Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John Stott finishes his race

I just heard the news that John Stott died at age 90. Stott was a faithful minister of the gospel, theologian, and contender for orthodox Christianity at a time when many of his contemporaries were abandoning the "faith once delivered to the saints." He was probably the most influential English-speaking evangelical of the 20th century despite not being known widely outside the UK. Christianity Today says that he "shaped the faith of a generation." Stott never married, but he was a spiritual father and mentor to many, including my own pastor. He spent the last few years living quietly in a retirement home. His legacy lives on in the lives of those who came to faith in Christ as a result of his ministry. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Here are some quotes from Stott's essential book The Cross of Christ. On the necessity of the cross. . .

Our insistence that according to the gospel the cross of Christ is the only ground on which God forgives sin bewilders many people. "Why should our forgiveness depend on Christ's death?" they ask. "Why does God not simply forgive us, without the necessity of the cross? . . . It sounds like a primitive superstition that modern people should long since have discarded."

The crucial question we should ask, therefore, is a different one. It is not why God finds it difficult to forgive, but how he finds it possible at all. As Emil Brunner put it, "Forgiveness is the very opposite of anything which can be taken for granted. Nothing is less obvious than forgiveness." Or, in the words of Carnegie Simpson, "forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems."

The problem of forgiveness is constituted by the inevitable collision between divine perfection and human rebellion, between God as he is and us as we are. The obstacle to forgiveness is neither our sin alone nor our guilt alone, but the divine reaction in love and wrath toward guilty sinners. For, although indeed "God is love", yet we have to remember that his love is "holy love", love which yearns over sinners while at the same time refusing to condone their sin.

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and humanity. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge that we are, namely "hell-deserving sinners," then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.

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