Happy Are the Holy
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (5:8)
Here is one of those passages of Scripture whose depths are immeasurable and whose breadth is impossible to encompass. This incredible statement of Jesus is among the greatest utterances in all of the Bible.
The subject of holiness, of purity of heart, can be traced from Genesis to Revelation. The theme is infinitely vast and touches on virtually every other biblical truth. It is impossible to exhaust its meaning or significance, and the discussion in this chapter is nothing more than introductory.
the historical context
As discussed in some detail in earlier chapters, when Jesus began His earthly ministry, Israel was in desperate condition—politically, economically, and spiritually. For hundreds of years, with only brief respites, she had been under the oppression of foreign conquerors. The country had limited freedom to develop its economy, and a large part of income and profit was paid to Rome in taxes. Those were problems that every person saw and felt.
The less obvious problem, however, was by far the worst. For longer than she had suffered political and economic oppression, Israel had suffered spiritual weakness and faithlessness. Yet that problem was not recognized by many Jews. Jewish leaders thought their religion was in fine shape, and believed the Messiah would soon solve the political and economic problems. But when He came, His only concern was for the spiritual problem, the problem of their hearts.
At the time of Christ the most influential religious force in Judaism was the Pharisees. They were the chief managers and promoters of the pervasive legalistic and ritualistic system that dominated Jewish society. Over the centuries various rabbis had interpreted and reinterpreted the Jewish Scriptures, especially the law, until those interpretations—known as the traditions of the elders—became more authoritative than Scripture itself. The essence of the traditions was a system of dos and don’ts that gradually expanded to cover almost every aspect of Jewish life.
To conscientious and honest Jews it had become obvious that total observance of all the religious requirements was impossible. Because they could not keep all of the law, they doubtlessly developed terrible feelings of guilt, frustration, and anxiety. Their religion was their life, but they could not fulfill everything their religion demanded. Consequently, some of the religious leaders devised the idea that, if a person could perfectly keep just a few of the laws, God would understand. When even that proved impossible, some narrowed the requirement to one law perfectly kept.
That idea may have been in the mind of the lawyer who tested Jesus with the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). Perhaps he wanted to see which of the many hundreds of laws Jesus believed was the single most important one to keep—the one that would satisfy God even if a person failed to keep the others.
This oppressive and confusing religious system probably contributed to the initial popularity of John the Baptist. He was radically different from the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests, and it was obvious that he did not bother to observe most of the religious traditions. He was a breath of fresh air in a stifling, never-ending system of demands and prohibitions. Perhaps in this prophet’s teaching they would find some relief. They did not want another rabbi with another law, but someone who could show them how to be forgiven for those laws they had already broken. They wanted to know the real way of salvation, the real way to please God, the true way of peace and relief from sin. They knew that the Scriptures taught of One who would come not simply to demand but to redeem, not to add to their burdens but to help carry them, not to increase their guilt but to remove it. No doubt it was such expectations as those that caused many people to think John the Baptist might be the Messiah.
The people knew from Ezekiel that someday God was going to come and sprinkle their souls with water, cleanse them from their sin, and replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:25–26). They knew the testimony of David, who cried out, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!” (Ps. 32:1–2). They knew of those truths, and they longed to experience the reality of them.
Nicodemus was one such person. He was a Pharisee and “a ruler of the Jews,” that is, a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. We are not told specifically what his intentions were in coming to Jesus, because his first words were not a question but a testimony. The fact that he came at night suggests he was ashamed of being seen with Jesus. But there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his words, which showed unusual spiritual insight: “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew that, whatever else Jesus might be, He was a teacher truly sent from God.
Though he does not state it, the question that was on his mind is implied both from his testimony and from Jesus’ reply. The Lord knew Nicodemus’s mind, and He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 3). Nicodemus wanted to know how to please God, to be forgiven. “How can I be made righteous?” he wondered. “How can I be redeemed and become a child of God? How can I become part of God’s kingdom?” Had he not had a deep, compelling desire to know God’s will, he would not have risked coming to Jesus even at night. Nicodemus was honest enough to admit his sinfulness. He was a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, and a ruler in the Sanhedrin; but he knew in his heart that all of that did not make him right with God.
After Jesus had fed the great multitude near the Sea of Galilee, some of the people who had seen the miracle asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:28). The same question troubled them that had troubled Nicodemus: “How can a person get right with God? What must we do to truly please Him?” Like Nicodemus, they had been through all the ceremonies and rituals. They had attended the feasts and offered the required sacrifices. They had tried to keep the law and the traditions. But they knew that something was missing—something crucial that they did not know of, much less had experienced.
Luke tells of another lawyer who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). He asked the question to test Jesus (v. 25a), and after Jesus gave an answer the man tried “to justify himself” (v. 29). But despite his insincerity, he had asked the right question, the question that was on the minds of many Jews who were sincere.
A rich ruler asked Jesus the same question: “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). This man apparently asked sincerely, but he was unwilling to pay the cost. He wanted to keep the wealth of this life more than he wanted to gain the wealth of eternal life, and he went away “very sad” (v. 23). He knew he needed something more than outward obedience to the law, at which he had been diligent since childhood (v. 21). He knew that, with all his devotion and effort to please God, he had no assurance of possessing eternal life. He was seeking the kingdom, but he was not seeking it first (Matt. 6:33).
Others were asking, “What must I be to belong to the kingdom of God? What is the standard for eternal life?” All of those people, at various levels of understanding and sincerity, knew that they had not found what they sought. Many knew that they had not kept even a single law perfectly. If honest, they became more and more convinced that they could not keep even a single law perfectly, and that they were powerless to please God.
It was to answer that need that Jesus came to earth. It was to answer that need that He gave the Beatitudes. He shows simply and directly how sinful man can be made right with holy God.
the literary context
At first glance this beatitude seems out of place, inserted indiscriminately into an otherwise orderly development of truths. Because of its supreme importance, a more strategic place—either at the beginning as the foundation, or at the end as the culmination—might seem more appropriate.
But the sixth beatitude, like every part of God’s Word, is in the right place. It is part of the beautiful and marvelous sequence of truths that are here laid out according to the mind of God. It is the climax of the Beatitudes, the central truth to which the previous five lead and from which the following two flow.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (5:8)
The word blessed implies the condition of well-being that results from salvation, the status of one who has a right relation to God. Being accepted by Him is a matter of internal transformation.
