Arthur W. Pink's Teaching
On Saving Faith
The following is a critique of Arthur Pink's chapter entitled "Saving Faith" which is the first chapter found in his book Practical Christianity.
In this chapter Pink belabors the point that it is possible for a person to believe in Christ and not really be saved. Such "belief" falls short of true saving faith. As Pink says, "There is a ‘believing’ in Christ which does not save." This point is well made and can certainly be demonstrated in the Scriptures. The Bible does speak of a kind of faith which is not saving faith. Pink gives some excellent examples of this. In Luke 8:13 we have a description of those who BELIEVE for a while (for a time) but then fall away, having no root. In 1 Corinthians 15:2 the implication is made that it is possible for a person to believe in vain, and those who believe in vain are not saved. In John 3:2 we see that Nicodemus believed in Christ in the same sense that many others did (see John 2:23), but he needed to be born again. In John 8:31 the Lord Jesus spoke to those Jews who believed on Him, but as you read the verses which follow it seems clear that these Jews were unregenerate (see verses 33,37,44). Other examples could be cited and Pink touches on many of them.
Pink's intent is to disturb those who think they are saved and who think that they are believing in Christ in a saving way, and to show them that they very well could be on their way to hell. This is needful, because certainly we do not want to give people false assurance or false hope. We don't want to tell people that all is well when all may not be well with their souls. The Bible says, "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith" and "be diligent [make every effort] to make your calling and election sure" (2 Cor. 12:5; 2 Pet. 1:10). It seems, however, that Pink goes too far in questioning whether people are really saved, even to the point of condemning anyone who is not a model saint. For example, on page 16 he says, "Reader, if there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the way to hell." This statement reflects a very important statement of God's Word found in 1 John 2:3-4. But how many of us can honestly say that we consistently obey Christ unreservedly? Personally I desire to obey Christ in all things, but I confess that I fall short of this in practice. I thank my God that I have an Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2)! Did not the disciples fall short of total, unreserved obedience unto God? Did not they have shortcomings and lapses of faith? Peter denied the Lord three times, but this did not mean he was on the way to hell. Did not even the most godly men in the Bible have times of disobedience and failure? Saints still have a struggle with the flesh which the Bible describes as an inner warfare (1 Pet. 2:11; Gal. 5:17).
The book of 1 John was written for the same reason that Pink wrote his chapter. John wrote so that people would know that they had eternal life and not be deceived into a false assurance of their salvation. And yet there seems to be a difference of mood or emphasis in the two writings. In 1 John there are some strong warnings for those who do not keep His commandments, do not practice righteousness, do not love the brethren and who continue in sin. Yet there are also words that encourage the reader and which acknowledge that even true believers still struggle with sin and at times fail (1 John 1:8-2:2). Pink seems to lack this needed balance. His words seem to condemn: "Perhaps some readers are ready to say that all of this is very unsettling and, if really heeded, most distressing. May God in His mercy grant that this article may have just those effects on many who read it" (p.14). Obviously mere professors who are unsaved need to be convicted and bothered and unsettled. But it is possible to carry a truth so far that even genuine saints can become distressed rather than encouraged. True assurance comes not as we look at our faith, but rather as we look to the Saviour—His Person, His work, His promises, His righteousness, His perfection, etc.
Pink says some very helpful things about Christ’s Lordship and the dangers of "easy-believism," and there is no question that much that passes for true Christianity today is very shallow and questionable. Many claim to believe in Jesus but they seem to know nothing of His saving, transforming grace. They come to Christ for an abundant life but they are under no conviction of sin and they are not aware of their lost condition. Billy Graham even has admitted that only a very small percentage of those who make decisions are actually saved. [See our study, The Problems with Ecumenical Evangelism.] The gospel message must be presented in such a way, in total dependence upon the Spirit of God, that the sinner is deeply convicted of his need for Christ, convinced of his lost estate, and the terribleness of his sins. Apart from Christ he is without HOPE and without HELP.
