Who can be pure in heart? Who I ask? Certainly not I! Can I think I am pure in heart? Of course. Can I be pure in heart “as far as I know?” I can—as far as I know. The problem is I don’t know very far. Only God knows if I’m pure in heat, and He’s not telling me.
The heart is an active deceiver (Jer. 17:9), and this is why God searches us (Jer. 17:10) so He can reward us according to the secrets hidden away in the folds of our hearts. That’s the issue, you know. Purity in heart is not a matter of what‘s on the surface; purity in heart is a matter of what’s hidden in the folds of our hearts, the secret places where we never go and strive mightily never to let anyone else go. Yet the actions of our hands scream out the secrets of our hearts for all who have eyes to see. Unfortunately most of us do not have eyes to see the secrets that the hands reveal because we’re so busy closing our eyes to our own hearts that we’re totally unpracticed in seeing the heart in action. That’s why we are so surprised when the heart finally reveals itself in immorality or personal ambition or damaging competition or the small pettiness of a critical spirit and gossip in our leaders. We’re so busy hiding from our hearts that we’ve missed theirs as well.
The other beatitudes are much easier to recognize. I often know when I’m bankrupt because I can’t pay the bill—I just don’t have the currency to be holy, and that becomes obvious, even to me. And then I mourn at the damage that my selfishness or my thoughtlessness, or whatever sin has become obvious has done to the name of Christ and others I love. Then, at least for a time, I become subdued and submissive because I have been forced to face my failure and I realize I am starved for the kind of righteousness I can only find through meekness. I can even feel merciful because I realize I have been mercied.
You would think this would make us pure in heart, and maybe for the moment it does, but it isn’t long before we are lifted up again in the active deception of our own hearts,. Then we find ourselves justifying our harmful behavior as provoked by others or righteous in some way or needed for some cause or other that we’re striving to bring about. And there goes our purity in heart.
What can we do? What the psalmist did. Cry out to God, “Search me and know my heart and see if there be any hurtful way in me (Ps. 139:23-24, NASB).”
So I ask, who can be pure in heart? Can I? Certainly not for long! Can I be pure in heart as far as I can see? Of course. The problem is, how far can I see?