Heart translates kardia, from which we get cardiac and similar terms. Throughout Scripture, as well as in many languages and cultures throughout the world, the heart is used metaphorically to represent the inner person, the seat of motives and attitudes, the center of personality. But in Scripture it represents much more than emotion, feelings. It also includes the thinking process and particularly the will. In Proverbs we are told, “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, KJV). Jesus asked a group of scribes, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” (Matt. 9:4; cf. Mark 2:8; 7:21). The heart is the control center of mind and will as well as emotion.
In total contrast to the outward, superficial, and hypocritical religion of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said that it is in the inner man, in the core of his very being, that God requires purity. That was not a new truth, but an old one long forgotten amidst ceremony and tradition. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life,” the writer of Proverbs had counseled (Prov. 4:23). The problem that caused God to destroy the earth in the Flood was a heart problem. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
David acknowledged before the Lord, “Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom”; and then he prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:6, 10). Asaph wrote, “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!” (Ps. 73:1). Jeremiah declared, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jer. 17:9–10). Evil ways and deeds begin in the heart and mind, which are here used synonymously. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:19).
God has always been concerned above all else with the inside of man, with the condition of his heart. When the Lord called Saul to be Israel’s first king, “God changed his heart” (1 Sam. 10:9). Until then Saul had been handsome, athletic, and not much more. But the new king soon began to revert to his old heart patterns. He chose to disobey God and to trust in himself. Among other things, he presumed to take for himself the priestly role of offering sacrifice (13:9) and refused to destroy all of the Amalekites and their possessions as God had commanded (15:3–19). Consequently, the Lord took the kingdom from Saul and gave it to David (15:23, 28). Saul’s actions were wrong because his heart rebelled, and it is by our hearts that the Lord judges us (16:7). It was said of David’s leadership over Israel, “He shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72).
God took the kingdom from Saul because he refused to live by the new heart God had given him. He gave the kingdom to David because David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). David pleased God’s heart because God pleased David’s heart. “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,” he sang (Ps. 9:1). His deepest desire was, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). He prayed, “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart” (Ps. 26:2). When God told David, “Seek My face,” David’s heart replied, “Thy face, O Lord, I shall seek” (Ps. 27:8).
Once when David was fleeing from Saul he went to Gath, a Philistine city, for help. When he realized that his life was also in danger there, he “acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard” (1 Sam. 21:13). Thinking him to be mad, the Philistines let him go, and he went to hide in the cave of Adullum. He came to his senses and realized how foolish and unfaithful he had been to trust the Philistines for help instead of the Lord. It was there that he wrote Psalm 57, in which he declared, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast” (v. 7). He rededicated his heart, his innermost being, single-mindedly to God. David often failed, but his heart was fixed on God. The evidence of his true-hearted commitment to God is found in all the first 175 verses of Psalm 119. The fact that his flesh sometimes overruled his heart is the final admission of verse 176: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant.”
Pure translates katharos, a form of the word from which we get catharsis. The basic meaning is to make pure by cleansing from dirt, filth, and contamination. Catharsis is a term used in psychology and counseling for a cleansing of the mind or emotions. The Greek word is related to the Latin castus, from which we get chaste. The related word chasten refers to discipline given in order to cleanse from wrong behavior.
The Greek term was often used of metals that had been refined until all impurities were removed, leaving only the pure metal. In that sense, purity means unmixed, unalloyed, unadulterated. Applied to the heart, the idea is that of pure motive—of single-mindedness, undivided devotion, spiritual integrity, and true righteousness.
Double-mindedness has always been one of the great plagues of the church. We want to serve the Lord and follow the world at the same time. But that, says Jesus, is impossible. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). James puts the same truth in another way: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). He then gives the solution to the problem: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8).
Christians have the right heart motive concerning God. Even though we often fail to be single-minded, it is our deep desire to be so. We confess with Paul, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.… I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good.… So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:15, 21, 25). Paul’s deepest spiritual desires were pure, although the sin dwelling in his flesh sometimes overrode those desires.
Those who truly belong to God will be motivated to purity. Psalm 119 is the classic illustration of that longing, and Romans 7:15–25 is the Pauline counterpart. The deepest desire of the redeemed is for holiness, even when sin halts the fulfillment of that desire.
Purity of heart is more than sincerity. A motive can be sincere, yet lead to worthless and sinful things. The pagan priests who opposed Elijah demonstrated great sincerity when they lacerated their bodies in order to induce Baal to send fire down to consume their sacrifices (1 Kings 18:28). But their sincerity did not produce the desired results, and it did not enable them to see the wrongness of their paganism—because their sincere trust was in that very paganism. Sincere devotees walk on nails to prove their spiritual power. Others crawl on their knees for hundreds of yards, bleeding and grimacing in pain, to show their devotion to a saint or a shrine. Yet their sincere devotion is sincerely wrong and is completely worthless before God.
The scribes and Pharisees believed they could please God by such superficial practices as tithing “mint and dill and cummin”; but they “neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). They were meticulously careful about what they did outwardly but paid no attention to what they were inwardly. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus told them, “For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (vv. 25–26).
Even genuinely good deeds that do not come from a genuinely good heart are of no spiritual value. Thomas Watson said, “Morality can drown a man as fast as vice,” and, “A vessel may sink with gold or with dung.” Though we may be extremely religious and constantly engaged in doing good things, we cannot please God unless our hearts are right with Him.
The ultimate standard for purity of heart is perfection of heart. In the same sermon in which He gave the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). One hundred percent purity is God’s standard for the heart.
Man’s tendency is to set the opposite standard. We are inclined to judge ourselves by the worst instead of the best. The Pharisee who prayed in the Temple, thanking God that he was not like other men, considered himself to be righteous simply because he was not a swindler, an adulterer, or a tax-gatherer (Luke 18:11). We are all tempted to feel better about ourselves when we see someone doing a terrible thing that we have never done. The “good” person looks down on the one who seems to be less good than himself, and that person looks down on those worse than he is. Carried to its extreme, that spiral of judgment would go down and down until it reached the most rotten person on earth—and that last person, the worst on earth, would be the standard by which the rest of the world judged itself!
God’s standard for men, however, is Himself. They cannot be fully pleasing to God until they are pure as He is pure, until they are holy as He is holy and perfect as He is perfect. Only those who are pure in heart may enter the kingdom. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” David asks, “and who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3–4).
It is impurity of heart that separates man from God. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:1–2). And just as impurity of heart separates men from God, only purity of heart through Jesus Christ will reconcile men to God.
Basically there are but two kinds of religion—the religion of human achievement and the religion of divine accomplishment. There are many variations of the first kind, which includes every religion but biblical Christianity. Within the religions of human accomplishment are two basic approaches: head religion, which trusts in creeds and religious knowledge, and hand religion, which trusts in good deeds.
The only true religion, however, is heart religion, which is based on God’s implanted purity. By faith in what God has done through His Son, Jesus Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). When God imputes His righteousness to us He imputes His purity to us.
As we look at Scripture we discover six kinds of purity. One may be called primal purity, the kind that exists only in God. That purity is as essential to God as light is to the sun or wetness is to water.
Another form of purity is created purity, the purity that existed in God’s creation before it was corrupted by the Fall. God created the angels in purity and He created man in purity. Tragically, some of the angels and all of mankind fell from that purity.
A third kind of purity is positional purity, the purity we are given the moment we trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. When we trust in Him, God imputes to us Christ’s own purity, Christ’s own righteousness. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5; cf. Gal. 2:16). From that day the Father sees us just as He sees the Son, perfectly righteous and without blemish (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:14).
Fourth, imputed purity is not just a statement without substance; with imputed purity God grants actual purity in the new nature of the believer (Rom. 6:4–5; 8:5–11; Col. 3:9–10; 2 Pet. 1:3). In other words, there is no justification without sanctification. Every believer is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul affirms that when a believer sins, it is not caused by the pure new self, but by sin in the flesh (Rom. 7:17, 19–22, 25).
Fifth, there is practical purity. This, of course, is the hard part, the part that does require our supreme effort. Only God possesses or can possess primal purity. Only God can bestow created purity, ultimate purity, positional purity, and actual purity. But practical purity, though it too comes from God, demands our participation in a way that the other kinds of purity do not. That is why Paul implores, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). It is why Peter pleads, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Pet. 1:14–16).
We are not saved just for future heavenly purity but also for present earthly purity. At best it will be gold mixed with iron and clay, a white garment with some black threads. But God wants us now to be as pure as we can be. If purity does not characterize our living, we either do not belong to Christ, or we are disobedient to Him. We will have temptations, but God will always provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). We will fall into sin, but “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Finally, for believers there will also one day be ultimate purity, the perfected purity that God’s redeemed people will experience when they are glorified in His presence. All sins will be totally and permanently washed away, and “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
The Way to Holiness
Throughout the history of the church people have suggested various ways to achieve spiritual purity and holiness. Some have suggested monasticism, getting away from the normal cares and distractions of the world and devoting oneself entirely to meditation and prayer. Others claim that holiness is a second work of grace, by which God miraculously eradicates not only sins but the sin nature, allowing a sinless earthly life from that point onward. But neither Scripture nor experience supports either of those views. The problem of sin is not primarily the world around us but the worldliness within us, which we cannot escape by living in isolation from other people.
But God always provides for what He demands, and He has provided ways for us to live purely. First, we must realize that we are unable to live a single holy moment without the Lord’s guidance and power. “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?” (Prov. 20:9), the obvious answer to which is “No one.” The Ethiopian cannot change his skin or the leopard its spots (Jer. 13:23). Cleansing begins with a recognition of weakness. Weakness then reaches out for the strength of God.
Second, we must stay in God’s Word. It is impossible to stay in God’s will apart from His Word. Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).
Third, it is essential to be controlled by and walking in the will and way of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says it clearly: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
Fourth, we must pray. We cannot stay in God’s will or understand and obey His Word unless we stay near Him. “With all prayer and petition” we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; cf. Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17). With David we cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10).
The Result of Holiness
The great blessing of those who are pure in heart is that they shall see God. The Greek is in the future indicative tense and the middle voice, and a more literal translation is, “They shall be continuously seeing God for themselves.” It is only they (the emphatic autos), the pure in heart, who shall see God. Intimate knowledge of and fellowship with God is reserved for the pure.
When our hearts are purified at salvation we begin to live in the presence of God. We begin to see and to comprehend Him with our new spiritual eyes. Like Moses, who saw God’s glory and asked to see more (Ex. 33:18), the one who is purified by Jesus Christ sees again and again the glory of God.
To see God was the greatest hope of Old Testament saints. Like Moses, David wanted to see more of God. “As the deer pants for the water brooks,” he said, “so my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1). Job rejoiced when he was able to say, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees Thee” (Job 42:5).
Purity of heart cleanses the eyes of the soul so that God becomes visible. One sign of an impure heart is ignorance, because sin obscures the truth (John 3:19–20). Evil and ignorance come in a package. Other signs of an impure heart are self-centeredness (Rev. 3:17), pleasure in sin (2 Tim. 3:4), unbelief (Heb. 3:12), and hatred of purity (Mic. 3:2). Those who belong to God exchange all of those things for integrity and purity.
F. F. Bullard wrote,
When I in righteousness at last
Thy glorious face shall see;
When all the weary night has passed,
And I awake with Thee,
To view the glories that abide,
Then and only then will I be satisfied.
(Cited in William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973], p. 278)
8 Commentators are divided on “pure in heart.”
- Some take it to mean inner moral purity as opposed to merely external piety or ceremonial cleanness. This is an important theme in Matthew and elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Dt 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sa 15:22; Pss 24:3–4 [to which there is direct allusion here]; 51:6, 10; Isa 1:10–17; Jer 4:4; 7:3–7; 9:25–26; Ro 2:9; 1 Ti 1:5; 2 Ti 2:22, cf. Mt 23:25–28).
- Others take it to mean single-mindedness, a heart “free from the tyranny of a divided self” (Tasker; cf. Bonnard). Several of the passages just cited focus on freedom from deceit (Pss 24:4; 51:4–17; cf. Ge 50:5–6; Pr 22:11). This interpretation also prepares the way for Matthew 6:22. The “pure in heart” are thus “the utterly sincere.”
