Dr. Asa Mahan
We begin by calling on Dr. Asa Mahan, first president of Oberlin College, Ohio, U.S.A. How well I remember poring over writings of his which came my way years ago, when I was a young disciple wanting to know for myself whether there was reality or not in “this second blessing idea”. I call on Dr. Mahan first because he was a scholar and a well-known public figure who, having lived a sanctified life before many observers for over half a century, wrote a reminiscent explication of it as a radiant octogenarian. The following are selections.
“On Sabbath, November 9, 1884, I completed the eighty-fifth year of my life. The first seventeen years of this period were spent in the darkness of impenitency and sin, a state rightly represented by the words, ‘having no hope, and without God in the world’. The following eighteen years I lived and walked in the dim twilight of that semi-faith which knows Christ in the sphere of ‘justification by faith’, but knows almost nothing of Him in the sphere of ‘sanctification by faith’. During the subsequent fifty years I have found grace to ‘walk with God’ in that sphere of cloudless sunlight in which we are ‘complete in Christ’, and know Him as our ‘wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption’—know Him not only as ‘the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world’, but as ‘He that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit’.
“Here permit me to say, in general, that while I was in public regard unexceptionably moral youth, no individual ever did or ever can lead a more godless life than I did. I never in a single instance, excepting at my mother’s knee, offered a prayer to God any form. I never entertained or expressed a sentiment of thanksgiving for a blessing received, or confessed a sin to my God; nor did I ever do or avoid doing a single act from regard to His will, favour or displeasure.
“Of my conversion, I may say of a truth that it was, in the judgment of all who knew me, of a very marked and decisive character, being followed by a visible change in character and life such as was seldom witnessed. During the first five years of my Christian life I was directly instrumental in originating four important revivals of religion— three of these occurring in the schools which I taught, and these where no work of grace existed within hearing distance around. Nor was my ministry of eight years’ continuance, during this period, a fruitless one: no less, I suppose, than 2000 souls being added to the churches through my instrumentality.
There was at length, notwithstanding all my prayers and efforts to the contrary, a gradual fading out of that joy. I found, to my great sorrow and regret, that those sinful propensities which had held absolute control over me during the era of my impenitency still existed, and when temptation arose ‘warred in my members’ with seeming undiminished strength, and were frequently ‘bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which was in my members’.
No believer, as it seems to me, ever did or ever could strive more resolutely and untiringly than I did to subdue and hold in subjection such evil propensities, or made less progress to effect his purpose than I did. During those eighteen years, after the fading of my primal joys, I was from time to tune troubled and not infrequently agonized with painful doubts— doubts about my standing as a believer, about the truth of the Gospel, and a future state as revealed in the same. I seemed to myself to be among the number who feared the Lord, obeyed the voice of His servants, yet walked in darkness and had no light.
‘I saw there was an essential defect in my experience and character as a Christian. I read and prayerfully pondered such passages as the following: ‘The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’. ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee’. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’. ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us,’ etc. As I read such passages I said to myself, ‘My experience hardly approaches that which is here revealed as the common privilege of all the saints’. In the secret of my own spirit I said, ‘I will never cease enquiry and prayer until God shall ‘open the eyes of my understanding’, that I may know ‘the things which are freely given us of God’. After some years of most diligent enquiry and prayer my eyes were opened, and ‘I beheld with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord’, and ‘knew the love of Christ which passeth knowledge’, and emerged ‘out of darkness into God’s marvelous light’. In that light I have lived and walked for the past fifty years.
“And here permit me to remark that there has been during this entire period a total disappearance of all those painful experiences which threw such a ‘disastrous twilight’ over the preceding eighteen years of my Christian life.
The peace and joy which, as an unfailing and unfading light, have filled and occupied these past fifty years have so far surpassed and eclipsed the ‘peaceful hours enjoyed’ during the ardency of my ‘first love’ that the latter is seldom ‘remembered or comes into mind’. During these fifty years I have almost, and might say quite, ceased to be conscious of the existence and action of those evil propensities which, during the preceding eighteen years, ‘warred in my members’ and so often rendered me a groaning captive ‘under the law of sin and death’; for ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ has made me ‘free’ from that old law. Immediately after my entrance into ‘the brightness of the divine rising’ I became blissfully conscious that all my propensities were, by divine grace, put under my absolute control; that I was no longer a groaning captive, but the Lord’s free man—free and divinely empowered to employ all faculties and propensities, physical and mental, as ‘instruments of righteousness’ in the divine service.
“As a result of fifty years’ experience and careful self-watchfulness I present myself as a witness for Christ, that ‘our old man may be crucified with Him’, and ‘the body of sin destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin’. Were those old propensities against which I so long and vainly fought, and whose existence and action within I so long and deeply lamented, now warring at all in the inner man, should I not be, sometimes at least, conscious of the fact?
“My entrance into the higher life was attended by a vast increase of effective power in preaching Christ to the impenitent; and ‘the edification of the body of Christ’ (believers) became the leading characteristic and luxury of my ministry. Religious conversation became as easy and spontaneous as the outflow of water from a living fountain.
Should I designate what I regard as one of the leading characteristics of my experience during these fifty years, I should refer to such Scriptures as, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee’. At intervals my joy in God becomes so full and overflowing that it seems as if ‘the great deep’ of the mind is being broken up. But my peace, quietness, and assurance know no interruption.
“Should I be asked, ‘Have you not sinned during these many years?’ my reply would be: I set up no such pretension as that. This I do profess, however, that I find grace to ‘serve Christ with a pure conscience’. But while ‘I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is God’. I do ‘have confidence toward God’, because ‘my heart condemns me not’. I have this evidence, also, that the love which I have does cast out all ‘fear that hath torment’.
“This promise . . has lived in my heart as the light of my life: ‘The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended’.”