The Final Lap


With [John Stott’s] failing health, we encouraged him to write a legally valid document providing a statement of his wishes and concerns which could be used by his treating doctors if he became incapacitated or unconscious. This is what he wrote, characteristically bringing his Christian convictions to bear on the matter:

I greatly value the ability to think clearly, to be able to write, to be physically independent and to be able to meet and provide pastoral support to friends and contacts. If I am suffering from a treatable condition in which it is likely that a relatively short period of medical treatment will restore me to my present health and mental functioning, then I would like to receive such treatment. However, I would not wish my life to be artificially prolonged if thereby I am left in a terminal or vegetative state. … The reason that I do not wish to cling to life is that I have a living hope of a yet more glorious life beyond death, and I do not wish to be unnecessarily hindered from inheriting it.

A regular theme of his preaching and writing has been the reality of human frailty and of our utter dependence on God, the God who himself enters into the human experience of weakness and dependence. I remember him once talking about his habit, when walking alone, of remembering that every fresh breath, every heartbeat, was a gift from God which could be taken away at any time.

But the practical reality of increasing physical dependence and memory loss was not at all easy for him to bear. As someone with a lifelong razor-sharp intellect, he found the memory lapses and occasional confusions of old age painful and at times humiliating, although he rarely admitted how much he felt the loss. He continued to preach at All Souls [Langham Place, London], and at times his sermons had us on the edge of our seats as he suddenly lost track of his thoughts and we wondered whether he would recover. With his usual self-deprecating sense of humour, he frequently made fun of his own “decrepitude.”

Characteristically, he remained his own severest critic. During the period after his fall whilst he was struggling to come to terms with the implications, I remember him saying to me that he was deeply disappointed that ‘after so many years of living as a Christian I am still capable of such self-preoccupation and selfishness’.

He had always defined himself in terms of Christian service, and the realisation that his public ministry was coming to an end was particularly painful for him. But he accepted his losses with Christian fortitude, with patience and with good humour. “Like Paul, I am learning the secret of being content in every situation … I would not say that I am happy, but I am content.”

Above all, John’s desire was to finish well—to continue to incarnate the life-changing Christian truth he has preached and taught, to humbly worship the Lord he has served, in “living hope of a yet more glorious life beyond death.”

Source: John Stott: A Portrait by His Friends, (IVP, 2011)

Did you enjoy this article? We recommend,
Weakness Our Strength: Learning from Christ Crucified
by John Hindley



We long to be strong, sorted and secure. And we want this for our families too. Naturally. But what if strength, as we understand it, isn’t part of God’s plan? What if weakness is his way?

“Jesus would not have made us weak if we were meant to be strong,” says John Hindley. “He would not have redeemed us in weakness if he had valued strength.” The author looks at Jesus, at the cross and at the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as he pursues his theme.

He concludes, “God did not seem to want strength when he created the cosmos.” “The world is wrecked. The sails hang in tatters, too many planks have sprung, the pumps are overwhelmed, and the crew is panicking. Yet look at the Captain. His scarred hands are steady on the wheel, his whip-cut back is straight and his eyes are fixed. In his steady gaze you see the hope of safe haven. As you keep your eyes on him, you know the ship cannot be lost. You will make that bright shore, and it will be all you hoped for. More than that even.”

This honest yet hope-filled book will transform your thinking and reassure your heart: weakness is not just okay; it is God’s way.

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Picture of John Wyatt

John Wyatt

John Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Perinatology, University College London and Senior Researcher at Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.
Picture of John Wyatt

John Wyatt

John Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Perinatology, University College London and Senior Researcher at Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge.