By all accounts the life of A. W. Pink is a phenomenon. John MacLeod, in his spiritual history of the Ilse of Lewis (Banner of the West, 2010), where the Pinks spent their last days and where they are both buried, is not at all favorable to Arthur Pink and claims that his reputation has been “puffed” only by Ian Murray’s Banner of Truth biography. He states that many in the Scottish Highlands viewed him as “an English nutter” and that “on Lewis, few remember Pink with affection; he contributed nothing to her worship, or fellowship and he has no part in local Evangelical consciousness.”
There is no doubt that these accusations and other claims identifying him as “eccentric,” “a restless, rootless fellow” could have some credibility if we consider the evidence objectively. It does seem strange that he could live in Stornoway in 1949 and ignore the revival that took place at the time (he completely discounted it), or that he never met men like Kenneth MacRea—who also discounted the revival—and others ministering so close to him.
However eccentric Pink was and however content he was to have “excommunicated all Christendom,” there is no doubt that the Lord did use his ministry and would indeed use his writings with a wider influence after his death. Iain Murray is correct when he says “the widespread circulation of his writings after his death made him one of the most influential evangelical authors in the second half of the twentieth century.”
As far back as 1919 Pink had felt the call of God to leave the pastorate and to give himself wholly to his writing ministry. Many factors played into the struggle with this calling. By 1940, however, the Lord had hidden the Pinks away in a rented attic in the North of Scotland which enabled him to continue his writing ministry. There he would continue to prepare a body of literature for a new generation of evangelicals.
Right from the time of his conversion Pink had given himself to the study of Reformed material in an age when it was unpopular. However unpopular his ministry of Reformed theology was, he never gave up on his reading of Reformed and Puritan literature, on his study of the Word, or on his writing of the Studies.
His reading regime was rigorous and impressive. In the first ten years of his Christian life he read ten chapters of the Scripture every day and studied a portion and meditated and memorized a verse every day. His extra-biblical material was limited but his interests were refined over the years of critical thinking. He selected the best, as he saw it, and the most profitable of the Reformed and Puritan writers.
In 1919, in a series of letters to his publisher, Mr. Herendeen, Pink informed him that between January of 1919 and December of that same year he had read through Thomas Manton’s 22 volumes, Thomas Goodwin’s 12 volumes, and half of John Owen’s fifteen volumes of works, in addition to other material. We should not think of this reading regime as superficial by any means. He informed another correspondent later, “I very rarely like to read a loaned book. I freely mark and index all my own.”
He was a discerning reader, seeking out particular Reformed writers and encouraging critical reading in others. He was decided on certain points and not afraid to respectfully disagree with good men or to favor one Reformed writer over another. He would grant no author blind allegiance. J. H. Thornwell, one of the most well-known and respected theologians in Southern Presbyterianism, is a case in point. Pink had searched for Thornwell’s works and had commissioned others to search also. When he finally obtained a copy, appreciative of the excellence of Thornwell’s theology, Pink admitted that he was “disappointed with his style ….
Even Calvin was read critically. He recommended that a young university student substitute for the writings of Calvin (52 volumes) the 22 volumes of Manton, the 16 volumes of Owen, and the 12 volumes by Goodwin, “for,” he said, “you would get more than twice as much out of these three as out of Calvin.” We should not take this as a slight on Calvin or his theology, but merely as a recommendation of the style, warmth, and content of the Puritan writers. While Pink recognized and appreciated the men of the Reformation, he believed that the age of the Puritans was “an age of fuller light and grace, and from 1590-1650 a purer Christianity obtained than at any other period since the apostles.”
Pink was also keen that individuals come to their own conclusions. On one occasion he refused to discuss the subject of baptism with a correspondent, so that he would not “bias” the individual’s mind on the matter and that he would come to his own conclusions. Furthermore, his advice on reading Calvin did not necessarily apply to all nor to all periods of the life—he believed in suiting the material for the reader and the “stage of life” the reader was currently in.
Later in 1934 he advised another correspondent concerning Calvin’s Institutes, “much of that book is most helpful!” He wrote, “The mastering of a few such works will mean far more to you than a hurried and superficial reading of hundreds of other books.”
Like Lloyd-Jones, Pink was an “evangelical who reads, meditates and thinks, and ends in prayer.” Pink believed in reading theology “prayerfully and carefully.” Reading is not an exercise of the head, but of the heart; it is devotional and must always be doxological. He pressed also the practice of theology into the life of the reader. It was one of his greatest concerns about fundamentalism and the implications of dispensationalism, that the law of God was rejected in the present dispensation. He wrote in 1941, “Avoid as you would a deadly snake any man who denies the law of God is the Christian’s rule of life.”
