Thursday, May 24, 2007


James S. Stewart's Walking With God, (Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, 2006) is one of the best books of sermons I've read.

Evangelical Scottish Presbyterian James Stewart was voted in a survey conducted by as #1 English-speaking preacher of the Twentieth Century. I’d agree. I’ve listened on audio-tape to his most famous sermon ‘The Wind of the Spirit’ and been enthralled. I’ve also read several of his books on preaching (eg. Heralds of God), and his theological tome A Man in Christ. All brilliant.

You can use this combination of qualifiers for James Stewart: Scottish, Presbyterian, Evangelical, Scholar, Saint, erudite, marvellous communicator, humble, very human. Know many others do you know like that?

He was a ‘saint’. A colleague, Professor Thomas Torrance wrote: ‘I will never forget the day when, after some bitter words by one of our colleagues in criticism of others, we saw the tears rolling down Jim Stewart’s cheeks; the silent, gentle, but powerful rebuke of a saintly man of God’ (p.10). ‘The first duty of a minister,’ Stewart wrote in a hand-written letter to a friend in 1984, ‘is to be a real man of prayer. Nothing one can do for God or man is so important as that.’

He was evangelistic. That is, he called for a commitment. Like this: ‘In this solemn hour of a dying year, [here’s] an urgent question. If you haven’t ever quite settled it, will you not, before this year is gone, look into Christ’s eyes and settle it – now? You have your choice. ‘O friend’, cried Augustine, ‘join thy heart to the immortality of God’ (p. 41).

He was pastoral. See, for example is beautifully sensitive sermon on Life’s Handicaps (pp. 203 ff).

He was conservative: he castigated the ‘newest of new theologies trying to define the image of God in ways quite alien to the Fatherhood revealed by Jesus’ (p. 96). He didn’t like commentators who ‘explain away’ Jesus’ compassion for children, for example. He put them on his knee ‘not because he wanted to teach his disciples a lesson (just fancy! There are some pedantic witless commentators on the Gospels who tell us solemnly that Jesus took the children to his arms in order to impress the disciples, to make a theological point! I think not’ p. 100). And he was sometimes old-fashioned (sexist language, old hymns, KJV, phrases like ‘John Bunyan’s pilgrim hirpling along…’ etc.)

He was evangelical but not ‘hard Reformed’. For example he advocated the use of one’s imagination in prayer: ‘Don’t be suspicious of that. It is God’s gift to you, and you are meant to use it.’

He was very wise: ‘The fact that a soul can be concerned about [the sin against the Holy Spirit], can be worried and troubled about it, is an absolutely infallible proof that that soul has not committed it… Nothing, no blackest, shamefulest shape of sin need stand unpardoned… (Would Jesus, who bade Peter forgive seventy times seven do less himself?)’

He loved the great hymns of the church: in every second sermon he quoted from them.

He used varying structures: occasionally he’ll have a I, II, III format, often not.

Very occasionally he’d be alliterative (eg. the character/cause/courage/confidence/crown of thanksgiving, from Psalm 138).

He was sometimes graphic: ‘A great open plain where an army bivouacked beneath the stars. All around the camp, before darkness descended, a line of sentries was drawn; and now through the darkness there are steady eyes gazing out into “no man’s land” beyond…’ (See pp. 71 ff. for the rest of the story!). Or this story: ‘I remember reading of a hero of the Chinese rice-fields during an earthquake [tsunami]. One day he saw from his hill-top farm the ocean suddenly receding, like an animal crouching to leap, and he knew the leap would be a tidal wave. And his neighbours working in the low fields would then be swept away. Without a second thought he set fire to his own rice-fields and furiously rang the temple bell. His neighbours saw his farm on fire and rushed up to help him. Then, from that safe height, they saw the swirl of waters over the fields they had just forsaken and they knew their salvation and its cost. So Christ, our watchman, has given us salvation by his sacrifice, and life by his death.’

And he loved using illustrations, which as every novice preacher is told, ‘are like windows: they let the light in’. Most of them are from the Bible itself; many are quotes or stories from the literary classics. He assumed in his congregations a knowledge of the Bible which we can’t take for granted any more.

Great sermons: if you want to read first those I reckon are the best, go to ‘Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land’, ‘The Challenge of Life’, and ‘What is the Sin against the Holy Ghost?’

Some quotes I marked to return to:

‘Those who have entered into fellowship with God have entered a new eternal quality of being; and for those who have entered into eternity, death is simply an irrelevance’

‘The God of our joys is the God is the God of our sorrows too. The God who was so near to you that day when the world was radiant and your heart was singing, and it was good to be alive, is the same God [who is with you] when the foundations of things have been knocked to pieces… The God of the hills is the God of the valleys too’

‘”This,” cried Perpetua, one of the loveliest, fairest souls of the Early Church, just in her twenty-second year, when they led her out to die in the Carthaginian arena – “This is the day of coronation”… And there was that great shout the Grassmarket in Edinburgh heard when James Guthrie had climbed the scaffold – “This is the day the Lord has made: I will rejoice and be glad in it… ”

“Ah,” said the great artist Dore, looking at a picture of Jesus he had just finished, “I would have painted him better if I had loved him more.”

Said Alexander Pope: ‘Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they will never be disappointed’.

“These Christians,” growled Nietzsche, “these Christians must show me that they are redeemed, before I will believe in their Redeemer.”

‘Wordsworth, in his poem “Intimation of Immortality”, declared we all come at the first “trailing clouds of glory from God who is our home”. (Stewart quoted this at least twice in these sermons).

‘The Indian mystic Rabindranath Tagore: “Here is a violin-string, lying on my table. In a sense , lying there, it is quite free. Only – it is not free to sing. But look! I take that string, and fix it into my violin. I tighten it up. Now it is bound. It is not free any longer. But now for the first time, it really is free – because it is free to sing”.’

‘It is not the Word of God that is on trial: it is the man who reads it. And if he can’t find God speaking there, it is not the Bible he is judging: it is himself. He has nothing to draw with and the well is deep…. Jesus never said “Blessed are the critics, for they shall find God in the Bible.” He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.’

‘There are three distinct experiences [in the life of faith]: emotional… intellectual… moral.’

‘You’ll search the Gospels in vain for any record of a woman who ever failed [Jesus] – there wasn’t one.’

‘Before the scientist can get going at all, he has to postulate two tremendous hypotheses – one, the rationality of the universe he is investigating; the other, the reliability of the mental processes he is using…And what are these twin postulates but just faith – faith at its most splendid and most daring…. Faith is not credulity. It is unbelief that is the credulous thing, the ultimate irrationality.

A book worth reading slowly (it took me a month to linger here and there as I read it).

Rowland Croucher

May 2007.

Monday, May 14, 2007


John Stott (1921 - ) is the world’s most renowned evangelical preacher/teacher (it has been said that if Evangelicals were to elect a Pope, he would be front-runner). Personally he didn’t like the label ‘conservative evangelical’, preferring something like ‘radical conservative evangelical’.

John Stott is Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church in London and Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He served All Souls as assistant curate (1945-50), Rector (1950-75), and as Rector Emeritus since 1975. He was appointed a Chaplain to the Queen from 1959 to 1991.

Since his retirement, Stott has invested much of his ministry in working with pastors, church leaders and students in the Third World. He is the author of over 40 books, including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ.

Here are some jottings prompted by my reading of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s two volume biography (John Stott, the Making of a Leader, 1999, and John Stott, a Global Ministry, 2001, IVP).

