We have all heard the proverb “never judge a book by its cover.” Why do we all know the saying? Because our human nature leads us to judge almost everything by appearance and first impression. Patience is needed to withhold judgment until the contents in question can be deemed satisfactory or not. Patience is not a common virtue nowadays and I found myself judging this book by its cover. My initial thought before reading was that the cover was ugly, and the title was uninteresting. However, Packer gripped me in his introduction, and page after page his hold never loosed. What an ironic joy it was to find myself to be in error.
Packer’s subtitle tells the story of this book quite well, “The most important words you will ever know.” Maybe you’re a little like me, and you think that sounds exaggerated. I suspect that in the end, if you’ll read “18 Words”, you will wish the title was “36 Words” because you would have gladly spent double the time hearing your teacher expound on the great truths of the Christian faith. Packer writes with what he terms “pregnant brevity” as he waists no space in those 200 pages.
His introduction is worth the price of the book alone. He uses it to prepare his reader for that “pregnant brevity” as he unearths the foundation of language; words, sentences, and meaning. Those eighteen words that he chose to elucidate are so much more than terms in his writing because Packer isn’t writing a dictionary. He shows his reader that the biblical terms are themes that are bound together from start to finish like a climbing rope that can support the weight of men on an expedition to climb Mt Zion.
His eighteen chosen words are the subject of seventeen chapters. The layout of the book could easily be used as a handy resource or quick reference guide. While each chapter could be helpful as a stand-alone reference, one of the book’s greatest strengths is the way Packer builds upon each theme progressively. In the end, the reader is impacted by seeing how these major biblical themes are part of a unified whole.
- the Lord
- the World
- the Devil
- the Mediator
- Holiness and Sanctification
Packer’s final chapter on death is truly the culmination of the entire book. Each previous theme has implications that are drawn out and applied in this final one. He writes like a loving Pastor to his beloved church to strengthen their resolve, direct their affections on Christ, and endure to the end. He wrote, “A Christian may rightly think of his death-day as a date in Jesus’ diary: when the appointed time comes the Saviour will be there to lead His servant into the light of His own nearer presence and closer communion. Dying, therefore, however hard and hurtful in physical terms, becomes a journey into joy.”
Two thumbs up. Five stars. Ten out of Ten. How should I rate this book? I suspect the best rating will come through the many recommendations I will give to friends to read J.I. Packer’s book “18 Words” and future re-readings.