By Pastor Glenn Pease
Two soldiers were on a transport going overseas. Standing on the deck they gazed out across the vast expanse of water. One who had never been near the ocean said, "That's the most water I've ever seen in all my life. Did you ever see so much water?" His companion responded, "You haven't seen anything yet-that's just the top of it!" Even the surface of the sea is impressive, but the depths take away your breath in awesome wonder. The beatitudes we have looked at so far are far from being shallow surface saying of Christ. They are deep and challenging, but they are at least within the range of what seems possible to us.
But in this sixth beatitude, Jesus plunges to such depths in the ocean of holiness that we feel it is impossible to follow Him deeper, and that up to now we have only seen the top of it. We feel we are just not built for this kind of depth. The pressure we feel would crush us. Both the condition of purity of heart, and the promise of the vision of God seems so far beyond our capacity that the whole thing appears impractical. It is like asking a man with a snorkel and swim fins to follow an atomic powered submarine.
No one claims to be adequate for the task of even explaining this beatitude. Preachers apologize for their audacity in even presuming to try and preach on this text. It is agreed, however, that Jesus is not mocking us here, but offers the hope of attaining an apparently impossible ideal. It is agreed that Jesus gets to the very heart of happiness in this beatitude. All else stands or falls on the basis of what we do with this one. Matthew Henry in his commentary writes, "This is the most comprehensive of all the beatitudes; holiness and happiness fully described and put together. Here is the most comprehensive character of the blessed; they are the pure in heart. Here is the most comprehensive comfort of the blessed; they shall see God."
Hastings in the Great Texts Of The Bible writes, "If in blessedness there be a crown of blessedness it is here." A. R. Clippinger says, "In the bright constellation of the beatitudes this star of promise shines the farthest and is the most beautiful."
The great hope of God's people has always been to see God and behold His presence. Moses cried out, "I beseech Thy, show me Thy glory." (Ex. 33:18). In Psa. 17:15 the Psalmist describes his greatest bliss: "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness." In Psa. 41:12 he expects his integrity to be rewarded by being set before God's face forever. In Psa. 63:2 he says, "So I have looked upon Thee in the sanctuary, beholding Thy power and glory." Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and many are the texts in the Old Testament that refer to seeing God, or the great hope of seeing God. This is true in the New Testament also.
Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." Paul holds forth the hope of seeing Christ face to face, and no longer through a glass darkly. In Rev. 22:4 it says of the servants of God, "They shall see His face and His name shall be in their foreheads." In both the Old and New Testaments the condition for seeing God is a pure heart. In Psa. 24:3-4 we read, "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." In I John 3:2-3 we read, "We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, and everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself as He is pure." The longing of every Christian should be for a pure heart. Walter C. Smith expressed it in poetry:
If clearer vision Thou impart,
Grateful and glad my soul shall be,
But yet to have a pure heart
Is more to me.
Yea, only as the heart is clean
May larger visions yet be mine,
For mirrored in its depths are seen
The things divine.
The clearer the heart the greater the vision. The heart is the telescope whereby the believer sees into the heaven of heavens, and the cleaner the lens the further he sees. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. A man is what his heart is. The heart is the telescope by which we see beyond the heavens which declare the glory of God into the heaven of the very presence of God. A man with a telescope can see what others do not, even though it is present to all. He can point at a star and say it is two stars, but you look and see one, and you do not believe it until you look through the telescope. So the man with a clean and pure heart can see God at work where others see nothing, or only men working.
Jesus is not just talking about the vision of God when time is over, and we see Him face to face. The seeing begins now in the life of the pure.
1. When you point to the big dipper and look up and say, "I see it," that is physical sight.
2. When you tell me how to find the big dipper by looking to the Northwest, and I say, "I see," that is mental sight.
3. But when I look up at the dipper and feel the wonder of God's creation, that is heart sight. You are seeing God on a level that the physical and mental cannot penetrate. You are going beyond the body and mind into the realm of the spirit where you have the ability to enter the presence of God and praise Him for His creation.
Men only see what they are prepared for seeing. The man who loves and studies nature sees the beauty of animals and plants that most men never see. A sightseer once stopped to watch Turner the great artist at work. "Why Mr. Turner," he said, "I never saw any such light and color in nature as you put on your canvas." Turner merely replied, "Don't you wish you could? As for me, I never can hope to match with pigments the glory I see in the sky." Wesley had this same experience in the spiritual realm and wrote:
Lo! to faith's enlightened sight,
All the mountain flames with light.
Hell is nigh, but God is nigher,
Circling us with hosts of fire.
Keith Miller in his book The Second Touch tells of two men who were traveling at night in the brush land of the Southwest. The driver lived on a ranch in the area, but the passenger was from the East. As they approached a cut in a hill the Easterner saw in the headlights a boulder rolling down into the road ahead of them. He yelled and leaped into the back seat in fear. The driver, however, drove on undisturbed, for he knew it was a tumbleweed. Both saw the same object, but what they saw was determined by their experience in that environment. So it is with all of life, and so it is in the spiritual life. We see what we are fit to see, and prepared to see, and only the pure in heart are prepared to see God. This includes both the literal vision of the future as well as the spiritual vision of the present.
Alexander Maclaren, one of the most famous preachers of all time, summed up all that is meant by the present vision of God that is helpful to our understanding. He wrote, "Whether you call it the vision of God, or whether you call it communion with God in Jesus Christ, or whether you fall back upon the other metaphor of God dwelling in us and we dwelling in God, it all comes to the same thing. The consciousness of His presence, the realization of His character, the blessed assurance of loving relations with him, and the communion in mind, heart, will, and conduct, with God who has come near to us all in Jesus Christ." In other words, purity of heart is the condition of experiencing all that the New Testament says about having fellowship with God. The impure lose the sense of the presence of God. The Christian with sin in his life is out of fellowship with God. The lens of his telescope is out of focus and smeared. The paradox is, many feel God has faded from their life, and is no longer a vital factor, when in reality, it is they who have lost focus, and their impure heart has clouded their vision.
This beatitude keeps a balance on the former one of being merciful. Some may interpret mercy for the sinner to mean toleration of his sin, and even participating in his sin. Jesus clearly destroys that idea, and make it plain for all to see that mercy that sinks to the level of fellowship with the sinner in his sin cuts one off from fellowship with God. We must be merciful, but at the same time be pure. Notice how the happy life must maintain a perfect balance in relation to God and man.
In hungering and thirsting after righteousness-God is central.
In being merciful man is the object of attention.
In being pure in heart we are back to God and
In being a peacemaker we are again relating to men.
Get out of line on anyone of these and you destroy the framework of the perfect life of happiness. If we learn nothing else from these beatitudes, we will certainly learn why most Christians are not as happy as they could, and should be. It is because they do not work at following the pattern Christ has given, and they do not give heed to keeping their life balanced.
Even a partial understanding of this profound beatitude will do wonders in our lives if we heed what we hear. We must come to it with the attitude of David who prayed, "Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me." We must already be poor in spirit, and totally dependent upon God, for pride is the worst contamination of the heart. With Joseph Hart we look to the power of God.
Tis Thine to cleanse the heart,
To sanctify the soul,
To pour fresh life in every part,
And new create the whole.
We must look at two things that will characterize us and be evident if we are becoming pure in heart by the grace of God. The first is-
By this we mean a perspective on life that sees the inner man as central. It is to see life as God sees it who looks, not on the outward appearance, but at the heart. The Pharisees were very religious, as were the pagans Paul spoke to on Mars Hill, but neither group were spiritual in the sense that Jesus demands of Christians. Their concept of purity was external and ceremonial. They cared only for that purity that was visible to the eye. Jesus demanded purity in the heart which was not visible to the eye. Jesus was not opposed to keeping clean and washing your hands and feet, but He was opposed to making this kind of purity the ultimate. Jesus said, there is no sense on cleaning the outside of the cup if the inside is left filthy. What good is whitewash on a tomb if the inside is full of rottenness and corruption? This is what the Pharisees were doing, and Jesus rejected their purity as superficial. It is the inner man that really counts. The real man is represented by the heart. The heart in the Bible is the symbol of man's mind, emotions, and will. All of this is unseen, but all of it is far more than what is seen. Shakespeare put it-
I am but the shadow of myself.
My substance is not here,
For what you see is but the smallest part,
And least proportion of humanity.
The pure in heart are those who see this, and are vastly different than those who emphasize only the external. The spiritual person is far more concerned about controlling his temper than controlling the weeds in his garden. He cares more for cleaning up his thoughts than cleaning the car. He does not neglect the externals, but he does not make them primary. The man who is spiritual has his eyes focused on the inner man; on motives more than conduct. He longs to see as Jesus sees-
Out of the mist into the light,
O blessed gift of inner sight.
The spiritual man is sensitive to his own sin. He mourns for it, confesses it immediately, and trusts in the blood of Christ alone for forgiveness. He does not trust in externals like the Pharisees. If a Christian thinks he can atone for sin by reading his Bible, going to church, and having family devotions, or anything of this nature, he is a carnal Christian. His very Bible reading and church attendance can be a sin, for he has a false perspective. His heart is not pure. His motives are mixed, and he does not have a spiritual perspective. Like the Pharisees, he paints the pump when the water goes bad. He changes the crystal when his watch spring breaks. He putties the cracks when the foundation decays. He never gets to the heart of the matter, because he fails to see that the source of all troubles is the inner man. He is like many neurotics who wash their hands a hundred times a day to try and wash off guilt, because they do not see that externals do not cleanse the inner man.
The pure in heart do not forget externals, but their focus is on internals. You can test your own spirituality by asking yourself on what you really rely for comfort, courage, and guidance in the Christian life. If you are depending on externals and conformity to someone else, you will never be the Christian God wants you to be, and you will miss the happiness He wants you to have. Each of us must let go of those things that keep us floating on the surface, and we must plunge into the depths of the inner life. Keith Miller has done this, and his testimony is so refreshing and honest that he became a speaker in great demand. For example, he was a typical Christian man who wanted to be the best Christian he could be, and so he wanted to have family devotions.
Good Christian families did this, and so he tried it after an evening meal. The phone rang consistently; dishwashing and homework were delayed, and the whole thing left the family tense and cross. Mr. Miller found himself becoming so determined to be spiritual that he was cross and aggravated at meals all the time, but he was having family devotions. He finally woke up to realize that it was not Jesus who needed him to have family devotions. It was his need to conform to what was suppose to be a standard of spirituality. He had very subtly become a Pharisee and didn't even know it. He forgot devotions and worked out a plan for prayer with his children that fit the shape of their lives and schedule. It was a plan that was from the heart, and not an external appendage. In many other areas of life he did the same, and became honest with himself before God. He became a deeply spiritual man rather than a superficial conformist. This is part of what it means to be pure in heart. The second thing we want to consider is-
The Greek word for pure means without blemish, admixture, or alloy. The Greeks used it to describe an army unit purged of every undesirable element, or of language free of error, or gold free of any other metal. Anything that is pure is fully one thing. Pure nylon is 100% nylon and not 99% and 1% cotton. Oneness, or singleness characterizes that which is pure. It is reduced to its simplest form with no mixture.
The idea of purity of heart is several times expressed as singleness of heart or eye. In chapter 6:22 Jesus says, "If your eye is single your whole body will be full of light." Singleness of heart and light of vision are again connected. Paul in Col. 3:22 tells slaves to serve their masters, not with eye-service as man pleasers, but with singleness of heart fearing the Lord: that is, without duplicity-not looking to men but to God only. The double minded are unstable in all their ways says James. Duplicity and the tainted motive is what blinds and blurs one's vision of God. Pureness of heart is singleness and simplicity. One motive dominates. One master is served. This is the way to God's best.
Ibsen's character Peer Gynt made his money by sending shiploads of idols each spring to China, but to soothe his conscience he sent missionaries to China each autumn. He was double minded, and thus impure, and, therefore, not happy. He compared his life to an onion that you can peal and peal and never find a core, but discover, as he did, that he had no inner life. He was all outsides and superficial with no depth, and blind to ultimate values. Christians sometimes try to serve two masters and wonder why they are not happy. God made man to be happy only when he has an ultimate loyalty. Even the sinner who is sold out to sin is often happier than the double minded Christian, because he has a simplicity to his life with only one master.
Keats said, "Oh! What a power has white simplicity. G. K. Chesterton said, "The only simplicity that matters is the simplicity of the heart." To be pure in heart is to be controlled and motivated by one, and only one, source of power: The power of the Holy Spirit. Who would dare say that they have arrived. Many times Christians feel they are pure, when really they have just been still and unmoved so long that the sediment has settled to the bottom. The liquid looks pure at the top as long as it is undisturbed. Let something come along and jar them, and shake them up, and all the dirt and mud in them rises and clouds the pureness, and they see they were not so pure after all. True pureness of heart is when you can be shaken, and still be totally yielded to the Holy Spirit, and react with singleness of heart, rather than with a mixture of self-pride.
Satan gains his greatest victories over the Christian when he can divide their loyalty, and split their simple and pure devotion to God. C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters picture Satan instructing Wormwood on how to best corrupt Christians. He advises, "The point is to help a man feeling that he has something other than God, and the courage God supplies, to fall back on. So that what was intended to be a total commitment to duty becomes honeycombed all through with little unconscious reservations."
Just a few spots of reservation can spoil the pureness and simplicity of the Christian heart, and destroy his happiness. Along with the happiness it also destroys health. Dr. Ligon says, "All mental disorders are the result of the failure to integrate one's drives into a single purpose." Let your life stray from the simplicity of wholehearted commitment to Christ, and the result is complication and chaos, and loss of happiness and health. Thomas a Kempis, way back in the 15th century said, "The more a man is united within himself, and interiorly simple, the more and higher things doth he understand..." This is just another way of saying, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.
Eternal light! Eternal light!
How pure that soul must be,
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live, and look on Thee.
This can be our happy experience if we become truly spiritual, and focus our eye on the inner man, and focus it in simplicity on Christ alone. Christ in you the hope of glory. Such spirituality, simplicity, and singleness of eye will, Christ promises, lead you to the depths and the very heart of happiness.