The Secret of Assurance (Psalm 121)

The Secret of Assurance
(Psalm 121)

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark resides in Morrison, Tenn. This is the second of his extended series of instructive studies on the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134).

A song according to the goings-up:

1. I lift up my eyes unto the mountains.
From where comes my help?

2. My help comes from the LORD; the Maker of the heavens and earth.

3. Does He let your foot slip?
Does your Keeper slumber?

4. Behold, the Keeper of Israel does not slumber and does not sleep;

5. The LORD Himself is your Keeper;
The LORD Himself is your shadow upon your hand, your right hand.

6. By day the sun does not smite you,
and the moon in the night.

7. The LORD keeps you from all evil,
He keeps your soul.

8. The LORD keeps your going out and your coming in,
from now and unto eternity.

A young man from a poverty-stricken area was drafted and went off to war, leaving behind his aged mother in the little country cabin that was their home. Each pay day he would endorse his check and send it to his mother. At the close of the war, he returned home to find his mother barely surviving, scratching, out an existence from her little garden. “Why mother!” he exclaimed. “What happened to the money I sent you?”

“Money?” she asked. “You mean those little pieces of paper? I thought they were souvenirs, so I pasted them up on the wall.”

He looked inside his bedroom and sure enough, the walls were papered with uncashed checks. The woman had had more than enough money to supply her needs, but she lived in poverty because of ignorance.

What a wonderful thing it is to be saved! The believer has untold wealth at his disposal: access to God in prayer, an inheritance undefiled and incorruptible laid up in heaven; but there can be no true enjoyment of these blessings unless we are sure in our own hearts that they are actually ours.

If the first need of man is salvation, the second is surely assurance of salvation. This psalm deals with this subject and speaks primarily to Israel. The principles, however, are much wider in scope and can be applied to Christians today as well.

The Fear (vv. 1-2)

Assurance is needed in regard to four aspects of the Christian life. First, some are afraid that they are not saved to begin with. In times of need, the Hebrew naturally lifted his eyes to the mountains surrounding the Sacred City, Jerusalem (v. 1). Unfortunately, many came to trust in the hills themselves, or the city, or the Temple, or their Jewish descent (cf. Jer. 7:4). The one with spiritual vision, however, realizes that help comes, as G. Campbell Morgan has said, “not from those mountains, precious as they are, but from Jehovah, Who is with him in the Valley of distance.”

The secret of assurance is this: many doubt their salvation because they are looking to the wrong things. They look to the “mountains” rather than looking beyond and behind those “mountains.” Many depend on material things (church membership, good deeds, feelings or emotions) and when these things begin to lose their “force,” they consequently doubt if they are really saved. We must look ONLY to the Lord and no other. Our salvation “comes from the LORD” and is dependent not on any feelings or works of ours, but on the work of Christ on the Cross.

The Failing (vv. 3-4)

Some are afraid that, while they may be saved now, they will not be able to “live it”; they know that they are inherently evil and they do not see how they can live a Christian life. It is true that the Christian life is a narrow road (cf. Matt. 7:14), similar to a ‘mountain pathway” from which we might slip (v. 3) if left to ourselves. No one could maintain his salvation on his own. Even the psalmist writes, “My steps had well-nigh slipped” (Psa. 73:2). Yet our security lies not in ourselves, but in the Lord. By the use of the (untranslated) negative particle al, the psalmist indicates the absurdity of the question that the Lord might let us slip or that He might not be watching over us, and with an exclamation (“Behold!”) he emphasizes the eternal watchful care of our Keeper.

Not only does God perfect our spirits at the moment of salvation (Heb. 10:14), He assumes responsibility for keeping us and has promised to present us “faultless before the presence of His glory” (Jude 24; cf. Eph. 5:27).

The secret is to realize that living the Christian life is to be done the same way as gaining it: not through our own efforts, but through simple, childlike faith in what Christ has done. C. H. Mackintosh reported that is was J. N. Darby’s remark that “It is Christ’s work for us, not His work in us, that gives peace” that gave him assurance of his own salvation.

The Fainting (vv. 5-6)

Some seem to feel that while they are saved now and could probably continue so under their own efforts (a foolish attitude!), yet the adversities of the Christian life may prove too much for them and cause them to faint by the way. The psalmist shows us the secret: yes, trials and troubles will come, whether they be open persecutions as in the “day” (cf. Matt. 13:6 with 13:21) nor hidden things about which no one but ourselves may know, as in the “night,” yet the LORD is the One keeping us, and He will not permit us to be “tempted (or tested: tried in the furnace of affliction; both meanings apply) above that which we are able to bear, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).

The Lord Himself (grammatically emphatic) is our constant guardian, not some person or creature that might fail. The realization of this fact gives immeasurable comfort to the believer in the midst of troubles. Our safety at such times is God’s responsibility and, even in times of trouble, we may enjoy “perfect peace” if we allow our minds to rest on Him.

The Falling (vv. 7-8)

Finally, some are afraid that they will spend their entire lives trying to “be a Christian” and then discover when this life is over that, despite their best efforts, they are eternally lost. The important word here is “evil.” This word (Heb. ra’) does not mean simply persecution or even temptations we might fall into. Literally, it means “spoilation, ruination,” and has an absolute, not just a physical or moral sense. The psalmist has no fear that he will face ultimate “ruination” — eternity separated from God — because he trusts in the LORD, who is his Keeper in every circumstance and situation (“going out and coming in” covers every possible situation) and He is Keeper both now and unto (to and into) eternity, an eternity which has already begun for the believer in Jesus Christ (see John 3:36).

Two participles stand out in this psalm, both used exclusively to describe the LORD: He is the Maker (v. 2) and the Keeper (vv. 3, 4, 5). If He has saved us, He will certainly keep us as well (see John 10:27-28).

Do you lack assurance of salvation? Do you fear that you cannot “live up” to God’s righteous requirements? Do you fear that you might fail when troubles arise and perhaps even be lost forever? Look not to yourself, or to the “mountains,” or to any other thing, but only to the LORD, and by faith in the blood of His Son, you will be both made (a new creation in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:17) and kept (as His child) for eternity.

Look away to Jesus,
Look away from all!
Then we need not stumble.
Then we need not fall.
From each snare that lureth,
Foe or phantom grim,
Safety this ensureth,
Look away to Him!

—Frances Ridley Havergal