Theologian J.I. Packer served as Professor of Theology at Regent College, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is known for making theological truths clear and devotional. His long writing and speaking career has led to numerous books, with his classic Knowing God (first published in 1973) selling over one million copies.
Among other characteristics, Packer is known for condensing deep theological truths into pithy and inspirational statements. In the introduction to 18 Words, Packer comments on his writing:
I love pregnant brevity, and some of my material is, I know, packed tight (Packer by name, packer by nature). I ask my readers’ pardon if they find obscurity due to my over-indulging this love of mine.
I’ve been on a Packer kick lately, and have started to collect quotes of his like a madman. Below is a list of 100 of the best J.I. Packer quotes, many of them packed tight in pregnant brevity. While this list does not cite many sources, a simple Google search of each quote should help you quickly find it.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Christianity, Knowing God, and True Theology
Every time we mention God we become theologians, and the only question is whether we are going to be good ones or bad ones.
A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him.
Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness.
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me.
If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both.
God was happy without humans before they were made; he would have continued happy had he simply destroyed them after they had sinned; but as it is he has set his love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by his own free voluntary choice, he will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till he has brought every one of them to heaven. He has in effect resolved that henceforth for all eternity his happiness shall be conditional upon ours.
We must recognize that God is at the heart of things and that we exist for his glory, that is to say, we exist for him, not he for us.
You don’t get awe until you cultivate the sense that God is very great and you are very small.
God’s purpose at the cross was as real as was the guilt of the crucifiers.
Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.
How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.
Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
Pleasure is designed to raise our sense of God’s goodness, deepen our gratitude to him, and strengthen our hope of richer pleasures to come.
He that has learned to feel his sins, and to trust Christ as a Saviour, has learned the two hardest and greatest lessons in Christianity.
We are only living truly human lives just so far as we are labouring to keep God’s commandments; no further.
Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology.
In Christian living, duty and delight go together…To give oneself to hallowing God’s name as one’s life-task means that living, though never a joy ride, will become increasingly a joy road.
“Man’s chief end,” says the Shorter Catechism, magnificently, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” End, note, not ends; for the two activities are one. God’s chief end, purposed in all that he does, is his glory (and what higher end could he have?), and he has so made us that we find our own deepest fulfillment and highest joy in hallowing his name by praise, submission, and service.
Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are.
Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God… Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.
You can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Saviour than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct. The reason is that the former will deal with God regarding the practical application of truth to his life, whereas the latter will not.
Creatures are not entitled to register complaints about their Creator.
Doctrine and experience without practice would turn me into a knowledgeable spiritual paralytic; experience and practice without doctrine would leave me a restless spiritual sleepwalker. If Christ is to be formed in me, doctrine, experience, and practice must all be there together.
What is Faith?
J.I. Packer Quotes on The Bible, Bible Meditation, Study and Interpretation
Whatever else in the Bible catches your eye, do not let it distract you from Him.
Historical exegesis is only the preliminary part of interpretation; application is its essence. Exegesis without application should not be called interpretation at all.
A God whom we could understand exhaustively, and whose revelation of Himself confronted us with no mysteries whatsoever, would be a God in man’s image, and therefore an imaginary God, not the God of the Bible at all.
Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live.
It is certain that Scripture nowhere contradicts Scripture; rather, one passage explains another. This sound principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture is sometimes called the analogy of Scripture or the analogy of faith.
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.
The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.
[On Studying the Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John:] Gospel study enables us both to keep our Lord in clear view and to hold before our minds the relational frame of discipleship to him.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Adoption, Redemption, and the Gospel of Grace
Justification is the basic blessing, on which adoption is founded; adoption is the crowning blessing, to which justification clears the way.
To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.
You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God. Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.
This one word ‘grace’ contains within itself the whole of New Testament theology.
Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves.
Adoption is the highest privilege of the gospel. The traitor is forgiven, brought in for supper, and given the family name.
There is no moment when God’s eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.
J.I. Packer Quotes on the Church and Ministry
The purpose of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing.
Catechesis is the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight.
The preacher’s task… is to display Christ: to explain man’s need of Him, His sufficiency to save, and His offer of Himself in the promises as Saviour to all who truly turn to Him; and to show as fully and plainly as he can how these truths apply to the congregation before him.
Evangelical churches are weaker than we realize because we don’t teach the confessions and doctrine.
