J.I. Packer, a theologian known as “The Last Puritan,” has passed into glory. His ministry impacted countless souls across denominations and left a rich legacy.
A British-born Canadian, the man was born James Innell Packer. He affirmed both God’s complete sovereignty and man’s full responsibility, things which he saw as twin ideas. Packer’s God was in control of all things. At the same time, the command to preach the salvation secured by Jesus Christ was urgent.
Reflection #1: A Thorn in the Flesh
Packer identified in himself an enduring sense of weakness as early as the age of seven. His schoolmate drove him out onto the street, which resulted in young Packer’s collision with a truck. He refrained from the pejorative “weak” to describe himself in those days. Eventually, however, he grew to boast in his weakness for the sake of Christ. Packer’s reliance on God only increased and became a beautiful picture of one partaking in Christ’s sufferings and being content in His design of one’s crucibles.
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB)
Reflection #2: Tend to the Everyman
With book titles like Knowing God (1973), it shouldn’t surprise us that Packer kept his writing simple. The simpleness of the gospel was reflected in Packer’s meditations of it. Basic Christian doctrines were just that: basic Christian doctrines. Concise Theology (2001) and In My Place Condemned He Stood (2008) are some examples of this.
Reflection #3: God the Redeemer and Provider
Being a child of God is awesome, and Packer continually pointed to the wonder of that reality. His writings emphasize God’s electing love and providential love for His Body. And this reminder that God pursued us sinners from eternity past both humbles us and lifts us up.
Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. The traitor is forgiven, brought in for supper, and given the family name. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.J.I. Packer
Reflection #4: Rational Christianity
Packer’s life happened to coincide with that of C.S. Lewis’. Both became writers. Both had an Anglican upbringing. Lewis’ works of Christian apologetics like Mere Christianity (1952) persuaded a lukewarm Packer to see the soundness of a Biblical worldview. Lewis’ works of fiction such as Perelandra (1943) and The Chronicles of Narnia were also profound influences on Packer.
Reflection #5: Soli Christus Gloria
A defender of the supremacy of Christ, Packer was ferocious in preserving the integrity of His Word and doctrine. He expounded on the inerrancy of scripture and helped edit the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible. He explained the Substitutionary Atonement to an increasingly Christless, prosperity-preaching America. He helped thwart postmodern eisegeses by signing The Chicago Statement and advising the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. All this zeal for exegetical teaching, however, was only second to his desire to see Christ alone be magnified.
Glorify Christ every way.Packer’s final words to the Church
In Packer’s lengthy life of 93 years, we see God’s goodness. Meekness, peacefulness, and practical wisdom were all too common. Now free from sin and suffering and finally in the arms of his Savior, J.I. Packer must be generating many wonderful texts for angels and cherubs, I imagine.