In an essay on “John Owen on Spiritual Gifts” in A Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer points that spiritual gifts were not much debated in Puritan theology and that Owen’s Discourse on Spiritual Gifts (published posthumously) is the only full-scale treatment of the subject by a major writer. Some of the questions we are asking today were not even raised at this time. For example, Packer writes, “Seventeenth-century England did not, to my knowledge, produce anyone who claimed the gift of tongues. . . .”
So how would the great John Owen have interacted with our contemporary debates? Packer writes: “it may be supposed (though this, in the the nature of the case, can only be a guess) that were Owen confronted with modern Pentecostal phenomena he would judge each case a posteriori, on its own merit, according to these four principles:”
1. Since the presumption against any such renewal is strong, and liability to ‘enthusiasm’ is part of the infirmity of every regenerate man, any extra-rational manifestation like glossolalia needs to be watched and tested most narrowly, over a considerable period of time, before one can, even provisionally, venture to ascribe it to God.
2. Since the use of a person’s gifts is intended by God to further the work of grace in his own soul (we shall see Owen arguing this later), the possibility that (for instance) a man’s glossolalia is from God can only be entertained at all as long as it is accompanied by a discernible ripening of the fruit of the Spirit in his life.
3. To be more interested in extraordinary gifts of lesser worth than in ordinary ones of greater value; to be more absorbed in seeking one’s own spiritual enrichment than in seeking the edifying of the church; and to have one’s attention centred on the Holy Spirit, whereas the Spirit himself is concerned to centre our attention on Jesus Christ—these traits are sure signs of ‘enthusiasm’ wherever they are found, even in those whom seem most saintly.
4. Since one can never conclusively prove that any charismatic manifestation is identical with what is claimed as its New Testament counterpart, one can never in any particular case have more than a tentative and provisional opinion, open to constant reconsideration as time and life go on. Owen was deeply concerned to bring out the supernaturalness of the Christian life, and to do justice to the Spirit’s work in it, but whether he could have felt close sympathy with any form of modern Pentecostalism is a question about which opinions might differ.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
Sam Storms posts:
The Christian life, or sanctification, is partly a matter of putting “to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), what some translations refer to as the “mortification” of sin. “This too,” notes J. I. Packer, “is hard. It is a matter of negating, wishing dead, and laboring to thwart, inclinations, cravings, and habits that have been in you . . . for a long time. Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process” (Rediscovering Holiness, 175).
But how precisely is this done? Packer helps us here:
“Outward acts of sin come from inner sinful urges, so we must learn to starve these urges of what stimulates them (porn magazines, for instance, if the urge is lust; visits to smorgasbords, if the urge is gluttony; gamblings and lotteries, if the urge is greed; and so on). And when the urge is upon us, we must learn, as it were, to run to our Lord and cry for help, asking him to deepen our sense of his own holy presence and redeeming love, to give us the strength to say ‘no’ to that which can only displease him. It is the Spirit who moves us to act this way, who makes our sense of the holy love of Christ vivid, who imparts the strength for which we pray, and who actually drains the life out of the sins we starve” (175).
Would we recognize a reviving of religion if we were part of one?
I ask myself that question. For more than half a century the need of such reviving in the places where I have lived, worshiped, and worked has weighed me down.
I have read of past revivals. I have learned, through a latter-day revival convert from Wales, that there is a tinc in the air, a kind of moral and spiritual electricity, when God’s close presence is enforcing his Word.
I have sat under the electrifying ministry of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who as it were brought God into the pulpit with him and let him loose on the listeners. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry blessed many, but he never believed he was seeing the revival he sought.
I have witnessed remarkable evangelical advances, not only academic but also pastoral, with churches growing spectacularly through the gospel on both sides of the Atlantic and believers maturing in the life of repentance as well as in the life of joy.
Have I seen revival? I think not—but would I know? From a distance, the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary working of God’s Spirit looks like black and white, a difference of kind; to Edwards, however, at close range, it appeared a matter of degree, as his Narrative and his Brainerd volume (to look no further) make clear.
Some evangelicals need to be asked, Are you not expecting too little from God in the way of moral transformation?
But others need to be asked, Are you not expecting too much from God in the way of situational drama?
Do we always know when we are in a revival situation?
— J.I. Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion: A Study in the Mind of Jonathan Edwards,” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 107-108.
The best book on the doctrine of Scripture has never been written, and is by J.I. Packer.
Every time I teach on the doctrine of Scripture, I find myself reaching for a few J.I. Packer quotations that have coalesced in my memory to form a complete statement on bibliology. But when I reach for the book they’re in, I discover that they’re not in a book. They’re in three different books: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1965, rev 2005), and Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (1996).
I don’t know how Packer or his publishers think of these books, but I think of them as his Scripture trilogy. They don’t exactly fit together tightly, and don’t seem to be part of a plan. There is a great deal of repetition among them. They were provoked by very different situations and aimed at different audiences. The ‘Fundamentalism’ book is feisty and contrarian, God Has Spoken was first written specifically for Anglicans, and Truth and Power is itself gathered up from disparate essays to make a book.