Visit here for my personal reminiscences about John Stott…


The story of John Stott’s conversion is quite moving. ‘Bash’ (E J H Nash) visited Rugby School on Sunday February 13th 1938, and asked the boys (from Pilate’s question): ‘What then shall you do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?’ ‘That I needed to do anything with Jesus was an entirely novel idea to me… but Bash insisted that everybody had to do something about Jesus… either we copy Pilate and weakly reject him, or we accept him personally and follow him.’ This was a new thought to John: ‘In a way I can’t quite express I was bowled over by this because it was an entirely new concept to me that one had to do anything with Jesus. I believed in him. I never doubted him. He existed. He was part of my mental furniture… When the meeting was over, I went up to ask our visiting speaker some questions… To my astonishment his presentation of Christ crucified and risen exactly corresponded with the need of which I was aware’ (1:93-94). Bash kept up a faithful correspondence with this young convert – ‘he must have written to me once a week for at least five years’! And he was in Bash’s daily prayers.

What would have happened to him – and a generation like him – if they had not been so brilliantly discipled by ‘Bash’? What more/less would he have accomplished if married? A lot less in terms of volume of work; a lot more, I think, in terms of some of his doctrinal beliefs – like conditional immortality, his primarily forensic view of the atonement etc.

Would he have done anything differently in his life? It’s a cliché when someone says ‘I’ve no regrets’ but Stott only has a few. (Like: he wouldn’t scold a colleague about an evangelistic drama next time around).


Stott had a passionate commitment to excellence. From Cambridge university days he set his alarm for 6 am (later in life 5 am) for an hour and a half quiet time and Bible study. John Eddison: ‘His immaculate efficiency, his eye for detail and his almost workaholic perfectionism never diluted his cheerful courtesy, [and] a mischievous sense of humour…’ Somewhere: ‘He was noted for his extreme punctuality, his early rising, his high standards and attention to detail...' He wrote and preached with ‘lucid logic and tremendous persuasion’. He liked chocolate, his only vice, but did not touch it in Lent!

Some have criticized Stott’s ‘evangelical rationalism’: he placed too much confidence in pure reason. Michael Green spoke of how, in one of John Stott’s expositions, ‘St Paul might be pleasantly surprised to see how neatly he had subdivided his material when writing [an] epistle’ (2:445).

As far back as 1975 he prayed every day through the nine fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-3). John Stott when asked about the ‘secret’ to his amazing life, would usually say something like ‘The three things I always mention are rigorous self-discipline, absolute humility, and a prayerful spirit’ (2:453).


His motto for pastoral ministry: ‘Lay it to heart to give glory to God’s name.’ ‘It became in a sense my motto, that in all forms of Christian leadership and ministry what we are concerned about is not the glory of our own silly little name, but the glory of the name of God.’

In terms of ‘pastoral methodology’ he believed in empowering the church to minister to itself. Stott used to say ‘Appointing ten curates would not get all the ministry done!’


The ‘clinching argument’ (1:356): ‘…The ultimate issue in the question of authority concerns the Lordship of Christ. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, he said, and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). If Jesus Christ is truly our teacher and our Lord, we are under both his instruction and his authority. We must therefore bring our mind into subjection to him as our teacher and our will into subjection to him as our Lord. We have no liberty to disagree with him or to disobey him. So we bow to the authority of Scripture because we bow to the authority of Christ’ (1:356).

‘The hallmark of Evangelicals is their a priori resolve to believe and obey whatever Scripture may be shown to teach… They see this humble and obedient stance as an essential implication of Christ’s lordship over them’ (1:357). He liked Luther’s comment to Erasmus: ‘You sit above Scripture and judge it, while I sit under Scripture and let it judge me.’

He was never attracted, as were many of his contemporaries, to the writings of C S Lewis, ‘feeling that, though credally orthodox, he did not address the question of authority; they met only briefly and hardly knew each other’ (2:438).


