Published in Reformation Today (May-June 2019), iss. 289, 23-31.
“The Gospel is not an “offer” to be bandied around by evangelistic peddlers. The Gospel is no mere invitation but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ; true whether men believe it or no.”1)Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Baker Books, 1984) p. 209
It’s probably one of the most infamous quotations from A.W. Pink (1886-1952) of all time. Appearing in his most well known title, The Sovereignty of God, this quote is seemingly taken to mean that Pink rejected the idea that the gospel is something that ought to be offered to all. It has been used extensively by others. By some to argue that Pink leaned towards hyper-calvinism, at least at the time of writing Sovereignty, and by others, who do embrace a form of hyper-calvinism, to support their position against evangelism.
Yet, is this what Pink actually meant? Is Pink against the the idea of the gospel being ‘offered’ to all? Iain Murray, in his biography of Pink, referencing this quote, mentions:
“Along with hyper-Calvinists, [Pink] still wanted to reject the idea that the gospel invitations are an ‘offer’ of Christ. … Rather, he thought, it was to be presented primarily as a witness and testimony — ‘no mere invitation, but a proclamation’. Gospel preaching was a statement of facts by which the elect are brought to faith while ‘God suffers’ it ‘to fall on the ears of the non-elect.’.”2)Iain Murray, The Life of Arthur W. Pink (Banner of Truth, 2011) p. 320
It is my intention here to demonstrate that Pink was not against the idea of the gospel being preached, proclaimed, or even offered, but instead, given the context of this quote in Sovereignty as well as the systematic and chronological thought of Pink at the time, that this quote is a statement specifically against the means in how the gospel was, and in many ways still is, being ‘offered’ (thus, Pink’s use of the offer in quotation marks.). Rather, Pink exhorted that the gospel by its very nature necessitated its sharing and proclamation to all.
However, before proceeding, I wish to also advise that it is not my intent to go into the theological discussion pertaining to the ‘Free Offer of the Gospel’, I don’t believe that this is what Pink specifically sought to engage with, either regarding the quotation or the larger context of the Difficulties and Objections chapter from which it is drawn. Although there are certainly, and obviously, implications that one can possibly draw out, I will leave a more in-depth engagement of Pink in relation to that subject to another time.
Pink and ‘Offer’
Pink lived and ministered during a time in which man-centered theology dominated the evangelical landscape. A.W. Tozer, another preacher who once quipped that he had “preached himself off every Bible Conference”, made the following assessment of the Christianity during his (and Pink’s) time:
“Christianity today is man-centered, not God-centered. God is made to wait patiently, even respectfully, on the whims of men. The image of God currently popular is that of a distracted Father, struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Savior of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest. To persuade these self-sufficient souls to respond to His generous offers God will do almost anything, even using salesmanship methods and talking down to them in the chummiest way imaginable. This view of things is, of course, a kind of religious romanticism which, while it often uses flattering and sometimes embarrassing terms in praise of God, manages nevertheless to make man the star of the show.”
Whilst Pink’s wholehearted embracement of Calvinism and God’s sovereignty3)Some have argued that Pink’s Calvinism was a ‘High’ form. However, whilst Pink was certainly a ‘staunch’ Calvinist as he labeled himself in the 1920s, the Calvinism that he did encounter was largely watered-down. This was especially the case in Australia during Pink’s time. was to leave him outside the mainstream evangelicalism of the time, this was further compounded by Pink’s firm convictions on the nature of church, the gospel, and salvation. Like Tozer, Pink was utterly dismayed at the state of the church and evangelism. Critiquing the state of “so-called evangelism of [his] day“, which was “a grief to genuine Christians“, in his article on Evangelism appearing in the July 1948 issue of Studies in the Scriptures, Pink goes on to attack:
“[T]hose cheap-jack evangelists who aim no higher than rushing people into making a formal profession of faith in order that the membership of the churches may be swelled, take those who are inspired by a genuine compassion and deep concern for the perishing, who earnestly long and zealously endeavor to deliver souls from the wrath to come, yet unless they be much on their guard, they too will inevitably err. Unless they steadily view conversion in the way God does—as the way in which He is to he glorified—they will quickly begin to compromise in the means they employ. The feverish urge of modern evangelism is not how to promote the glory of the triune Jehovah, but how to multiply conversions. The whole current of evangelical activity during the past fifty years has taken that direction. Losing sight of God’s end, the churches have devised means of their own.”
