Blessed are the pure in heart
Many of the ordinary, everyday things we do result in a mess, and a large part of our lives is spent in trying to keep things clean, or make them pure. How many of the items in your supermarket trolley are cleaning agents, in one form or another?
But where do we find absolute purity? Where can we actually locate the absence of any pollution, dirt or defilement? Perhaps we think our water supply is pure, but various chemicals are added to it in order to remove dangerous microbes. We would like to breathe pure air – air not contaminated by fumes from buildings or vehicles – but we seldom find it. We would like the food we eat to be pure, but much of what we eat is processed and saturated with additives. I’ll go no further on this one!
It is no less straightforward trying to find a pure heart. Do you long for a pure heart? I hope you would say that you do. We know that our hearts contain many impurities, because so much that we encounter in this fallen and sad world pollutes our hearts. We can remember unhelpful influences from the world around us: examples of bad behaviour that we’ve witnessed, perhaps lyrics from songs or images from television that have lodged in our minds and contaminated our thinking, and indeed the wicked suggestions of Satan that have attacked our consciences.
But when we probe a little deeper, we see that our own hearts are the source of so much filth and pollution. This is what Jesus told us. ‘But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person’ (Matt. 15:18-20). If you know by experience the truth of this penetrating observation, if your conscience tells you that you are not pure in heart, then you are at least one step along the way. But we need to understand what this description ‘pure in heart’ really means.
Sincere but wrong
Does ‘pure in heart’ simply mean sincere, honest, and unhypocritical? Certainly those who are ‘pure in heart’ will be like this. But it is possible to be sincerely wrong. The prophets of Baal in Elijah’s day were very sincere in what they did – we can see their actions as they danced around the altar. They cut themselves until their blood flowed – nothing half-hearted about that! There is no doubt at all that the suicide bombers who have carried out such atrocious attacks around the world are men who sincerely believe in their cause. We might even say that today’s tyrants and dictators are sincere in their exploits – wrong, deluded, deranged – but sincere.
People will say to us, ‘It’s good to have the courage of your convictions and to know what you believe.’ Yes – but it will do you no ultimate good if what you believe is wrong! Someone can be a very sincere Muslim, Buddhist or atheist – very impressive and consistent as far as his own belief-system goes – but if this Bible is true, then that person is in a most perilous situation.
Think of it like this. There are different kinds of purity. What kind of purity are we talking about? Purity of what? You can have pure water, but you can also have pure alcohol. You can have pure orange juice, but you can also have pure cyanide. It is not purity alone that is good, but purity of the right substance. Pure alcohol might be useful as a disinfectant, but it wouldn’t be safe to drink. Pure water would be no good as a fuel, pure paraffin might be better!
So what kind of purity is meant by ‘pure in heart’? It is what we might call the purity of godly desire; it is the purity of the heart that longs for closer fellowship with God Himself. What does the Bible say? ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully’ (Ps. 24:3-4).
Whom do you worship? Or to put it another way, whom do you desire the most? This is the heart of the question. The pure heart loves God and His ways; it stretches up towards God like a flower with open petals stretching up towards the sun. The pure heart exists for God; God Himself is the great joy of the pure heart. Does the person with a pure heart know that he himself is still impure? Of course he does, and the light of God’s holiness shows up these impurities for what they are, and indeed they increase his desire for fellowship with God.
Blessing for today
We read that the ‘pure in heart’ will see God, and perhaps our instinctive response is to think that this is a far-off, future blessing. After all, in Matthew 5:8 it is in the future tense – ‘they shall see God’. And there is no doubt that the great hope of every true Christian is that day when they will look into the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we have all been transformed and are like Him.
But it seems better to take this promise, this blessing, as something which begins now and develops and matures until it reaches perfection in the life to come. Isn’t the same true of some of the other Beatitudes? The poor in spirit are possessors of the kingdom of heaven right now. The kingdom is a present reality – Christ the King rules in their hearts. But the day is coming when they will see the kingdom of God fully established, with every knee bowing to Jesus Christ. Those who mourn – who mourn for their sin and fallenness – do not need to wait throughout their lives before they are comforted. God is the God of all comfort today, and mourning Christians who look to Jesus Christ receive that present comfort. But the greatest comfort awaits a future date.
Surely we can say even more. We tend to think of the Beatitudes in terms of cause and effect, or even as payment and reward. ‘Right then, if I want to see God, I need to be pure in heart. God will see how pure my heart has been, and then He will show Himself to me.’ This is wrong thinking which betrays a crucial misunderstanding. Instead, we need to see that the Beatitudes, these descriptions of true blessedness, or true happiness, are really two sides of the same coin. What is fundamentally true of someone who has a pure heart? He loves the things of God, he delights in fellowship with God, in short – he knows God and in that sense, sees God right now. To be pure in heart is to see God and to rejoice in Him, even today!
C.S. Lewis puts it most wonderfully: ‘It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they will see God, because only the pure in heart want to.’
Paul Yeulett is the pastor of Shrewsbury Evangelical Church.