By Shawn Lazar
Asa Mahan (1799-1889) was an Arminian philosopher and theologian. He was Presbyterian at a time when many Presbyterians were becoming Arminian (following the so-called “New Haven Theology”). Mahan was also the first president of Oberlin College when it was a revivalist school and not the ultra-liberal place it is today. He was also a co-worker with the famed Charles Finney, sharing Finney’s belief in Christian perfection. Mahan wrote a book on free will that I found helpful.
This intriguing excerpt is from the Introduction of Mahan’s Autobiography: Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual. Notice what Mahan says about his assurance of salvation:
Not long after my conversion I attained, by long and fervent prayer, to that form of full assurance in which I could say most unhesitatingly, “I know that I love God, and have eternal life.” This assurance of present acceptance, after a time, merged into “full assurance of hope,” an assurance which has not, and never had, any connection with the belief that a soul, once converted, is absolutely certain of final salvation. At the time of my conversion, “the eyes of my understanding were enlightened” to know my past character and life as they were, even to “a discernment of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” No one who has not been thus enlightened can form the remotest apprehension of the utter and absolute abhorrence with which that old and godless life was regarded by me at that time. The thought of perdition was not, in my distinct regard, so fearful as was the idea of a return to that old life. Hence it was that for a long period I made it the constant subject of specific and most earnest prayer, that God would keep me from apostasy, and also from being a backslider, even in heart. The result was, that I became possessed of a fixed inward assurance, into which no element of doubt entered, that I should have grace to “hold the beginning of my confidence steadfast unto the end.” As far as the question of present acceptance and final salvation is concerned, I have, during these sixty-five years, “served God without fear”—would that I could add, in regard to them all, “in righteousness and holiness before Him.”
What is so notable about Mahan’s treatment of assurance is that it is almost the exact opposite of the Free Grace view. Let me break it down for you.
The Basis of Mahan’s Assurance
First, Mahan says his assurance was attained by intense prayer, not by simply believing Jesus’ promise: “Not long after my conversion I attained, by long and fervent prayer…”
Second, Mahan received assurance of eternal life based on his love for God, not based on faith that God would keep His saving promise: “I could say most unhesitatingly, ‘I know that I love God, and have eternal life.’”
Third, Mahan was assured of his present acceptance by God, not of being eternally accepted by God: “This assurance of present acceptance…”
Fourth, Mahan expressly denied eternal security: “an assurance which has not, and never had, any connection with the belief that a soul, once converted, is absolutely certain of final salvation.”
Fifth, Mahan was sure he would keep on being saved, not because eternal life is eternal, but because he would continue believing and being holy until death:
“I became possessed of a fixed inward assurance, into which no element of doubt entered, that I should have grace to ‘hold the beginning of my confidence steadfast unto the end.’ As far as the question of present acceptance and final salvation is concerned, I have, during these sixty-five years, ‘served God without fear;’—would that I could add, in regard to them all, ‘in righteousness and holiness before Him.’”
In sum, this is assurance attained by performance and kept by performance.
Biblical assurance is so much simpler. Think of it as a syllogism:
Premise 1: Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Premise 2: I believe in Jesus.
Conclusion: Therefore, I have everlasting life.
That’s it. That’s assurance of salvation.
It’s not about praying yourself into a feeling.
It’s not about believing you’ll continue to love God and be faithful and holy until you die.
It is based entirely on believing His promise to you.
Assurance is not about what you can do for God, but what God has promised to do for you.
Shawn Lazar lives in Denton, TX with his wife Abby and their three children.