I said at the outset of this series – the Beatitudes become harder. As we progress, they become more searching. More probing. The more we listen and understand and apply the Beatitudes, this will be the case. They ought to disturb us. They ought to remind us of what a solemn thing it is to be brought into the Kingdom of God. To be snatched out of darkness, and brought into His marvellous light.
Take this statement – “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Who are the pure in heart? Where are they found? How are they identified? Do we have any among us; here today? There are several ways of identifying them, and in doing so, we may define what it means. One thing we can be certain of – it is only the pure in heart who will see God. If we are not pure in heart, we will never see God.
Jesus is referring to a purity that is deeper and more far reaching than certain behavioural traits. He spoke of the Pharisees, and said their purity was only skin deep.
Jesus is speaking of a purity in the “heart.” We don’t need to split hairs, as some do, and debate the difference between the heart and the mind; in the Bible, they are interchangeable terms. Pro.23:7 “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Lit. Heb – “As he thinks in his soul, so is he.” The soul is our inner being. Jesus said, “From within, out of the heart of a man proceed evil thoughts.” It is all a question of our inner being. He said of the Pharisees, “your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.”
All the different expressions the Bible uses of our inner being; our mind, heart, will; spirit; understanding; memory; they are all expressions of our soul. It is what we are. Therefore, to be pure in heart is to be pure in the mind & ……….!, and this includes our memory – the things we think about. – “Whatsoever things are pure, think on these things.” To have an impure heart, results in impure …..thoughts, & beliefs, & motives, & decisions, and & emotions.
The first step anyone takes in experiencing this blessedness of being ‘pure in heart’, is to mourn their impurity. Martin Lloyd Jones made a helpful comment on this point. “The only way to have a pure heart is to realize you have an impure heart, and to mourn about it to such an extent that you do that which alone can lead to cleansing and purity.”
This of course is the reason the Beatitudes have the order they have. They begin with being ‘poor in spirit’ – and that is followed by mourning their inner condition. So while others are busy congratulating themselves that they are basically a good person, the Christian bemoans the inconsistency of their inner being.
There is a well known statement David makes in the Psalms – he prays, “Unite my heart to fear Your Name.” That is what a Christian mourns – a disunited heart; and that is an impure heart. But ironically, that is the first step to purity.
I confess, as I approached closer to the time when I had to sit down and prepare this sermon, I felt bothered; troubled by it. I thought, “How could I possibly preach on this subject?” But that is exactly the point. That is where we all have to start. By thinking how totally unworthy we are. Like David we mourn our divided hearts. We bemoan our inner hypocrisies. 1st step.
The term or concept of a “pure heart” occurs several times elsewhere in the Bible, and of course, Jesus is using the term in a way that is consistent with its biblical meaning. With this in mind, Psalm 24 offers a rich context from which we may understand the kind of person who is pure in heart: (If you have your Bibles handy….!) “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (v. 3-4).
The person who is pure in heart “does not lift up his soul to an idol.” His “purity” consists of a single-minded devotion to God; he belongs to “the generation of those who seek him” (v. 6). There are no “idols” – abominable and distracting things – to obscure his focus on Jesus Christ. The Apostle James says to those who are “double-minded,” “purify your hearts”.
The Beatitudes are concerned with those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. God’s people are those whose basic dispositions have been transformed by the power of God. Even though they still struggle against sin, they are the “pure in heart.” It is the extent that we allow idols and distractions to remain in our lives, that upsets our assurance with God. And if we are serious in wanting to walk with the Lord, we cannot help but attack these things that threaten our peace.
Terry Johnson writes: Ask yourself, is my love of God pure? Does He have my whole heart? Does He have my absolute allegiance? Or is my heart divided? Our hearts must be pure, singular, uncorrupted. Do you love wealth more? Or sports? Or power? Or pleasure? Or your children? Or your husband or wife? Only the pure will see God. No one else shall.”
So that is the 2nd point. We begin to approach our relationship to God sincerely and realistically. If He is our God, then we will love Him supremely. If we don’t, then there is something else we love supremely. There is an idol in our life. And according to our Lord, any love we have for God, is not love at all, but hate. “No man can serve two masters – he will love the one, and hate the other.” Loving God supremely, is basic to being a Christian. None of us love God perfectly, but if we do not love Him supremely, we are deceiving ourselves in thinking we are Christians. We have never been converted.
It is often popular these days for people to say they are thankful for the way things are. But they never actually say who they are thankful to. Of course it may simply be an expression of relief, that things could be much worse.
On the other hand, we as Christians, are called to give thanks always for all things. It is to be the manner of our life. It is to be the expression of our trust and faith, that even when things look bad, we believe God is still in control, and He has a plan to bring good out of it. This is how we love God supremely. We lift up our hearts to Him, to show how much we are bound and indebted to Him.
