Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:8a “Blessed are the pure in heart:. . .”
“Heart” refers to one’s innermost personality, the seat of thought, will, and affection. To be “pure in heart,” clean in one’s deepest essence, brings us face to face with what Christianity is all about. Moral integrity through and through, saturating every inch and ounce of our being, is “the cardinal demand of Jesus’ ethic” (Atkins).
Heart-religion has priority, but we often forget this. Some over-emphasize head-religion, making the accumulation of knowledge their chief objective. Orthodoxy reigneth supreme. Thus, one becomes as correct, and as cold, as a Pharisee. Learning doctrine is important, but beneficial only to the extent it helps us have a better heart. A hyper-emphasis on head-religion is ever a danger in churches which champion the Bible and have expository or textual preaching. In these settings, we easily become proud of knowledge, swell up on it, and cease to grow spiritually.
Some over-emphasize hand-religion, deeming behavior as all that matters. They say, “All I need is to obey the ten commandments,” or “My parents taught me to live by the golden rule; that’s enough religion for me.” Actions are important, but can easily spring from impure motives or be done in a harsh, critical, wrong spirit.
Some over-emphasize house-religion. Attending the church-house, going through the motions of ritual and ceremony, is all that matters. The sum and substance of some people’s religion is what they do for one hour on Sunday morning. The original hearers of this beatitude highlighted house-religion. They deemed the outward Temple more important than the inward temple of their own hearts. To enter the Temple at Jerusalem and worship God, one had to be ceremonially clean. The Jews forgot this was but an outward symbol of an inward truth. They were meticulous in ceremonial details, but negligent in their own personal inner duties.
Jesus was calling His listeners back to the essential, elementary, teachings of their own faith, back to the basics of their own Scriptures, which read, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (PS 24:3-4a). May we always remember, attending the house of God is not nearly as important as pleasing the God of the house.
Head-religion, hand-religion, and house-religion are important, but secondary. True spirituality always entails, first and foremost, heart-religion. “The Lord looketh on the heart” (1 SM 16:7b). A pure heart is the beauty God longs to see. In a pure heart, “God sees His own picture drawn. . . .God delights in no heart but where he may see his own face and likeness. You cannot see your face in a glass when it is dusty. God’s face cannot be seen in a dusty impure soul” (Watson). The Holy Spirit, Heaven’s sweet Dove, loves to rest only in clean places. A pure heart is “God’s paradise, where He delights to walk; it is His lesser Heaven” (Watson).
This being the case, we must be sure we correctly understand what it means to be “pure” in heart. A thing is pure when it contains no foreign matter. Air is pure when all smog is removed. Water is pure when all pollution is removed. Gold is pure when all dross is removed. The heart is “pure” in the eyes of God when all that distracts it from God is removed, when it loves Him supremely, as it ought to.
The impurity which defiles a heart is divided affection. Hosea 10:2 described rebellious Israel, “Their heart is divided.” On Mt. Carmel, Elijah challenged Israel, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 K 18:21). “Halt” pictures someone trying to follow two tree limbs at the same time. One cannot do this for long without falling. Lack of focus, wobbling and weaving, staggering back and forth like drunk men, is absurd.
A pure heart is single-minded, not divided; focused, having one aim, not scattered. For believers, a divided heart is a serious danger, and a source of never ending inner warfare. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above” (Robinson). Part of me wants God, but other parts of me want something else. Fighting this same battle, the Psalmist prayed, “Unite my heart to fear thy name” (86:11c).
Only God can accomplish for us the undivided affection we seek. Our whole heart is to be wholly turned toward God, but this is impossible to do by ourselves. The first step toward purity is to confess that only God can purify a heart. “The only way to have a pure heart is to realize you have an impure heart” (Lloyd-Jones).
Jeremiah (17:9) was blunt, but right, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Only God can cleanse this Augean stable. For 30 years, King Augeas had not cleaned his stables, which housed 3,000 oxen. Hercules, to accomplish the seemingly impossible assignment of having to clean them in one day, re-routed two rivers through the stalls. Cleaning our hearts also requires the re-routing of a river, the river of God’s cleansing power, directly into us.
A pure heart is an absolute miracle of God. It is, as Watson said, the embroidery of the Holy Ghost upon thee. David realized this, and after his terrible crime, pleaded with the Almighty, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (PS 51:10). The word “create” means to make something out of nothing. David knew he needed neither a little help nor a small overhaul, but rather an absolute miracle.
One reason for David’s drastic fall, and for many lapses of our own, was the failure to remember that the cleansing of our hearts by God is not a once-for-all-time experience, but something which has to be ongoing. Acts 15:9 speaks of God “purifying their hearts by faith.” The present tense of “purifying” denotes ongoing action. If God ceases for one moment to blaze within us, the dross begins to return.
Genuine Christian experience entails God constantly consuming dross from every ounce and inch of our being. Dr. Roy Fish tells how Pascal, in seeking to summarize the Christian life in one word, described it as, “Fire!” As the Spirit of God blazes within us, a celestial flame lights up every crevice of the heart, seeking out, exposing, and burning away all that keeps the heart from being truly sincere.
The word “sincere” combines two words, “sine cera,” meaning without wax. In the ancient world, unscrupulous merchants often sold defective marble pillars, having filled in the cracks with wax made to look like real marble. Storms and winds eventually eroded the wax, revealing ugly flaws in the marble. Bona fide, unflawed marble pillars thus became known as “sine cera,” without wax. For a heart to be sincere, truly pure, it must contain nothing fake or false. All counterfeit, flawed matter must go. Only purged, cleansed heart-religion will pass God’s test.
Oh Lord, make my heart one, undivided, sincere, point it all in one direction, toward Thee. “Thou who hast given me a heart, give me a pure heart” (Watson).