transform, but in relation to God whom we are to worship; not only in relation to the creation, but especially in relation to the Creator. God intends our work to be an expression of our worship, and our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator. Only then, whatever we do, in word or deed, shall we be able to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31” [p. 54].
Simplicity. Quoting from An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Life-Style: “So then, having been freed by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to his call, in heartfelt compassion for the poor, in concern for evangelism, development and justice, and in solemn anticipation of the Day of Judgment, we humbly commit ourselves to develop a just and simple life-style, to support one another in it, and to encourage others to join us in this commitment” [ p. 82].
Balance. “We have followed Peter in the six metaphors which go to make up the portrait he paints of the disciple [in 1 Peter 2:1-17]. Here they are again: as newborn babies we are called to growth, as living stones to fellowship, as holy priests to worship, as God’s own people to witness, as aliens and strangers to holiness, as servants of God to citizenship. This is a beautifully comprehensive and balanced portrait” [p. 97-98].
Dependence. “I sometimes hear old people, including Christian people who should know better, say, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. I’m happy to carry on living as long as I can look after myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.’ But this is wrong. We are all designed to be a burden to others. You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you. And the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’” [p. 110].
Death. “Death is unnatural and unpleasant. In one sense it presents us with a terrible finality. Death is the end. Yet in every situation death is the way to life. So if we want to live we must die. And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads. This is the radical, paradoxical Christian perspective” [p. 133].
Farewell! As I lay down my pen for the last time (literally, since I confess I am not computerized) at the age of eighty-eight, I venture to send this valedictory message to my readers. I am grateful for your encouragement, for many of you have written to me. Looking ahead, none of us of course knows what the future of printing and publishing may be. But I myself am confident that the future of books is assured and that, though they will be complemented, they will never be altogether replaced. For there is something unique about books. Our favorite books become very precious to us and we even develop with them an almost living and affectionate relationship. Is it an altogether fanciful fact that we handle, stroke and even smell them as tokens of our esteem and affection? I am not referring only to an author’s feeling for what he has written, but to all readers and their library. I have made it a rule not to quote from any book unless I have first handled it. So let me urge you to keep reading, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same. For this is a much neglected means of grace… Once again, farewell! [p. 136-137].
In none of these chapters does Stott say all that needs to be said on the topic, and many are explored in more detail in his previous publications. The Radical Disciple is more like what I imagine he might say to a young friend who is accompanying him to the place of his retirement, and who has the chance to listen in on what Stott is most exercised to pray for when he thinks of the church he has served so faithfully for so many years. It isn’t the final word, perhaps, but it’s a timely one, and a word of wisdom worth heeding.