‘According to Kittel's great Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the Greek word for salvation was used in the ancient world from Homer onwards of 'an acutely dynamic act in which gods or people snatch others by force from serious peril' whether the danger was a battle, a storm at sea, condemnation in a law court, illness or death... We use the same terminology today, when a surgeon saves a patient's life by an operation, the fire brigade saves someone trapped in a burning building, or a rescue team saves a climber stranded on a mountain rockface. In each case somebody is in acute peril. "Salvation" means nothing unless there is a situation of grave danger from which a person needs to be rescued... So let me ask you: have you received the salvation which the gospel proclaims? Have you trusted personally in Christ who once secured and now offers this salvation? Only then shall we be able to say from our experience: "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes".' [1]


'When the first International Congress on Preaching was held in London in 1997, one of the most exciting elements for me was the opportunity to meet John Stott. For so many years I have admired this gifted author and preacher, whose insights about the preaching task have meant so much to so many. His little book, The Preacher's Portrait, is one of the most meaningful volumes ever written about the nature and calling of the preacher; I cannot count the number of times I have recommended it to young pastors.

'At a stage of life and a stature in which he could do whatever he wishes, Dr. Stott is today dedicating his life to helping train and encourage Christian preachers in the Third World. Only God knows the number of lives which will have been influenced for Christ because of the faithful ministry of John Stott.' (Michael Duduit, Editor, Preaching)

In his book I Believe in Preaching, Stott emphasized the place of proclamation in his own ministry: ‘Nothing is better calculated to restore health and vitality to the church or to lead its members into maturity in Christ than a recovery of true, biblical, contemporary preaching... The task of preaching today is extremely exacting, as we seek to build bridges between the Word and the world, between divine revelation and human experience, and to relate the one to the other with integrity and relevance.'

All his life he preached like this: ‘Our great desire is to direct men and women to Jesus Christ. He is the centre of our vision. He is the object of our witness. We have three unshakable convictions about Him. The first concerns who He is, the second what he came to do, and the third what He is asking of us.’

On preaching: [Let us] ‘be authoritative in expounding biblical principles, but tentative in applying them to the complex issues of the day. This combination of the authoritative and the tentative, the dogmatic and the agnostic, conviction and open-mindedness, teaching the people and leaving them free to make up their own minds, is exceedingly difficult’ (2:333). When Stott expounds a text so many respond (as I have): ‘That’s exactly what it means! Why didn’t I see it before?’CHARISMATICS AND PENTECOSTALS

Re Charismatic renewal: Stott loathed ‘the interminable singing of the word Hallelujah’. He doubted whether we should expect signs and wonders as the early Christians experienced (so he changed the ‘Healing Service’ to ‘A service of Prayer for the Sick’). He quotes from notes taken by John Wimber in a discussion between them. John wrote that he had never seen major deformities of the body healed, although thousands say (his emphasis) they have been healed of conditions which cannot be seen.’

And it took some years to heal the rift between himself and his colleague Michael Harper, who, to John Stott’s consternation, had an experience of ‘renewal’, not through a Pentecostal meeting, but through reading the Scriptures (September 1962). Harper later wrote: ‘It was earth-shaking… baptized in the Spirit, everything leapt off the page.’ Stott’s ‘rational evangelicalism’ could not cope with that, and their friendship was ‘tarnished’, leading Stott later to make a public apology to Michael Harper (2:155). Stott never got used to ‘charismatic praise’, muttering about whether ‘the Holy Spirit’s presence is measured in decibels’. And he critiqued the Pentecostal movement for its ‘growth without depth… superficiality everywhere.’


‘More of my own heart and mind went into [the book] The Cross of Christ than into writing any other, so that it is in some sense my personal apologia’. The central theme: ‘Our sins put him there’: ‘Sin has separated us from God. So he suffered for our sins, an innocent Saviour dying for guilty sinners…’ John Stott was always surprised at the resistance of even ‘biblical’ scholars to the idea of substitutionary atonement. However the great Scottish scholar-preacher James Stewart applauded the book and the main idea (2:342-3, 346).

