Arthur Pink, The Satisfaction of Christ: Studies in the Atonement, Truth for Today Publications.

     Arthur Pink hardly needs an introduction to the bulk of present day Reformed evangelicals as many of us have grown up with Pink’s books and grown in grace whilst reading them. Pink’s massive tome An Exposition of Hebrews has opened our eyes to covenant blessings, his Elijah (now being translated into Dutch) has shown us how God is still working his purpose out in this modern world and his The Sovereignty of God fills us with awe before our great and glorious Heavenly Father. Pink’s Profiting from the Word is a very handy tool for young Christians and, together with Grier’s The Momentous Event has been the work I have presented a hundred-fold to my students as the best of its kind.

The Satisfaction of Christ, which grew out of the 1930-31 Studies in Scripture and has been previously published by Herendeen (1955) and Reiner (1969) and lately republished by Baptist Standard Bearer and Truth for Today.

One book, two conflicting theologies

     I found the first third of the book quite heavy going as Pink deals closely with problems bordering on the metaphysical and philosophical in his attempt to portray the sovereignty of God in salvation. The later part, after around page 200, contains some of the best theological writing I have ever read and shows up the weaknesses of the conditional and universal views of the atonement, one would think, in an irrefutable way. I find, however, that there is much in the previous chapters which would contradict Pink’s conclusions in subsequent chapters. Pink has also an unsympathetic way of boasting that he knows better than almost anyone else in analysing a topic, indeed he is scathing in his criticism of others, yet he fails to get to the bottom of many an argument himself. This is especially the case in his inadequate handling of righteousness and sanctification.

     This then, is my main criticism of Pink’s work, it is self-contradictory to an extreme. It appears that Pink’s first thoughts on coming to an understanding of God before having an experience of salvation and his later, mature, experience of Christ and knowledge of the Scriptures have been shaken together and laid out in one work. This causes this reviewer to wonder whether this book is an original and complete work of Pink’s or is it a collection of works moulded into one, but not done with any great skill? It seems to have been written by two men with two conflicting theologies.

Atonement versus Satisfaction

     In the Introduction, Pink argues that the word ‘atonement’ is too limited in its significance but he shuts out the wider meanings such as redemption and reconciliation that the word so obviously bears. He suggests that the word ‘satisfaction’ means what is actually expressed by ‘atonement’ but which meaning Pink does not find in the kipper group of words relating to ‘atonement’. Actually ‘satisfaction’ is the word most Liberals jump on to explain the atonement as it is easier to put any meaning into it. Nowadays, ‘satisfaction’ in evangelical jargon means ‘acceptation as if it were something else,’ which hardly describes what Christ has done for us. Pink’s weak and faulty use of the term ‘atonement’ is seen on page 58, which I shall come to shortly. I would just add that any word is ambiguous once it has been given another meaning, especially when that meaning is faulty. ‘Satisfaction’, however, I would argue, carries more theological misinterpretations than ‘atonement’ nowadays, whatever it might have done in Pink’s day. If we use the kipper/kopher group of words for the basis of an understanding of ‘atonement’, which are the Scriptural words, we find that the ideas of ransom and redemption are central to them. Atonement is a covering of sin, a ransoming of the sinner, a redemptive act and the means of reconciling a sinner to God.

     It strikes me as odd that Pink says he prefers ‘satisfaction’ to ‘atonement,’ but now goes on to use the word ‘atonement’ almost exclusively. If he does not like the word, why does he use it? Chapter two and three are highly speculative and Pink ties himself up in his own logical knots. He always seems to argue for the basic meaning of a term without its attributes, claiming they come later or have nothing to do with the matter at all. This is the way Fuller constantly argues for a redefining of gospel terms until they are sapped of all basic meaning.

An unnecessary atonement

     When speaking of the necessity of the atonement, Pink now argues for it with great dogmatism and then and then turns tail and argues severely against it. He seems to want to eat his cake and keep it. Some of his statements just beg to be criticised! On page 33, he says, “To say that the all-wise God Himself could find no other way of saving sinners, consistent with His holiness and justice, than the one He has, is highly presumptuous.” This is pure Fullerism as Fuller argues that the way in which God allowed His will to be enacted was solely arbitrary and not an actual but a token demonstration of justice, mercy etc.. One might equally add that “to say that the all-wise God Himself could have found a better way of saving sinners, consistent with His holiness and justice than the one He has, is highly presumptuous.” It is highly presumptuous to speculate on whether God could be different or better Himself at all! Pink’s metaphysical conclusions strike me as being more presumptuous than those he condemns. Again this is sheer Fullerism. That person speculates about a possible better method of atonement than that recorded in Scripture and bases his theology on what might have been possible but not what is. Again, it strikes me as odd that Pink denies the necessity of God’s act in atonement but then goes on to talk of its necessities, admitting that the reader will probably think he is contradicting himself.

     But there is worse to come! Pink says, “To declare that Omniscience was helpless, that God was obliged to adopt the means which He did, is perilous nigh unto blasphemy.” But surely the speculation that God might have used another way and even spared His Son and even spared us the Fall is equally outrageous for a Christian. None other but Christ was good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the door of Heaven and let us in! Surely it must be equally blasphemous to say that Christ did not think it absolutely necessary to do what He did. This is obviously what Pink is suggesting.

Reconciliation not part of Christ’s work on the cross

     Pink beats the band for me on page 58. How the Fullerites will welcome this! Pink writes:

“A pertinent example of what we have just said is seen in the now almost current idea that the Atonement of Christ signifies ‘at-one-ment,’ the bringing of God and the sinner together. But that is not the meaning of the term at all, either as used in Scripture or as employed in sound theology. Reconciliation is one of the many effects or fruits of Christ’s Atonement, but was not part of the work He did. (My emphasis). Many others have failed to distinguish between what Christ did and that which has resulted therefrom.”

     I never expected to read such teaching from Pink’s pen and my high view of him falls flat. Pink is mixing up his theology. Those Reformed men who see the kipper family of words referring to a means of establishing unity with God, do not teach that God must be reconciled to man but that man must be reconciled to God. The root meaning ‘at-one-ment’ thus still holds. They also believe that the atonement effects this. Here the word ‘effects’ does not mean ’causes later effects to ensue at, say, the act of believing, but it means ‘activates.’ Reconciliation is activated at the atonement which is the root meaning of the word. Fullerites say, ‘No’, reconciliation is activated through the act of believing which gives atonement its purpose. The atonement, however, secured its purpose at its activation and its activation is not when I decide to believe and thus activate what was dormant until then. The activation is the will of God before the foundation of the world, worked out in Christ’s redeeming death on the Cross.

Separating the inseparable

     Pink seeks to separate the activities of the atonement from its action on the Cross. He removes the attributes of the atonement, placing them somewhere in the future. It is on the Cross that we are reconciled to Christ, there and then, and when Pink says that the work of reconciliation is, “not part of the work He did,” in the atonement, then this is at best idle speculation, but at worst, and coming from such an enlightened man, it seems blasphemy indeed. Such sentences as “It is vitally important to distinguish between what Christ did and that which has resulted therefrom” can only confuse. It is vitally important not to separate them as the results which Pink refers to are what Christ did on the Cross. One cannot remove the attributes of a saving act from the act itself as the act is the substance and composition of the saving factors. The glorious Scriptural truth is that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Cor. 5:19)!

     Andrew Fuller always seeks to separate the attributes of the saving act from the act itself. He sees the act as being performed by Christ but the attributes as being activated when the believer grasps out and takes them. He does not accept Christ’s act on the Cross as the once and for all time securing activity of the saving element in the atonement. What Pink says, supports this, indeed he teaches that the work of reconciliation has nothing ‘really’ or ‘actually’ to do with the atonement. Such a belief leads Fuller to say that reconciliation has two meanings, 1. reconciliation being made possible at Calvary and 2. reconciliation being made actual on the act of believing. The Bible tells us that the atonement reconciled the ungodly elect to God, Fuller says the atonement was wrought out when already-believers began to love Christ as if they had never apostatised, thus working actual reconciliation. Fullerites distinguish so strongly between what Christ did ineffectually in past history and the later reception of efficacious results, that one can see no apparent connection! He has no doctrine of Christ’s donating to the ungodly, what He wrought out for them at Calvary and held in security for them until faith was given.

     I am afraid there will be howls of delight coming from our enemies lips when they read this part of Pink. Up to now, they have called Pink a ‘hyper’, believing that he taught reconciliation, redemption, ransom, sanctification and imputation of righteousness as all being accomplished on the Cross. But our union with Christ is secured and vouchsafed in the atonement. It is not a by-product, nor a possibility awaiting fruition at some future date.

Difficulties with the Mosaic dispensation

     Page 62 also caused me some concern as there is a Judaising view of the Old Testament sacrifices. Fuller argues also in this way, claiming that there is no difference between Christ’s and the OT sacrifices. I feel the author of Hebrews and all the Biblical writers would disagree strongly. What Pink really means could be misunderstood and he could have outlined briefly ‘the better covenant’ here. Such arguing prompted Huntington to ask why God gave us a New Testament if the Old Testament was just as effective salvation-wise. If Christ’s sufferings were merely identical with those of the OT sacrificial animals, then the Jews might well ask why they should need Christ.

     Nor am I happy with the way Pink handles Christ’s being made under the law. He confuses the issue with speculations again concerning necessities and obligations thus blurring Scriptural clarity. To me, it does not seem that Pink grasps the depths of humility Christ went to in order to procure our salvation. The Scriptural passages, he gives showing how Christ was affected by the curse of sin (p. 72) appear to contradict the speculative theory of ‘being made under the law’ that Pink sets up.

     Page 76 ought to have been edited out. It is highly arrogant for an author to inform his readers that he knows of some vital doctrine which is ‘completely unknown to almost all of our readers’ – readers, we presume, who are mostly established Christians and Reformed men.

Ransomed or redeemed?

     On page 100, we find Pink again separating the inseparable. He insists on a basic difference in meaning between ‘ransom’ and ‘redemption’ building different theologies on each. Again he is distinguishing between the act and its attributes. In the forties, we were very poor and best clothes and my uncle’s medals were frequently pawned on Mondays and redeemed on Fridays (pay-day). That was the word we used. To ransom is to redeem. If one analyses the Hebrew, Greek or even Latin, French and English, one comes to this result. Both mean to free from captivity or punishment by paying a price. In many languages, the one word describes both as in Hebrew (lag etc.) and German (erlösen) and the only reason we have two words in English is that possibly one has come down through French and one through Latin. What is, then, this ‘important distinction’ that Pink tells us about on page after page but never really explains?

Pardon in stages

     Page 182 knocked me for six, as cricket players say. Here the theology expressed contradicts totally what comes after Chapter 15. Every time I read this passage on ‘Application’, I receive cause for worry. Pink seems to be arguing that the atonement brings pardon for all pre-conversion sins but not for those committed after conversion because there can be no pardon before sin is committed. Against such an odd idea, we must say that Christ died for all the elect who were born after His death and died to pardon all their sins, though they were not yet committed! What Pink is saying is that the atonement automatically pardons pre-conversion sin but only them. If the believer, however, sins, he only has pardon insomuch as he confesses every single sin, otherwise he will deserve death, if not die. What kind of Popish nonsense is this? Pink later takes this all back (perhaps not realising that he has said it), but he should not have given it to us in the first place.

     What can we say to Pink’s view of atonement in three stages (as shed, as pleaded, as sprinkled), only one stage being fulfilled at Calvary and two stages being fulfilled through human agency? To plead the efficacy of the blood does not magically release new powers from a dormant, inactive atonement, but pleads for what has already happened with great redeeming activity. To argue that Christ’s blood is continually sprinkled equal to the amount of praying for pardon that might go on or not is just the un-Biblical picture which caused Fuller to turn his back on the ransom language of Scripture. It was this misunderstanding that put him off, which he mistook for the real Biblical position. Pink quotes Heb. 12:24 as if it refers to a post-atonement repetition of the shedding of Christ’s blood. His argument that there is a difference between Christ’s blood being shed and it being sprinkled is another example of the linguistic knots Pink ties himself into by playing with words. Heb. 12 refers to the new covenant situation we find ourselves in through the mediation of Christ. The author is not talking to sinners who have still to find salvation but to “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” He is talking about those who are already in, not still struggling to pray themselves and have themselves post-conversion-pardoned in! He is talking of the spirits of just men made perfect.

     Pink criticises others harshly for using non-Biblical examples to illustrate Biblical points, yet he is always appealing to the non-Biblical to describe the Biblical. His story of the heir who died before coming into his inheritance thus prematurely forfeiting it is a strange comparison indeed with an atoned-for soul who has not yet come to faith. Is Pink suggesting that God would allow a soul for whom Christ died to perish before receiving the gift of faith?

When was redemption accomplished?

     A question must also be raised against Pink’s argument that it is the resurrection which ensures the vicarious remission of sin and not the time of the renting of the veil. It is widely taught in Liberal theology that the Christian’s view of redemption is based on what they call ‘the resurrection myth’. Pink does not think the resurrection is a myth, of course, but is he not rather casting doubt on the historicity of the atonement itself? The essential part of the historicity of the atonement is its effectiveness which was activated before the resurrection, the resurrection ensuing because of this work being done. It was not the resurrection that sparks of atonement but the atonement which moved a propitiated God to give His Son and all those who are in Him, the rewards of His work. Christ claimed that the saving work was over as death came to Him. He did not proclaim ‘It is finished’ on the resurrection morning.

     On page 183, Pink uses a typical false antithesis which resembles so much the practice of Andrew Fuller. He says, “To say that there is no need for Christians to pray for forgiveness because all their sins were atoned for at the Cross, betrays great confusion of thought and flatly contradicts Scripture.” It would seem that Pink would have us reject both propositions contained in this antithesis, whereas only the folly of not praying for forgiveness contradicts Scripture and not that all the believer’s sins were atoned for at the Cross. Pink is very ambivalent on this matter as shown by his lame comparison with Lev. 16:21, his ideas on the continuous need for atonement and his idea that pardon can only come after commitment of sin because only then is the sinner guilty. Here Pink has forgotten all that he has said about man being in Adam federally.

Separating synonyms again

     The next few chapters are much clearer theologically but waste much time distinguishing between words for the apparent sake of the exercise only. Pink seems not to have consulted his Hebrew dictionary and grammar in any way. Page 189 beats the band. Our author has obviously forgotten about Hebrew parallelism i.e. the Hebrew love of saying the same thing in two different ways. His exposition of Jer. 31:11 and Hos. 13:14 just cannot stand. If he had only looked up the words for ransom and redemption, he would have found that where he quotes a word to mean ransom, the same word means redeemed and visi-versa elsewhere. Look at Hos. 13:14. ‘redeem’ is lag whereas that is the very word translated as ‘ransom’ in Jer. 31:11. Pink is just wasting his readers time here and building castles in the air. He is also causing me a lot of work checking his facts so that I do not make similar blunders!

     Page 190 ff. continues with what is either linguistically untrue or exegetically impossible. To give an example of redemption in the sense of ‘not accepting or accepting deliverance’, I feel is most unwise, as again, human agency is stressed. Otherwise, all the quotes Pink gives for the work of the atonement here contradict what he has said on page 58 and show that the historical atonement produced final and absolute pardon and at-one-ment. Pink’s doctrine of purchased but unforgiven saints cries out to be worked over and put on a more Biblical basis.

     Chapter 15 gets down to some good, solid, non-speculative work, though Pink promises more than he can provide. Many questions concerning what righteousness entails, how is it procured and how does it manifest itself are left open. The end of Chapter 17 makes edifying reading. Meanwhile, Pink gets terribly mixed up by distinguishing between Christ’s Person and His Nature and affirms on one page what he denies on another. See especially p. 208.

