Dr. J.I. Packer has gone to be with our Lord. He now beholds by sight the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that until this day He had only known by faith.
When I first came on a visit to the seminary I would attend, I came to hear Dr. Packer give a lecture on holiness. I remember shaking his hand and shyly muttering the words “Thank you”, wishing terribly I had thought of something more clever to say. He seemed so frail, as though a strong handshake might break him; how our Lord stores His treasure in jars of clay!
Over the years, I’ve gleaned a great deal from Dr. Packer’s writings. Perhaps his biggest influence on me, though, is to be found not so much in his own works (which are excellent, especially Knowing God and his Concise Theology – the closest he ever came to writing a systematic theology), but in his pointing me to the writers from whom he had himself so richly benefited. I owe him a great deal, for he was one of the first teachers to introduce me to the writings of the Puritans. He has written the forewords or introductions to many books in my library – not only to contemporary theological works, but also to several reprinted volumes of the Puritans (see also his excellent introduction to the Puritans, A Quest for Godliness). When I first read John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin when I was in my late teens, I was delighted to find that Dr. Packer was the one who ushered me into such a world-shaking work. Strangely, to this day, it’s hard to think of Owen (which I do often, as I have set myself the task to read all of his works over the next several years) without thinking of Packer. Reading his introduction, and then reading Owen himself, I found in Packer a friend of my heart; Dr. Packer’s experience was so similar to my own. He writes:
“Reaching across those three centuries, Owen showed me my inside – my heart – as no one had ever done before. Sin, he told me, is a blind, anti-God, egocentric energy in the fallen human spiritual system, ever fomenting self-centred and self-deceiving desires, ambitions, purposes, plans, attitudes, and behaviours. Now that I was a regenerate believer, born again, a new creation in Christ, sin that formerly dominated me had been de-throned but was not yet destroyed. It was marauding within me all the time, bringing back sinful desires that I hoped I had seen the last of, and twisting my new desires for God and godliness out of shape so that they became pride-perverted too. Lifelong conflict with the besetting sins that besetting sin generates was what I must expect.
What to do? Here was Owen’s answer, in essence: Have the holiness of God clear in your mind. Remember that sin desensitises you to itself. Watch – that is, prepare to recognise it, and search it out within you by disciplined, Bible-based, Spirit-led self- examination. Focus on the living Christ and his love for you on the cross. Pray, asking for strength to say ‘no’ to sin’s suggestions and to fortify yourself against bad habits by forming good ones contrary to them. And ask Christ to kill the sinful urge you are fighting, as the theophanic angel in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce tells the man with the lizard to do.”
God truly blessed His church through this man, and helped me personally. I am thankful for his life and work; I am thankful that Dr. Packer is with the Lord he loves; and I am thankful that we will meet again at the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead! I pray that the Lord will raise up more leaders and thinkers like J.I. Packer: men who love the Lord, who love His Word, and Who boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ!