Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
March 2, 1986
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The first thing we learn from this beatitude is that Jesus is concerned with our heart. It is not enough to clean up our act on the outside.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Matthew 23:25-26.
The aim of Jesus Christ is not to reform the manners of society, but to change the hearts of sinners like you and me. So, for example, Jesus would not be satisfied with a society in which there were no acts of adultery.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28.
The heart is what you are, in the secrecy of your thought and feeling, when nobody knows but God. And what you are at the invisible root matters as much to God as what your are at the visible branch. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). From the heart are all the issues of life.
What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart… For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man. Matthew 15:18-19.
Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit… For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:33-34.
So the heart is utterly crucial to Jesus. What we are in the deep, private recesses of our lives is what he cares about most. Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some bad habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because we have such dirty hearts that need to be purified.
Have you thought recently how helpless the local, state and federal government is to solve problems of our society? A month ago CBS aired a program called “The Vanishing Family — Crisis in Black America.” The focus was on the black community but the problem is true in differing measures in all groups of our society. The statistic was given that 58% of all black babies are born to unmarried mothers. Only about 1% of these are put up for adoption.
So over half of the next generation in the black community is being raised without a dad at home. The long term effect of that tragedy nobody knows. What can the government do? It seems that all it can do is try to find ways to soften the financial burden on these children and their mothers.
Do you see how amazingly relevant the words of Jesus are? He says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication…” Out of the heart comes fornication! All babies born to unmarried mothers (and fathers!) are born from fornication. Therefore Jesus would say, if he were here today, that this massive problem in our society is a problem with the heart. If people — white people, black people, red people, yellow people — were pure in heart, they would be blessed. Their society would be blessed. And the impotence of the state to deal with the inner collapse of our culture would be replaced by the power of purity.
Now the reason I mention the social relevance of Jesus’ teaching on purity of heart is not because that is what the beatitude is about. In fact, this beatitude is emphatically irrelevant if measured by contemporary social standards. Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus says, not for they shall save the legislature millions of dollars in AFDC payments. Rather, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
The reason I mention the social impact implicit in Jesus’ teaching is so that our socially sensitive consciences can gladly affirm the centrality of God in this beatitude. My own conviction is that the fundamental problem in American society and culture is that we attempt to solve human problems while neglecting the centrality of God in the life of the soul.
We are so bombarded by human tragedies of poverty and crime and abuse and neglect and war and the manifold injustices of man to man, that we are tempted to agree with the world that it is useless pie in the sky by and by to be concerned with whether the soul will ever see God. But this is the greatest of all tragedies — that in seeking to relieve the temporal miseries of man we set aside the centrality of God.
But Jesus comes to us this morning and says, Blessed are the pure in heart, not first because they change society, but first because they will see God. Seeing God is the great goal of being pure. Abandon that goal and human culture collapses into ruin.
So let’s ask briefly in the moments we have, What is it to see God? What is it to be pure in heart? And, How are these two things bound together.
First, What is it to see God?
I would mention three things. First, to see God means to be admitted to his presence. After the plague of darkness on Egypt Pharaoh exploded to Moses with these words:
“Get away from me; take heed to yourself; never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.” Exodus 10:28-29
When a king says, “You will never see my face again,” he means, “I will never grant you admission again into my presence.”
In the same way we call the doctor today and say, “Can I see Dr. Lundgren today?” We don’t mean, Can I see him from a distance. Or, Can I see a picture of him? We mean, Can I have an appointment to be with him?
So the first thing seeing God means is being admitted to his presence.
Second, seeing God means being awestruck by his glory — by a direct experience of his holiness. After God confronted Job in the whirlwind, Job said, “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Virtually all of our spiritual sight in this life is mediated to us through the word of God or the work of God in providence. We “see” images and reflections of his glory. We hear echoes and reverberations of his voice.
But there will come a day when God himself will dwell among us. His glory will no longer be inferred from lightnings and mountains and roaring seas and constellations of stars. Instead our experience of him will be direct. His glory will be the very light in which we move (Revelation 21:23) and the beauty of his holiness will be tasted directly like honey on the tongue.
So seeing God means not only being admitted to his presence, but also being awestruck by a direct experience of his glory.
Finally, seeing God means being comforted by his grace. Again and again the psalmists cry out to God that he not hide his face from them. For example in Psalm 27 (verses 7-9) David says,
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
…Hide not thy face from me.
“Hide not thy face from me,” is the same as saying, “Be gracious to me!” This means that seeing the face of God is considered to be a sweet and comforting experience. If God shows his face we are helped. If he turns his face away, we are dismayed.
So when Jesus promises the reward of “seeing God” there are at least these three things implied: we will be admitted to his presence, not just kept in the waiting room. We will be awestruck with a direct experience of his glory. And we will be helped and comforted by his grace.
And this we will have — in part now, and fully in the age to come — if we are pure in heart.
What is it to be pure in heart?
Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book called Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. That is not a bad definition provided that the one thing we will is the glory of God.
Let me try to show you where that definition comes from in Scripture. We start with the closest OT parallel to this beatitude, namely, Psalm 24:3-4.
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.
You can see what David means by a “pure heart” in the phrases that follow it. A pure heart is a heart that has nothing to do with falsehood. It is painstakingly truthful and free from deceitfulness. Deceit is what you do when you will two things, not one thing. You will to do one thing and you will that people think you are doing another. You will to feel one thing and you will that people think you are feeling another. That is impurity of heart. Purity of heart is to will one thing, namely, to “seek the face of the Lord” (verse 6).
You can see this idea of purity in James 4:8.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.
Notice that just like Psalm 24 there is reference to both clean hands and a pure heart as preparation for drawing near to God, or “ascending the hill of the Lord.” But notice how the men are described who need to purify their hearts: “men of double mind.” That is they are men that will two things not just one thing.
The impurity of double-mindedness is explained in James 4:4.
Unfaithful creatures [lit. adultresses], Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
So the double-minded man of verse 8 has his heart divided between the world and God, like a wife who has a husband and a boyfriend. Purity of heart on the other hand is to will one thing, namely, full and total allegiance to God.
So if we ask, Where in the gospels did Jesus explain purity of heart in this way, the answer would be Matthew 22:37,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.
Not with part of your heart. Not with a double or divided heart. That would be impurity. Purity of heart is no deception, no double-mindedness, no divided allegiance.
(Note: you can see the echo of this meaning of purity of heart in 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere [i.e. unhypocritical faith).”
Purity of heart is to will one thing, namely, God’s truth and God’s value in everything we do. The aim of the pure heart is to align itself with the truth of God and magnify the worth of God. If you want to be pure in heart pursue God with utter singlemindedness. Purity of heart is to will that one thing.
That leaves one last question: how are purity of heart and seeing God bound together?
Jesus only gives us part of the answer here. It is a true part, but only part. He says that the pure will see God. That is, purity is a prerequisite for seeing God. The impure are neither granted admittance to his presence, nor are they awed by the glory of his holiness, nor are they comforted by his grace.
Jesus’ point is the same as Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for … the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In other words, blessed are the holy for they shall see God. There is a real purity and a real holiness which fits us to see the king of glory.
And of course that leads every sensitive soul to cry out with the words of Proverbs 20:9, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?'” And with the disciples: “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus’ answer comes back just like it did to the disciples in Matthew 19:26 — and this is the rest of the answer — “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” In other words, God creates a purity for us and in us so that we can pursue purity. And by his grace we must seek that gift by praying with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). And we must look to Christ “who gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people” (Titus 3:l4).
And the response of our hearts to God’s act of creation and Christ’s act of sacrifice is single-minded faith in Jesus Christ as Lord an Savior. As the Scripture says in Acts 15:9, “God made no distinction between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith.” God is the one who purifies the heart, and the instrument with which he cleans it is faith.
Therefore, trust in the Lord with ALL your heart (Proverbs 3:5). Will this one thing. And you will see God.