‘Because Basic Christianity, even in its second edition, still takes too much for granted, it is now used less as an evangelistic book than as a primer for new converts’ (1: 459). (For that reason I would give Brian McLaren’s Finding Faith to thoughtful young adults).

John Stott gave 95-98% of book royalties to charitable trusts.


(Commenting on Jesus’ Commission to his disciples in John 20): ‘Now he says to us “As the Father sent me into the world, so send I you." I personally believe that our failure to obey the implications of this command is the greatest weakness of evangelical Christians... [which] implies a ministry of compassionate service that is wider than evangelism… Evangelism and social action belong together in the church’s compassionate and sacrificial mission’. ‘I tried to bridge the gulf between the two stereotypes of those who entirely politicize and those who entirely spiritualize the gospel’ (2: 122, 123, 127, 307).

Hence Stott’s favourite expression ‘double listening’ – to the Scriptures and to the contemporary world. And he often said he had a love for people rather than a ‘passion for souls’.


‘There are three strands or parties within Anglicanism – Evangelical, Catholic and Liberal – which are sometimes amusingly described as “low and lazy”, “high and crazy”, “broad and hazy”.

Stott wrote about his bishops: ‘[They] would relax and talk about everything under the sun, the Test match and the weather, and so on: yet I think it’s accurate to say that not once... did a bishop say to me, "Well now, tell me, how’s the battle going?" … Or "Shall we pray together?" or anything like that’ (2:44). (Stott was invited twice to accept the office of Bishop in Australia, in the 1950s and 1970s, but declined).ECUMENISM

To a WCC audience, he listed five things which that body needed to recover: (1) the doctrine of [humanity's] lostness (over against the popular universalism of the day); (2) confidence in the truth, relevance and power of the biblical gospel (without which evangelism is impossible); (3) the uniqueness of Jesus Christ (over against all syncretism); (4) the urgency of evangelism (alongside the urgent demands of social justice), and (5) a personal experience of Jesus Christ (without which we cannot introduce others to him)’ (2:206).


Re homosexuality: ‘Homosexual people are in every way as valuable to and valued by God as heterosexual people, and should find the church to be a community of love. Now that doesn’t mean that the church should give its approval to a homosexual lifestyle...’ (2: 399-400).

There's an interesting story of his disagreeing with a young person who left a discussion group studying John Fowles’ The Magus, because he said it was ‘pornographic’: ‘That was most unfortunate. I thought it was erotic, but not pornographic.’SUMMARY

Here's the hymn (by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788) John Stott has chosen to be sung at his funeral:

1. Jesus! the name high over all,
in hell or earth or sky;
angels and mortals prostrate fall,
and devils fear and fly.

2. Jesus! the name to sinners dear,
the name to sinners given;
it scatters all their guilty fear,
it turns their hell to heaven.

3. O that the world might taste and see
the riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
would all the world embrace.

4. Thee I shall constantly proclaim,
though earth and hell oppose;
bold to confess thy glorious name
before a world of foes.

5. His only righteousness I show,
his saving truth proclaim;
'tis all my business here below
to cry, "Behold the Lamb!"

6. Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his name,
preach him to all and cry in death,
"Behold, behold the Lamb!"

A TV interviewer in Chicago asked him ‘Mr Stott, you’ve had a brilliant academic career: firsts at Cambridge, Rector at 29, Chaplain to the Queen; what is your ambition now?’ In a five-word reply, John Stott said it all: ‘To be more like Jesus’. After that, what is there left to say? (2:452).


[1] John Stott, 'Salvation Today', a sermon preached in All Souls' Church of England, Langham Place, London, on 7 October, 1973. Published in All Souls' Magazine, date unknown, pp. 11-15.

More on John Stott:


The 20th Century's greatest preachers
Book Review The Incomparable Christ
John Stott in Melbourne
John Stott on the Church
My Personal Reminiscences: John Stott as mentor

Rowland Croucher
May 2007