Contemporary evangelism, in Pink’s sight, erred in its priorities and miscomprehended the focus of the gospel. Instead of focusing on Christ, it focused on the sinner. Instead of evangelism being a vehicle in which God is glorified through the unadulterated proclamation of salvation to the repentant sinner, it instead emphasised numbers. Driving so-called evangelists to attempt a plethora of tactics and theatrics in order to bring forth conversions, without imparting any real Scriptural substance. This often led, by consequence, to many unregenerate people in church holding to a superficial notion of the gospel. People who, in Pink’s experience, believed that they could avoid hell simply by intellectually ‘believing’, without exhibiting any real faith, and all while believing they could retain their carnal and worldly desires.4)“The terms of Christ’s salvation are erroneously stated by the present-day evangelist. With very rare exceptions, he tells his hearers that salvation is by grace and is received as a free gift, that Christ has done everything for the sinner, and that nothing remains but for him to “believe,” to trust in the infinite merits of His blood. And so widely does this conception now prevail in “orthodox” circles, so frequently has it been dinned in their ears, so deeply has it taken root in their minds—that for one to now challenge it and denounce it as being so inadequate and one-sided as to be deceptive and erroneous, is for him to instantly court the stigma of being a heretic, and to be charged with dishonoring the finished work of Christ by inculcating salvation by works! … Salvation is by grace, by grace alone—for a fallen creature cannot possibly do anything to merit God’s approval or earn His favor. Nevertheless, divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness, for it never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift—but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world!” Evangelism, Studies in the Scriptures, July 1948:
“The Nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day “evangelist.” He announces a Saviour from Hell, rather than a Saviour from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who who wish to escape the Lake of fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.”5)Signs of the Times, Studies in the Scriptures, December 1937
Needless to say, A.W. Pink’s use of the word “offer” needs to be framed within this context of how he saw evangelism. Pink was not an individual who simply wrote against a practice from the comfort of his own chair. Rather, at the time of writing Sovereignty, and throughout its revisions, he was involved in many different evangelistic outreaches and ministries. In the early 1920s, he was involved with Tent Evangelism in California and Seattle, had some relationship with the ministry of Open-Air Campaigners whilst in Sydney6)“Basement Town Hall, United Intercessory Services“, Sydney Morning Herald, 4th April 1925, and was involved in many Bible Conferences throughout the United States, Australia and Britain, some of which had an explicit emphasis on evangelism.7)“Bible Conference: Emphasising Evangelism“, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 19th November 1921. However, Pink had a particular distaste for those who he felt ‘sold short’ the gospel. They were nothing more than evangelistic peddlers, doing anything they could do to win converts, all while presenting a vacuous articulation of the truth and, fundamentally, an anemic God. Such peddlers failed to portray the reality of the sinfulness of sin, failed to bring people to a true understanding of their need of a Saviour, and avoided preaching about a Christian’s ongoing duty of holiness and exercising of faith. Instead, many presented the gospel in a way which potentially tackled some moral or social ill, outlined the possibility of avoiding final judgement, and then invited the listener to make a decision for Christ. The offer was on the table, if only the sinner would take it up.
Pink was determined to push back against this form of decisional evangelism, which lauded man’s ability at the expense of God’s sovereignty and which sought to give men assurance without substance. He instead wanted people to have a clearer understanding of what the gospel was, what it entailed, and what it certainly was not. He wanted to outline that Salvation belonged to the LORD 8)Psalm 3:8, and concurrently dismantle the notion that the onus of someone’s salvation rested on the messenger. This can be noted in his fourth address on Election at Ashfield Tabernacle, given in 1925 (Note the similar use of language as the main quote in question):
“Most people in this twentieth century are so ignorant they imagine that the gospel concerns sinners. It does not, and the gospel is not about sinners. The gospel is the gospel of Christ! It is about the person and the work of God’s Son! Now listen, I want you to get this very clearly. The gospel is not an “offer,” the gospel is a proclamation, not an “invitation.” The gospel is a proclamation about Christ, and the gospel, is true even if not one man on earth tonight believed it! My believing the gospel does not make the gospel true. The gospel is true whether I believe it or no, because the gospel is not about me, the gospel is about Christ.