[On the Lord’s Supper] Each time we partake, we should be saying in our hearts, “as sure as I see and touch and taste this bread and this wine, so sure is it that Jesus Christ is not a fancy but a fact, that he is for real, and that he offers me himself to be my Saviour, my Bread of Life, and my Guide to glory. He has left me this rite, this gesture, this token, this ritual action as a guarantee of this grace; He instituted it, and it is a sign of life-giving union with him, and I’m taking part in it, and thus I know that I am his and he is mine forever.
Christian fellowship is…not an end in itself. Fellowship between Christians is for the sake of fellowship with God.
The proper aim of preaching is to mediate meetings with God.
Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.
Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
Far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it.
The preacher should work to convert his congregation; the wife should work to save her unbelieving husband. Christians are sent to convert, and they should not allow themselves, as Christ’s representatives in the world, to aim at anything less. Evangelizing, therefore, is not simply a matter of teaching, and instructing, and imparting information to the mind. There is more to it than that. Evangelizing includes the endeavor to elicit a response to the truth taught.
Men treat God’s sovereignty as a theme for controversy, but in Scripture it is matter for worship.
Divine sovereignty is a vast subject: it embraces everything that comes into the biblical picture of God as Lord and King in His world, the One who ‘worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. i. I I), directing every process and ordering every event for the fulfilling of his own eternal plan.
The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church- the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions.
God’s way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel, and the Church has been charged to go into all the world for that very purpose.
Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of the faith is God’s.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Guidance and Wisdom
Laying out a fleece is the lazy man’s way to discern God’s will. It requires no work, little discipline and almost no character development.
‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.
Remember that, as George Whitefield said, man is immortal till his work is done (though God alone defines the work), and get on with what you know to be God’s task for you here and now.
Confidence that one’s impressions are God-given is no guarantee that this is really so, even when they persist and grow stronger through long seasons of prayer. Bible-based wisdom must judge them.
Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.
God guides us by means of the Bible’s teaching, the exercise of wisdom, and the counsel of fellow believers, plus insights and ideals sparked within us by the examples of faithful folk past and present, and supremely by the virtues shown in the way that the Lord Jesus lived.
If you ask, “Why is this or that happening?” no light may come, for “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, “How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?” there will always be an answer.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Holiness, Fighting Sin, Repentance, and Sanctification
In reality, holiness is the goal of our redemption. As Christ died in order that we may be justified, so we are justified in order that we may be sanctified and made holy.
The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration.
We are only living truly human lives just so far as we are labouring to keep God’s commandments; no further.
The pursuit of holiness is thus no mere private hobby, nor merely a path for a select few, but a vital element in Christian mission strategy today. The world’s greatest need is the personal holiness of Christian people.
A deepening sense of one’s sinfulness remains a touchstone of the genuine Christian life.
Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.
….While it is certainly true that justification frees one forever from the need to keep the law, or try to, as the means of earning life, it is equally true that adoption lays on one the abiding obligation to keep the law, as the means of pleasing one’s newfound Father….The sins of God’s children do not destroy their justification or nullify their adoption, but they mar the children’s fellowship with their Father.
If you dwell often on the truth that God is Lord and orders everything, even the frustrations, for our sanctification (Hebrews 12:511; cf. Romans 8:28ff.), you will find yourself able increasingly, even in the most maddening moments, to “keep your cool”—and that is best of all.
The deepest word that can be spoken about sanctification is that it is a progress towards true humanity.
The activity by which the Christian directly secures the mortification of his sins is prayer.
I never get to the end of mortifying sin because sin in my heart, where it’s still marauding even though it’s no longer dominant, sin in my heart is constantly expressing itself in new disorderly desires.
What is Sanctification?
J.I. Packer Quotes on the Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ…I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words “he shall glorify me,” seeing the building floodlit as I turned the corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my ministry needed. When flood-lighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior. (Keep in Step with the Spirit, 65-66)
The Spirit is here to glorify Christ…his main and constant task is to mediate Jesus’ presence to us, making us aware of all that Jesus is, so that we will trust him to be all that to us.