The dichotomy between these two options is a false one; it is impossible to have one without the other. The one who is single-minded in commitment to the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33) will also be inwardly pure. Inward sham, deceit, and moral filth cannot coexist with sincere devotion to Christ. Either way, this beatitude excoriates hypocrisy (see comments at 6:1–18). The pure in heart will see God—now with the eyes of faith and finally in the dazzling brilliance of the beatific vision in whose light no deceit can exist (cf. Heb 12:14; 1 Jn 3:1–3; Rev 21:22–27).
8 Again the OT passage which this beatitude echoes fills out its meaning. Those who are qualified to “ascend the hill of the Lord” and “stand in his holy place” are characterized by “clean hands and a pure heart,” which is then defined in terms of truthfulness and of an active “seeking” for God (Ps 24:3–6). The meaning is thus not far from that of v. 6, with its emphasis on a longing to live the life God requires. In the context of first-century Judaism, with its strong emphasis on ritual “purity,” the phrase “pure in heart” might also be understood to imply a contrast with the meticulous preservation of outward purity which will be condemned in 23:25–28 as having missed the point of godliness; but no such connotation is likely in Psalm 24, on which this beatitude is based. The vision of God which is the goal of the pure in heart (Ps 24:6; cf. Pss 11:7; 17:15; 27:5; 42:2 for this aspiration), and which is here promised to them, is sometimes in the OT expressed in terms of an actual “seeing” (Exod 24:10; Isa 6:1) though these are clearly marked out as exceptional. More often it is the invisibility of God which is stressed (Exod 33:18–23) and this is strongly reinforced in the NT (John 1:18; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16). There may be visionary experiences in this world which include a “seeing” of God, as for John on Patmos, but “seeing God’s face” is a privilege reserved for the new Jerusalem (Rev 22:4; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Meanwhile, it is the “angels” of God’s people, not those people themselves, who see his face in heaven (18:10; see further discussion there). Here on earth the people of God may find strength “as if seeing him who is invisible,” (Heb 11:27) but such “seeing” remains only a foretaste of the true vision of God in heaven.
The Bliss of the Clean Heart
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’
Here is the beatitude which demands that all who read it should stop and think, and examine themselves.
The Greek word for pure is katharos, and it has a variety of usages, all of which have something to add to the meaning of this beatitude for the Christian life.
(1) Originally it simply meant clean, and could, for instance, be used of soiled clothes which have been washed clean.
(2) It is regularly used for corn which has been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all chaff. In the same way, it is used of an army which has been purged of all discontented, cowardly, unwilling and inefficient soldiers, and which is a force composed solely of ﬁrst-class ﬁghting men.
(3) It very commonly appears in company with another Greek adjective—akēratos. Akēratos can be used of milk or wine which is unadulterated with water, or of metal which has in it no tinge of alloy.
So, the basic meaning of katharos is unmixed, unadulterated, unalloyed. That is why this beatitude is so demanding a beatitude. It could be translated:
Blessed are those whose motives are always entirely unmixed, for they shall see God.
It is very seldom indeed that we do even our ﬁnest actions from absolutely unmixed motives. If we give generously and liberally to some good cause, it may well be that there lingers in the depths of our hearts some contentment in basking in the sunshine of our own self-approval, some pleasure in the praise and thanks and credit which we will receive. If we do some ﬁne thing, which demands some sacriﬁce from us, it may well be that we are not altogether free from the feeling that others will see something heroic in us and that we may regard ourselves as martyrs. Even the most sincere preacher is not altogether free from the danger of self-satisfaction in having preached a good sermon. Was it not John Bunyan who was once told by someone that he had preached well that day, and who answered sadly: ‘The devil already told me that as I was coming down the pulpit steps’?
This beatitude demands from us the most exacting self-examination. Is our work done from motives of service or from motives of pay? Is our service given from selﬂess motives or from motives of self-display? Is the work we do in church done for Christ or for our own prestige? Is our church-going an attempt to meet God or a fulﬁlling of a habitual and conventional respectability? Are even our prayer and our Bible-reading engaged upon with the sincere desire to keep company with God or because it gives us a pleasant feeling of superiority to do these things? Is our religion a thing in which we are conscious of nothing so much as the need of God within our hearts, or a thing in which we have comfortable thoughts of our own piety? To examine one’s own motives is a daunting and a shaming thing, for there are few things in this world that even the best of us do with completely unmixed motives.
Jesus went on to say that only the pure in heart will see God. It is one of the simple facts of life that we see only what we are able to see; and that is true not only in the physical sense; it is also true in every other possible sense.
If we go out on a night of stars, our untrained eyes see only a host of pinpoints of light in the sky; we see what we are ﬁt to see. But in that same sky the astronomer will call the stars and the planets by their names, and will move among them as among friends; and from that same sky the navigator could ﬁnd the means to bring a ship across the trackless seas to the desired haven.
The ordinary person can walk along a country road and see by the hedgerows nothing but a tangle of weeds and wild ﬂowers and grasses. The trained botanist would see this and that, and call it by name and know its use, and might even see something of inﬁnite value and rarity through having eyes to see.
Put two people into a room ﬁlled with ancient pictures. A person with no knowledge and no skill could not tell an old master from a worthless daub, whereas a trained art critic might well discern a picture of immense value in a collection which someone else might dismiss as junk.
There are people with ﬁlthy minds who can see in any situation material for sniggering innuendo and a dirty joke. In every sphere of life, we see what we are able to see.
So, says Jesus, it is only the pure in heart who shall see God. It is a warning thing to remember that, as by God’s grace we keep our hearts clean, or as by human lust we soil them, we are either ﬁtting or unﬁtting ourselves some day to see God.
So, this sixth beatitude might read:
o the bliss of those whose motives are absolutely pure, for they will some day be able to see god!
Ver. 8.—The pure in heart. Our Lord naturally passes in thought from the sixth to the seventh commandment (cf. vers. 21, 27), finding the basis of his phraseology in Ps. 24:3, 4, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?… He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart (LXX ἀθῷος χερσὶν καὶ καθαρὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ)” (cf. also Ps. 72:1). Καθαρός (besides speaking of mere physical cleanness, ch. 27:59) specially refers to freedom from pollution, judged by God’s standard of what pollution is, whether it be a matter of ceremonial enactment (meats, Rom. 14:20; cf. Mark 7:19; cf. leprosy, 8:2, 3; 10:8, et al.) or of ethical relation (John 13:10, 11; 15:3); cf. Origen. ‘Hom. in Joh.,’ lxxiii. 2 (Meyer), “Every sin soils the soul (Πᾶσα ἁμαρτία ῥύπον ἑντίθησι τῇ, ψυχῇ)” (cf. also Bishop Westcott, ‘Hebrews,’ p. 346). In heart. The seat of the affections (ch. 6:21; 22:37) and the understanding (ch. 13:15), also the central spring of all human words and actions (ch. 15:19); cf. καθαρὰ καρδία (1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:22), which implies something deeper than καθαρὰ συνείδησις (1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3). Shall see God. Not in his courts (Ps. 24) on Mount Moriah, but above; and in one complete vision fully grasped (ὄψονται). The thought of present spiritual sight of God, though, perhaps, hardly to be excluded (contrast Weiss, ‘Matthäusev.’), is at least swallowed up in the thought of the full and final revelation. Those who are pure in heart, and care not for such sights as lead men into sin, are unconsciously preparing themselves for the great spiritual sight—the beatific vision (Rev. 22:4; cf. 1 John 3:2). In Heb. 12:14 holiness (ἁγιασμός) is an indispensable quality for such a vision of “the Lord.”
8. Happy are they who are of a pure heart. We might be apt to think, that what is here stated by Christ is in accordance with the judgment of all. Purity of heart is universally acknowledged to be the mother of all virtues. And yet there is hardly one person in a hundred, who does not put craftiness in the place of the greatest virtue. Hence those persons are commonly accounted happy, whose ingenuity is exercised in the successful practice of deceit, who gain dexterous advantages, by indirect means, over those with whom they have intercourse. Christ does not at all agree with carnal reason, when he pronounces those to be happy, who take no delight in cunning, but converse sincerely with men, and express nothing, by word or look, which they do not feel in their heart. Simple people are ridiculed for want of caution, and for not looking sharply enough to themselves. But Christ directs them to higher views, and bids them consider that, if they have not sagacity to deceive in this world, they will enjoy the sight of God in heaven.
8. Cf. Psalm 24:3–4. Pure in heart should not be restricted to moral, still less sexual, purity; it denotes one who loves God with all his heart (Deut. 6:5), with an undivided loyalty, and whose inward nature corresponds with his outward profession (cf. Isa. 29:13). ‘Such is the generation of those who seek him’ (Ps. 24:6), and they receive the promise that they shall see God. This can only fully be realized in heaven, when ‘we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2); then ‘we shall be like him’, and the longings of v. 6 will be finally satisfied. But in a lesser sense the vision of God is already the experience of his true lovers on earth, who persevere in his service ‘as seeing him who is invisible’ (Heb. 11:27).
The pure in heart (8)
It is immediately obvious that the words ‘in heart’ indicate the kind of purity to which Jesus is alluding, as the words ‘in spirit’ indicated the kind of poverty he meant. The ‘poor in spirit’ are the spiritually poor as distinct from those whose poverty is only material. From whom, then, are ‘the pure in heart’ being distinguished?
The popular interpretation is to regard purity of heart as an expression for inward purity, for the quality of those who have been cleansed from moral—as opposed to ceremonial—defilement. And there is good biblical precedent for this, especially in the Psalms. It was recognized that no-one could ascend the Lord’s hill or stand in his holy place unless he had ‘clean hands and a pure heart’. So David, conscious that his Lord desired ‘truth in the inward being’, could pray, ‘Teach me wisdom in my secret heart,’ and, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God.’ Jesus took up this theme in his controversy with the Pharisees and complained about their obsession with external, ceremonial purity. ‘You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness.’ They were ‘like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness’.3
Luther gave this distinction between inward and outward purity a characteristically earthy turn. For he contrasted purity of heart not only with ceremonial defilement, but also with actual physical dirt. ‘Christ … wants to have the heart pure, though outwardly the person may be a drudge in the kitchen, black, sooty, and grimy, doing all sorts of dirty work.’ Again, ‘Though a common labourer, a shoemaker or a blacksmith may be dirty and sooty or may smell because he is covered with dirt and pitch, … and though he stinks outwardly, inwardly he is pure incense before God’ because he ponders the word of God in his heart and obeys it.2
This emphasis on the inward and moral, whether contrasted with the outward and ceremonial or the outward and physical, is certainly consistent with the whole Sermon on the Mount which requires heart-righteousness rather than mere rule-righteousness. Nevertheless, in the context of the other beatitudes, ‘purity of heart’ seems to refer in some sense to our relationships. Professor Tasker defines the pure in heart as ‘the single-minded, who are free from the tyranny of a divided self’.3 In this case the pure heart is the single heart and prepares the way for the ‘single eye’ which Jesus mentions in the next chapter.
More precisely, the primary reference is to sincerity. Already in the verses of Psalm 24 quoted above, the person with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ is one ‘who does not lift up his soul to what is false (sc. an idol), and does not swear deceitfully’ (4). That is, in his relations with both God and man he is free from falsehood. So the pure in heart are ‘the utterly sincere’ (jbp). Their whole life, public and private, is transparent before God and men. Their very heart—including their thoughts and motives—is pure, unmixed with anything devious, ulterior or base. Hypocrisy and deceit are abhorrent to them; they are without guile.
Yet how few of us live one life and live it in the open! We are tempted to wear a different mask and play a different role according to each occasion. This is not reality but play-acting, which is the essence of hypocrisy. Some people weave round themselves such a tissue of lies that they can no longer tell which part of them is real and which is make-believe. Alone among men Jesus Christ was absolutely pure in heart, being entirely guileless.
Only the pure in heart will see God, see him now with the eye of faith and see his glory in the hereafter, for only the utterly sincere can bear the dazzling vision in whose light the darkness of deceit must vanish and by whose fire all shams are burned up.
5:8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. The promise that the pure in heart will see God is perhaps an echo of Ps 24:3–4 (cf. Ps 51:10; 73:1). Purity of heart amounts to internal integrity that transparently manifests itself in outward behavior. Matthew presents certain Pharisees as models of an external, rule-oriented purity that Jesus rejected and condemned because it masked inner corruption (cf. 15:1–20; 23:25–28). His disciples must possess an inner piety and purity that surpasses mere externally acceptable behavior (5:20–22, 27–28). They have experienced the power of the Kingdom, which purifies from the inside out. Thus, they must cultivate integrity in their private intellectual, emotional, and volitional lives (cf. 5:28; 6:21; 9:4; 12:34; 15:8, 18, 19; 18:35; 22:37). Seeing God is impossible in this life (Exod 33:20), but prophetic visions describe seeing God as a part of the blessings of the world to come (1 John 3:2; Rev 22:4).