Now listen to my next statement, and let it sink in. We are not responsible to bring sinners to Christ. No preacher is responsible to do that. No open-air worker is responsible to bring any sinner to Christ, for there is none of us [who] can do it; we have not got the power. Our responsibility is to bring Christ to the sinner. Did you get that? Our responsibility is to preach Christ to the sinner!
How man turns God’s things upside down doesn’t he, every time, and the awful thing to-day is, and it is true almost everywhere, that we are far more concerned about the results of the gospel than we are about the purity of it! We are more concerned in the blessing of man than we are about the glory of Christ! Is not that true? Is it not true that the first great question asked everywhere to-day is, What are the “results”? What is the fruitage? How many people have been saved in your church the last year? I am not saying that the question has no importance, but I do say, that if that is the first question that is asked, it only shows what a low level we are living on!”9)Election: Address by A.W. Pink at Ashfield Baptist Church, 26/6/1925
Pink was adamant that the gospel was all about Christ. It was relevant to the sinner, but it was not about sinners. Instead, the gospel was a proclamation of a universal truth about what Christ had done, not something to be simply extended, or offered, to sinners to decide if true. There was, Pink was convinced, an authoritative element to the gospel which meant it had to be proclaimed in an authoritative fashion. It was to be presented in a way where sinners were still implored to trust on Christ, but with a commanding aspect which emphasised both God’s right as sovereign Creator to command sinners to repent and the sinners obligation to do so. This is evident through Pink’s own articulation of what the Gospel is, as given in a few lines after the original quote in Sovereignty:
“The Gospel, in brief, is this: Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the Gospel, God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved (namely, repentance and faith) and, indiscriminately, all are commanded to fulfill them.”10)Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Baker Books, 1984) p. 209
This understanding of both the gospel as an authoritative proclamation as well as man’s duty to repent and turn to Christ was to permeate Pink’s theological framework in regards to evangelism throughout his life.11)It is likely that Pink was particularly influenced by the apostle Paul’s addresses in Acts 17 wherein Paul ‘proclaimed‘ the good news of Christ at Thessalonica (17:3), Berea (17:13), and Athens (Acts 17:23); finishing his proclamation in Athens by stating that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). However, Pink was never to position this understanding in a way which stifled evangelism, but rather he desired to root evangelism to its proper doctrinal bearings, and believed that evangelism was a fundamental duty of all christians. This conviction was to lead him to struggle with his pastorate at Belvoir Street Particular Baptist Church, in Sydney, between 1925-1927, a church which would rightly be identified as having hyper-calvinistic tendencies. Writing to a sympathetic congregant after his resignation, Pink states:
“Having discovered that their views of human responsibility were very defective & that they were altogether lac[k]ing in evangelistic zeal, I sought by the Lord’s help to remedy this. Seeking grace to be “as wise as a serpent & harmless as a dove,” I proceeded slowly & gently. From April to Oct. 1926 I averaged one sermon out of 5 to the unsaved, the last you heard & endorsed … : on Bartimaeus. The deacons took me to task for this sermon. At the next church-meeting, very soon after, the Secretary denounced it as a “free-will” sermon.”12)Unpublished Letter to Brooks, 27 December 1927
Indeed, Pink desired individuals to have a correct understanding of God’s Sovereignty, but in a way which compelled them to evangelism. In his third address on Election at Ashfield Tabernacle, Pink, after outlining that sinners can only come to Christ if drawn by God, aptly challenges his listeners to take mission and evangelism seriously by stating:
“Now the question arises again, why are we to preach the gospel to every creature?—if God has only elected a certain number to be saved? The reason is, because God commands us to do so. Well, but, you say, it does not seem reasonable to me That has got nothing to do with it; your business is to obey God and not to argue with Him. God commands us to preach the gospel to every creature and it means what it says—every creature and it is solemn thing. Every Christian in this room tonight has yet to answer to Christ why he has not done everything in his power to send that gospel to every creature! Yes, I believe in missions—probably stronger than most of you do, and if I preached to you on missions perhaps I would hit you harder than you have been hit yet. The great majority of Gods people who profess to believe in missions, are just playing at them—I make so bold as to say of our evangelical denominations today that we are just playing at missions and that is all. Why my friends, there is almost half of the human race—think of it—in this 20th century—travel so easy and cheap. Bibles printed in almost every language under heaven, and as we sit here tonight there is almost half of the human race that never yet heard of Christ, and we have got to answer to Christ for that yet! You have and I have, Oh yes, I believe in man’s responsibility. I do not believe in man’s “freedom” but I do in man’s responsibility, and I believe in the Christian’s responsibility in a double way, and everyone of us here tonight has yet got to face Christ and look into those eyes as a flame of fire, and He is going to say to us, I entrusted to you My gospel. It was committed as a “trust” to you, (See 1Thess 2:4) It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.