Sometimes we need to shake ourselves up in this. We remind ourselves just how generous God has been to us in all kinds of ways. You know how children are naturally unthankful and have to be prompted to say thank you, so we have to provoke ourselves and remind ourselves to be thankful to God. We could study our whole life and still miss many of the benefits we receive from the Lord.
This is how we should think of ourselves. We are in this world and God cares for us every day. His goodness feeds us, and cherishes us. He dazzles us with such a great number of benefits. And the reason He does so, is in order that we should acknowledge Him in all our ways. Whenever we come to God, all we can bring to Him, is to acknowledge ourselves bound to Him for all things He has given us.
Yet for all that, none of us fulfil our duty as we ought. We defraud our Heavenly Father. Sometimes we can hardly think of reasons to praise Him. We are so full of complaints when we should be like the Psalmist who said, “Bless the Lord O my soul…!” – “What can I render to the Lord for all the benefits which I have received from Him, except to take the cup of salvation from His hand and call upon His Name.”
In the matter of our relationship to others we must be watchful. Psalm 24:6 continues to say that he who is pure in heart does not “swear by what is false” – or as another version puts it, he “has not sworn deceitfully” (NASB). The pure in heart will deal with people without deceit and ulterior motives.
The pure in heart always feels how vulnerable he is. As Jesus said, “we are lambs in the midst of wolves.” We pray, ‘lead us not into temptation.’ We are surrounded by evils. So we must ask ourselves the necessary questions: Am I living a clean, pure, holy life? Or am I allowing corruption into my life one small step at a time? Have I begun to tolerate dishonesty? Or pride? Or lust? Or covetousness? Am I indulging lies, even if they’re only white lies? Am I indulging theft, even if its only petty theft? Am I indulging “innocent” flirtations, “harmless” gossip, or do I allow so called “soft” pornography into my life?
If believers struggle to maintain purity in the heart, where does that put unbelievers? They cannot even begin to have a pure heart. Their hearts are utterly corrupt and depraved. I quoted earlier what Jesus said. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean'” (Mark 7:21-23).
Because man’s heart is utterly ruined, he has no power or desire to change, so that God must initiate any change in him. God effects this change only in those whom he has chosen, and he does it by giving them faith in Christ. As Peter says when referring to some Gentile Christians, “[God] purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Faith was the means; and faith itself is a gift. This is what God promised by the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:25-26).
If today, you are an unbeliever, you can never be pure in heart, unless you repent. You love what God hates, and hate what God loves. And only God can make the difference. I say, you must repent, but only God can grant you repentance. And it is only when you realise that, that you will cry out to God for mercy. And in so doing, you will find yourself in the same place as the Publican, the Lord pointed out, who bowed his head before God, and beat his breast, and cried, “Have mercy upon me O Lord, the sinner.” You will find yourself in the same place as the Jews, on the day of Pentecost, who were cut to the heart when Peter said, ‘God had made the One they murdered, both Lord and Christ.’ They felt the agony of their helplessness and their wretchedness, and they cried “Men & brethren, what shall we do?” That is the cry of a pure heart.
I hope we have all learned enough of the doctrine of God, to know that God is an infinite Spirit. He is everywhere at once, and therefore we cannot see Him with our eyes. So what does the Lord mean, when He says, the ‘pure in heart shall see God?”
This is a matter which has long been debated through church history. Some of the great church fathers and the early teachers were much attracted by it and gave a great deal of thought to it.
Did it really mean that in the glorified state we should see God with the naked eye. Was it objective and visible, or was it entirely spiritual?
It seems to me, it doesn’t pay to be dogmatic. You know what happened to Moses. On one occasion God took him aside and placed him in the cleft of a rock and said He should see only the back parts of God. But how can you define what that means. Our Lord made some amazing statements on this. “You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape.” Does that mean, God has a shape? Again He said, “No man has seen the Father, save He who is of God.” – “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Then again He said, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father.”
It all indicates to us, the Being of God is so transcendent and eternal, that all our efforts to arrive at an understanding are doomed to failure. Our terms and definitions are so inadequate. Our minds are so small. You remember how Paul expressed it, when he saw visions of glory, and he was unable to express what he saw in human language.
Perhaps the closest we can come to a tangible answer – to this question, what does it mean to see God, is to refer you to the words of our Lord Jesus in Joh.17: 24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me;” That surely must give us an answer to the question, for our Lord Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. He is the “same yesterday, today and forever.” To behold Christ, is to behold God.
One day, every believer will look upon Jesus, and they will see a Man. And in looking at Him, they will also see God. In fact this is almost exactly how the Apostle John put it. “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)