A Very Personal Word "About" and "From" J. I. Packer4
The news below strikes very deeply in my heart and at first brought me to tears. But tears of sadness soon turned to tears of gratitude and joy as I reflected on the impact and influence of J. I. Packer not only on my own life but on the lives of tens of thousands of Christians over nearly a century of time. Continue reading . . .
The news below strikes very deeply in my heart and at first brought me to tears. But tears of sadness soon turned to tears of gratitude and joy as I reflected on the impact and influence of J. I. Packer not only on my own life but on the lives of tens of thousands of Christians over nearly a century of time.
As many of you know, I had the honor of writing a book on Packer’s view of the Christian life, part of Crossway Publisher’s series of Theologians on the Christian Life. Soon after the book was released I received a short note of appreciation from Dr. Packer. It was, as you would expect, typed on an old fashioned typewriter. He never has used a computer. At the top of the small page it says, A note from Mr. James Packer. Why is that significant? Well, I find it encouraging that his personal note paper does not describe him as “Dr.” James Packer, but “Mr. James Packer.” A mere trifle, or yet another indication of his humility? I’ll let you decide. The note, dated November 17, 2015, reads as follows:
This is the note that I should have written you weeks or maybe months ago to express my admiration for what you made of me for Crossway. In terms of what I recommend, and hope (though fail) to be myself, I think you got me exactly right. So thank you for all your effort.
It seems a very long time since we were in touch. I hope you keep well, as I do, quite amazingly, and are enjoying a fruitful pastorate.
I am slowing down, but have not yet ground to a halt, and hope to get one or two more things done – we shall see.
Advent and Christmas blessings to you, Sam –
“Jim” is written out in longhand, not typed. Yes, I have the note framed and on my desk.
I didn’t know when he sent this to me that his comment about “slowing down” and his expressed desire to “get one or two more things done” would be as meaningful as it now is. For as you’ll see below, in the article from Justin Taylor, Jim Packer has developed macular degeneration in his right eye. His left eye has suffered from the same affliction for over a decade. He is, for all intents and purposes, blind. He retains some peripheral vision, but cannot read or write. Here is Justin’s explanation:
"Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for those over the age of 65. The macula is a small spot near the center of the retina that helps to focus on objects straight ahead. Degeneration of the macula does not in itself lead to total blindness, but it can make it nearly impossible to read, write, or even recognize faces.
The disease struck Dr. Packer’s right eye over Christmas, which means (at time of writing) he has only been living with this for the past few weeks. He is unable to read, and therefore he will be unable to travel and speak. Because so much of his writing involves initial working with a ballpoint pen and blank paper, he is also unable to write.
You can read Ivan Mesa’s TGC [The Gospel Coalition] interview with Dr. Packer today on his perspective on these developments.
Two of his final books have had resonance with the challenges he is currently facing: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength (Crossway, 2013) and Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Crossway, 2014).
In the latter volume, he explained the difference between a worldly and a biblical view of aging:
How should we view the onset of old age? The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss, whereby strength is drained from both mind and body and the capacity to look forward and move forward in life’s various departments is reduced to nothing. . . .
But here the Bible breaks in, highlighting the further thought that spiritual ripeness is worth far more than material wealth in any form, and that spiritual ripeness should continue to increase as one gets older.
The Bible’s view is that aging, under God and by grace, will bring wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing, and encouraging. In Proverbs 1-7 an evidently elderly father teaches realistic moral and spiritual wisdom to his adult but immature son. In Psalm 71 an elderly preacher who has given the best years of his life to teaching the truth about God in the face of much opposition prays as follows:
You, O LORD, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. . . .Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. . . . But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps. 71:5, 9, 14-18)
And Psalm 92:12 and 14 declare:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. . . . They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.
This biblical expectation and, indeed, promise of ripeness growing and service of others continuing as we age with God is the substance of the last-lap image of our closing years, in which we finish our course. Runners in a distance race, like jockeys in a horse race, always try to keep something in reserve for a final sprint. And my contention is going to be that, so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of the race of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.
I thank God tonight that James Innell Packer’s course is not yet finished and that he is still running the race. In accordance with this counsel, I pray it will be a spiritual sprint through the finish line.
I too thank God for this humble servant whose life has taken so many turns and whose love for the Lord has produced so much fruit for the glory of Christ and the good of his people. I pray that “Jim” Packer will flourish until life’s end (which I pray will not come for many, many years) and continue to exert the sanctifying influence on others that he has exerted on me.