Arthur Pink on Dispensationalism
and Free Grace Theology
by Grant Hawley
The late A.W. Pink, champion of Reformed Theology, was a Dispensationalist early in his writing career. Pink wrote four books on the subject of premillennialism from a Dispensational premillennial perspective: Redeemer’s Return, The Golden Age: A Treatise on the One Thousand Year Reign of Christ on Earth, The Antichrist, and The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13. The most well-known of these books is Redeemer’s Return, where Pink stresses the importance of Christ’s imminent return and a pretribulational rapture.
It may surprise some to know, however, that when Arthur Pink was a Dispensationalist, he also embraced Free Grace as is demonstrated in the following statement:
Are you constrained to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Then the answer, God’s own answer, is ready to hand—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Appropriate the provision which Divine grace has made for lost sinners (Redeemer’s Return, p. 219, emphasis in original).1
This is only one of many of Pink’s clear statements regarding the free nature of the gift of eternal life.
Pink was not the beneficiary of more recent Free Grace scholarship that has helped to clarify many issues and terms and this is apparent in his use of phrases like “salvation of the soul” to mean “deliverance from the wrath to come,” and describing the believer as one who has “received the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour” (Redeemer’s Return, p. 43). What he means by these phrases, however, is expressly defined in the context, and completely consistent with Free Grace. Simple faith in Christ was the only condition Pink ever presented as necessary for receiving eternal life during his works written as a Dispensationalist.
Furthermore, Pink made several astute observations that demonstrate sophistication of understanding in soteriological issues from the Free Grace perspective. For example, Pink speaks of the “present-tense aspect of our salvation,” and further describes the believer’s secure position based upon John 5:24: “Eternal life is something which every believer in Christ already possesses, and for him there is no possibility of future condemnation in the sense of having to endure God’s wrath” (Redeemer’s Return, p. 43). He goes on to describe the different aspects of salvation: “In the New Testament the word ‘Salvation’ [sic] has a threefold scope—past, present and future, which, respectively, has reference to our deliverance from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin” (Redeemer’s Return, p. 42), demonstrating his understanding that salvation is a broad concept that involves much more than justification before God.
Pink did not write a great deal of material about the Bema, but states its importance and describes the nature of it being to test the works of believers to determine reward. He states: “…the purpose of the appearing of believers ‘before the Bema of Christ’ is not to test their title and fitness for Heaven, but in order that their works may be examined and their service rewarded” (Redeemer’s Return, p. 210, emphasis in original). In this discussion, he exposits 2 Cor 5:10 and 1 Cor 3:11-15, showing that they are not related to eternal destiny but to reward. He also references Matt 25:23; 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8; Heb 6:10; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10; 22:12, and alludes to the parable of the talents as related to the Bema (Redeemer’s Return, pp. 209-212).
Finally, Pink also demonstrated that, for him grace should be properly understood in light of the special nature of the present dispensation:
Let us settle it once for all that the Dispensation in which we are living is a unique one, that it is fundamentally different from all that have preceded it and from that which is to follow it—the Millennium. This is the Dispensation of Grace, and grace obliterates all distinctions, grace eliminates all questions of merits; grace makes every blessing a Divine and free gift…Again we say, let us settle it once for all that we are living in the Dispensation of Grace (John 1:17; Eph. 3: 2) and that every blessing we enjoy is a gift of Divine clemency. We are justified by grace (Rom. 3:24). We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8). The Holy Scriptures are termed “The Word of His Grace” (Acts 20:32). The Third Person of the Holy Trinity is denominated “The Spirit of Grace” (Heb. 10:29). God is seated upon a Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16). And, the Good Hope which is given us is “through grace” (2 Thess. 2:16). It is all of Grace from first to last. It is all of Grace from beginning to end. It was grace that predestinated us before the world began (2 Tim. 1:9), and it will be grace that makes us like Christ at the consummation of our salvation. Thank God for such a “Blessed Hope” (Redeemer’s Return, p. 178, emphasis in original).
Dispensationalism clearly led Pink to embrace grace “from first to last.”
When Pink abandoned Dispensationalism, however, he also abandoned Free Grace. The once proponent of the simplicity of justification by faith alone now asserts, “Something more than ‘believing’ is necessary to salvation” (Pink, Studies on Saving Faith, p. 12).2 Though he had once used John 5:24 and Acts 16:31 as the basis for the believer’s assurance, he now refers to the one basing his assurance upon these verses as “Mr. Carnal Confidence” (Pink, Studies on Saving Faith, pp. 156-63) and asserts that:
Thousands are, to use their own words, “resting on John 3:16,” or 5:24, and have not the slightest doubt they will spend eternity with Christ. Nevertheless it is the bounden duty of every real servant of God to tell the great majority of them that they are woefully deluded by Satan (Pink, Studies on Saving Faith, p. 109).
No longer could assurance be found in looking to Christ and His promises alone. Instead, “…the attainment of assurance is by an impartial scrutiny of myself and an honest comparing of myself with the scriptural marks of God’s children” (Pink, Studies on Saving Faith, p. 134, emphasis in original).
It is also interesting to note that, like Augustine, Pink had a fundamental change in his interpretation of Matt 24:13 after abandoning premillennialism. In Redeemer’s Return, Matt 24:13 is treated as relating to Tribulation saints being saved out of the Tribulation period through endurance, while in The Saint’s Perseverance, a work written after his abandonment of premillennialism, Matt 24:13 is treated as expressing the need for believers to persevere until the end of life in order to be saved eschatalogically (see The Saint’s Perseverance, p. 24). As Pink ceased to believe in a literal Tribulation period, his interpretation of passages relating to the Tribulation necessarily changed as well.
It is not difficult to see that Pink’s abandonment of Dispensationalism had a profound impact on his soteriology. Such a dramatic change in approach to biblical interpretation is bound to have an effect on many areas of theology. Soteriology is just one of those areas, but it is one that is impacted as much as any other. The changes in Pink’s soteriology when he fundamentally changed his hermeneutics is a case in point.
Debates over Lordship Salvation and over Dispensationalism are often treated as one and the same debate. Yet, in recent years, this connection has only been stressed by those who would see both laid to waste. Dispensationalism stands upon the solid ground of a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture and so does Free Grace. It is essential that we in the grace community recognize this connection and understand that as normative Dispensationalism is under attack, the foundation upon which Free Grace stands is being attacked as well.
The rise of Dispensationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries brought with it a revival of the principles of grace. It is not coincidence that as the allegorizing of men was replaced by the unadulterated clarity of God’s Word, the legalism of men was also replaced by the free grace of God. The nature of man is invariably legalistic while God is unendingly gracious.
Furthermore, if it can be demonstrated conclusively that Lordship Salvation is dependent upon a non-literal approach to portions of Scripture, the shaky ground upon which Lordship Salvation stands is exposed. At the face of it, this seems like it may be a difficult task, but this is being plainly admitted by many proponents of Lordship Salvation as they eschew Dispensationalism. That this is further evidenced in the application of non-literal hermeneutics among Lordship Salvation proponents in their discussions on soteriology will be demonstrated in the next installment of this series.
1Arthur W. Pink, Redeemer’s Return (Bournebouth, UK: Bible Truth Depot, 1918).
2Studies on Saving Faith is based on a number of articles written by Pink (1886-1952) in the 1930’s. It is currently published by numerous Calvinist publishers and is available free online at pbministries.org and monergism.com.