Based on series of Messages preached in July-Sep 1999

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8)

Let us remind ourselves that the beatitudes are not just about how true and everlasting happiness may be found. Rather, as a whole, they constitute a portrait of what a true Christian looks like in the eyes of God. The Lord is telling us, "If you want to know if you are really a child of God, see if you fit this picture."

In this sixth beatitude, purity of heart is presented as evidence that the heart has been changed by God. This beatitude tells us in clear what the other beatitudes assume we know—i.e. that the Lord Jesus is not so much concerned with our external behaviour as He is concerned with our heart condition. But what does the Lord mean by "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"?

I think it is helpful for us to begin by asking…

What Purity of Heart is not?

In the first place, the Lord is certainly not speaking about cleanliness. The Greek word translated ‘pure’ in our text can indeed be translated as ‘clean.’ But our text has nothing to do with material cleanliness. There is a cliché "Cleanliness is next to godliness," which is often placed in the toilets of church buildings. This cliché was first coined by John Wesley in a 1788 sermon. He said:

Slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this, nor any text of Scripture condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly this is a duty, not a sin. Cleanliness is indeed next to godliness.

I don’t know about you, but while I agree with the first part of what he said to be true, I find it hard to stomach his final remark. What has the cleanliness of a toilet to do with godliness? No, no; our Lord is not speaking about cleanliness. A stickler to cleanliness is not necessarily pure in heart.

And neither, is our Lord, speaking about civility. We know many unbelieving gentlemen of the most eminent sort. They are not only prim and proper in their appearance, but their social habits are outstanding. They do not smoke or drink, and they treat others with such respect that you will never hear them saying anything unkind to others. As a matter of fact they show so much concern for the welfare of fellow men, that you may mistake them for Christians. They are actively helping the poor and even promoting morality in the society. Such behaviour often put the Christian to shame.

But is that purity? I am afraid not. "A blazing comet is no star," says Thomas Watson. A pig may be domesticated and tamed so that he will sleep on your bed and eat with a napkin,…

but he is still a pig and when the front door is open it will still run out to wallow in the mud. A gentleman unbeliever, who hates the grosser sins and presents himself well, is still an unbeliever. He is a godless unbeliever. And worse, he is not troubled that his godlessness and unbelief is sin. He may not commit gross sins, but he is insensible to the sins in his heart—of pride, self-reliance and unbelief. If he does not repent, his end will be no different from that of a drunkard or a robber. He will land up in hell. He will see God indeed, but not as a benevolent Father. He will see Him as a righteous judge whose wrath has been kindled. "A vessel may be sunk with gold, as well as with dung" (Watson).

Nor is purity of heart to be confused with outward profession or appearance. The Scribes and Pharisees considered themselves most pure for they thought that they had kept themselves pure by their outward rituals and forms of righteousness.

But the Lord Jesus disagreed strongly with their self-assessment. He called them hypocrites and described them as "whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Mt 23:27).

The purity that the Pharisees and Scribes had was the ‘purity’ of a beautiful white tomb which is filled with rotting corpse and bones. This kind of ‘purity’ is abominable to the Lord because it is not purity at all. It is plain hypocrisy. Watch out, dearly beloved, that the purity you possess is not of this sort.

Judas Iscariot was like any of the other apostles. He sat at the Lord’s feet with them. He ate with them. He spoke the apostolic lingo. He went out to preach the Gospel with them. But he was not pure in heart. Remember the occasion when the Lord washed the feet of the disciples. Peter at first protested and then asked to have both his hands and feet washed. What did the Lord say? "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean" (Jn 13:10). The word ‘ye’ indicates that He was referring to all the disciples. But He did not stop there. He adds: "but not all." John explains, "For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean" (Jn 13:11).

Do not have the purity of the Scribes and Pharisees. Do not have the purity of Judas.


What is Purity of Heart?

What is the difference between purity spoken of by our Lord and the purity which the world is impressed with? The answer is really found in the adjectival phrase ‘in heart.’ What is the heart? It is the innermost part of a person’s being. No, it has nothing to do with the muscular organ within us. The Lord is, rather, referring to the spiritual being of a person. If you like, it is the soul. By calling it the heart, our Lord emphasises that it is that part of a person that is foundational to his emotions and affections, and to his intellect and will. It is the aspect of the person that determines his character and deportment. Thus Solomon advises us: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov 4:23). Purity of the heart is therefore spiritual purity.

But what is ‘purity’? When we speak of pure gold, we are saying that the gold is not mixed with other metals. If gold is the desired metal, then anything else mixed in it are impurities, whether or not they appear to enhance the quality of the jewelleries made with it.

Here is the point then. Being pure in heart is to have a heart not polluted by anything that is displeasing to God.

Now, it is true that the Scripture elsewhere teaches us that it is impossible for us in this life to be sinless and perfectly pure in our heart (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). We may not be absolutely pure in our heart in this life because there is a remnant of corruption within each of us. One day we shall indeed be perfectly pure. Nevertheless, we must never excuse ourselves from purity in this life. The fact that the Lord preaches "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" suggests that it is imperative that we must aim for purity in this life even if it is not possible to be absolutely pure.

With this in mind, consider three things that we should aim for in this life.

Firstly, we should strive to be sincere in what we say or do. The Psalmist says:

"Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully" (Ps 24:3-4)

Notice the poetic device of parallelism employed. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?" is synonymous to "who shall stand in his holy place?" Likewise, "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart" is synonymous to "[he] who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully." Having a pure heart therefore involves not swearing deceitfully, which also means sincerity.

This was the core issue recently when US President Clinton came on TV to confess to the American public and the world that he did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky. The issue for many was not that he did have the relationship despite the adulterous nature of it. The issue was that of sincerity because he had testified under oath earlier that he did not have a relationship with her. With this lack of integrity, the president’s credibility was severely damaged.

Let me put it this way. The first aspect of purity of heart is that, what is within us must tally with what we say and do. In other words, your lives must be transparent so that when others look at you, they know that they are seeing the real you. Christians should not wear masks.

But sincerity is not enough because we can measure sincerity by our own standards and we can say that we are sincere in what we have said. But what we have said could be false in the first place. So then, there are many people in the world whom we may consider to be sincere though they are not Christians. Purity of heart will, therefore,secondly, require that a person not only be sincere but have "a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).

He who is pure in heart is ready to stand before Christ for he knows that his heart is not condemned. He is confident that he has not acted in hypocrisy. He knows that he had not deliberately sinned against his conscience and against Christ. He knows that if he had sinned in words, deeds or thoughts, it was either out of ignorance, or he had repented, and the blood of Christ covers him. He knows that his actions are governed by the Word of God and the constraining love of Christ.

Thirdly, purity of heart also is holiness in life. The writer of Hebrews shows this very clearly when he says: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). As one who is pure in heart shall see God, so one who is without holiness shall not see God.

But what does it mean to be holy? It means to be set apart unto the Lord, or in other words, to be separated from sin and consecrated to God. It means having a spirit of obedience and submission. It means living a life of obedience to the Law and conformity to the Word.

In other words, you cannot claim to be pure in heart unless you know that your life is governed by a principle of consecration to the Lord. You cannot claim to be pure in heart unless your attitude, preferences and desires are captive and consistent to the Word of God.

It is no use saying that your heart is pure, or that you are sincere or that your conscience is clear when you know not the Word of God. There are many who refuse to repent of their sin because they claim that their conscience is clear and that they were sincere in what they did. But they forget that their conscience and sincerity,—being not governed by the principle of holiness,— is impure.


Why is Purity Important?

It is important, in the first place, because it is commanded. We have seen that the beatitude itself implies a command to be pure in heart. But what the Lord implied in His beatitude, He had made clear much earlier: "be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God," He said through Moses (Lev 20:7; cf. 1 Pet 1:15-16).

Secondly, we must be pure lest our prayers be hindered. King David who had on numerous occasions sinned grievously against the Lord knew this principle very well. He writes: "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66:18). Isaiah who was writing to encourage the people to call the Sabbath a delight by keeping it holy exclaimed: "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Is 59:1-2).

Thirdly, we must be pure if we are to ‘see God.’ Our Lord says "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." What does it mean to see God? Some believe that seeing God has to do with seeing His hand in creation and in providence. That may be the case, but it does not appear to connect with purity of heart. I would suggest rather that seeing God carries an eschatological sense of meeting and communing with God perfectly and infinitely. It is in a sense being fulfilled now in our relationship with the Lord. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," says our Lord.

