8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Some years ago I read a poem by Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage. It is entitled, “In the Desert,” and it is one of the more haunting little poems you’re likely ever to read. In fact, “haunting” may not be strong enough. It is actually fairly disturbing, but I think it is significant nonetheless. Here it is:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
That is troubling: a man eating his own heart, finding it bitter in the eating, but liking it nonetheless because that bitter heart is, in fact, his. As I say, it is troubling. I think it is troubling less because of the graphic and disturbing image it paints than because of the deep spiritual truth we know it contains: that our hearts are, by nature, bitter and fallen and that we, by nature, are drawn to the bitter taste of it.
It reminds me of a statement by Itzhak Zuckermann, the second-in-command of the Jewish Combat Organization, a resistance movement in World War II that was behind the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. After the war, Zuckermann was asked about his state of mind, about how he felt as he looked back on the terrible events of the war, about his impressions of the conflict. This was his response to Claude, the one who asked him this: “Claude, you asked for my impression. If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.”
Zuckermann had reason to be bitter, of course, but, even so, we know what he is speaking of, do we not? We all, if we are honest with ourselves, know that our hearts, left to themselves, are bitter and poisonous. The old 1930’s radio show, “The Shadow,” used to ask, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” Maybe so, but even more terrifying than that, I know what evil my heart holds and even more terrifying than that, God knows!
Outside of the heart-changing work of God, there is a poison within us, and it resides in our hearts, in the core of who we really are. It is therefore troubling and fascinating, that Jesus says in the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
I. Impurity of Heart: The Curse Under Which We Are Born and With Which We Comply
Why is that troubling, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”? Simply put, it is troubling because of what the Bible itself tells us about the human heart. Consider, for instance, Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” How many of the intentions of the thoughts of our hearts are evil? Every one of them. And how often are they evil? Continually. And what are they besides evil? They are only evil.
“Blessed are the pure in heart.” “Every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart [is] only evil continually.” Do you see the problem?
In Genesis 8:21b, God’s Word declares that “…the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” What is it? Evil. From when? From our youth.
Jeremiah sounds absolutely flabbergasted by his heart in Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” How deceitful is it? It is deceitful above all things. And how sick is it? It is desperately sick. And who can understand it? Apparently, no human being can understand the human heart.
In Matthew 15, Jesus offends the Pharisees by saying that purity is a matter of the heart, not a matter of external matters like food. The disciples ask Him to explain what that means.
16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
That seems clear enough. The Bible says that the human heart is wicked and twisted and bent inward in a weird kind of cannibalistic self-destruction. Our hearts are warring against from within us with evil, and we, in our sinfulness, are slaves to its desires. Unless something happens to our hearts, this is the terrifying truth of the matter.
Well, ok, but so what? So what if the heart is evil? Can’t God overlook it? Just how crucial is this fact to my life and to my eternal destiny?
The psalmist answered that question in Psalm 101:4, “A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.” Wicked hearts must, of necessity, be far from God. Why? Because God “will know nothing of evil.”
Thus, left to our own devices, we are doomed. Friends, there is nothing we can do about it. Hear me. there is nothing we can do about it. Solomon, in Proverbs 20:9, voices this daunting fact rhetorically: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”
Who? Nobody. Nobody can say, “I have made my heart pure.”
Do you see the utter futility of the modern obsession with character reformation through mere education? If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: the political gods of our age believe that the fundamental sickness of the human heart can be fixed through increased education and funding. The idea seems to be that if we can understand something better, we’ll be less likely to do it. But human history is filled with people who have done evil things who know precisely and exactly what they are doing. And in this very room, how many of us can honestly say that all or most of our sins were committed simply because we did not have enough information?
No! We sin because we want to sin. The problem of the human heart is not the absence of information it is the presence of spiritual decay.
Therefore, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God,” our instinctive reaction is, “Oh no! Oh no! We are doomed, doomed, doomed!”
II. Purity of Heart: The Created, Transformed Heart Turned Godward
Even so, if we are to have life, if we are to see God, we must be pure in heart. If we must have purity of heart, we need to know first what it is. It will be best, as always, to let Scripture define the term.
In Psalm 24, David writes:
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 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. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is helpful. To be pure in heart, according to the psalm, is to have clean hands and to refrain from falsity and deceit. In Psalm 73, he writes, “1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” David says that he almost stumbled into impurity of heart by being envious of wicked people. So purity of heart means being content with the righteousness of God and not desiring wickedness.
Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:5, links purity of heart with love, with a good conscience, and with faith: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” In 2 Timothy 2:22, he writes, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
When we put together these biblical images, we find that these are the marks of purity of heart: to have clean hands, to avoid lying and deceitfulness, not to desire wickedness, to love, to have a good conscience and sincere faith, to flee evil passions, and to pursue, instead, righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
Many Christians of yesteryear have offered their own biblically-informed definitions of the pure in heart. The anonymous fifth century commentary on Matthew, Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, defines the pure in heart as those “who not only do no evil or think it but also those who do every good deed and think about it.” St. Augustine said that a pure heart “is a single heart” and that the pure in heart are “those who have been made clean within.” John Chrysostom defined the pure in heart as “those who have so fully filled their lives with goodness that they are practically unaware of evil within themselves.” The early Christian Chromatius defined the pure in heart as “those who have gotten rid of sin’s filth, have cleansed themselves of all the pollution of the flesh and have pleased God through works of faith and justice.” Apollinaris referred to them as “those who have acquired virtue in general.” Martin Luther defined a pure heart as “one that is watching and pondering what God says and replacing its own ideas with the Word of God.”
There you have it! The wicked, twisted, evil, dead, sinful heart with which we are all born must somehow come to desire the beauty and righteousness and glory of God and the sweet fruits of obedience, holiness, and goodness. Our hearts of hate must become hearts of love. But the Bible tells me that I cannot affect this change. I cannot make it so. I cannot resuscitate my own heart. But if I am to see God, I must. And, according to Jesus, if I am to be blessed, I must have a pure heart.
Interestingly, the Bible begins to give clues as to how this happens in the Old Testament, continuing with greater and greater light into the New Testament.
For instance, in Jeremiah 4:4, Jeremiah says this: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”
That sounds very strange, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts.” That’s not the kind of thing we would normally say aloud, but there it is. In fact, it is a crucial idea, since circumcision was the physical mark of belonging to God for the Jewish people. It was a covenant mark of belonging. So when Jeremiah says this, what he is saying is that our hearts must be marked by covenant faithfulness and belonging. In other words, our rebel hearts need to come home.
Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah says, “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved” (4:14a). Our hearts must be circumcised and our hearts must be washed. This undoubtedly is drawing on the Jewish understanding of the rites of purification whereby the people of God could draw near to worship. So this must happen to our hearts. They must be marked and purified before a holy God.
We get that, but that still doesn’t tell us how. How is this to happen if you and I cannot make it happen? The answer begins, again, in the Old Testament. David says something very interesting in Psalm 51. Listen:
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
This grabs our attention! God, you wash my heart! God, you circumcise my heart! “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!” Charles Quarles has noted that the word for “create” in v.10 is the Hebrew word bara’. This is interesting because the word bara’ “consistently refers to an act of divine creation ex nihilo.” In other words, that word, bara’, is consistently used to refer to God creating something out of nothing. God created the world ex nihilo, from nothing. God creates a new heart from nothing. Why? Because our hearts are dead and warped by sin and rebellion. We do not need reformed hearts, we need new hearts. There is an act of transformation, but it such a radical transformation that it is truly an act of new creation.
So for my heart to be pure, God must create a new heart. But how does this happen? How does God remove my heart of stone and put in its place a living heart that desires Him? As I mentioned, the Bible sheds more light as we move through it. Therefore, in Hebrews 10, we find the means by which God creates a new heart. Listen closely:
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
This is critical to our understanding of how God creates the new heart within us. First, the writer of Hebrews says that we can draw near to God through Jesus “with a true heart in full assurance and faith.” That means we can indeed have a new heart. We can have a pure heart. We can have the type of heart that desires God. How? Listen again to verse 22: “…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
God sprinkles our hearts clean from an evil conscience. He gives us a new heart. And with what does He sprinkle our hearts? Look back at verses 19 and 20.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh
Our hearts are sprinkled clean by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of Christ is the only water that can wash us clean. The blood of Christ is the means by which the Lord God creates within us a new heart.
