Early in January I asked several Christian leaders: “The pure in heart” – how does this ‘look’ ?” – and waited eagerly for their response. Here are some replies, with stand-out phrases, which I’ve emboldened:

“Alexander Ryrie speaks (in The Desert Fathers) of the monks’ desire for hearts undivided … singularly devoted to God, hearts guarded against demons (real, but also our inner besetting sins) and being fully open to God. When our hearts are pure, free from worldly distracts, we are able to be with God in this life as we hope to be in the next. It’s that yearning for God alone.” – Owain Mitchell (Brigg)

“Immediately reminded of J. Keble’s hymn, ‘Blest are the pure in heart’ which suggests that the mark of the pure in heart is those whose lives are filled with Jesus.” – Bob Duerden (Sleaford)

Interestingly, two respondees mentioned that Keble hymn, so here are a couple of stanzas:

“Bless’d are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God,
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ’s abode.

Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself impart,
And for His cradle and His throne
Chooseth the pure in heart.”

“The basic meaning of the word ‘katheros’ is ‘unmixed, free from stain’. It is used to describe metal that is free from alloy, cattle free from defect, undiluted wine or milk, water free from pollution. This is the most exacting of the Beatitudes. The work of the cross must penetrate deeper than the mere external things of our lives.” – Alan Hoare (Lincoln)

“This has to be a faith exercise, because it’s only by His grace that we can experience this! It’s a tough question but in my opinion can only be accomplished through faith in the redeeming grace of Christ.” – Brian Andrews (South Africa)

The simple beauty of grains held within their husks … all the externals will dissolve away to leave the grain ready to spring again – life and death are the transforming agents of grace, that love may be ever more deeply rooted within our being.” – Mike Burson-Thomas (Waddingham)

“Perhaps a word that sums up the essence of these words of Jesus would be integrity, where the inner life matches what people see externally. It means inner moral purity as opposed to what is externally seen. I think it also refers to single mindedness where the focus of a person’s life is clear and free from hidden agendas.” – Stuart Bell (Lincoln)

“My immediate thoughts on this vital subject concerns not just the emotional, heart-warming denial of self and love for God, but, to me, it also involves the whole of life (heart). In other words, a pure heart is a realistic one that includes all the concerns, worries and pressures of life. ” – Michael Bentley (Bracknell)

“The thought comes to me that ‘the heart’ refers to the centre of our being, our core person, our thinking, our spontaneous response. To me this means that I can be pure in heart, even if at times I respond or behave in a way that is not pure. Pure meaning unsullied, untouched by external things that surround us. I suggest this is a person whose basic make-up, whose basic being is centred on God himself, even though at times he may stray.” – Dave Playle (Stalybridge)

“As I understand it, Jesus’s word ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ forms part of a set of promises about the Kingdom of God. It gets to the essence of the ‘good news’… as a kind of ‘trailer’ for what the Kingdom brings, especially to those most in need of God’s love. I go along with William Barclay’s comment that Mt. 5, 8 is about singleness of purpose and unmixed motives. We only see what we are capable of seeing. It is all about having the capacity to receive and perceive God’s love.” – David Tustin (Wrawby)

I am deeply grateful for these contributions, which have richly added to my understanding of this crucial truth.

We may or may not find ourselves in agreement with those comments – but one thing cannot be denied: there is an interesting and diverse understanding of those weighty words of Jesus taken from the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) – also a growing conviction prompts many of us to give attention to this matter as a pre-requisite for ‘seeing’ the invisible God in our personal worlds.

Now, although orthodox theology teaches that God is here, there and everywhere (omni-present is the technical word) so far as I’m concerned at any rate, He remains hidden from sight. It can often seem a bit like looking through a dirty window. In fact, I find much sympathy for that old sage, Job, as he complains: “Behold, He goes by me, and I see Him not; He passes on also, but I perceive Him not”. Or as Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrases it: “Somehow, though he moves right in front of me, I don’t see him; quietly but surely he’s active, and I miss it.” On this point John Gill, commentator, observes: “… He is continually working all around us … supporting us in being … supplying us with what we want … and so is near us … and yet we see him not.”

Yet Jesus indicates that the pure in heart will in fact ‘see’ God – as Alan E Hoare further argues: “The man that Jesus is talking about … will ‘perceive’ the Lord everywhere … in creation, in circumstances and in the church.” With this Simon Tugwell agrees, writing provocatively in his book: ‘Reflections on the Beatitudes’, “To have a pure heart means that everywhere you look, whatever you are looking at, you see God. God revealing Himself in myriad ways, but always God … It means that you are going to look at a man on a cross and know that you are looking at God. To be pure in heart is to be capable of that.”

Such singularity of heart & mind is ardently advocated and earnestly expressed by Psalmists when exclaiming: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD …” Again: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

Clearly they longed for a revelation of God’s being, and considered it worthwhile to take time over and pay the price for. So did the American missionary, David Brainerd (18th century) who wrote in his diary: “Of late God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually, so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain … I feel my desire of Him the more insatiable, and my thirstings after holiness the more unquenchable.”

May we take up these further challenging words from our Hebrew hymn-book, personalizing them, and praying: “Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your Name”. Then, perhaps, it may be ‘gifted’ to us to experience and say, along with the long-suffering Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

In closing, reflect on verses from a classic hymn:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.