Ver. 8. The pure in heart.—
Purity of heart:—
- Purity of heart demands our attention. 1. It implies a change of heart. 2. It implies that the faculties of the soul are purified. 3. It implies the purity of the affections. 4. It implies the purity of the thoughts and desires. 5. It leads to purity of worship. 6. It leads to purity of life.
- The blessedness promised to the pure in heart. 1. What is denoted by seeing God. 2. This vision will constitute the blessedness of the pure in heart. (J. Jordan.)
The blessedness of the pure in heart:—
- Inquire into the meaning of purity of heart. 1. The words carry us into the inner regions of man’s being. At first sight they only suggest the absence of the impure. But there is no purity apart from the absolute authority of God in the affections. Man is not made by negatives.
- Purity of heart gives the vision of God. The phrase “see God” does not refer to any manifestation of His glory visible to the eye of sense. It is to the far deeper sight of the soul that Christ refers. Your best friend is not seen by the eye of the body; you see him spiritually, his qualities of mind and heart. 1. None but the pure in heart can see Him. It is useless to tell the selfish about the beauty of unselfishness; you might as well tell the blind about the glory of colour. 2. That to the pure in heart the full glory of the Divine nature reveals itself. God is light and love. These are seen by the pure soul.
III. The vision is its own exceeding blessedness. 1. It is blessed because to see God satisfies the longings of the heart. 2. Because it clothes life in glory. 3. Because it is the dawning of immortal hope. (E. L. Hull, B.A.)
- Let us try to ascertain what this purity is which is here so extolled. It was in Adam by nature—it is in us by grace, &c. In us it is as seed cast into the soil, &c. It is a living principle, ever powerful, ever resisted, yet never beaten, growing daily in aspirations and likeness, until it is made perfect by seeing Christ as He is, when we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. Constantly enjoined. Is true beauty. The qualification for heaven. The Holy Spirit its author. The heart its seat. Manifest in the outer life. Will ever be ready to disclose itself to God in prayer.
- Such persons are blessed. In having this characteristic. Evidence of being amongst the people of God. To them all things are pure. “Shall see God”—in life’s trials, life’s prosperity, providential dealings, in all creation, in the sacred page, in ordinances, and, above all, in glory—transforming, satisfying, joyful. “Create in me,” &c. (Dr. J. Cumming.) By the “heart” we are to understand the inward part of man, comprehending the mind and soul with all their faculties and affections, purposes and inclinations, the secret recesses into which mortal eye cannot penetrate. I. The foliage and branches are of the same kind with the stock that bears them. 1. Before we can bring forth good fruit we must be renovated. 2. There may be the semblance of purity in the life when there is no real principle of holiness in the heart. II. Purity is (1) the mind renewed, the (2) disordered spirit restored, and (3) conformed to the “image of God,” in righteousness and true holiness. III. From the definition of the principle there are three things which it includes. 1. Frank and genuine sincerity in opposition to dissimulation and deceit. 2. Spiritual worship in opposition to that which is formal. 3. A holy and heavenly mind, in opposition to one that is polluted and sensual. (J. E. Good.) I. A great privilege proposed by our Saviour to His followers. “They shall see God”—in this life and in heaven. II. The qualification required for this enjoyment—purity of heart. Nature and necessity of heart-purity. 1. Try your hopes of heaven by this rule. 2. Follow after purity—heart and life. (Henry Grove.) See here what is the beauty that sets off a soul in God’s eye: purity of heart. I. Thou who art never so beautiful, art but a spiritual leper, till thou art pure in heart. 1. Therein God sees His own picture drawn. 2. Holiness is a beam of God. II. Thou who art pure in heart hast the angel’s glory in thee, and the embroidery and workmanship of the Holy Ghost upon thee. III. The pure heart is God’s paradise, where He delights to walk; it is His lesser heaven. The dove delights in the purest air; the Holy Ghost, who descended in the likeness of a dove, delights in the purest soul. How may this raise the esteem of purity! This is a beauty that never fades! (Thomas Watson.) I. Purity of heart stands in direct opposition to that external affectation of purity which is the offspring of hypocrisy. 1. Actions are the outward symbols or expressions of virtue and vice, not virtue and vice themselves. 2. Actions when separated from their motives are indifferent, but it is the disposition of benevolence by which the mind is actuated in which the virtue lies. 3. Words, like actions, when separated from their motives, are indifferent; but it is the inward malignity of soul from which the words proceed, in which the vice consists. 4. The form of purity, like that of godliness without its power, is only a delusive counterfeit. 5. All external services and sacrifices are of no value without this internal purity. II. Purity implies the absence of moral grossness. Whatever is defiled is essentially repugnant to the spirit of purity. (1) By the law of nature clouds darken the face of the sky, fogs and vapours stagnate and corrupt the air. (2) By the law of conscience and religion, moral blots and corruptions stain the beauty of the soul, and cast a shade upon its brightness. III. Purity is an active and vigorous disposition, which incessantly prompts the soul in which it resides, to (1) admire what is amiable; (2) To approve what is excellent; (3) To relish what is delicate; (4) To pursue what is refined. Purity is the only way to blessedness—purity is blessedness itself. (David Lamont, D.D.)
The man of heart blessed.—So came these peaceful words of Jesus: Blessed, not the man of force, but the man of heart. (E. J. Haynes.) A pure heart uses God’s creatures without injury.—We stood, the day we left home to begin life for ourselves, amid all the “creatures” of God, as stands the druggist’s clerk on the first morning of his apprenticing, not knowing which is sweet, or sour, or would kill, or would make alive; aye, and with a perverted impulse for the wrong use of all. Behold that tree which nods at the church window. Sometimes there is too much moisture in the air; sometimes too much heat; poisons are at its root, its leaf, its stock. Yet so “pure” is the tree, so does it follow just God’s law, that it chooses and uses, not abuses, but fructifies by all. So amid all nature will be the really pure in heart; not that pure heart is all-wise, but it is so in harmony with God’s law, so far as it is instructed, that it uses all things according to the Creator’s intention. How? For beauty, purity, peace, and joy. (Ibid.) A pure heart is blessed in the feeling of security.—He says, “I am not conscious of any desire within which shall go half-way to meet the allurements of sin; no little rivulets of half-indulgence which have eaten the sand from under my walls.” Oh, how weak is guilt, how strong is purity! I have seen the hawk flap out of the top of tall hemlocks at my coming in the pasture. “Why, hawk, I’ll not shoot you; it is but a walking-stick I carry in my hand.” “Ah! yes, but I think it may have a ball in it.” And he sails high above the village steeple. “Nay, hawk,” says the steeple, “I’ll not hurt. I’m but the finger pointing to your Maker.” “Ah! but I think you are a trap.” He even parts company with the harmless sparrow, for the sparrow “may be a snare.” Not so the dove. It lives in the cornice of men’s dwellings, and nods good morning to the children in the chamber crib; it touches the foot of the housemaid as she shakes her cloth of crumbs; it rests up in the steeples of old churches, and the Sabbath bell, far from being a fright, is but the signal for the cooing chorus to begin. The man of pure heart is blessed with peaceful self-respect. He is not happy who cannot respect himself. And no man can respect himself who is living in more or less constant communion with bad thoughts and evil pictures of imaginatian. Suppose we grant that we are not altogether responsible for our thoughts, but, by the complications of daily life, before we know it we have planned a sin; or, by Satan’s foes beleaguered, we are thrust upon by pictures of iniquity. Still my proposition is true, that no such life could be a happy one. Could the master of a strong house be at peace, even if bolts and bars and granite strength kept all his foes at bay; if, ever and anon, the mob thrust the death’s head at his windows? Aye, more, could he respect himself if, now and then, as impure hearts do, he showed a face for parley, or cautiously, yet surely, invited one of the red-shirted horde within, to see how he looked near by? The sunflower might say of wasps, and hornets, and bees: “Why do they pester me, and so hang about?” and the wasps would reply: “You entertain us, sir; you have what we love.” And so the judge within man, true to his heaven-given instinct, makes reply to him pestered by bad thoughts: “There’s something, sir, about you that these buzzards love!” I saw by Lake Leman the old castle of Chillon. Up above, the royal, tapestry-hung apartments of the Duke of Savoy and his gay bride; down below, the dungeon where Bonnivard was chained; where creeping things crawl forth to ogle at the visitors, and instruments of torture are; and I wondered if never, in some scene of revelry above, the groans of martyrs rose to stir the arras on gorgeous walls. There are those we meet in social life, the rooms of whose souls which are open to friends are fair as a palace. But alas! who shall tell us of the secret kept unseen? Not so pure heart. I do not pretend to say that ever on this earth we are freed from all solicitations of evil; but there is many a soul so “blessed” that, when winged thoughts of sin come flying to the windows, God’s angel rises up, and draws the shutters to; when disturbing thoughts of hate, revenge, avarice, and pride draw near, God’s angel meets them at the outer gate, and bids them all begone. (Ibid.) Pure heart is “blest” in his relations with his fellow-man. Pure Heart is blest because he knows no envy of another’s success, jealousy at another’s praise. Dear, simple old heart. It never occurs to him that there is any less of summer’s sun for him because a million others bask in its beams. O King Great Heart! thyself no man’s enemy, thou thinkest no man thine, but dost beam upon the world like the October sunset upon the harvest fields. “He shall see God.” How? Thus. Mozart and his friend, the royal huntsman, went forth arm-in-arm to the fields. The wind came up heavily through the copse of trees. “Look!” says the hunter, “it will startle a hare!” “Listen!” says Mozart, “what a diapason from God’s great organ!” A lark rose on soaring wing, with its own sweet song. “Look!” says the gamester. “what a shot!” “Ah!” says Mozart, “what would I give could I catch that thrill!” There be dull souls who cannot see nor hear. Are they sick? “Oh! what misfortune!” Are they bereaved? “Some enemy hath done this!” Are they well and prosperous? “Good luck!” Not so Pure Heart. He can see God’s hand in every sorrow chastening for good; God’s face in every blessing; God’s smile in the morning light, the blossoming harvest, and the evening shade. His heart is attuned. (E. J. Haynes.)
Vision of God in heaven:—I. God is a pure Spirit, and invisible. It cannot be with our bodily eyes that we shall see Him. II. They shall see Him. This word expresses immediate intuition of what is plainly offered to view. Now we see through a glass, darkly. Wilt thou see God’s wisdom, power, love, holiness, glory? 1. This is an appropriating vision. 2. It is an assimilating vision. 3. It is a satisfying vision. III. How excellent the soul of man which is capable of such felicity! IV. If such be the nature of the future blessedness, then a change of heart is requisite to enable us to enjoy it. V. What gratitude do we owe to that God who has provided such a felicity for His children. VI. What a source of consolation under the afflictions of life. VII. This subject calls us to mourn for the folly of the children of men, who for toys barter away glory and immortality. (H. Kollock, D.D.)
They shall see God:—1. In the work of creation. 2. In the ordinances of the gospel. 3. In the dispensation of Providence. 4. In the day of judgment. 5. In heaven for ever. (J. C. Edwards, M.A.)
Purity an unmixed motive.—A thing is pure when there is nothing in it out of harmony with its nature. Water is pure, air is pure, when they contain only their constituent elements, and in the right proportion. Gold is pure when it has been separated by fire from all foreign matter. The diamond is pure, the crystal is pure, when there is nothing in them which hinders the refraction and reflection of light. It is thus with the heart, which is the emotional part of the soul. It is pure, when it loves only that which it ought to love. (The Abbé Bautain.)