On the bottom of page 21 Pink criticizes a popular method of leading a person to Christ. We would wish, however, that Pink would tell us how he would present the gospel to a lost man. One gets the impression by reading Pink that being saved is a very difficult thing that demands unreserved obedience to God, total surrender to the Lordship of Christ and fulfillment of all the conditions of discipleship. Indeed, on page 26 he says that Luke 14:26,27,33 shows a person how to become a Christian. Pink thus confuses discipleship with salvation. [See the helpful chart: A Comparison and Contrast Between SALVATION and DISCIPLESHIP.] Is Pink saying that we should tell an unsaved sinner, "You must love Christ supremely (Luke 14:26), and you must bear the reproach of Christ (Luke 14:27) and you must forsake all that you have (Luke 14:33)? Was this the gospel that was preached in the book of Acts? Was this the gospel Paul preached (1 Cor. 15:1-4)? Was this what Paul told the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-31)? Did Paul say, "Love Christ supremely and thou shalt be saved"? Was this the message Philip gave to the Eunuch in Acts 8?
Suppose we tell an unsaved person, "To be saved you must love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength!" This is not a gospel message but a message of condemnation. Preaching the greatest commandment is not the same as preaching the gospel. The very reason we have the gospel message of grace is because we have failed to keep the greatest commandment. The very reason we need a Saviour is because we do not love God as we should and we do not obey Him as we should and we do not surrender to Him as we should. This may be the reason why Pink's chapter seems to condemn everyone who reads it. He seems to be preaching law instead of gospel. We must not confuse law with the gospel of grace. The law is important, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). The law can show us our sin but it cannot save our soul. The law should drive us to the lamb who alone can save!
We must not put the cart before the horse. We must not confuse saving faith with the fruits of saving faith. Discipleship (and all that it involves) is not a requirement for salvation, but discipleship is the obligation of every saved person. The terms of discipleship given in Luke 14 cannot be met unless one is a saved person. No unsaved person could meet such terms, nor does God expect him to. Consider again the message of 1 John. In 1 John we read much about loving the brethren, obeying God's commands, not loving the world, practicing righteousness, etc. Such things are not requirements of salvation. It is because we are saved that we do such things. A Christian is characterized by these things but this is not how a person becomes a Christian. Likewise, Luke 14 gives us the marks of discipleship but these marks of discipleship must not be confused with the terms of salvation. To say that Luke 14 is giving a plan of salvation would be as careless as saying that in Matthew 19:16-17 the Lord Jesus was preaching the gospel. In Matthew 19:17 the message of the Lord Jesus was this: Keep the commandments! This is law, not gospel. The Lord's purpose in using the law was to condemn the rich young ruler and show him his need for a Saviour.
How easy is salvation? Is it some difficult thing? The Bible presents saving faith as something that is very easy. Consider the following Biblical illustrations of saving faith:
Salvation Is as Easy
as Going Through a Door (John 10:9)
Salvation Is as Easy
as Opening a Door (Revelation 3:20)
Salvation Is as Easy
as Eating and Drinking (John 6:35,53; 7:37)
Salvation Is as Easy
as Looking (John 3:14-16; Num. 21:4-9)
Saving Faith Is Spoken in Terms of
Simply Receiving (John 1:12)
Saving Faith Is Spoken in Terms of
Simply Coming (John 6:37)
Pink argues that believing is a very difficult thing (p.21). However, there is a sense in which it is correct to say that believing is not a difficult thing (without getting into the error of modern day "easy-believism," which is a shallow kind of faith that falls short of true, saving faith). For example, believing is something simple enough for a young child to do. Believing is simple enough that a person does not need any advanced education or training. Believing is simple enough that a person can be led to the Lord in a matter of minutes, like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) or the Philippian jailer (Acts 16) or the thief on the cross (Luke 23). Salvation is simple in the sense that Christ did all the work and the sinner is not required to do difficult works to earn his way to heaven. Rather God justifies the one who "worketh not" (Rom. 4:5). It is so simple that the Lord could say, "he that heareth My Word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life" (John 5:24). It is simple enough that God's plan of salvation can be written out briefly and clearly in the form of a small tract.