This is how Peter put it in 1 Peter 1:
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God
Listen again: “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
Do you see the connection? “…a pure heart, since you have been born again…” We receive a new heart when we are born again. We are born again as we come to God through the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. When we trust in Christ, He comes within us, removing our hearts and replacing them with a new one.
Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those whose old hearts have been humbled, have been broken under conviction of sin, have died, and have been replaced with a new heart.
III. Seeing God: Now Through a Glass Dimly, but Then Face to Face
When this happens, Jesus says, the pure in heart “will see God.” There is a present application in the sense that the born again, the pure heart can now discern the nature and character of God, can now understand who God is, and can now obey and follow this great God. Yet, this is one of those blessings that really is primarily future: one day we will see God as He is. We will see Him. We will see God.
How will we see God? In 1Corinthians 13:12, Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We shall see with perfect clarity. He will be forever God and we will be forever creation, but when we are finally and ultimately restored in the new heaven and the new earth, our eyes will not be marred by the scars of sin and the Fall. We will no longer see through a mirror dimly. We will see him face to face!
I love how poor, beaten down Job put it in Job 19. After arguing with his friends over the nature of his deep and profound suffering, Job says:
23 “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
On April 12, 1863, Charles Spurgeon stood before his church and addressed Job’s statement and the idea that we will one day see God:
Oh, blessed anticipation—”I shall see God.” He does not say, “I shall see the saints”—doubtless we shall see them all in heaven—but, “I shall see God.” Note he does not say, “I shall see the pearly gates, I shall see the walls of jasper, I shall see the crowns of gold and the harps of harmony,” but “I shall see God;” as if that were the sum and substance of heaven. “In my flesh shall I see God.” The pure in heart shall see God. It was their delight to see him in the ordinances by faith. They delighted to behold him in communion and in prayer. There in heaven they shall have a vision of another sort. We shall see God in heaven, and be made completely like him; the divine character shall be stamped upon us; and being made like to him we shall be perfectly satisfied and content. Likeness to God, what can we wish for more? And a sight of God, what can we desire better? We shall see God and so there shall be perfect contentment to the soul and a satisfaction of all the faculties…Think not, dear friend, that this will be a narrow sphere for our mind to dwell in. It is but one source of delight, “I shall see God,” but that source is infinite. His wisdom, his love, his power, all his attributes shall be subjects for your eternal contemplation, and as he is infinite under each aspect there is no fear of exhaustion. His works, his purposes, his gifts, his love to you, and his glory in all his purposes, and in all his deeds of love—why, these shall make a theme that never can be exhausted. You may with divine delight anticipate the time when in your flesh you shall see God.
I read of a man born blind. He was a Christian man who lived a long and good life of love and service. Near the end of his life, a well-meaning church member said, “Brother, you are an inspiration to me. It must be so difficult to have gone through your whole life blind, but you handle it with such grace.”
To which the elderly, blind man said: “Oh do not feel sorry for me! In fact, I am richly blessed. Do you realize, brother, that the very first sight I ever see will be the face of Jesus? Can you imagine how fortunate I am?”
Will you see Him? Will you see God? Has your heart been purified by the blood of Jesus?
 Stephen Crane. Stories and Collected Poems. (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997), p.5.
 Thomas C. Oden, ed., James . Kellerman, trans., Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus imperfectum). vol.1. Ancient Christian Texts. Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), p.87. Augustine, Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. First Series, Vol.6. Philip Schaff, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), p.3. Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.Ia. Thomas C. Oden, ed. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.86-87. Martin Luther, The Sermon on the Mount and The Magnificat. Luther’s Works. Vol.21. ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), p.34.
 Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Ed., E. Ray Clendenen. Vol.11 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Academic, 2011), p.66.