IN THE BIBLE the heart is considered to be something far more complex than a bodily organ. It is called the seat of the emotions. Fear, love, courage, anger, joy, sorrow, and hatred are ascribed to the heart. It has come to stand for the center of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual life of a person. The “heart” is said to be the seat of a person’s conscience and life.

Jesus said, “Happy are the pure in heart.” Now, we should be able to take that for just what it means. If the heart is the seat of affection, then our love toward God must be pure. If the heart is the center of our motives, then our motives must be pure. If the heart is the residence of our wills, then our wills must be yielded to Christ. We are to be pure in love, pure in motive, and pure in desire.

It might be well to pause at this point to observe just what is meant by being “pure in heart.”

The True Meaning of Purity

The word which is translated “pure” here was used in several ways in the original Greek language. For one thing, it was often used to mean something that was unadulterated or unmixed with anything foreign, such as pure gold which has not been mixed with any other metal, or milk which has not been watered down. Or again, it often simply meant “clean,” like a dish which had been thoroughly washed or clothes that had been scrubbed.

Now apply those meanings to “pure in heart.” If we are truly pure in our hearts, we will have a single-minded devotion to the will of God. Our motives will be unmixed, our thoughts will not be adulterated with those things which are not right. And our hearts will be clean, because we will not tolerate known sin in our hearts and allow it to pollute us. We will take seriously the Bible’s promise, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8– 9).

There is, however, another dimension to this word pure. It also sometimes means something which was purged of wrong so it could be used for right. William Barclay points out that it could be used of an army which had been purged or cleared of soldiers who were cowardly or weak and unable to fight. It would then be a “pure’’ army, filled with dedicated and trained soldiers ready for battle. This would be like a person’s body which is purified of sickness so it is strong and able to work. In the same way, when we are “pure in heart” we are ready to do those good things which God has for us to do.

In other words, purity of heart has both a negative and a positive side. On one hand, our hearts are to be emptied of sin and its dominion over us. On the other hand, we are to be pure in our actions and filled with all that is pure. The Bible illustrates these negative and positive sides to purity: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. . . . Put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. . . . Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience. . . . And above all these put on love” (Colossians 3:5,8,12,14, rsv, emphasis added).

Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).

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