01 April 2011

Arthur Pink

One hundred and twenty five years ago today, on April 1 1886, Arthur Pink was born in Nottingham England. Growing up in the late Victorian era, and after being rescued from the occult he went on to serve the Lord during the tumultuous first half of the 20th century, dying on the Isle of Lewis in 1952. During the course of his life he observed the rise of Dispensationalism as well as the ascendancy of theological liberalism. Though originally a disciple of Darby and Scofield, he later denounced the system as ‘demonic’. He laboured quietly and lived both spiritually and literally as a pilgrim. Over the course of adult life he wandered much of the English speaking world labouring for the gospel in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. He wrote prolifically both in an official and unofficial capacity and asked for nothing in return. Consequently he spent much of life teetering on the edge of poverty.

He was grieved with the state of the Church in his own day. He thought things were unbelievably bad in the 1930’s and 40’s. He was right and when you read what he was wrestling with it’s not hard to see the foundation being laid for the apostasy of our day. His works clearly demonstrate that he was not an extremist or some kind of blind uncharitable fanatic. He was thoroughly devoted to God and His Word.

Iain Murray wrote an excellent biography of Pink and as one who has appreciated his works from my earliest Christian days I was quite surprised the first time I read an account of his life. I don’t always agree with Pink and I don’t always agree with the choices he made in his own life, but his own story is well worth looking into. For those struggling with the state of the Church today and find themselves increasingly ‘outside the camp’…Pink will seem like an old friend.

He changed over the years, his views matured, and consequently some of his earlier works are not as valuable. I’ve often mentioned that I’m not looking for people who agree with me on everything, but I am looking for a certain kind of devotion and zeal, an unwavering interest in the things of God. Arthur Pink demonstrated this. Even in his early days when he was a Dispensationalist his works still show the kind of spirit I’m talking about. As he grew in knowledge and wisdom and his doctrine improved he grew all the more alienated from the Church and the direction it was headed. My, what would he say about today? He wouldn’t have been able to imagine it.

I recommend his works and for those interested his biography is also worth a read. It is a story both sad and triumphant, a tale of endless defeats and spiritual endurance. He died in obscurity and couldn’t have imagined that his name would be better known today than it was in his own lifetime…though I can say with confidence he would have been most displeased with those who have sought profit from his writings. He had strong views concerning the merchandising of God’s Word, something quite absent in our own day.

His works are available from numerous sources. The Chapel Library of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Pensacola is a great place to start and an organisation that keeps faith with Pink's ideas about merchandising.

Interestingly in my earliest days as a believer the two authors that fell into my hands were Francis Schaeffer and Arthur Pink. One I’ve come to disagree with strongly and blame for much of the dominant error of our day, and the other I’ve grown to increasingly admire as the years go by.

Pink was not a technical commentator or expositor. There is a time and place for those kinds of works, digging into Greek and Hebrew tenses, architectonic structures and so forth. You don’t get a lot of that with Pink. Murray labeled it Devotional Commentary. It’s down to earth, pastoral, but just because he’s less technical in no way at all means his works lack substance. It’s spiritual meat and in light of eternity his works are probably more beneficial than most. Why? He’s just dealing with Scripture. That was what he lived and breathed. And at the end of the day, his type of writing stirs the soul and drives you to pick up your Bible. The other types of writing can do that as well, but more often than not I find myself sucked into controversies, academic arguments and so forth. Again, there’s a time and place for those things, but in the day to day grind of life, I would rather read Pink.

And like I said, he changed over time. Not a proud man, he had no qualms about admitting to past errors. One of his earliest works ‘The Sovereignty of God’ is a worthwhile read, but in its earliest form was pretty Hyper-Calvinistic. I’m not saying he believed too strongly in Divine Sovereignty, rather he as all Hyper-Calvinists allowed system commitments and their rational outworkings to venture beyond what Scripture itself said. Later in life he matured and came to realize the Scriptures indeed teach that God is fully sovereign but this is not incompatible with the responsibility of man as well as God’s use of means. He came to appreciate that All that the Father has given Christ will come to Him and he that cometh to Him will in no wise be cast out.

The Banner of Truth put out a revised version of this book excising a few portions that took on that more Hyper-Calvinistic tone. This was decried by some within the Reformed community, especially those in the Hyper- camp. No doubt the Banner’s edition did indeed reflect the mature theology of Pink, but I question the integrity of tinkering with his work like that. I think it might have been better to leave it as it was and perhaps have Murray his biographer, write a lengthy forward. I only mention it because those unfamiliar are likely to stumble on the controversy if they bother to research him. The Baker edition is the original, the Banner of Truth version has been edited.