Prayer in the Spirit is prayer from the heart, springing from awareness of God, of self, of others, of needs, and of Christ. Whether it comes forth verbalized, as in the prayers and praises recorded in Scripture, or unverbalized, as when the contemplative gazes Godward in love or the charismatic slips into glossolalia, is immaterial. He (or she) whose heart seeks God through Christ prays in the Spirit. (Keep in Step with the Spirit, 79-80)
Perhaps there are no truths about the Spirit that Christian people more urgently need to learn today than those that relate to the inner life of fellowship with God.
Our exercise of spiritual gifts is nothing more nor less than Christ himself ministering through his body to his body, to the Father, and to all mankind.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Humility
Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.
Humility is the product of ongoing repentance as one decides against, turns from, and by watching and praying seeks to steer clear of pride in all its forms. And as the battle against pride in the heart is lifelong, so humility should become an ever more deeply seated attitude of living at the disposal of God and others—an attitude that veteran Christians should increasingly display. Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
J.I. Packer Quotes on Man and Sin
Our proud humanism, so-called, has made the world more like hell than heaven.
Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.
We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Pain, Suffering, and Weakness
Fellowship with the Father and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, even when the cross is heaviest.
Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.
I need not torment myself with the fear that my faith may fail; as grace led me to faith in the first place, so grace will keep me believing to the end. Faith, both in its origin and continuance, is a gift of grace.
God uses chronic pain and weakness, along with other afflictions, as his chisel for sculpting our lives. Felt weakness deepens dependence on Christ for strength each day. The weaker we feel, the harder we lean. And the harder we lean, the stronger we grow spiritually, even while our bodies waste away. To live with your ‘thorn’ uncomplainingly — that is, sweet, patient, and free in heart to love and help others, even though every day you feel weak — is true sanctification. It is true healing for the spirit. It is a supreme victory of grace.
Our task is to take suffering in stride, not as if it is a pleasure (it isn’t), but in the knowledge that God will not let it overwhelm us and that He will use it, by His own supernatural alchemy, to three good ends, at least. 1) Our suffering produces character; 2) Our suffering glorifies God; 3) Suffering fulfills the law of the harvest (John 12:24).
God hates the sins of his people, and uses all kinds of inward and outward pains and griefs to wean their hearts from compromise and disobedience. Still he seeks the fellowship of his people, and sends them both sorrows and joys in order to detach their love from other things and attach it to himself.
The same wisdom that ordered the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian life today. We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now. What do they mean? Simple that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained, yet, and his is dealing with us accordingly.
Weaknesses, far from a hindrance to successful ministry, are the very means by which the strength and sufficiency of Christ in the life of every believer are made known.
J.I. Packer Quotes on Prayer
Trying to describe what I do in prayer would be like telling the world how I make love to my wife.
Knowing that our Father God is in heaven, or (putting it the other way round) knowing that God in heaven is our Father, is meant to increase our wonder, joy, and sense of privilege at being his children and being given the “hot line” or prayer for communication with him. “Hot line” it truly is, for though he is Lord of the worlds, he always has time for us; his eye is on everything every moment, yet we always have his full attention whenever we call on him. Marvelous! But have we really taken it in?
I must ask the Lord to direct the Holy Spirit within me to drain the life out of sin and in prayer.
I pray to the Father through the mediation of the Son and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. I may speak also to the Son and the Spirit directly when this is appropriate: that is, when I am praying about something that Scripture specified as the direct concern of either.
The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgement of helpless dependence…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty.
When…we find ourselves so muddle-headed, dead-hearted, and tongue-tied in prayer that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” then our very desire to pray as we should and our grief that we are not doing so shows that the Spirit is himself making effective intercession for us in our hearts (Romans 8:26ff.); which is as reassuring as it is mysterious, and as thrilling as it is amazing.
The vitality of prayer lies largely in the vision of God that prompts it. Drab thoughts of God make prayer dull.
Prayer and praise are like a bird’s two wings: with both working, you soar; with one out of action you are earthbound. But birds should not be earthbound, nor Christians praiseless.
Random J.I. Packer Quotes
Whatever cultural shifts take place around us, whatever socio-political concerns claim our attention, whatever anxieties we may feel about the church as an institution, Jesus Christ crucified, risen, reigning, and now in the power of his atonement, calling, drawing, welcoming, pardoning, renewing, strengthening, preserving, and bringing joy, remains the heart of the Christian message, the focus of Christian worship, and the fountain of Christian life. Other things may change; this does not.
There is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion.
The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.