     Page 228 ff is excellent but quite contradicts pp. 182-183. From now on, it is a joy to read Pink, though on p. 233, I raised my eye-brows at his definition of Antinomianism. Surely, in a sense, we are delivered from the claims of the law as the law has now no condemning powers over us. It cannot re-slay us, it cannot drag us down to hell! Does loving the law of necessity include feeling that I am under its bondage? I do not think so.

     The book now gets better and better and I am in heavenly regions. I cannot help, however, remarking that Pink amends for his former blunders. He even hints on page 252 that the elect must be fully pardoned before they believe, which is the only interpretation I can put on “God justifies the ungodly.”

     Pink emphasises now that the atonement cannot have a wider scope than the extent of its efficacy. I wish he had defined how this takes place better.

Conclusion

     In spite of many good features in this book, this reviewer would hesitate to place it in a person’s hand who was not firmly established in the faith. Pink’s slogans ‘No Reconciliation in Atonement’ “No Reconciliation on the Cross” leaves us with an atonement void of contents which therefore does not atone and a reconciliation which has nothing to do with Christ’s work. It is no wonder that Pink preaches that the atonement only brings pardon for pre-conversion sins. It is a wonder that it does even that as no actual reconciliation has ensued. I would have thought only the reconciled received pardon. This is all Ignatius of Loyola rather than Paul of Tarsus.

     These doctrinal issues remind me of the controversy between John Wesley and James Hervey reflected in the former’s Preservative against Unsettled Notions in Religion and the latter’s Aspasio Vindicated. The problems were the contents of atonement, the timing and scope of reconciliation and the means of pardon, freedom from guilt, righteousness and justification. Wesley had a similar view to Pink’s conception of pardon in stages, depending on the atonement for pre-conversion pardon and for repentance and faith concerning post conversion pardon. Wesley complained to Hervey, “If Christ’s perfect obedience be ours, we have no more need of pardon than Christ himself.” The logic was good, but Wesley did not believe what he was saying but taunting Hervey with what he thought was a ridiculous proposal. Hervey, however, saw the logic as being completely Biblical. He agreed that we have no more need of pardon as pardon was fully obtained for us in Christ’s atoning work. Hervey thus points Wesley to Heb. 10:14, “By one offering, he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Believers, Hervey explains, are not reconciled for one day or one year, according to how they fall in and out of grace; they are reconciled for ever. “The pardon is irrevocable; the blessing inalienable.” Note that Hervey believed that pardon was full because reconciliation was complete. Pink denies both these factors. Reconciliation, he maintains, is not the work of Christ in the atonement and full pardon is conditional to the behaviour of the believer.

     Wesley also criticised Hervey concerning “the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s saving operations.” I thought nowadays only Pentecostals spoke like this as they subserviate the work of the Father and the Son to the work of the Spirit in salvation. They do this because they have no doctrine of the Father’s election nor the Son’s vicarious fulfilling of the law, thus removing our guilt, and pardon gaining sacrifice. I feel I cannot better Hervey here. He told Wesley, “The work of the Spirit in the believer is not the cause of our acquittal and reconciliation but the privilege of those who are acquitted and reconciled.”

     Daniel 9:24 helps us here, too. The work of the Redeemer is “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness.” This was the complete work of the atonement and a clear refutation of Pink’s extraordinary theory.

     Finally, perhaps the clearest refutation comes from Paul as he says in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” How hollow is the sound of Pink’s words on page 58, “Reconciliation is one of the many effects or fruits of Christ’s Atonement, but was not part of the work He did.” What Christian could refrain from condemning such a false view of our Lord’s perfect and finished work?

     When viewed in the light of Scripture, Pink’s doctrine of delayed-action pardon and reconciliation is seen to be totally erroneous. It must be thus condemned as such and seen as dangerous in the hands of those who have, up to now, known Pink as an orthodox man and will thus accept anything new from him in trust and dependency on his good standing. It must be shown that whether Pink, Gill, Spurgeon or Bavinck, these men are only good guides to us as long as they have their eyes on Scripture and their gaze on Christ. I feel my readers must be warned this strange teaching of Pink’s regarding the Atonement. The Christian’s duty as a watchmen must not be neglected.