by Peeter Lukas
The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
~ Psalm 92:12-14
There are many warning signs that a person may be getting old. Maybe you look – really look – into the mirror one morning and exclaim, “Oh…OH! Here’s looking at you!” Or maybe you find yourself using the expression “back in the day” too often.
But for me, I know I’m getting old when I hear younger people say that they’ve never heard of J.I. Packer, one of my heroes of the faith, nor any of the numerous books that he has authored. Many of his books, especially Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and Fundamentalism and the Word of God were among the first building blocks of my generation’s growth in the knowledge of Christ and the Gospel.
Packer was born on July 22, 1926 in Gloucester, England.1 On his 11th birthday his parents gave him a manual typewriter that became his lifelong companion. He was converted during a church service on October 22, 1944 while attending Oxford. More than fifty years later Packer would say of that day, “I remember the experience (of conversion) as if it were yesterday.”
Packer is best known for his writing. In his own words, he got into writing “by being obliging, writing what I was asked to write.” Ryken explains that “the desire of a beginning young scholar (is) to get into print…prolific authors have the urge to publish, and without that urge a person does not become a publishing author.”
Packer wrote as the rest of us breathe – out of necessity, frequently, and with seeming ease. By 1995, according to historian Mark Noll, “Packer’s published books numbered 160.” This doesn’t include innumerable pamphlets and what Packer nicknamed “fugitive pieces”.
Fast forward to January 2016. Packer announced that “over Christmas macular degeneration struck so that I can no longer read or write.” His ministry had come to a close. His typewriter would now be idle. His response? “God knows what he’s doing.” Rather than being paralyzed by fear or self-pity, Packer was confident: “…this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from him.”
He was asked in 2016 whether or not he was encouraged with the present state of the Church. His response: “Yes, I don’t see how any Christian under any circumstances can’t be encouraged who focuses on God. I don’t see how any Christian can be discouraged, because God is in charge—God knows what he’s doing, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose [Rom. 8:28], and our hope is in Christ. Those things don’t change, and those are the things to focus on.”
And when asked what his final words to the church would be, he answered, “I think I can boil it down to four words: Glorify Christ every way.”
J.I. Packer is still my hero today as he continues his last lap of life. He has run the good race, bearing fruit in his old age. The older you get the more you thank God for such men and women.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue this devotional with some quotes from several of his books. My hope is to entice some of you to know J.I. Packer and his writings a bit more.
1 For a full biography, see Leland Ryken, J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.