By J.R. Miller
"Blessed are the pure in heart--for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8
A little child was asked which of the beatitudes she would choose, if she could have but one of them. After reading them over thoughtfully, she said she would choose the beatitude of a pure heart, for, if she had this one--she would have all the others.
This beatitude of a pure heart seems at first an impossible one, for those who belong to the human family. Who can claim it? Only unfallen angels are without sin's stains. But it is not sinlessness that is thus chosen for blessedness. The Master would not offer a blessing which the lowliest of His disciples could not obtain.
There is an Old Testament beatitude which throws light upon this word of Christ's. It reads, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven." We would have filled in the sentence differently--"Blessed is he who has never sinned." But the way it is in the Bible is far better. Our way of writing it, would have shut out all the world; God's way leaves no one so guilty, that he may not come within the circle of blessing.
The beatitude is not for the sinless--but for the sinners forgiven. The pure are those who have been purified. The visions of heaven in the book of Revelation, show us saints in glory, wearing spotless garments; but we are told that "these are those who have washed their robes--and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." The robes are washed robes--they are not always white.
Then we remember that there is a verse in the book of Isaiah which runs thus: "Wash and make yourselves clean. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." There is a New Testament word also which answers as antiphonal to this: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin."
It is very clear, therefore, that this beatitude, lofty and heavenly as it is--is not impossible of attainment, and does not exclude any sinner of the human family. The pure in heart--are sinners who have been forgiven and cleansed.
Forgiveness is not all. One might be forgiven, and yet be no holier, no cleaner in heart, than before. The old evil might still be in the nature, and the stains of sin might still blotch the life. But the divine forgiveness not only remits the penalty--it also takes away the sin itself. It also changes the heart. "You must be born again" is its word of healing. Into the forgiven soul--there comes the Holy Guest to stay, and He cleanses His new habitation to make it fit to be God's temple. A pure heart is one in which the Holy Spirit lives.
Yet it is no ordinary holiness which is described in this beatitude. All the beatitudes are for lofty spiritual attainments; attainments which are not easily reached. It costs to be truly godly, and to wear the honors of real sainthood. Not all professing Christians are pure in heart. Too many live on a low plane. They are borderland Christians. Like the Israelites, settling in their promised land, they do not drive out all their enemies. They tolerate some of them. They allow favorite sins to share life with them.
Christians with a pure heart, have exterminated every Canaanite. They have made an entire consecration of their life to God. This means that they have given Christ full possession. We often ask how we may have more of the Holy Spirit. It has been well suggested that we should ask also how the Spirit may have more of us. Many of us are keeping from Christ some little or larger room in our heart--which is shut up and dark. If we would become indeed pure in heart, we must see that the Spirit gets possession of every such dark corner.
To be pure in heart is to have a clean heart in which nothing unholy is permitted to dwell for a moment. Temptation is not sin--but sin begins when an evil thought or feeling is admitted, entertained, cherished. As one has said, 'we cannot keep the birds from flying about our heads--but it is our fault if they build their nests in our hair!'
Our heart is made for God, to be God's home; anything that is unfit for God's presence, leaves a stain on the heart which admits it. Not only all foul lusts and desires, all gross sins--but refined evil, evil which is so subtle as almost to pass for holiness, must be excluded from the heart of purity! All bitterness and anger, all resentment and grudging, all pride and deceit, all worldliness and selfishness--must be shut out of the heart which would get this blessing. The love of God must fill it, and this love has also its manward side. Unlovingness is the most deadly of heresies. "God is love"--and only those who love, can have God in their heart.
"Blessed are the pure in heart." The emphasis is on the word heart. It is not enough to be clean outside. In our Lord's days, much attention was paid by religious people to external purity. They had many ceremonies of washing. They washed nearly everything they used--not to make it clean--but to make it holy. They were quick to condemn anyone who failed to observe all the rules for outward cleansing. Yet Jesus reproved them for their insincerity, for while they made clean the outside of the cup and the platter--within they were full of extortion and excess. He said they were like whitewashed sepulchers, which appeared beautiful on the outside--but within were full of dead men's bones and of all impurity! It is not enough to have a fair exterior; the heart must be pure. It is in the heart that God would live. The heart, too, is the center of the life. If the heart is not holy--the life cannot be holy.
There is a story of a mother whose only child had died. To occupy her heart and hands in some way in connection with her vanished treasure, thus finding the comfort--the mother took a photograph of her child which she possessed, and with deft fingers touched this and that feature, until through love inspired skill, the face of the child in the picture seemed almost to live again, so wondrous did the likeness appear. Then the photograph was laid carefully away in a drawer for several days. When it was taken out again the mother was pained to see the face marred with strange blotches, and spoiled. Patiently, however, she went over the picture once more, with her brush restoring the loveliness which had been so marred. But when it had been laid away as before, for a little while, and taken out, the blotches had reappeared. The fault was in the substance on which the picture was printed. There were certain chemicals lurking in its texture, which stained the delicate colors put on by the mother's brush.
So it is ofttimes in human lives. The utmost care may be taken in external culture and training. But so long as there are in the heart, in the substance of the nature, evil dispositions, debasing tendencies, unmastered lusts and passions--these unclean qualities will work out from the heart and reveal themselves in blemishes in the character. The heart must be made clean. It must be washed in the blood of Christ--and then filled by the Holy Spirit.
One tells of going with a group down into a coal mine. Close to the gangway, there grew a white plant. All about it flew the black dust--but on the plant's whiteness, no trace of it stayed. The visitor could not understand how the plant retained its purity in such a place. One of the miners took a handful of the coal dust and threw it on the leaves--but not a particle adhered. The plant was covered with a wonderful enamel on which nothing could leave a stain. Growing in an atmosphere filled with floating black dust, its snowy purity remained immaculate.
It is part of pure religion, says God's inspired Word, "to keep one's self unspotted from the world." We cannot flee away from sin's atmosphere, or from amid its unholy influences. It is not the Master's plan for us that we should be taken out of the sinful world, to live our life where no evil can touch us. But the problem is to be in the world, to live in it--without being stained by its evil. The God who can make a little plant so that no black dust can stain it--can by His grace also make our lives impervious to sin's defiling. A pure heart is the secret.
"They shall see God." This is a wonderful promise. We know that in glory, the redeemed shall see God. But the promise refers to this life--as well as to the beautiful vision in heaven. The pure in heart shall see God here. In the olden days, holy men sometimes were granted wonderful visions of God. We call these exceptional manifestations, Theophanies. The most marvelous of all revealings of God to men was when Jesus Christ was in the earth. "He who has seen Me--has seen the Father," He said, when one of His disciples implored Him to show them the Father.
Jesus has now passed out of mortal sight, and yet we have His promise to be with us always. He who sees Christ now--sees the Father revealed in Him. We see Christ by faith--the pure in heart see Him! The clouds and mists and dust that hide the blue sky, the shining sun and the glory of the stars--all are earth born. They are never part of the sky itself. The heavens breed nothing that hides or dims their beauty. In like manner, whatever hides God's face from any life--is born of the life itself. Only sinful thoughts and feelings obscure the heavenly vision. But when the heart is clean and pure, with no mists and clouds of sin arising--we can look unhindered into God's very face!
It is possible to live in close fellowship with God, conscious evermore of His approving smile. The story of Brother Lawrence, the simple minded cook, illustrates what is attainable in the way of seeing God in this present life. The phrase he used continually to describe his theory of Christian living was "the practice of the presence of God." He said that for many years he had never lost the sense of the presence and companionship of Christ, and that he was as conscious of it while serving in the noise and clutter of his kitchen--as when engaged in the holiest exercise of devotion. What he learned to do--we may learn to do. The pure in heart shall see God, and the vision need not be interrupted by any task or duty, by any sorrow or trial.
Then one day we shall slip away from these scenes of earth. Our eyes shall close on all familiar things. The next moment--they will open on the unveiled face of Christ. We shall see Him as He is, and we shall be made like Him, and shall be satisfied, with no more unfulfilled yearnings or desires.
To enter the beautiful gate of this beatitude--we must seek the purifying of our heart, and the cleansing of our life. Without Christ, all such striving is in vain. Only as we enter into the spirit of His life, and feed upon Him, can we have the pure heart to which this vision is promised. Without holiness no man can see God--either now or ever. But if we seek in earnest to be filled with Christ--His purity will become ours.
There is a pleasing story that when an art student had wrought long at his picture, growing weary and discouraged by reason of the many faults of his work, and had fallen asleep by his easel--the master came softly and with his own hand corrected the pupil's mistakes, and finished his picture. Just so, when we strive to be holy and to do our best, and yet are disheartened by our failures--the Master will come and with His own hand correct our mistakes and finish our work--the fashioning of His own image on our soul. When we awake in glory--we shall be satisfied with His likeness!