So then, our Lord is really implying: "If you do not have pure hearts, you are not for real." This doctrine is explicated by our Lord’s apostles when they teach us that purity is required of all who would enter heaven. Peter tells us that our inheritance in heaven is "incorruptible and undefiled" (1 Pet 1:4). John tells us about heaven that "there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth" (Rev 21:27a). This is why the author of Hebrews insists that without holiness or purity, "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14).

Bear in mind that though justification and sanctification must be distinguished, they must not be divorced from each other. You cannot claim to be justified if sanctification is not evident in your life. You cannot claim to be a Christian, if purity of heart is a foreign concept to you.

Directions for Cultivating
Purity of Heart

Whether or not, you perceive that God has begun a work of grace in your heart, you must not rest complacent. Ezekiel’s warning to the Jews still holds: "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezk 18:31). In the same way Paul says, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7:1). You have a responsibility to continue fervently to cultivate purity in your heart. How? Let me give you a few simple directions that you may apply in your life for this purpose:

First, we must guard the entrances to our heart. What is the entrance of our heart? Not our mouth. The Jews thought that it was. They thought that to be pure and holy, they must always wash their hands before eating. The Lord Jesus corrected them by saying: "that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught" (Mt 15:17). The entrances to our hearts are rather our eyes and ears.

The first sin began with the eyes: "The tree was good for food and pleasant to the eyes." Since then the eyes continue to affect the souls of man. Job understood this. He said: "I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon [or lust after] a maid?" (Job 31:1). Why did he make this covenant? He made it out of concern for the purity of his heart, for he adds:

"Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity. If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes … Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out" (Job 31:6-8).

If you want to cultivate purity of heart, guard your eyes at all cost. Screen what you watch on TV and the internet carefully. Those things that are immoral or violent will pollute your heart. Avoid them.

The ear, likewise, is an entrance to the heart. The heart can be polluted not only by sight but also by sound. Music and songs that are designed to stir up immoral emotions are sure to pollute our heart. Listen to these and you will fill your heart with filth.

Beloved, let us set sentinels over our eyes and ears for the sake of our heart.

But secondly, to cultivate purity of heart, we must also guard our thoughts. One of the six things that the Lord hates, says Solomon is "an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations" (Prov 6:18). Even if you guard the entrances to your heart very carefully, you cannot escape from impurity in your heart. You have an enemy within: the remnant of your sinful nature. Watch therefore, the imagination and thoughts of your heart. Allow lustful and covetous thoughts to sully your heart and you can be sure that Satan will be there to take advantage of you. What you think and meditate about has much to do with the purity of your heart.

Thirdly, remember that obedience to the Word of God has much to do with the purity of our heart too. The apostle Peter speaks of purifying the soul in "obeying the truth through the Spirit" (1 Pet 1:22). How to purify your soul or your heart? Obey the truth through the Spirit. Every time you disobey the Word of God, you defile your heart and incur God’s fatherly displeasure. Take heed therefore to the apostle Paul’s exhortation: "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim 2:22).

Finally, prayer is essential for cultivating purity of heart. Pray with the Psalmist: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps 139:23-24); "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps 51:10).

Will you not pray? Pray not just for health or promotion. Remember to pray for your soul. If you want to cultivate spiritual purity, prayer is essential. It is essential because sanctification is a work of God in your soul. Paul makes this clear when he says: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13).


Beloved brethren and friends, look into your life. Are you pure in heart? Is your life characterised by holiness, sincerity and freedom of guilt? Are you for real?

Do not continue to fool yourself. Coming to church on Sunday does not make you a Christian. Being helpful to your friends does not make you a Christian. Being sincere does not make you a Christian. Being a gentleman or a fair lady does not make you a Christian. You must have a heart changed before you can be considered a Christian in the eye of God.

You cannot make your own heart pure or clean it by yourself. You will never succeed. Solomon understood that when he said: "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" (Prov 20:9). Only God can give you a clean heart. If you recognise yourself to be a sinner deserving nothing but condemnation, go to the Lord, pleading for forgiveness for your sins, weeping for your hardness of heart. Unless Christ first sprinkles your heart with His blood you can have no purity of heart, and you cannot expect to see God.

But if you have purity of heart, and are cultivating it with the appointed means, what a happy life you enjoy! And it will only get better, for Christ says: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Amen.