Pure in Heart

Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." It may be that he was talking for the benefit of the Pharisees to whom he said in Matthew 23:25, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess." However, the words and principle are applicable to all men everywhere.

It might be well to note here a very important point. Their mistake was in this case the same basic mistake that they frequently made and many of us make. They did not understand the "essence" of cleanliness. Before we can properly understand any subject, it is probable that we need to understand the "essence" of that subject. That is true with baptism, marriage, worship, purity, or any other subject. It is a great tragedy that the so-called "church fathers" got so involved in the discussion about the "essence" of God that they raised such a cloud of dust that they obscured the face of God from those who followed or tried to follow their loquacious verbosity and theological discussions.

Eusebius and others had such great disagreement that such statements as this were included in the creeds and those were excommunicated who did not subscribe to the exact wording: "That he is consubstantial with the Father then simply Father only who begat him; and that he is of no other substance or essence but of the Father." Since none of them could tell what substance or essence the Father was, they could argue and fight over whether they should use the term "homoousios" or "homoiousios."

So, we need to understand that while the "essence" of the purity that makes any difference is to have purity in the heart, and Jesus pronounced a blessing on those who were pure in heart, the terms "pure" and "purity" are not all internal. One needs to have a body that is pure, and a life that is pure, and be pure from the blood of all men because we do not shun to declare unto them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27), have a pure religion (James 1:27) and just be pure inside and out, both in heart and action.

If we can develop the habit of probing more deeply into the "real meaning" or essence of any subject with which the Bible deals, we can surely have a deeper appreciation of that subject. One of the problems with that is that there are some areas where we cannot truly understand the "essence" of the person or thing about which we study. It is true with the Father and the Son. If one tries to give an exegesis of Philippians 2:6 about Jesus being in the form of God and tries to tell us in no uncertain terms exactly what the form or essence of God is, either he or we will discover something about his ignorance, humility or arrogance.

We can do better than that, however, with the "essence" of baptism and other subjects. Some in the denominational world would suggest that the "essence" of baptism is all spiritual, since we must be born of God (1 John 3:9), and born of the Spirit (John 3:6). Since it is spiritual, then it is ENTIRELY of the Spirit, they teach. We have no problem with the idea that the "essence" of scriptural baptism is spiritual, for no ritual of baptism is worth anything divorced from the spirit and the understanding. But to conclude that therefore "baptism is ENTIRELY spiritual" is wrong. The same thing is true with marriage, worship, or almost any other important thing. A person who thinks that the "essence" of marriage is the ceremony (and some who have elaborate ceremonies costing tens of thousands of dollars seem to "lean that way") are terribly wrong. Equally wrong are those who say "since the essence of marriage is a commitment to each other, then marriage is ENTIRELY a matter of internal commitment. The ceremony is merely an act produced by commitment, and should not be called 'a ceremony of marriage' for the real marriage is wholly an internal thing."

The same principle is true with worship, love, purity or any other subject. If there is not love in the heart, no act that would normally be assumed to demonstrate love is worth much. That is true, whether the act is a verbal statement, "I love you with all my heart" or whether it is giving your body to be burned or giving all your goods to feed the poor. That does not prove, however, that it is proper to think or speak of love as being entirely internal. Love that is entirely internal would be worth little, if anything. This is why John says, "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). The "essence" of love is the willingness to sacrifice what we are and have for the welfare and pleasure of another. But "love" as the Bible defines it involves MORE than an inward decision. It "suffers long and is kind" or as John put it in 1 John 5:3, "This IS the love of God, that we keep his commandments." That is, keeping His commandments is love demonstrated, just as wanting to keep His commandments and the will to sacrifice what we are and have for His pleasure is the "essence" of love.

So, be loving by doing acts of love, after having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5), be pure by doing acts of purity, after having purified your souls in obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren (1 Peter 1:21), worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) and pay homage to Him by doing the specific acts of worship He designed to show that we understand that the "essence" of worship must be a pure, loving and contrite heart that leads us to do all we do in word or deed to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive