Attaining and Keeping a Pure Heart
The pure in heart are blessed by their seeing God (Matt. 5:8), and those who see God see all things rightly in his perfect light (Psa. 36:9). It is therefore no wonder that the Word of God emphasizes the vital necessity of men having pure hearts, while those who believe the divine testimony of Scripture find that they have a growing desire to have such hearts. The question then becomes one of how the believer can attain and keep a pure heart.
The best answer to that vital question is that we should consider ourselves to be dead. This does not mean that we cultivate the ascetic passivity of the eastern mystic or the apathy of the stoic. It means that we regard ourselves truly to have been crucified with Christ and raised up with him in new life (Rom. 6:3-11).
Our Redeemer has given us the supreme example of self-mortification when he prayed in Gethsemane, Not my will but thy will be done (Matt. 26:39). Our Lord also taught us to pray in the same way when he told us to pray, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).
What this means is that we are to mortify our desires, plans, and agendas. If we regard ourselves as dead, it is clear that the dead have no agendas. Yet we are not merely dead, we are united to Christ in his death. Therefore, as Christ submitted his will to the will of his heavenly Father, so we submit our wills to the will of that same heavenly Father. Such submission of our wills to the divine will entails our renouncing our own impure and weak passions for the holy and glorious desires of our God; we renounce our finite and fallible understanding for the infallible wisdom of our Lord; we cease to rely on our weakness and cast ourselves, instead, upon his almighty power; and we forsake the quest after imperfect and changeable human love for the pleasure of our luxuriating in the immeasurable and unchangeable love of our God.
When we fail to renounce our wills and submit, instead, to the Lord’s will, we invariably seek such things as personal gain, promotion, and comforts. We would never seek loss, humiliation, and suffering. Yet rarely would our Lord have us to possess the former things, while he usually would have us to accept and even glory in the latter things (2 Cor. 12:9,10). It is no wonder, then, when we pursue our own will without highest regard for the Lord’s will for us, that we find ourselves frustratingly groping in darkness rather than walking and serving fruitfully and satisfyingly in the light of the Lord. On the other hand, when with pure hearts we are sincerely desirous to know and truly willing to do the Lord’s will, we easily see and know the will and way of our God (John 7:17).
We are naturally inclined, however, not to renounce our wills but to promote them. Too frequently we approach a decision with the presupposition that we know what is right and best for all concerned. Yet a little self-examination would reveal to us a remarkable correlation between what we determine to be right and what we desire to be right. With categorical contradiction the Scripture speaks against our smug and self-centred certitude. We are told by wise Solomon not to lean upon the trembling reed of our own understanding, but rather to trust in the Lord with all of our hearts (Prov. 3:5,6).
It is one thing for us to know and even to confess that such absolute and continual trust in the Lord is the right thing for us to exercise; yet it is quite another thing for us actually to acknowledge him in all of our ways. Jesus has told us that without him we can do nothing (John 15:5). His statement is so clear and simple that a child could understand it. Yet few of us believe our Lord’s statement in the absolute and categorical sense of the words he has used. Without thinking, we launch ourselves into all sorts of endeavours, failing to acknowledge the Lord and assuming that we can do all sorts of things without him. This is not self-mortification, but is, instead, self-exaltation.
What we are called to do in every detail and decision of our lives is to determine from the light of God’s Word what the right thing is for us to think, feel, say, and do in every relationship and in every situation, great and small. Our ability to discern the right way – the way of the Lord – is diminished in direct proportion to the degree that we have and cherish a personal agenda. The one who truly prays, Not my will but thy will be done, and who seeks to think and act in conformity with and not contrary to that prayer, will find that he has a pure heart and consequent ability, without the obscuring clouds of personal passion, to see God and in his light to see all things, not as we or anyone else deludedly or deceptively want them to appear, but as they truly are. We do well, therefore, with increasing fervency to pray for, to seek after, and to knock for pure hearts that alone can perceive and receive all that our God would show us and convey to us.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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