Oh, my friends, we are playing at things. We have not begun to take religion seriously, any of us. We profess to believe in the coming of Christ, and we profess to believe that the one reason why Christ has not come back yet is because His Church, His Body, is not yet complete. We believe that when His body is complete He will come back. And my friends, His “body” never, never, will be complete until the last of His elect people will be called out, and His elect people are called out under the preaching of the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, and if you are really anxious for Christ to come back soon, then you had better be more wide awake to your responsibility in connection with taking or sending the gospel to the heathen!
Christ’s word, and it is Christ’s word to us, is “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel”, He does not say “Send ye”, He says “Go ye”, and you have to answer to Christ yet because you have not gone! Well, you say, do you mean by that that everyone of us here tonight ought to go out to the mission field? I have not said that, I am not any man’s judge, Many of you here tonight have a good reason which will satisfy Christ why you have not gone. He gave you work to do here. He put you in a position here. He has given you responsibilities to discharge here, but every Christian who is free to go, and does not go, has got to answer to Christ for it yet.
“Go ye into all the world.” Well then you say, Where am I to go? Oh, that is very easy. You say, easy? Yes, I mean it: it is very easy. There is nothing easier in the world than to know where you ought to begin missionary work. You have it in the first chapter of Acts and the eighth verse: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem (that is the city in which they were) and in all Judea (that is the State in which their city was), and in Samaria (that is the adjoining State), and unto the uttermost part of the earth”, If you want to begin missionary work, you have to begin it in your home-town, and my friends if you are not interested in the salvation of the Chinese in Sydney, then you are not really interested in the salvation of the Chinese in China, and you are only fooling yourselves if you think you are! Oh, I am calling a spade a spade tonight. If you are anxious about the souls of the Chinese in China, then you will be equally anxious about the souls of the Chinese here in Sydney, and I wonder how many in this building tonight have ever made any serious effort to reach the Chinese in Sydney with the gospel! I wonder? I wonder how many here tonight have been round to the Bible House in Sydney and have said to the Manager there, “Do you have any New Testaments in the Chinese language, or do you have any Gospels of John in the Chinese language? How much are they per hundred? or per dozen?” And I wonder how many of you have bought a thousand or a hundred, and then have gone round to the houses in the Chinese quarter and have said, “My friend, this is a little gift that will do your soul good if you will read it.”
Ah, my friends, we are playing at missions, it is just a farce, that is all! “Go ye” is the first command. Go where? Those around me first. Go what with? The gospel! Well, you say, “Why should I go?” Because God has commanded you to! Well, you say, “What is the use of doing it if He has just elected certain ones?” Because that gospel is the means that God uses to call out His own elect, that is why! You do not know, and I do not know, and nobody here on earth knows, who are God’s elect and who are not. They are scattered over the world, and therefore we are to preach the gospel to every creature, that it may reach the ones that God has marked out among those creatures.”13)Election: Address by A.W. Pink at Ashfield Baptist Church, 13/6/1925
Pink believed in evangelism and he believed that the gospel was to be preached, proclaimed, and offered to all. Yet, it was to be an authoritative proclamation given to sinners that God would utilise to draw forth his elect. It was God’s means to separate the wheat from chaff through the proclamation of the majestic work, achievement, and glory of Christ14)Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Baker Books, 1984) p. 210. It wasn’t to be a mere arbitrary “invitation” or “offer” extended to sinners to have the final authority to determine or accept if truth insomuch as it was a declaration to them of what Christ had done and a commanding imploration for them to believe and receive the “gift” of Christ and salvation15)“A slight distinction between receiving and believing. I would express it thus. Believing respects Christ as He is set forth in gospel testimony. When a preacher preaches the gospel he presents Christ to the hearer, if the hearer believes that testimony, he is saved. “Faith cometh by hearing.” Believing has to do with the saved hearer of the gospel testimony. Receiving has to do with Christ as He is presented to us as God’s gift: you believe a testimony, you receive a gift.” Unpublished Sermon on Exodus 12, A.W. Pink, 1925; “It is also true that salvation is a free gift—but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world!” Evangelism, Studies in the Scriptures, July 1948.