Of course, apart from the Lord, salvation would not only be difficult, it would be impossible (Matthew 19:26)! Apart from God's gracious working, no one would be saved (John 6:44,65). But God has made the impossible possible, and Christ came into this world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17). God is willing to save (1 Tim. 2:4), God is able to save (Heb.7:25) and God will save all those who come unto Him through Christ (John 6:37). In a sense salvation is difficult because sinful, fallen men do not want to come to Christ: "And ye will not come to Me [you are not willing to come to Me], that ye might have life" (John 5:40). It is not that they cannot come, but that they do not want to come. Why is it that men cannot come to Christ (John 6:44,64-65)? Why is there this "inability" on the part of man? Is it that men want to come to Christ but there is some strange mysterious force keeping them from coming, keeping them from Christ, keeping them from salvation? No! They cannot come because they do not want to come! They love darkness rather than light (John 3:18-20). Compare Genesis 37:4. Why were Joseph's brothers unable to speak peaceably to him? Where did this inability come from? Was there some outside power forcing their mouths closed so that they could not speak in such a way? No, they could not because they did not want to! It was their own sinful jealousy and envy and hatred that kept them from speaking to him in peace. They could not because they would not. This is the same reason why the people mentioned in John 5:40 were UNABLE to be saved.
We recognize that there is a difficulty in presenting the gospel because of man's sinful depravity and his unwillingness to come to Christ. [See the helpful study God's Willingness and Man's Unwillingness]. Who should take care of this difficulty? Obviously this is the work of God! Only God can give life to the spiritually dead and give sight to the spiritually blind. The believer can only present Christ and Him crucified. It is God that must work in the sinful and stubborn heart of man. We must proclaim the simple gospel that salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). God must take care of the difficulty as He works in the hearts of men by His Spirit!
Let us beware of adding requirements to the gospel of grace. Let us beware of adding LAW to the GOSPEL (see Galatians chapter 1). Let us not tell sinners how they must labor and strive and surrender and obey. Let us rather tell them of a crucified and risen Saviour and of their responsibility to believe in Him lest they perish in their sins.
Perhaps no one has better answered this chapter by Pink than Charles Spurgeon who himself was a fervent Calvinist. However Spurgeon recognized the danger of mixing law with grace and adding things to God's simple command to believe on God's Son. I'm going to quote at length from one of Spurgeon's sermons entitled, "The Warrant of Faith." [This sermon is available from Pilgrim Publications, P.O. Box 66, Pasadena, TX 77501] This sermon is based on 1 John 3:23--"And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." The following is a lengthy quote taken from this sermon by Spurgeon:
O, when will all professors, and especially all professed ministers of Christ, learn the difference between the law and the gospel? Most of them make a mingle-mangle, and serve out deadly potions to the people, often containing but one ounce of gospel to a pound of law, whereas, but even a grain of law is enough to spoil the whole thing. It must be gospel, and gospel only.
"Believing" is most clearly explained by that simple word "trust." Believing is partly the intellectual operation of receiving divine truths, but the essence of it lies in relying upon those truths. I believe that, although I cannot swim, yonder friendly plank will support me in the flood—I grasp it, and am saved: the grasp is faith. Thus faith is accepting God's great promises, contained in the Person of His Son. It is taking God at His Word, and trusting in Jesus Christ as being my salvation, although I am utterly unworthy of His regard. Sinner, if thou takest Christ to be thy Saviour this day, thou art justified; though thou be the biggest blasphemer and persecutor out of hell...if thou wilt honor God by believing Christ is able to forgive such a wretch as thou art, and wilt now trust in Jesus' precious blood, thou art saved from divine wrath.
The WARRANT OF BELIEVING is the commandment of God. This is the commandment, that ye "believe on His Son Jesus Christ."
They (certain Calvinists) preached repentance and hatred of sin as the warrant of a sinner's trusting to Christ. According to them, a sinner might reason thus—"I possess such-and-such a degree of sensibility on account of sin, therefore I have a right to trust in Christ." Now, such reasoning is seasoned with fatal error. Whoever preaches in this fashion may preach much of the gospel, but the whole gospel of the free grace of God in its fullness he has yet to learn. In our own day certain preachers assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This also is false. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints. It is anything but a ministry of free grace.
If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners. "Nay," saith one, "but we mean that a man must have some good desires towards Christ before he has any warrant to believe in Jesus." Friend, do you not know that all good desires have some degree of holiness in them? But if a sinner hath any degree of true holiness in him it must be the work of the Spirit, for true holiness never exists in the carnal mind, therefore, that man is already renewed, and therefore saved. Are we to go running up and down the world, proclaiming life to the living, casting bread to those who are fed already, and holding up Christ on the pole of the gospel to those who are already healed? My brethren, where is our inducement to labour where our efforts are so little needed? If I am to preach Christ to those who have no goodness, who have nothing in them that qualifies them for mercy, then I feel I have a gospel so divine that I would proclaim it with my last breath, crying aloud, that "Jesus came into the world to save SINNERS!"
Secondly, to tell the sinner that he is to believe on Christ because of some warrant in himself, is LEGAL, I dare to say it—legal. Though this method is generally adopted by the higher school of Calvinists, they are herein unsound, uncalvinistic, and legal.
If I believe in Jesus because I have convictions and a spirit of prayer, then evidently the first and the most important fact is not Christ, but my possession of repentance, conviction, and prayer, so that really my hope hinges upon my having repented; and if this be not legal I do not know what is...If I lean on Christ because I feel this and that, then I am leaning on my feelings and not on Christ alone, and this is legal indeed. Nay, even if desires after Christ are to be my warrant for believing, if I am to believe in Jesus not because he bids me, but because I feel some desires after him, you will again with half an eye perceive that the most important source of my comfort must be my own desires. So that we shall be always looking within. "Do I really desire? If I do, then Christ can save me; if I do not, then he cannot." And so my desire overrides Christ and his grace. AWAY WITH SUCH LEGALITY FROM THE EARTH!
If you tell a poor sinner that there is a certain amount of humblings, and tremblings, and convictions, and heart-searchings to be felt, in order that he may be warranted to come to Christ, I demand of all legal-gospellers distinct information as to the manner and exact degree of preparation required. Brethren, you will find when these gentlemen are pushed into a corner, they will not agree, but will every one give a different standard, according to his own judgment. One will way the sinner must have months of law work; another, that he only needs good desires; and some will demand that he possess the graces of the Spirit--such as humility, godly sorrow, and love to holiness. You will get no clear answer from them.
And let me ask you, my brethren, whether such an incomprehensible gospel would do for a dying man? There he lies in the agonies of death. He tells me that he has no good thought or feeling, and asks what he must do to be saved. There is but a step between him and death—another five minutes and that man's soul may be in hell. What am I to tell him? Am I to be an hour explaining to him the preparation required before he may come to Christ? Brethren, I dare not. But I tell him, "Believe, brother, even though it be the eleventh hour; trust thy soul with Jesus, and thou shalt be saved."
How DANGEROUS is the sentiment I am opposing. My hearers, it may be so mischievous as to have misled some of you. I solemnly warn you, though you have been professors of the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for twenty years, if your reason for believing in Christ lies in this, that you have felt the terrors of the law; that you have been alarmed, and have been convicted; if your own experience be your warrant for believing in Christ, it is a false reason...
