What drew Pink to theosophy is unknown. Perhaps, as in the case of others, it was the society’s claim to experience occult phenomena, and certainly their practices were allied to spiritualism.
In a later address on the subject Pink spoke of spiritualism (belief in communication with the spirit of the dead) as the ‘pioneer’ to theosophy. Many, he said, were attracted to the occult simply by curiosity, and then by a desire to investigate the proof it offered of the existence of the spirit world.
‘Nearly every spiritist I have met’, he wrote, ‘began by being a blank unbeliever in its phenomena.’ Then, when ‘they see its phenomena are real, they accept the explanation given’.
The biography of G. Whitfield Guinness tells of what happened when he, and others from a Christian background, attended a séance while students at Cambridge:
‘For about twenty minutes nothing particular happened. The table round which they were seated gave no response to the questions put to it, and they were getting distinctly tired. “Just two minutes more,” urged the medium. The table began to move a little, round and round, then rolled right over and across the room.
‘Aroused to interest, the group began to ply it with questions — two bangs on the floor meant “No”, and three “Yes”. One asked whether his brother had passed his examination (he had just received the news himself). The table gave the right answer.
‘Another wanted to know the number of books on a bookshelf over which a curtain was hanging; it was not the medium’s room. The table said forty-nine, which proved to be exactly right. For almost an hour they went on showering questions, all of which were correctly answered.’
Has Christ come in the flesh?
‘Greatly intrigued, they now came to more serious matters, and asked how long it would take for them to become initiated — how many séances they would have to attend before they could be considered mediums? … A strange consciousness of some unseen power was stealing over them, Whitfield began to be uneasy.
‘Then he remembered the passage 1 John 4:1-3, “Try (or test) the spirits, whether they are of God … Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which confesseth not Jesus is not of God.”
‘Quietly he put the question: “Has Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh?” The table rose right up, about two feet high, and crashed out an unmistakable “No!” That broke up the atmosphere and, for Whitfield, put an end to tampering with spiritualism.
‘Some who went on with it had grave cause to regret the first steps by which they became enslaved.’
Arthur Pink’s involvement led to no such early escape. From an initial interest he moved to a thorough commitment. He addressed cult meetings and became so closely involved with the London headquarters of theosophy that a photograph taken of some of the leaders at that period showed him seated in their midst.
When news of Pink’s eloquent propagation of theosophy reached Madame Besant in Madras she opened a correspondence with him — and subsequently proposed to confer a title upon him which would rank him among the cult’s chiefs (a dignity which apparently would also entail his removal to India).
One of Pink’s closest friends, although a fellow theosophist, was not enamoured with the proposal. This man was an opera singer by profession and, having a high opinion of Pink’s baritone voice, he urged him to study for the same career.
But the appeal of Madame Besant’s offer was stronger than that of music, and Pink accepted it. It ‘fed my ego’, he later commented, characterising the whole system as one that ‘appeals to the flesh, panders to pride, and exalts man’.
Word of Scripture
The date when the Besant proposal came to Pink is not known. It was probably early in 1908, for we know that in that year he was still in Nottingham. He was now twenty-two years of age, and so deeply involved in the occult that he later recorded, ‘Five years ago I was a medium’, practising ‘clairvoyance, psychomancy, and magical healing’.
All this time Pink was earning a living in business and living at home, which tells us something about his patient parents. They grieved, prayed and were not altogether silent. His father always waited up until his son returned from meetings late in the evening and to Arthur’s annoyance often accompanied his ‘Good-night’ with some brief but telling word of Scripture.
One such evening in 1908, as Pink hurriedly passed his father and dashed upstairs to his room, the text he received was, ‘There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death’ (Proverbs 14:12).
He shut the bedroom door, intending to do some work on a speech for an important meeting of theosophists that was to take place on the Friday evening of that same week. But the text so disturbed his concentration that work was impossible.
A holy sovereign God
The story continues in the words of Charles and Elsie Pressel:
‘AWP decided he was fatigued, and would take a bath to relax, but during this process all he could see “mentally” was, “There is a way that seemeth right, etc.” Again he returned to work on his speech and all his mind brought forth was Proverbs 14:12.
‘He … told us he could no longer reject the God of the Bible and began to cry unto the Lord in prayer, convicted by the Holy Spirit and his power to bring a soul to see his lost condition and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. His early training taught him about our Lord, but now, like Paul of old, was the appointment with a Holy Sovereign God.
‘For almost three days he did not leave his room to join the family, but his father and mother prayed, and in late afternoon on the third day AWP made his appearance and his father said, “Praise God, my son has been delivered.”
‘AWP kept his next appointment before the Society of Theosophists; the speech he was preparing was never completed but by God’s grace he made known to them the God of the Bible. A “groan” went up from the listeners. Many remarked that he had “gone mad” and needed a rest, for they were aware of his plans to join Madame Besant.’
Suddenly struck down
This last address of Pink’s among theosophists was a gospel message on the true God and Jesus Christ, his Son, in whom alone there is salvation. He must have told them what he recorded a few years later.
He put the question, ‘Why did I leave Spiritism and Theosophy?’ and replied, ‘Because it failed to satisfy my soul. I was trying to save myself. There was no peace for a burdened conscience, no assurance of sins forgiven, no power of sin broken, no satisfaction of heart. I found I could not save myself and came to the only One who could save me. “Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find”.
No one, it appears, stood with him on that Friday night in 1908. Alone he confessed Jesus Christ and alone resigned his membership of the society. Later he would write: ‘I have yet to meet the first Spiritist who bows the knee to Christ and owns Him as Lord’.
5 His testimony should not be interpreted as though a prolonged inner dissatisfaction preceded his conversion, for he speaks elsewhere of being suddenly struck down in the midst of rebellion.
Christ ‘apprehended him when he was altogether unconscious of his deep need, and had no desire whatever for a Saviour’.
Pink had no doubt that his conversion, like every true conversion, was a deliverance from the power of Satan, and now the nature of that Satanic power appeared to him as it had never done before. His eyes were opened to the real meaning of spiritism.
It was true some clairvoyants might be simply tricksters, but that had not been his position and he was sure ‘the whole phenomenon cannot be accounted for on natural grounds’.
Many of the spirit-communicated messages were real, but they came not from the dead but from demons impersonating the departed. God had called him from the deepest darkness and, if he dwelt on the subject in later years, something of the darkness could come back to him.
In 1919 when he had a prolonged correspondence with a person caught in spiritism, and seemingly seeking deliverance, he commented to a friend: ‘This correspondence has weighed on me: Satan is trying hard to use it as a hindrance. It has always affected me detrimentally whenever I have turned my mind and attention back to Spiritism’.
Called to serve
For two years after this spiritual crisis Pink continued in his daily work, but in his bedroom it was now his Bible that was ever open. Ten chapters of Scripture were read daily, plus one particular portion to which he would give particular study, ‘ten minutes or more’, through seven days.
In addition, he would take one special verse each day for meditation, carrying it with him on a slip of paper to which he would turn in spare moments, ‘asking God to open to me its spiritual meaning and to write it on my heart’.
Recommending the practice to others, he was to say, ‘The writer memorised the whole epistle of Ephesians on the street-car, a verse at a time’.
7 On days when he was free of business he could spend up to ten hours in his new delight with the Bible.
In part this intense study of Scripture was connected with a conviction that his lifework lay in the service of the gospel. In a brief summary of his early life, written in 1934, he said, ‘I was born in England in 1886, and at the age of sixteen entered business, in which God granted me considerable success. In 1908 he saved me in my bedroom. I knew right then he had also called me to be his servant.’
In that same year he had first addressed a Christian gathering. He recalled in 1948: ‘Forty years have passed since the editor preached his first sermon. It was on the words, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” etc. (Romans 1:16), and to a congregation of over 700 people. Though it was not the first time we had spoken in public, yet it was quite an ordeal, especially as it was in our home-town, Nottingham.’
1. I am quoting from a loose-leaf notebook of Pink’s. It contains 109 pages of handwritten outlines of sermons and addresses and contains three entitled ‘Spiritualism’, ‘Spiritism’, and ‘Theosophy’.
2. Mrs Howard Taylor, Guinness of Honan (London: CIM, 1930) pp.77-8. G. Whitfield Guinness (1869-1927), as a medical missionary in China, would later have more abundant evidence of the power of evil spirits.
3. Notebook address on ‘Spiritism’. As Pink was converted in 1908, ‘five years ago’ fixes 1913 as the date when the words were written.
4. Notebook address on ‘Spiritism’.
5. The antipathy of theosophy and of similar movements to biblical Christianity is long continued. At a conference on ‘Religion and Cultural Diversity’, at Melbourne, attended by leading Australian political and church leaders, it is reported that ‘Christian fundamentalists came under the heaviest attack’.
6. A. W. Pink, Letters from Spartanburg,ed.Richard P. Belcher (Columbia, SC: Richbarry Press, 1993), p.69.
7. See Letters of Pink, pp.23-24, and Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press), p.128, quoted by Richard Belcher, Arthur W. Pink: Born to Write (Columbia, SC Richbarry Press, 1982), p.27. Pink says that he maintained the same diet of Scripture for the first ten years of his Christian life.
1948, p. 285.
This article is condensed from Iain Murray’s revised and enlarged edition of
The life of Arthur W. Pink,published by Banner of Truth. 368 pages, £13.50, ISBN 0851518834.