A. W. Pink: The Pioneer of a Modern Reformation (Pt. 1: A String of Failures)

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A. W. Pink: The Pioneer of a Modern Reformation (Pt. 1: A String of Failures)

pink1 youth- colour_FotorThe past sixty years in the evangelical church has witnessed a deepening interest in reformed literature and a resurgence of reformed theology; it is, in some respects, a modern Reformation. Much of this has been attributed to the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981) of Westminster Chapel, London. There is no doubt that Dr. Lloyd-Jones was the greatest single influence in this work of God—he was to twentieth-century London, what Spurgeon was in the nineteenth century. His influence, furthermore, has not abated, but has continued to spread around the world since his death in 1981.

There is another man, however, of whom less is known and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. That man is Arthur Walkington Pink, who is generally referred to simply as A. W. Pink. Very much forsaken in his day, “the written ministry of A. W. Pink is one of the least noticed facts of major significance in the first half of the twentieth century.” Richard P. Belcher concludes that Pink “is responsible, as much as any man, for the revival of that doctrine known as Calvinism among Baptist and some other groups.”

Neither of these men ever met the other although each of them was aware of the other’s existence. Their respective ministries were very different. Arthur Pink suffered all of the hardships and loneliness of a pioneer, far from the madding crowd (some of his isolation was perhaps self-inflicted). Lloyd-Jones, on the other hand, enjoyed the triumphant ride of a vanguard. In their own way, however, each had a profound influence in shaping the future of the evangelical and reformed church in the United Kingdom and in North America.

This influence is all the more striking when we realize that neither of these men had any formal theological training. Had he “gone through the mould of formal training”

[sic], says Iain Murray of Pink, “it is probable that he would never have become ‘trail-blazer’ for the recovery of historic Christianity.”

Arthur Walkington Pink was born on April 1, 1886, into a godly home in Nottingham in the Midlands of England. Despite his godly and disciplined upbringing, young Arthur, along with a brother and sister, wandered from the faith. Arthur turned to Theosophy—a cult claiming special knowledge with accompanying occult phenomenon. By that time in his early twenties, Arthur was quickly recognized for his eloquence and capabilities and this naturally drew him deeper into the cult community. Such was the respect he commanded in the Society of Theosophists that he planned to relocate to India, invited by the cult leader who would confer on him the rank of chief.

The Lord graciously intervened, however, and Arthur was converted to Christ in his bedroom as he was preparing a speech that he was to give a few days later for the Society of Theosophists. Pink attended that meeting and presented a speech—but not the one he had prepared. He stood alone, confessed Christ as his new-found Saviour, and resigned from the society.

For two years Pink saturated himself with Scripture. At the age of sixteen he had started a business, in “which Go had granted [him] considerable success.” Despite his success in business, however, he felt that the Lord had, as he said, “called me to be his servant.”

Opportunity, however, for evangelical studies in England was very limited. Just a few years later one writer in the Times newspaper stated, “Today, in all seven English Theological colleges of the Methodist Church the point of view known in America as Fundamentalism is not represented at all.” Indeed, as Murray points out, there were “few seminaries anywhere in the world at that time that pointed their students to the value of reformed and puritan writers.”

In the middle of 1910 Pink sailed for America—destined for Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, hoping, no doubt, to lay the foundation for a life of pastoral ministry. The situation there was not much better. Even at this early stage in his Christian life Pink could identify the general malaise of the church, the shallowness of Christian learning institutes, and it would not be long before he would discover the general trends that unsettled him in the burgeoning fundamentalist movement.

Although Stewart G. Cole was no friend to fundamentalism, his 1931 book The History of Fundamentalism gives us some indication of the emphasis in Moody at that time—it lacked any in-depth biblical examination:

The entire program was a system of precepts supported by biblical proof-texts in order to combat popular conceived enemies of God’s Word and to make the Scriptures simple formula for parish evangelism.

Pink lasted only two months at Moody. Frustrated, it seems, by the immature level of teaching, he applied for a congregation. His first pastorate in Colorado lasted less than two years. He relocated to Albany and Burkesville in Kentucky, where he married Vera E.  Russell. After a short time in Albany he moved to Scottsville, Kentucky, and then to Spartanburg, South Carolina. The exact number of pastorates that Pink was engaged in at this time is unclear.

He had published his first book, The Divine Inspiration of Scripture, in 1914 with the Bible Truth Depot, and in 1918, with the same publisher, The Redeemer’s Return. In 1922 he commenced a monthly Studies in the Scriptures, which he continued faithfully until his death. His early years of writing were very much taken up with unfulfilled prophecy and quirky incidentals of Scripture such as, for example, The Significance of Numerals in Scripture. Much of this early writing does not reflect his mature convictions of later years and his accepted theological position and therefore, as Iain Murray points out, “Republication is irresponsible.”

