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Memorable Quotes from J. I. Packer

Jul 19, 2020

The late J. I. Packer left us with hundreds of important quotes:

Having just passed away at age 93, the renowned evangelical leader, theologian, and educator J. I. Packer has left behind a rich legacy, especially in his many books and articles. He has made a huge impact on the life of the church, and he will certainly be missed. See my article on his passing here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/07/18/notable-christians-j-i-packer/

There would be many hundreds of inspiring, challenging and incisive quotes one can offer here, but I will need to be rather selective. Given that I have around 30 of his books, perhaps it will be best to just select 10 of those volumes and offer two quotes from each one. Let me do so in the order of their appearance.

‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958)

“Liberalism swept away entirely the gospel of the supernatural redemption of sinners by God’s sovereign grace. It reduced grace to nature, divine revelation to human reflection, faith in Christ to following His example, and receiving new life to turning over a new leaf; it turned supernatural Christianity into one more form of natural religion, a thin mixture of morals and mysticism.” p. 27

“The fact is that here we are faced in principle with a choice between two versions of Christianity. It is a choice between historic Evangelicalism and modern Subjectivism; between a Christianity that is consistent with itself and one that is not; in effect, between one that is wholly God-given and one that is partly man-made. We have to choose whether to bow to the authority claimed by the Son of God, or whether on our own authority to discount and contravene a part of His teaching; whether to rest content with Christianity according to Christ, or whether to go hankering after a Christianity according to the spirit of our age; whether to behave as Christ’s disciples, or as His tutors.” p. 170

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961)

“While we must always remember that it is our responsibility to proclaim salvation, we must never forget that it is God who saves. It is God who brings men and women under the sound of the gospel, and it is God who brings them to faith in Christ. Our evangelistic work is the instrument that He uses for this purpose, but the power that saves is not in the instrument: it is in the hand of the One who uses the instrument. We must not at any stage forget that.” p. 27

“It needs to be said that faith is not a mere optimistic feeling, any more than repentance is a mere regretful or remorseful feeling. Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man. Faith is more than just credence; faith is essentially the casting and resting oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow for the past: repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Saviour as King in self’s place. Mere credence without trusting, and mere remorse without turning do not save. ‘The devils also believe, and tremble.’ ‘The sorrow of the world worketh death.’ [James 2:19; 2 Cor. 7:10].” pp. 70-71

Knowing God (1973)

“We need frankly to face ourselves at this point. We are, perhaps, orthodox evangelicals. We can state the gospel clearly, and can smell unsound doctrine a mile away. If asked how one may know God, we can at once produce the right formula. . . . Yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us – rarer, perhaps, than they are in some other Christian circles where, by comparison, evangelical truth is less clearly and fully known. Here, too, it would seem that the last may prove to be first, and the first last. A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.” p. 21

“Wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God. The modern habit throughout the Christian church is to play this subject down. Those who still believe in the wrath of God (not all do) say little about it; perhaps they do not think much about it. To an age which has unashamedly sold itself to the gods of greed, pride, sex, and self-will, the church mumbles on about God’s kindness, but says virtually nothing about His judgment. . . . One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigour with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God’s wrath.” pp. 134-135

I Want to Be a Christian (1977)

“The truth of God’s almightiness in creation, providence, and grace is the basis of all our trust, peace, and joy in God and the safeguard of all our hope of answered prayer, present protection and final salvation. It means that neither fate, nor the stars, nor blind chance, nor man’s folly, nor Satan’s malice controls this world; instead a morally perfect God runs it, and none can dethrone him or thwart his purposes of love.” p. 31

“Here we reach the real heart—the heart of the heart, we may say—of Christianity; for if the incarnation is its shrine, the Atonement is certainly its holy of holies. If the incarnation was the supreme miracle, it was yet only the first of a series of steps down from the joy and bliss of heaven to the pain and shame of Calvary (Philippians 2:5–8). The reason why the Son of God became man was to shed his blood.” p. 46

18 Words (1981, 2008)

“The word ‘grace’ thus comes to express the thought of God acting in spontaneous goodness to save sinners: God loving the unlovely, making covenant with them, pardoning their sins, accepting their persons, revealing Himself to them, moving them to response, leading them ultimately into the full knowledge and enjoyment of Himself, and overcoming all obstacles to fulfilment of this purpose that at each stage arise.” p. 94