In a letter to Mr. Lowell Green in 1938 he wrote, “What I am pressing upon you is practical Christianity. Unless your reading of the Studies and my letters have, under God, made you a better workman in the office, more conscientious and reliable, they have profited you little indeed.” Furthermore, his advice towards practical Christianity was decisive and self-sacrificing. Notwithstanding his love of books, and the importance of reading he advised caution against an overemphasis on books to the detriment of godly living in other areas of life. Puritan literature did not necessarily translate to Puritan living. He wrote in the same letter that the money his young friend was spending on books should be put into a savings account to provide for his family: “It is disobeying God if you do not lay by for a rainy day.”
In Pink’s mind, constant reading and meditating with endurance on good material was also necessary as a fortification against the errors of the day and as a corrective to the shallow and aberrant theology that was so prevalent in the church. Writing again to Lowell Green (December 1934) he speaks about reading Calvin: “You would be fortified against the errors propagated today by leading Bible teachers, who have sufficient truth to deceive the ignorant, those who have not taken sufficient time to become established in the faith; and that,” he concluded with an exhortation to perseverance, “cannot be accomplished in a few weeks.”
As we have already noted, Pink’s theology of the Reformation and in particular his interests in the writings of the Puritans was very much unknown in England in the early years of the 20th century. He lived in a day when the church was distracted by an obsession with unfulfilled prophecy and when Reformed material was extremely hard to get. In 1937 he wrote to a friend:
The last time I “scoured” the 2nd-hand bookshops in London, twenty-two out of twenty-four [shops] told me they had long since ceased carrying any theological literature—no demand for it.
Yet Pink knew what the church needed more than anything and he labored hard, and alone, to provide that in the small influence he had. It’s true he was widely traveled—America, Australia and Britain, and his Studies went beyond where he himself had travelled—but his influence in these places was limited to a few individuals. The subscribers to his Studies, whom he called “Our Scripture Study Family” never numbered much more than one thousand.
Notwithstanding the multitude of discouragements, setbacks, and the constant isolation, Pink carried on with his Studies, through its thirty-year history, like a true pioneer, convinced that the Lord had called him to serve despite the fluctuating subscriptions and a readership at times as “silent as the grave.”
The isolation Pink experienced as he pursued the Reformation truths and the holiness of the Puritans proved characteristic of his life—a series of unsuccessful pastorates in America, Australia, and in Britain, travelling from place to place and country to country only to die as he had lived, on an island, unnoticed in a remote northerly part of Scotland and to be buried in an unmarked grave. He never saw the fruit of his labors. When he died in 1952 his writings were of no interest to any publishing house and “there was no expectation that they would ever have a global readership.”
He was unaware, however, of the influence that he would have on a new generation and, indeed, some of that within his own life-time. In the providence of God his Studies had gained the attention of significant evangelicals by the early 1940s. Dr. Lloyd-Jones had been reading Pink’s “monthly Studies in the Scriptures from about 1942 [and continued] until it concluded with the author’s death ten years later.” By the mid-1940s then, Lloyd-Jones was recommending Pink’s writings to young ministers: “Don’t waste your time reading Barth and Brunner,” Lloyd-Jones advised. “You will get nothing from them to aid you with preaching. Read Pink.”
It is not surprising that Lloyd-Jones would recommend Pink to younger men. The Lord had used the writings of Pink in his own life, when he was suffering from depression in 1949. In the midst of that struggle Lloyd-Jones booked into a nursing home for respite and other medical treatment. He had with him some of the writings of Pink in addition to other material. One morning as Lloyd-Jones awoke at 6.00 a.m. in an “agony of soul” his eyes fell on a word in a sermon of Pink’s that lay open beside his bed. It was a particular word that caught his attention—the word “glory.” His biographer Murray writes, “Instantly, ‘like a blaze of light,’ he felt the very glory of God surrounding him.”
When Pink died in 1952 there was an excitement gaining momentum among evangelicals around the truths of the Reformation. Lloyd-Jones had been in the capital for over ten years, the Evangelical Library was gaining recognition, and a new era was dawning on British evangelicalism, witnessed largely through the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
There were others, of course, who had longed to see this day, and who had prayed and labored for it—men like E. J. Poole-Connor, who was at the end of his ministry, and A. W. Pink. Pink did not witness that which he had so long desired to see and towards which he had worked so hard. Pink had paved the way for others. Spending years in silent study, obscured from the applause of the world, he had labored by faith in the knowledge that what he was doing was in the will of God. Through his faithful labors he bequeathed a rich resource of Reformed theology, in modern English, to a new generation of evangelicals around the world. That resource was thirty years in monthly installments of Studies in the Scriptures.
His biographer writes
It was only as a new era dawned, as a deeper hunger for the Word of God appeared in the English-speaking world, and as the Puritans and other older writers were rediscovered and reopened, that Arthur Pink became one of the leading teachers of a new generation…. Readers turned to him, not because he was a Baptist or a Presbyterian, but rather because they found an unction in his words which moved their hearts with new zeal and love for Scripture….
In the gracious providence of God, Pink’s books are now vastly more influential than was his ministry in the days when the cold shoulder of an unsympathetic generation reduced him to silence in conventions and in churches.