Dominionists and many Christians today would view Pink as something of a loser or an uncharitable recluse. Not at all. His choices might not be mine, but his tale is old as Scripture itself. He fought the true fight, in the face of adversity he kept the faith and walked in integrity. He was nothing in the eyes of the world but in the end he was more than a conqueror. He laboured with a feverish intensity with a fellowship scattered across the globe even while living quietly among his books assisted by his devoted wife.

I happened to glance at his biography on my shelf this morning and I remembered he was born in 1 April 1886. His words are needed more than ever today. Book after book has been written since his day regarding Scripture and Theology. Some are even written by good men and represent a sound theology, but I would still say his works are superior and I’m more likely to grab Pink off the shelf than I am any other Theologian or Commentator of our day. He sought the old paths and certainly belongs within the larger Reformed tradition… but he wasn’t a slave to it. If Scripture led him elsewhere, he followed the Master he loved.

For those unfamiliar with Arthur Pink, I recommend him. His Studies in the Scriptures are available on line and many of his books are really nothing more than the various series from his magazine being bound together. His works on Elijah and Elisha have long been favourites.

There are many I look forward to seeing some day when we’re all united and this whole business is completed….Arthur Pink is one of them. Though I was born after he had left this earth, I have greatly benefited from his writings as well as the story of his life.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I think that Pink just wanted to stick with the lexicon of the NT and of Paul.

"In linguistics, the lexicon of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions." (wiki def)

Pink had a similar mind and humility as Paul, so he kept to Paul's lexicon and vocabulary, knowing that lexicon does not lack anything, says it all, and is indeed the inspired one.

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful and not surprising to find you like and were influenced by A.W. Pink, as was my husband and me. We were given his commentary on the life of David, how God prepared David, shortly after our conversions, and it made a lasting impression.

Here, after so many years, in the last couple months I have sought out Pink's writings on-line and been edified in the midst of a difficult circumstance.

Thans for the info. You make me want to read Pink's bio, of which I know nothing.

We do well to return to good works by good men from ages past. How we need an antidote to the rampant hyper-contemporary-ism of american evangelicalism!


Al Shaw said...

The trouble was, though, that because Pink could see the problems in the churches of his time, he ended up separating from one after another, eventually ending his days in relative isolation.

Which is not to say that he had nothing of value to say - far from it - but his life does raise some issues about fellowship, participation, purity, etc.

Protoprotestant said...

You're right. I don't know that he's someone I would want to emulate, but I still appreciate him and the issues he was wrestling with are only amplified today.

It's a shame what happened with the last 14 years of his life. In some ways it was very much his fault...in other ways he was thinking things through in ways that others weren't. Maybe he thought things through too much! Maybe that's my problem...(smile)

As much as I want to avoid what happened to him, it seems like we're moving toward a time when that's almost the only option. It depends on where you live I suppose.

The one thing that always baffled me with Pink was there were times especially in Pennsylvania when he had several families he was meeting with on a regular basis for Bible study and prayer. Why didn't they start a Church? Was he hindered by his understanding of the Church, meaning he didn't believe he had the authority to start one? I don't know.

Or it could be as I've often encountered, we'll have a bunch of people show up for a Bible Study and they're quite keen on what we're doing, but on Sunday morning they still want to go to a proper building with pews and a piano etc... Meeting in home would seem cultish to them or something. I hope in time that way of thinking will pass.

I know one pastor who thinks Pink was not a Christian because he didn't properly belong to a Church. Murray addresses that in the biography and even though he's a staunch Free Church of Scotland man, he doesn't agree with that assessment.

It's interesting to me as I read Pink and read his bio, I am often disagreeing with him, but I'm continually drawn to him. He's trying to honour God that much is clear and even though he'd probably get rather cross with me I'd still want to spend time with him.

As always thanks for writing. Your comments are always appreciated.

I saw you've posted your part 2...I've need to stop over and have a look.


Jim said...

"I know one pastor who thinks Pink was not a Christian because he didn't properly belong to a Church."

You also know one fellow blogger who thinks said pastor was not a christian because he made such a comment....

Protoprotestant said...

Yeah I know what you mean.

In his case he focuses on the Means, the Church and is down on anyone who neglects them.

At the same time I think we all would question someone who just kind of blows off the Means and says they're not important.

Pink didn't do that. Not by a long shot. He was grieved by the state of things. But I know I've met people like that who would say since we are Justified by Faith the Means or more or less optional if not worthless.

It's two extremes...they're both problematic. As far as the pastor, I hope he's a Christian, but he's definitely rather heavy-handed when it comes to Church Authority etc...

We talk about Sola Scriptura, the Regulative Principle, Tradition, Books of Church Order (which I call Canon Law) over coffee and pie.

We don't agree but he seems intent on serving the Lord.

But I will confess when Pink came up and he made that comment I felt like grabbing Pink's volume on Hebrews (rather large) and bonking him on the head.