“It is true that we could not mortify sin by our own unaided efforts; but it is no less true that the Spirit will not mortify sin in us without our co-operation. He will prosper our striving, but He will not bless our sloth. We ourselves, then, must attack sin; and the outcome of the conflict will depend on whether we fight wisely and make good use of our available strength.” p. 179

Keep in Step with the Spirit (1984)

“Certainly God sometimes works wonders of sudden deliverance from this or that weakness at conversion, just as he sometimes does at other times; but every Christian’s life is a constant fight against the pressures and pulls of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and his battle for Christlikeness (that is, habits of wisdom, devotion, love, and righteousness) is as grueling as it is unending. To suggest otherwise when evangelizing is a kind of confidence trick.” p. 27

“So we need to remember that any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in our pursuit of holiness in the world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us, as waking experience daily disproves it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, just as our Lord’s was.” p. 111

Image of A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life
A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by Array Amazon logo

Hot Tub Religion (1987)

“Let us now define what godliness is. We can say at once that it is not simply a matter of externals, but a matter of the heart; and it is not a natural growth, but a supernatural gift; and it is found only in those who have admitted their sin, who have sought and found Christ, who have been born again, who have repented. But this is only to circumscribe and locate godliness. Our question is: What essentially is godliness? Here is the answer: It is the quality of life that exists in those who seek to glorify God. The godly person does not object to the thought that one’s highest vocation is to be a means to God’s glory. Rather, he finds it a source of great satisfaction and contentment.” p. 31

“I see sanctification as a neglected priority in today’s church everywhere, and a fading glory in the evangelical world in particular. In the past, Roman Catholics and Protestants alike emphasized the reality of God’s call to holiness and spoke with deep insight about God’s provision for holiness. English-speaking preachers in the Reformation tradition (Puritans and eighteenth-century evangelicals in particular) constantly expounded what God’s holiness requires of us, what our holiness involves for us, and what the Holy Spirit does in us. . . . Today, the concern for holiness that was once so striking a mark of evangelical people is largely a thing of the past.”  p. 113

A Quest for Godliness (1991)

“The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-traveled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent, and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. . . . Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims, just as in Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.” p. 22

“These Puritans were great thinkers. The Puritan movement was led mainly by ministers, and most of the leaders among the ministers were brilliant and articulate polymaths from the universities. (Baxter and Bunyan are the significant exceptions, and Baxter became a polymath beyond most, even though he was not a university man.) The age was one of intellectual ferment in many areas, and Puritan teachers had to be abreast of many things. . . . The leading Puritan theologians—Owen, Baxter, Sibbes, Preston, Perkins himself, Charnock, Howe—all achieve a massive, adoring simplicity when speaking of God that argues intense reflective study, deep and prayerful Christian experience, and a sharp sense of responsibility to the church corporately, to their hearers and readers individually, and to the truth itself.” pp. 332-333

Rediscovering Holiness (1992, 2009)

“Holiness, like prayer (which is indeed part of it), is something that, though Christians have an instinct for it through their new birth, as we shall see, they have to learn in and through experience. As Jesus ‘learned obedience from what he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8) – learned what obedience requires, costs and involves through the experience of actually doing His Father’s will up to and in His passion – so Christians must, and do, learn prayer from their struggles to pray and holiness from their battles for purity of heart and righteousness of life.” pp. 14-15

“Spiritual health, like bodily health, is God’s gift. But, like bodily health, it is a gift that must be carefully cherished, for careless habits can squander it. By the time we wake up to the fact that we have lost it, it may be too late to do much about it. The focus of health in the soul is humility, while the root of inward corruption is pride. In the spiritual life, nothing stands still. If we are not constantly growing downward into humility, we shall be steadily swelling up and running to seed under the influence of pride.” p. 137

A Grief Sanctified (1997)

“Grief is the human system reacting to the pain of loss, and as such it is an inescapable reaction. Our part as Christians is not to forbid grief or to pretend it is not there, but to maintain humility and practice doxology as we live through it. Job is our model here.” p. 12

“All life, said the Puritans, must be managed in such a way that it is sanctified; that is, all activities must be performed, and all experiences received and responded to, in a way that honors God, benefits others as far as possible, and helps us forward in our knowledge and enjoyment of God here as we travel home to the glory of heaven hereafter. Of the experiences to be sanctified, some are pleasant and some are painful.” pp. 187-188

It is hoped that these 20 quotes will encourage you to read Packer – either for the first time, or to pull out his volumes from your shelves and give them another reading. It will be medicine for your soul.

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