Spiritual sight conditioned by purity:—1. It may be easily understood that impurity of heart hinders the soul from seeing God. Under the power of perverse affections the mind sees nothing aright—nothing in its just relations and proportions. Least of all can the mind thus blinded in its highest faculties see God aright; it gets no inspiring and attractive perception of His glory. As earthly vapours, condensed into clouds and darkening the world with storms, hide from the outward sense the beauty and glory of the visible heaven, so sensual passions, grovelling affections, and the dominion of sin in the soul, all the habits of an impure and unbelieving mind, intervene as with impenetrable clouds, to shut off from the view and reach of the spiritual faculties the grand realities of that upper sphere, where the eternal relations of duty are and where God is. 2. This is further illustrated by remembering distinctly that the normal or right state of the mind—the state in which its faculties and susceptibilities are properly adjusted in relation to each other and in relation to their objects—is just what our Saviour means by purity in heart. As the normal condition of the eye is not when the optic nerve is paralysed or otherwise diseased, nor when the surface is covered by a film, nor when inflammation or a mote under the eyelids makes the light painful, but only when all obstruction or disease is absent, so the normal condition of the mind, as made for the knowledge of things invisible and eternal, is not when its sensibilities are perverted by selfishness, not when sin reigns within, but only when the heart is pure. We may now inquire, What is the blessedness of thus seeing God? 1. To see God is to see the central light which reveals the order and beauty of the universe. The unity of all created things is found only in their relation to God’s power, to His love and wisdom, to His plan and government. 2. To see God is to see the fountain of all blessedness. Such intuition of God’s glory is identical with the peace of God that passeth all understanding. 3. Such an intuition of God as this promise assures to the pure in heart is that for which the soul was created. It is the soul’s chief end, and therefore it is the highest blessedness of which the soul is capable. (L. Bacon.)
8. Blessed the pure in heart, for they shall see God. It is often said that the pure in heart are the sincere and honest people, the men of integrity. A reference to Ps. 24:3, 4 would seem to confirm this:
Who shall ascend the hill of Jehovah?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart;
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
Purity in heart is also commended in Ps. 73:1. Similarly, in 1 Tim. 1:5 pure is a synonym for unfeigned. And see also 2 Tim. 2:22 and 1 Peter 1:22. All this could easily lead to the conclusion that the people who in the sixth beatitude are pronounced blessed are without any further qualification the sincere individuals, the men who think, speak, and act without hypocrisy.
Now there can be no doubt about the fact that sincerity, honesty, the condition of being without guile, is indeed the emphasis here. Over against all human duplicity, be it Pharisaic or otherwise, Jesus pronounces his blessing upon the persons whose outer manifestation is in harmony with their inner disposition.
Nevertheless, a study of the context in each of the aforegoing references makes clear that something must be added. Sincerity or integrity is not sufficient in and by itself. A man may be sincerely right but he may also be sincerely wrong. No doubt, the prophets of Baal were very sincere when from morning until noon they were leaping about the altar, cutting themselves with knives, and constantly crying out, “Hear us Baal” (1 Kings 18:26–28). But they were sincere in the wrong direction. So also, in a passage to which reference is often made in the explanation of the sixth beatitude (Gen. 20:6) Jehovah himself testifies that Abimelech, in the integrity of his heart, had taken Sarah away from Abraham. Nevertheless, the Lord did not approve what the king had done but threatened him with death unless he would restore Sarah to her rightful husband (verse 7). Similarly, the “pure in heart” of Ps. 73:1 are those who in all sincerity are guided by “God’s counsel” (verse 24). The faith unfeigned of 1 Tim. 1:5 adheres to “sound doctrine” (verse 10). And the people to whom Peter refers (1 Peter 1:22) are those who have purified their souls “in obedience to the truth.”
It is clear, therefore, that the blessing of the sixth beatitude is not pronounced without qualification upon all people who are sincere, but rather upon those who, in the worship of the true God in accordance with the truth revealed in his Word, strive without hypocrisy to please and glorify him. These, these alone, are “the pure in heart.” They worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) and love to dwell on and practice the virtues mentioned in 1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:22, 23; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:1–4; 4:8, 9; Col. 3:1–17; etc. Their heart, the very mainspring of dispositions as well as of feelings and thoughts (Matt. 15:19; 22:37; Eph. 1:18; 3:17; Phil 1:7; 1 Tim. 1:5), is in tune with the heart of God.
Hence, it is not really surprising to read that the pure in heart “shall see God,” and that this is the essence of their blessedness. The man whose delight is not truly in the things pertaining to God is unable to appreciate the love of God in Christ toward sinners. Resemblance is the indispensable prerequisite of personal fellowship and understanding. To know God one must be like him. Just as to the hunter devoid of musical knowledge and appreciation the voice of the wind roaring through the forest meant no more than that a hare might be startled from his hiding place and become an easy victim, while to his companion Mozart this same loud deep sound signified instead a majestic diapason from God’s great organ, so also to the impure, God remains unknown but to those who “imitate God as beloved children and walk in love” he reveals himself.
Now the beauty of this vision of God, this spiritual perception of and delight in his being and attributes, is that it is transforming (2 Cor. 3:18). Here on earth, however, it is still a “seeing in a mirror darkly,” but in heaven and in the renewed universe, in which the conditions of heaven will also be found on earth (Rev. 21:10), so that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9), this beatific vision will amount to the sinless and uninterrupted fellowship of the souls of all the redeemed with God in Christ, a seeing “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
When I in righteousness at last
Thy glorious face shall see,
When all the weary night is past
And I awake with thee,
To view the glories that abide,
Then, then shall I be satisfied.
(F. F. Bullard, based on Ps. 17:15)
Thus will be fulfilled the prayer of Jesus, “Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, in order that they may gaze on my glory which thou hast given me, for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the earth.”
5:8. The term Matthew used here means pure or “clean.” It can be used literally of physical cleanness, but Scripture often uses it for moral cleanness and purity. A simple but helpful way of looking at the word is to realize that it implies the absence of impurity or filth. It implies a singleness of purpose, without distraction (akin to the concept of “holiness,” being set apart for a special purpose; see Jas. 4:8). Any distracting or corrupting influence a kingdom servant allows into his or her heart makes that person less effective as a servant. The kingdom servant has a heart that is undivided and unalloyed.
This quality is a natural by-product of the preceding blessings and character qualities. Purity of heart is not manufactured by the believer, but is granted by the God of mercy (5:7) to those who mourn their spiritual bankruptcy (5:3–4) and who seek his righteousness (5:6). When the king grants purity of heart, he gives not only judicial purity (forgiveness, absolution from guilt), but also the actual removal of corrupting impurities from the heart. This comes about through the empowerment of the believer to grow into holiness and out of these impurities.
Jesus may have had a dual meaning behind the phrase see God. First, the pure heart is unhindered in its ability to understand the heart and person of God in this life on earth and, in this sense, is better able to see God. Moreover, only the pure (forgiven) heart is able to enter heaven to enjoy the presence of God for eternity.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 199–208). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 164–165). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 France, R. T. (2007). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 168–169). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co.
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