At the turn of the 20th century, the major Baptist organisations were Arminian, to the extent that most people had forgotten that most Baptists were originally Calvinists. It was against this background that the Lord raised up a mighty voice for the old Puritan truths of Scripture.
Enter – Arthur Walkington Pink (1886–1952), who was converted in 1908 and simultaneously called to the gospel ministry. In 1910 he left England and enrolled at Moody Bible Institute, but after two months he withdrew and took a pastorate in Silverton, Colorado.
Pink then filled several short-lived pastorates in California, Kentucky and South Carolina.
The sovereignty of God
Over these early years Pink began reading the works of Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Augustine, Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller and Robert Haldane.
After publishing several small works, he caught the attention of I. C. Herendeen, a tract and Bible distributor from Swengel, Pennsylvania.
Herendeen was intrigued, but did not fully understand the sovereign grace of God at that time. Pink wrote back to him quoting John 6:44: ‘No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’, underlining the word ‘can’.
It was that underlining that opened up the sovereignty of God to the publisher, and in 1917 Herendeen’s Bible Truth Depot published Divine Inspiration of the Bible by A. W. Pink.
In 1918, Pink completed a larger and more profound work: The Sovereignty of God, which began with these words:
‘Who is regulating affairs on this earth today – God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in heaven, is generally conceded; that he does so over this world, is almost universally denied – if not directly, then indirectly.’
In the foreword to the first edition, he wrote: ‘It would be foolish for us to expect that this work will meet with general approval. The trend of modern theology – if theology it can be called – is ever toward the deification of the creature rather than the glorification of the Creator’.
The first printing was only 2,000 copies, and even they were hard to sell. In fact, Herendeen lost 95% of his business and was forced to take a secular job selling shoes.
Later he sold the publishing company to Don Reiner, who established Reiner Publications.
Antagonistic reactions seemed to plague Pink’s life. After reading The Sovereignty of God, one man responded to Pink: ‘I would just like to kill you’.
Pink immediately replied: ‘It is not me you would like to kill, but God’.
Poor reception was also a hallmark of the magazine Pink edited, called Studies in the Scriptures, which was issued monthly from 1922 to 1953. Circulation never topped the 1000 mark.
Pink spent three years preaching and writing in Australia. He returned to England in 1928 for an unsettled year, and then travelled back to the States for eight years of unsuccessful itinerant ministry.
Even worse than the initial lack of success of Pink’s writings was the poor reception of his public preaching ministry, probably due in part to his eccentric personality.
Just before Pink returned to Great Britain to spend the last sixteen years of his life in virtual isolation, he wrote to Lowell Green: ‘This is the chief reason why I am leaving the States.
‘God’s blessing has been and now is upon my written ministry in a most unmistakable and gracious way; but my personal ministry through direct contact is almost a complete failure.’
So Pink spent the rest of his years devoted to his writings. Most of his published works first appeared as serials in Studies in the Scriptures, and through his writings Pink had a profound impact, if not during his own lifetime, certainly after his death and until the present day.
Questions obviously arise about Pink’s obscurity and separatism, especially his avoidance of all churches later in life. In the author’s opinion this best-known blot on Pink’s life cannot be defended or excused.
I wish he would have read Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual disciplines of the Christian Church, which argues that if you truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, you must also love the church of Christ.
Pink’s perspective can be illustrated by a portion in his book, Profiting from the Word, which appeared in the Studies from 1931 to 1932.
In chapter 7 [pp. 87-88 of the Banner of Truth edition], he makes the point: ‘We profit from the Word when we evoke the hatred of the world’.
Pink quotes 2 Corinthians 6:17 (‘come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord’) and John 15:19 (‘I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’).
He then adds this commentary: ‘Which world is specifically in view here? Let the previous verse answer: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you”.
‘What world hated Christ and hounded him to death? The religious world, those who pretended to be most zealous for God’s glory.
‘So it is now. … Ah, my brother, it is a healthy sign, a sure mark that you are profiting from the Word, when the religious world hates you.
‘But if, on the other hand, you still have a good standing in the “churches” or “assemblies” there is grave reason to fear that you love the praise of men more than of God!’
True church or false?
Now I believe that Pink has improperly exegeted both these Scriptures, concluding that what we are to separate from is the religious world.
This may, of course, be necessary in some circumstances, as when a particular portion of the professing church becomes just like the world.
But the word ‘world’ is being used the same way in verse 18 as it is in verse 19 of John 15, where Christ says: ‘You are not of this world.’
The contrast is between the church and the world, not between the true church and the false church.
This type of separatistic thinking led Pink almost to pride himself in not being able to get along with any local church. He considered it a healthy sign that he was being ‘persecuted’ by all churches.
So, I think this was Pink’s blemish. We cannot ignore it, nor should we try to rationalise it.
But we can still derive much benefit to the soul from Pink’s writings, works that have been manifestly blessed by God. In God’s sovereign plan, they have played a major part in restoring the old truths of the Reformation to modern generations.
We ought not to neglect them, therefore, in spite of his faults.
For instance, earlier in the same chapter, he wrote: ‘The present phase of our subject is by no means the least important of those that we have set out to consider, and the serious reader will do well to seek Divine grace to measure himself or herself by it.
‘One of the exhortations which God has addressed to his children runs, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2), and it behoves each one of them honestly and diligently to examine himself so as to discover whether or not this be the case with him.
‘Nor are we to be content with an increase of mere head-knowledge of Scripture: what we need to be most concerned about is our practical growth, our experimental conformity to the image of Christ.
‘And one point at which we may test ourselves is, Does my reading and study of God’s Word make me less worldly?’
This is a constant theme of Pink, and one with which we must be experientially familiar.