“The babyhood of the Son of God” by J.I. Packer

“The supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation.

The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man– that the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Corinthians 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus.

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie.

‘The Word became flesh’ (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child.

And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets.

Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.”

–J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 45-46.

“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity” by J.I. Packer

“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity— hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory— because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.

We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning.

It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians— I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians— go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side.

That is not the Christmas spirit.

Nor is it the spirit of those Christians— alas, they are many— whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob.

For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor— spending and being spent— to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others— and not just their own friends— in whatever way there seems need.

There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things He will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit.

‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9).

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5).

‘I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart’ (Psalm 119:32 KJV).”

–J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 55-56.

“God has life in Himself” by J.I. Packer

“Children sometimes ask, ‘Who made God?’ The clearest answer is that God never needed to be made, because He was always there.

He exists in a different way from us: we, His creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way— necessary, that is, in the sense that God does not have it in Him to go out of existence, just as we do not have it in us to live forever.

We necessarily age and die, because it is our present nature to do that; God necessarily continues forever unchanged, because it is His eternal nature to do that. This is one of many contrasts between creature and Creator.

God’s self-existence is a basic truth. At the outset of his presentation of the unknown God to the Athenian idolaters, Paul explained that this God, the world’s Creator, ‘is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:23–25).

Sacrifices offered to idols, in today’s tribal religions as in ancient Athens, are thought of as somehow keeping the god going, but the Creator needs no such support system.

The word aseity, meaning that He has life in Himself and draws His unending energy from Himself (a se in Latin means ‘from Himself’), was coined by theologians to express this truth, which the Bible makes clear (Pss. 90:1–4; 102:25–27; Isa. 40:28–31; John 5:26; Rev. 4:10).

In theology, endless mistakes result from supposing that the conditions, bounds, and limits of our own finite existence apply to God. The doctrine of His aseity stands as a bulwark against such mistakes.

In our life of faith, we easily impoverish ourselves by embracing an idea of God that is too limited and small, and again the doctrine of God’s aseity stands as a bulwark to stop this happening. It is vital for spiritual health to believe that God is great (cf. Ps. 95:1–7), and grasping the truth of His aseity is the first step on the road to doing this.”

–J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 26-27.

“Our thoughts of God are not great enough” by J.I. Packer

“‘To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One‘ (Isa. 40:25). This question rebukes wrong thoughts about God.

‘Your thoughts of God are too human,’ said Luther to Erasmus. This is where most of us go astray.

Our thoughts of God are not great enough. We fail to reckon with the reality of His limitless wisdom and power.

Because we ourselves are limited and weak, we imagine that at some points God is too, and find it hard to believe that He is not.

We think of God as too much like what we are. Put this mistake right, says God. Learn to acknowledge the full majesty of your incomparable God and Saviour.”

–J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 78-79.

“They were great souls serving a great God” by J.I. Packer

“Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t.

We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled 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. In them clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined.

Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers.

But their sufferings, both sides of the ocean (in old England from the authorities and in New England from the elements), seasoned and ripened them till they gained a stature that was nothing short of heroic.

Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wildernesses in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul.

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.

Wrote John Geree, in his tract The Character of an Old English Puritane or Nonconformist (1646): ‘His whole life he accounted a warfare, wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, praiers and tears. The Crosse his Banner and his word [motto] Vincit qui patitur [he who suffers conquers].’

The Puritans lost, more or less, every public battle that they fought.”

–J.I. Packer, “Why We Need the Puritans,” A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 22-23.

“A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth” by J.I. Packer

“A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”

–J.I. Packer, “‘Saved by His Precious Blood’: An Introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 126.

“The best part of the best news that the world has ever heard” by J.I. Packer

“Throughout my sixty-three years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants.

Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel, and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake.

As I grow old I want to tell everyone who will listen: ‘I am so thankful for the penal substitutionary death of Christ. No hope without it.’

That is where I come now as I attempt this brief vindication of the best part of the best news that the world has ever heard.”

–J.I. Packer, “Penal Substitution Revisited,” In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 21-22.