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Arthur Pink’s paper flock

October 2006

In July 1952 a somewhat strange and reclusive man was buried in Scotland, at Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis. Probably few of his neighbours knew that Arthur W. Pink was the spiritual leader of a ‘paper flock’ scattered around the English-speaking world – devoted readers to whom he ministered through his journal Studies in the Scriptures.
Since Pink’s writings have significantly impacted my own life, I have taken it upon myself to write something about my encounters with his ministry and the people who benefited from it. I never had the privilege of meeting Mr Pink, for he died when I was a teenager, but I have met many people who did know him. Providentially, my life has followed a sort of ‘Pink trail’, both historically and theologically.
His life has been well chronicled by Iain Murray in The life of Arthur W. Pink and by Richard Belcher in Arthur W. Pink, born to write. I do not therefore need to provide a biographical synopsis here. What I shall do is share my personal interactions with some who knew him, and (in a following article) my impressions of his theology and value as a teacher.
Arthur Pink’s writings and ministry have intersected with my own life in four contexts: (1) exposure to his writings at the church where I was converted; (2) a brief period in West Kentucky where Pink lived for a while; (3) some years in the home of some devoted followers of Pink; and (4) personal acquaintance with Pink’s early publisher, I. C. Herendeen.

Ashland, Kentucky

In the mid 1950s the church I attended – the Pollard Baptist Church of Ashland, Kentucky – went through a radical transformation. It turned from a fundamentally Arminian view of salvation to a Calvinistic one, and for a number of years held an annual Bible conference featuring speakers who believed and preached the doctrines of grace.
During those days A. W. Pink’s book The Sovereignty of God was widely circulated among the members of the church and studied in our home. This was, I believe, the second religious book I ever read after my conversion, the first being John Bunyan’s The pilgrim’s progress (a book that was assigned, believe it or not, to our high school English class as a literary classic). I have never ceased to thank God that these rich writings came into my life at an early age, and am glad to say I have never had to deviate in any significant measure from their teachings.
Although I had been saved only about a year when I read Pink’s book, I drank in its message with great delight. Given that my father was a strong Calvinist, and that the theology of this book was preached at our church, I was deeply impressed with the notion that salvation is all of God from beginning to end.

Emotionally unprepared

I ‘surrendered’ to preach while attending Pollard Baptist church and entered Bible college at the age of 17, firmly entrenched in the theology taught by Pink. I became a steady reader of Pink, profiting from such books as Gleaning in Genesis, Exposition of the Gospel of John, and The seven sayings of Christ on the cross.
My first pastorate was in a church in Pulaski Country, Kentucky, in the heart of ‘tobacco country’ and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I was unmarried at the time and though I knew enough at the age of 19 to preach the gospel, I was emotionally unprepared for the trauma of ministry. I preached the doctrines of grace but tried to cram them down my hearers’ throats.
My nervous system could not cope so I left to minister to a few people meeting in a school house. I realise in hindsight how unwise I was in many respects, particularly in the way I handled the truth – though I have no regrets about the content of my teaching.

Western Kentucky

My circle of acquaintances at that time included some folk in West Kentucky, including the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Morton’s Gap, Kentucky, J. D. Butler. A number of churches in that part of the state were in agreement with my convictions, including the First Baptist Church of Marion, Ky, pastored by J. C. Lilly.
I left the little group to which I was preaching (it disbanded soon) and went to live in the Lilly home. While in West Kentucky (1954-55) I met a number of people who had heard A. W. Pink when he lived in Morton’s Gap in 1929. They told me that he had come to live in that little town and attend the First Baptist Church (pastored then by C. D. Cole) because he felt that he was spiritually in harmony with them.
I preached at the church in Morton’s Gap and stayed with an elderly believer, Mr Toliferro, who had known Pink quite well. People still talked a lot about the theologian who had lived among them.
On one occasion, it appears, Pink walked into church and was annoyed to see a lady in the choir without a head-covering. He made an issue of it, obviously interpreting the passage on covering in 1 Corinthians 11 somewhat as do the Mennonites of Central Pennsylvania.
Everyone seemed to appreciate Pink’s great knowledge of the Word of God and the depth of his teachings, but regarded him as aloof and unfriendly. Apparently a leader in the church became so perturbed by Pink’s perceived critical spirit that he said to him on the street, ‘Mr Pink, you are just a Pharisee’. Unruffled by this sharp rebuke, Pink replied humbly, ‘Perhaps you are right’.

Burgin, Kentucky

Following my stay in West Kentucky I accepted an assignment as a ‘mission pastor’ for a new group meeting in Lexington. Still unmarried, I was invited to stay in the home of Mr and Mrs R. E. Atkinson who lived in Burgin, Kentucky.
They were ardent students of Pink, especially Mrs Atkinson. They had received his magazine regularly and still had a number of copies. While there I studied Pink a lot, along with Puritans such as John Owen, John Flavel, Thomas Manton and Thomas Brooks, as well as Jonathan Edwards.
I also benefited by reading Andrew Fuller, who moved me away from hyper-Calvinistic notions. I considered Pink’s Sermon on the Mount a marvellous work and one that made me an ardent enemy of antinomianism.
Living with the Atkinsons I saw first-hand how dependent was Pink’s ‘paper flock’ on his Studies. Most of the churches were humanistic and man-centred in their approach to doctrine and worship. The fundamentalist churches were ultra-dispensational and antinomian.
Pink (who had himself once advocated these views) taught a Reformed approach to theology, writing carefully researched biblical articles on a whole range of subjects, both doctrinal and practical. His magazine came monthly like manna from heaven.

Isolationism

In the latter years of his life Pink came to the conclusion that God had abandoned the visible church and that believers should separate from all organised religion. There is no doubt that the worship services of most churches left much to be desired in the mid 20th century, and that superficiality was the order of the day.
While, therefore, Pink’s solid teaching was a source of great doctrinal and experiential nourishment to us in those days, we were also affected by his tendency toward isolationism. Although the circulation of his magazine never reached much over 1000, his followers depended on it for their regular spiritual diet. In West Kentucky some identified Pink’s more radical devotees as having ‘pinkeye’.
I married Reta Taylor of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in 1963 and we planned to embark on a missionary career to the Philippine Islands. This project fell through in 1964 and Pastor Henry Mahan of the 13th Street Baptist Church of Ashland, Kentucky hired me as his assistant. I was Assistant Pastor, Choir Director, and we (mostly Reta) cleaned the church as well!

Swengel, Pennsylvania

In April 1965 I accepted my present pastorate at the Winfield Baptist Church in Union Country, PA. This church was affiliated with the American Baptist Convention (ABCUSA), a liaison I was frankly grateful for.
The church belonged to the Northumberland Baptist Association which had a marvellous doctrinal statement – an abbreviation of the 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith. My seven years in Lexington as an ‘independent’ Baptist had not been altogether pleasant and I was thankful to be in a denomination again. (I’m sure Mr Pink would not have approved!)
For 32 years I was an ABCUSA minister, but because ABCUSA refused to take a stand against homosexual practices, our church joined the Southern Baptist Convention instead. In a sense, I had returned to where I started in 1954.
When I moved to Central PA. I soon became aware that A. W. Pink had lived here also. In 1921 he rented a house at Swengel, about 15 miles from where I live, and in 1931 he came back to live at Millmont, about a mile from Swengel.
Pink came to Swengel to work with his publisher I. C. Herendeen who lived there. Mr Herendeen was still active in a church in Lewisburg and I had the privilege of spending much time with him.

Stormy relationship

He talked a lot about Arthur Pink – for whose gifts as an expositor of Scripture he had great admiration. But he also admitted that getting along with the great man was difficult and their relationship was often stormy.
Some of the things he told me are weird. It is well known that early in life, though reared by Christians, Pink turned to Theosophy and dabbled in occultism. Pink once told Herendeen that he could find out through occult means exactly what his father was doing in England at the time. He also said that he had seen a seed planted in a pot and grow up before his very eyes.
But Pink did not like to talk about such things, for they were (he said) the ‘hidden things of darkness’ which believers were not to discuss.

Passion for study

Both Murray and Belcher discuss Pink’s idiosyncrasies. One was the way he jealously guarded his privacy. He felt that as a student and writer – with a mail-order flock to attend to – he had to spend his time reading, researching and writing. It was not unusual for him to turn away people, even admirers, who came to his door.
I was told that a lady once came to his home to ask for help, but because she wore trousers he sent her away with the admonition to ‘come back properly dressed’, or words to that effect.
Such anecdotes, of course, do not enhance Pink’s image in the eyes of those unfamiliar with his writings. Most people expect a Christian leader to be cordial and hospitable, and Pink seems to have failed such expectations. But some have argued that he was actually a very warm and gracious person, and that it was his passion for study and writing that coloured his personality and made him unsociable

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