Pink’s high view of God’s sovereignty was to in no way curtail nor hamper his understanding of evangelism. Rather, it was this firm belief that God was sovereign and would draw sinners which compelled Pink to advocacy for evangelism. Yet a robust evangelism fully grounded in and driven by God’s Word. One prompted by God’s command to do so, and emphasising the tenets of man’s total depravity and God’s total goodness. The gospel was not an “offer” to be thrown around haphazardly, but had to be placed in its proper moorings. To do anything other, was to sell short what he saw as the glorious treasure of the gospel.
|↑1, ↑10||Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Baker Books, 1984) p. 209|
|↑2||Iain Murray, The Life of Arthur W. Pink (Banner of Truth, 2011) p. 320|
|↑3||Some have argued that Pink’s Calvinism was a ‘High’ form. However, whilst Pink was certainly a ‘staunch’ Calvinist as he labeled himself in the 1920s, the Calvinism that he did encounter was largely watered-down. This was especially the case in Australia during Pink’s time.|
|↑4||“The terms of Christ’s salvation are erroneously stated by the present-day evangelist. With very rare exceptions, he tells his hearers that salvation is by grace and is received as a free gift, that Christ has done everything for the sinner, and that nothing remains but for him to “believe,” to trust in the infinite merits of His blood. And so widely does this conception now prevail in “orthodox” circles, so frequently has it been dinned in their ears, so deeply has it taken root in their minds—that for one to now challenge it and denounce it as being so inadequate and one-sided as to be deceptive and erroneous, is for him to instantly court the stigma of being a heretic, and to be charged with dishonoring the finished work of Christ by inculcating salvation by works! … Salvation is by grace, by grace alone—for a fallen creature cannot possibly do anything to merit God’s approval or earn His favor. Nevertheless, divine grace is not exercised at the expense of holiness, for it never compromises with sin. It is also true that salvation is a free gift—but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world!” Evangelism, Studies in the Scriptures, July 1948|
|↑5||Signs of the Times, Studies in the Scriptures, December 1937|
|↑6||“Basement Town Hall, United Intercessory Services“, Sydney Morning Herald, 4th April 1925|
|↑7||“Bible Conference: Emphasising Evangelism“, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 19th November 1921|
|↑9||Election: Address by A.W. Pink at Ashfield Baptist Church, 26/6/1925|
|↑11||It is likely that Pink was particularly influenced by the apostle Paul’s addresses in Acts 17 wherein Paul ‘proclaimed‘ the good news of Christ at Thessalonica (17:3), Berea (17:13), and Athens (Acts 17:23); finishing his proclamation in Athens by stating that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).|
|↑12||Unpublished Letter to Brooks, 27 December 1927|
|↑13||Election: Address by A.W. Pink at Ashfield Baptist Church, 13/6/1925|
|↑14||Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Baker Books, 1984) p. 210|
|↑15||“A slight distinction between receiving and believing. I would express it thus. Believing respects Christ as He is set forth in gospel testimony. When a preacher preaches the gospel he presents Christ to the hearer, if the hearer believes that testimony, he is saved. “Faith cometh by hearing.” Believing has to do with the saved hearer of the gospel testimony. Receiving has to do with Christ as He is presented to us as God’s gift: you believe a testimony, you receive a gift.” Unpublished Sermon on Exodus 12, A.W. Pink, 1925; “It is also true that salvation is a free gift—but an empty hand must receive it, and not a hand which still tightly grasps the world!” Evangelism, Studies in the Scriptures, July 1948|