So this is the story of how J.I. Packer made me cry. Sort of. It starts like this:
I had the great privilege of contributing to Crossway’s Knowing the Bible study series by writing the entry for Paul’s letter to the Romans. I was intimidated by the prospect from the very beginning, but editor Dane Ortlund assured me I was not contacted by mistake, that indeed they didn’t want that other “Jared Wilson” or somebody smarter, but actually me. And even though I was further intimidated by the fact that the series editor was none other than the aforementioned evangelical giant, Dr. Packer, I studied and wrote my little heart out and produced what became this. Then I went back to minding my own business.
Later I was visiting with my friend Matt Capps, who wrote the Hebrews entry in the KTB series, and we were reminiscing about our experiences, and he mentioned that Dane had sent him Packer’s edits on his manuscript. [Insert gape-jawed emoji here.] Hold up. What? That’s an actual thing that’s possible? I was instantly jealous. And curious. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t Dane send me Packer’s edits on my manuscript?”
The answers I entertained varied. Maybe he was only hands-on with certain submissions but not all of them. Maybe my manuscript pages were lost. More than likely, however, I assumed my manuscript was terrible and the pages had become bloody with Packer’s savage editorial pen and Dane was just protecting me from getting my feelings hurt. But I had to know. So I wrote him and said very pitifully, “Hey, Matt got his manuscript with Packer’s edits. Could I have mine?” Dane overnighted it to me. All right, then.
I worked out the pages from the FedEx pouch with fear and trembling and started thumbing through. Turns out I didn’t have much to worry about. Packer’s pen was light and friendly. Most of his corrections had to do with word choices or expansions of my thinking, adding the clarity and theological precision he has always been known for.
But then I came to it. Page 18. There at the bottom of that page, as I was expounding on Romans 2:4 in a section of the study called “Gospel Glimpses,” I had written this:
In yet another wonderful affirmation of where the source of power to change is found, Paul reminds us in Romans 2:4 that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Not his law, not his berating, not his exasperation or his cajoling. His kindness.
Period. End of thought.
But Dr. Packer added one thin vertical pen stroke, turning my period into an exclamation point, and underlining it to show the change. It’s not’s God kindness — yawn — that leads us to repentance, but God’s kindness! Exclamation point!
As I looked at this correction, I couldn’t stop looking at it. And then I began to weep. And I’ll tell you why. Twelve years ago when I was at the bottom of the barrel and the bottom of my life and felt useless and worthless and unlovable and didn’t want to even be alive any more, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that some day I’d be staring at something I had written that had been edited by J.I. Packer. If you had said that to me then, I would have laughed at you and then punched you (probably). I had no capacity for such things. And as I stared at this edited sentence — just this one little pen stroke that makes a world of difference — in a cushioned chair behind my big desk at Midwestern Seminary, I started crying remembering what it was like to be face down on the floor of my guest bed room wishing I was dead.
Because it was in that very experience that God put an exclamation point where I had put a period. Indeed, that entire terrible despair was the rotten fruit of my own sinful choices and my own inner darkness. But God! His kindness! It led me to repentance.
I am grateful for these reminders, the big ones and the little ones, that help me not take the grace of God lightly. The gospel is an exclamation point.