None of the three is perfect, but I shelve them together, and taken together these 500 pages cover most of what I need for a doctrine of Scripture. It’s also worth noting that Packer has written more than this on bibliology; the fugitive pieces are tracked by Paul R. House in the chapter “God has Spoken: The Primacy of Scripture in J.I. Packer’s Ministry,” in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought.
A few favourite lines. From ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God:
Accordingly, we shall contend that ‘Fundamentalism’ (in so far as consistent Evangelicalism is meant by this term) is in principle nothing but Christianity itself. (p. 22) (Packer goes on to give reasons why the word itself is not helpful in 1958, p. 30ff)
Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility. Doctrine, according to Liberalism, has a precisely similar character. (p. 26)
One reason why Evangelicals are regarded by some as obscurantist is that, in fact, they sometimes are. (p. 36)
But if the term ‘Evangelicalism’ be given its historic meaning –fidelity to the doctrinal content of the gospel– then ‘liberal Evangelicalism’ is a contradiction in terms… (p. 38)
It is true that many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians spoke of Scripture as ‘dictated by the Holy Ghost’; but all they meant by this was that the authors wrote word for word what God intended. The language of dictation was invoked to signify not the method or psychology of God’s guidance of them, but simply the fact and result of it; not the nature of their own mental processes, but the relation of what they wrote to the divine intention. (p. 78)
According to Scripture, God reveals Himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them. Indeed, the biblical position is that the mighty acts of God are not revelation to man at all, except in so far as they are accompanied by words of God to explain them. Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it. (p. 92)
From God Has Spoken:
Scripture… proves itself to be God’s authentic word by mediating God’s presence, power and personal address to us in and by its record of men’s knowledge of Him long ago. (p. 19)
God judges our pride by leaving us to the barrenness, hunger, and discontent which flow from our self-induced inability to hear His Word. (p. 26)
Revelation is a verbal activity. ‘God spoke.’ This is not a metaphor for some non-verbal mode of communication; the verb is being used as literally a any human words about God can ever be. (p. 63)
The fact we must face is that if there is no verbal revelation, there is no revelation at all, not even in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. (p. 73)
From Truth and Power:
The Bible is and always has been the book of the church, the source of its faith, thought, preaching, order, worship, praise, prayer and song. The inseparability is conscious; the church always has been, and when in its senses has tried to show itself to be, the church of the book, learning its identity, calling, mission, knowledge of God and knowledge of itself in and under God from the pages of Holy Writ. (p. 47)
Have you ever noticed that we use the phrase ‘Word of God’ in two sense? Sometimes we use it to mean the text of Scripture, as when we call printed Bibles copies of the Word of God. That is a natural usage, but not a strictly scriptural one. When the Bible uses ‘word of God’ in revelatory contexts, it means God’s message, either (as int he prophets) a particular occasional communication to some person or persons or (as in the New Testament) the gospel, God’s message to the world, or (as in Ps. 119) the total message of the Scriptures. (p. 105)
Suppose one resolves before God to make the quest for life and health and peace through Jesus Christ one’s priority and to that end to become a latter-day Bible moth. (p. 148)
J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:
“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’
The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.
The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
“It cannot be over-emphasized that we have not seen the full meaning of the cross till we have seen it as the centre of the gospel, flanked on the one hand by total inability and unconditional surrender and on the other by irresistible grace and final preservation.
Christ died to save a certain company of helpless sinners upon whom God had set his free saving love. Christ’s death ensured the calling and keeping — the present and final salvation — of all whose sins he bore. That is what Calvary meant, and means. The cross saved; the cross saves.”
— J. I. Packer A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 138
(HT: Of First Importance)
Was there ever such love?
Rabbi Duncan was a great old Reformed teacher in New College, Edinburgh, a hundred and more years ago. In one of his famous excursions in his classes, where he would move off from the Hebrew he was supposed to be teaching to theological reflections on this or that, he threw out the following question: “Do you know what Calvary was? What? What? What? Do you know what Calvary was?” Then, having waited a little and having walked up and down in front of them in silence, he looked at them again and said, “I’ll tell you what Calvary was. It was damnation, and he took it lovingly.” The students in his class reported that there were tears on his face as he said this. And well there might be. “Damnation, and he took it lovingly.”
– J.I. Packer, Knowing Christianity
(HT: Jared Wilson)
“There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.
It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centrepiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.”
J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 138-39
(HT: Of First Importance)
J. I. Packer:
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. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
—Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 41-42, emphasis added.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
What is union with Christ? And how does this union help us advance in personal holiness?
We asked J. I. Packer recently, and he answered in this rich 9-minute video:
“[As a Christian] you have to face a great deal of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But as the new creatures that you are in Christ — risen with him, with the power of his resurrection mediated through the Holy Spirit into the actual living of your life — you can stand fast. You pray for power to stand fast. You set yourself to stand fast. And you find that you are standing fast. In his strength you can do it. And this is one of the secrets of sanctification, the secret which I would say matches, balances, and complements what we were saying earlier on about mortification (draining life out of sinful desires, urges, and lusts). . . . [Union with Christ] is the basic relationship from which flows the gift of the Spirit who indwells you and through which, via the Spirit, comes the power to model your life behaviorally on Christ.”
J. I. Packer:
“Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.
The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.
All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.”
J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.
(HT: Josh Etter)