As Pink continued to read and study he was increasingly captivated by Reformed and Puritan authors. Theology and exposition became the focus of his writing. This shift into the Reformed and Puritan material precipitated a cleavage from his dispensationalist fundamentalist friends in America and meant that his work was no longer welcomed by two of his previous publishers: A. C. Gaebelein’s Our Hope periodical and the Bible Truth Depot in Swengel, Pennsylvania.

In the mid-1920s the Pinks left America for Australia. They were not leaving difficulties behind them for many more hard years lay ahead of them along with the realization that he was essentially an “unwanted preacher.” In 1919, during a particular period of despondency, he considered leaving the ministry and going into business.

Pink and Vera_FotorAs time moved on, his circumstances did not change in this regard. He told a correspondent in August of 1935, “I have not preached a single time this year,” and in the autumn of that year he advertised in his monthly magazine for preaching engagements. There is no doubt that Arthur and Vera Pink endured many perplexing and tormenting evenings alone before the Lord, struggling to come to terms with the call of God to ministry and the fact that door after door was closing to him.

Pink was obedient, however, to the path of providence, and although it proved to be a bitter providence, he continued to look to the Lord, to study the theology of the Reformation, to follow the piety of the Puritans, and to send out his Studies. As the thoughts and the theology of the Reformers and Puritans percolated into his mind they were manifested naturally in his pulpit and writing ministry. He was aware that the change in his theological perspectives was a contributing factor in his difficulties and often referred to Ecclesiastes 1:18: “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

There were other factors that contributed to his isolation from the life of the church. Biographers of Pink differ in opinions on this isolation which has so characterized Pink’s life. Richard Belcher, in his rather analytical biography Born to Write (1980), maintained that Pink was socially awkward, both in and out of the pulpit. Belcher, although writing favorably, is quite candid in dealing with Pink’s isolation and seclusion and highlights certain points that would indicate a difficult personality; e.g., he seldom smiled, he would retire to a private room to pray rather than greet people after preaching, and he refused an honorary doctorate, etc. Ian Murray, however, in his “Revised and Enlarged Edition” of The Life of A. W. Pink (2004) disagrees with Belcher’s assessment that Pink lacked interest in people and gives evidence to the contrary.

Furthermore, Murray suggests that Pink had indeed a fine pulpit presence and an eloquence in presentation. One individual testified, “[He was] an excellent teacher, very clear in his exposition of the Scriptures and most convincing. He seemed to draw people like a magnet.” Nor was it that Pink was given to controversy in the pulpit: “I don’t believe polemical preaching or writing helps the saints at all,” he wrote to a friend in America in 1929. “‘Feed my sheep’ is the pastor’s commission.”

Whatever the personality flaws that contributed to Pink’s being continually rejected—and we should not discount these—Pink’s great frustration was the lack of interest in the Reformed faith and in the disciplines of Christian living. A. W. Pink’s mind was so marinated in Puritan thought that he found it difficult to engage with the world in which he lived and to enjoy the church in its current conditions. Of his two pastorates in Australia he wrote, “Our preaching was too Scriptural for some of them.” He believed himself to be “two or three hundred years out of his time.”

He had rejected liberalism outright and refused association with any church that condoned liberal theology. He rejected fundamentalism also for a number of reasons. He was concerned of course about the spiritual implications of dispensationalism and had abandon dispensational theology. He believed that the “decisionist evangelism” so prevalent in American fundamentalism was a false presentation of the gospel. Pink believed that this was more dangerous than the evangelical Arminianism of the Wesleys. He was greatly disturbed also by the pseudo-Arminian teaching on “eternal security” that existed in parts of fundamentalism, a security in that gospel that did not call for evidences of grace—this he called “Satanic error.”

Having identified these errors, and others, it was easy for Pink to separate from the church; indeed he saw it as a necessity. The Lord had said that the “world” will hate you (John 15:19). Pink interpreted this and other related verses through his own circumstances and concluded that the “world” meant the “religious world.” On this basis then, he exhorted his readers to “turn their back on a Christ-dishonoring Christendom” as he evidently had done.

Continually confronted with the realization that his pulpit, or spoken ministry, was a distinct failure, and after over a decade of seeking opportunity both in England and America, Pink—now in his mid-fifties—retired with his wife in 1940to the Isle of Lewis, an island on the remote northerly part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

We should not think of Pink’s retirement from the life of the church as defeatism, or as a giving up on the work of God. He continued to read, to study, and to write. He believed that “God is still working” but he also recognized, as he wrote in 1935, that his “lot [was] cast in a ‘day of small things.”

2017-02-23T18:07:48+00:00

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