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Knowing Packer

J.I. Packer – beloved brother in the faith, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord his labour was not in vain.

Live-stream Celebration of Life Service at 11am July 23, 2020. Link here.

On July 17 the world lost one of our giants of the faith. J.I. Packer died in Vancouver, with his wife by his side and his vicar reading Scripture as his prepared with joyful anticipation to stand face-to-face before Jesus. He is alive and at peace with him now.

And despite the fact that he is now with the Lord, my heart is heavy and hurting that Dr. Packer is no longer with us.

Growing up knocking past his knees in the church coffee hour to get the last of the Trendell Lounge cookies (despite the tea-lady’s murderous glare), he seemed as immovable and towering as the highest buttress of any cathedral, soaring heavenward and pointing others in that direction while remaining firmly grounded on the Earth. As a person he was incredibly quirky, quick-witted and lovable, getting away with any unusual idiosyncrasy with his British charm and distinct dictation.

As a fledgling Christian growing up in Vancouver, the most secular city in North America, I struggled to fly faithfully toward Christ – I felt the winds of culture rushing against me, resisting my ascent toward my Saviour and my Lord. In my desperate struggle to stay airborne, J.I. Packer was like a jumbo jet flying far above me, soaring seamlessly through the cultural currents, ascending higher and higher, closer and closer, to Jesus, His Lord, His Saviour and His Friend. Dr. Packer knew God. It was obvious in absolutely every interaction he ever had. There was a boyish joy and exuberance to him, veiled within his frail human body and English dry-wit.

To a young Christian he was our Gandalf; our Master Yoda; our Church Father and Puritan patriarch who brought with him the richness of the Christian past into the present, and shared Scripture's glorious vision for the future which remains in Christ’s able hands.

Packer was an immovable; steadfast force of biblical faith. In any dilemma of life, I would first look to Scripture, and then I would look to what J.I. wrote about it (which he invariably had). My mantra was, “I agree with whatever Packer wrote”. You could do much, much worse.

If you know nothing about the man of whom I am writing, know this: J.I. Packer knew God. He spent every day with the God of the Universe, and His joy and confidence in the Lord exuded from his being. That is why his life was remarkable. He lived in constant intimacy with the Almighty – he was friends with God. He could see and speak into God’s presence in the present world. He was a prophet, a preacher, a professor, a pastor. Hosts of people came to Vancouver on spiritual pilgrimage, and to sit at his feet and learn was their journey’s destination.

He often quipped in his classes that he was “Packer by name and Packer by reputation,” saturating his books, sermons and courses with winsome, seemingly limitless biblical knowledge and clarity, delving headfirst into the most challenging aspects of Christian faith and providing clear, concise, faithful teaching.

He enabled and motivated ordinary folk to know and experience God as he knew and experienced Him.

The last sermon I ever heard Dr. Packer give was at our national synod in 2015. He spoke on 1 Corinthians 15:58, and titled his message, “Keep on Keeping on”. In the text Paul writes,

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

This seems an apt summary of his ministry and life, and a good final word Dr. Packer now passes on to all of us who will listen.

"Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master."


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