Sinners, let me address you with words of life: Jesus wants nothing of you, nothing whatsoever, nothing done, nothing felt; he gives both work and feeling. Ragged, penniless, just as ye are, lost, forsaken, desolate, with no good feelings, and no good hopes, still Jesus comes to you, and in these words of pity he addresses you, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
Our preaching, on the theory (erroneous theory) of qualifications, should not be, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;" but "Qualify yourselves for faith, be sensible of your sin, be regenerated, get marks and evidences, and then believe."
They (the apostles) ought not to have commenced with preaching Christ; they should have preached up qualifications, emotions, and sensation, if these are the preparations for Jesus; but I find that Paul, whenever he stands up, has nothing to preach but "Christ, and him crucified."
Sinner, whoever thou mayest be, God now commands thee to believe in Jesus Christ. This is his commandment: he does not command thee to feel anything, or be anything, to prepare thyself for this. Now, art thou willing to incur the great guilt of making God a liar? Surely thou wilt shrink from that: then dare to believe. Thou canst not say, "I have no right:" you have a perfect right to do what God tells you to do. You cannot tell me you are not fit; there is no fitness wanted, the command is given and it is yours to obey, not to dispute. You cannot say it does not come to you—it is preached to every creature under heaven!
Arthur W. Pink, in his chapter called "Saving Faith," is guilty of the very errors exposed by Spurgeon in the above quoted sermon. Pink argues that saving faith is more than simple trust in the crucified One. Rather it involves a full surrender to Christ's Lordship, a hatred of sin, a hatred of self-pleasing, a full commitment, a fulfilling of Christ's demands for discipleship, etc. Such things are the results and fruits of saving faith, but to tell a sinner to do all these things is to add law to the gospel of grace, even as Spurgeon has so clearly pointed out.
Pink was critical of how some people talk to sinners (bottom of page 21) but he never really explained how he would talk to sinners. Spurgeon, however, in the sermon already cited, clearly states how he would address sinners. How then should we preach and proclaim the gospel? Should we get the sinner to look inwardly to see if he is surrendered or to see if he desires to please Christ in everything or to see if he hates sin? Or should we get the sinner to gaze upon Christ who died to save SINNERS (those who do not love God as they should, those who do not surrender to His Lordship, those who are rotten rebels, etc.). The key seems to be that we should simply make known Christ and Him crucified, even as Paul determined to do (1 Cor. 2:2). What did Philip tell the eunuch? "he began at the same scripture and preached unto him Jesus." Once a sinner is saved, then all the things Pink says should be true in the life of the believer, and absence of these things could indicate that the person has never truly come to Christ.
May the reader carefully weigh Pink's words on page 27--"Now the popular answer which is being returned to them is, ‘Nothing more is required from any sinner than that he simply BELIEVE ON the Lord Jesus Christ’ . . .such a reply is misleading, inadequate, faulty, and . . . it ignores all the other scriptures which set forth what God requires from the sinner: it leaves out of account God's demand for repentance and Christ's clearly defined terms of discipleship in Luke 14." This is what Pink says. How different is the Bible's declaration: "And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23). Apparently Pink would feel that Paul and Silas gave a misleading, inadequate and faulty reply to the Philippian jailer (see Acts 16:31)! Like Naaman of old (see 2 Kings 5:10,11,13), Pink seems to be saying, "There's got to be more than that. Surely God can't tell the sinner to simply believe!"
Spurgeon is correct. We have a glorious gospel of grace for lost and dying men who are helpless and hopeless. God commands sinners to believe. God's preachers must do the same. We must tell them to get their eyes off themselves and to look to the One who is hanging on the pole of Calvary's cross who alone can save and heal. As we proclaim this wonderful message, God will perform the miraculous work whereby a sinful rebel is transformed into a submissive servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. One who a few minutes before was kicking against the pricks was a recipient of God's mercy and grace and was able to cry out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:5-6).
May the Lord give us clearer insight into the glorious gospel of Christ, what it is and how it should be proclaimed to those who are without hope and without life and without Christ!
George Zeller, July 4, 1980
(revised 1/94, 6/98)
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