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The Pure in Heart See God in Man

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”—ST MATTHEW 5:8.


What is it to see God? This is the last question left to us in considering this Beatitude. We have studied the conditions; we have looked at purity of heart in its widest and its more limited sense, as the Divine elevation of aim that runs through all things, and as freedom from moral contamination. It is difficult to speak of what is left—the Vision of God. What it is we can only know fully when we “know as we are known;” but here and now is there anything that can be called a Vision of God? Can we see God if we fulfil these conditions of purity of heart, does He become more distinct to us, in what sense is it true that the pure in heart do even now see God?


It is easier to insist on the opposite, to show how the impure in heart, how those who willfully pursue low aims and are careless about moral contamination do not see Him as others do. Just as a man shut up in a dark dungeon for years would lose his eyesight, so it is possible to lose the sense of spiritual sight. If a man is shut up in the dungeon of his own selfishness, imprisoned in the narrow range of his own pleasure or profit, the spiritual sight of God gradually grows dim to him. He becomes blind and deaf to realities; the darkness closes ever thicker around him; but the darkness is not due to the absence of light, but to the destruction of his own powers; not to a dark world but to blind eyes, to eyes that have blinded themselves.


How, then, do the pure in heart see God?

I. They learn to see Him in nature not only in its beauties, but as the true and real explanation of things natural, they learn to see Him as the Life which is behind all natural phenomena. They see Him, like the Psalmist, “in the tempest, in the rivers that run among the hills, in the roaring of the lion, in the cry of the raven, and in the strength and skill of men.” They do not talk of a providential intervention or of the accidental in nature, because everything that happens to us is providential in the sense that it is the outcome of God’s laws, and the accidental in nature is only just that “residuum which we have not yet been able to bring under the reign of law.” That nature is rational throughout, that there is nothing unmeaning and nothing useless in it is a conviction which the scientist shares with all rational theologians. Darwin is pledged to it as much as Wordsworth. And though it would not be true to say that it is impossible to see order in nature without seeing God there—that would be a statement beyond the facts—yet this is true, that if we start with belief in God’s operations, we find our expectations confirmed by the rationality of nature. The elimination of accident does not necessarily lead to belief in God, but belief in God illuminates the rational order which we find in nature. And to see God as a Cause in nature, to see Him in the regular order and progress of nature, to see Him in the exquisitely delicate adaptations which the microscope reveals, to see Him, as we may, under the guidance of the botanist, geologist or zoologist, is a vision which is proportioned in its degree to our moral purity. The pure in heart see God in the orderly operations of nature, in her skillful and subtle adaptations, in her refusal to waste anything, as much as in her beauty and grandeur. It is quite consistent to say that, and yet to be ready to admit that those who come to nature empty-handed, as far as faith in God is concerned, are likely to go empty away. The argument from design in nature will not bear the weight which Paley put upon it; belief in a personal God will not come necessarily out of the mere investigation of nature, but nature, in spite of the difficulties caused by pain, does make God clearer to us. We find Him in every bush that bursts into bloom, in every flower that grows, in every tempest that clears the air, in every beautiful scene that entrances our vision. Only we have to bring moral purity with us to see Him fully; neither the birds nor the flowers speak to the sullied and stained—to the conscious and willful transgressor—as they do to the pure in heart. There is a wall, a veil, a separation—the open vision is not there.


II. But besides this, the pure in heart see God in man, in every form of humanity. Even beneath what is debased, even beneath foul treachery and meanness, even beneath outward selfishness, the pure in heart see some spark of goodness which tells of God. There are two views of man: we may dwell on his dark side till we despise and loathe our very nature, till we count him unfit to live; we may dwell, with Ibsen, on his vile passions, his hateful selfishness, his intolerable meanness. *We may dwell on his animal emotions, on his resemblance to the brute, on his sensitiveness to his environment, we may pile up all that belittles him, like our modern sex-maniacs who see nothing but badness in man and call it reality; we may treat man as being a fleeting insignificant atom of atoms in this transcendent universe, and we may make ourselves haters of our race, haters of ourselves.


Or we may dwell in the noblest of optimisms which is suggested by science and confirmed by Revelation—we may dwell on man’s unique personality, on his boundless capacity, on his triumphant progress through the ages, on the one element which, however it be submerged at times, breaks out again and again in such unexpected fashions, on the Divine within man. *The Stoic of old reminded his disciples that they carried about a God in their hearts. Even as a metaphor, as a surmise, even as the outcome of an unsatisfied spiritual yearning, the expression had its power and wrought its effect. To us the suggestion has become an assured truth; to us who have been stamped in Christ with the image of God and consecrated as temples of the Holy Spirit—to us the expression ‘the God within me’ is or should be the most real thing in the world.


To see God, to realize His presence, to hear His voice, we must look thus on man made in His image: we must look not on his meaner side but on that which is the real self within him, the spirit knit with His Spirit, the Divine possibilities which only those see who have “cleansed their heart and washed their hands in innocency.”


You have often observed, I doubt not, how quick wickedness is to detect wickedness; what a grim irony there is in the suggestion that we should “set a thief to catch a thief.” “He knows how it is done” is, perhaps, the half conscious comment made upon others when they are denouncing some crime, perhaps on us clergy when we think that we are showing up some great moral iniquity. But, what is more profitable for us to notice is, that it takes goodness, real goodness, to discover goodness. The old song, that tells that it is only the innocent child who knows where the fairies dwell, is a parable. The eagle spirits of justice and righteousness claim their own kinship with their own kind; there rises up an instantaneous sympathy between two men who hardly know each other but who recognize by some chance word the aim and motive of each other’s life, and whose souls are henceforth knit together by a bond stronger than iron. Has it never happened to you to make the discovery—in the midst of the inanities which neither edify nor recreate, and which nevertheless form too much of the pabulum of our social intercourse—has it never happened to you to strike a note by some chance observation in one who perhaps seemed shy or dull, which made you feel that here was one possessed by the same ideals that had furnished your own best aspirations? Who shall tell the joy which that discovery brings to anyone who has been “constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have his habitation among the tents of Kedar”—amid the commonplace associations of a home where everything great and good is habitually so depreciated that we have wondered sometimes where God is in man? Yes, the pure in heart see God; they detect Him in those Divine stirrings which tell of His presence and His workings; they detect Him in the aspiration for righteousness and the efforts after reality, which may be sometimes found in a life that is not altogether self-disciplined or unstained by grave faults. For it is “not what man is but what man wills to be, that makes the man;” and the detection of the aim and intention of another’s life requires just that absence of moral tarnish, that enthusiasm for righteousness which belongs to the pure in heart.


III. Lastly, the pure in heart above all see God in Christ. “He became flesh.” He has lived here on the earth, He lives by His Spirit in the Church; He came to show us the love of God; He came to reveal to us not the Almighty, nor the Avenger, nor the Judge, but the Father. “And we have seen His glory.” The perfect man reveals the perfect God. How is it, then, that men miss it? How is it that moral insight is wanting? We have seen, we do see, God in Christ. What is it that He shows to us?


There have been times in the past when the religious conceptions of Christ have been unduly narrowed or overstrained, there have been times when men have looked upon Him as only God, so as to weaken the forces of His human example, to destroy the sense of His human sympathy and to raise Him outside our inner life. There have been times when under an accumulation of theological doctrines, they hid the Son of Man. *The history of art perhaps reveals most clearly how the life of Christ on its human side was gradually obscured. In mediæval art he became only Divine and clothed with the terrors of Divinity. Concentration on one portion of His life became the absorbing interest; the Franciscan tore the Passion of Christ, as it were, out of the rest of His Manhood and fixed men’s minds upon it. The Manhood became in art only a suffering Manhood; the one representation of Christ was in the agony set forth by the Crucifix. And then gradually the reaction came, and the Christ became only a fine head or a noble figure. All awe, all faith, all sublimity, all touch of the Divine passed away, because the last vestige of the pure and natural Manhood had departed. Must we not say that in art as in life the need of our day is to bring back the human Christ—Divine because intensely human, showing the Father because He is the Son of Man?

For even among ourselves there has been a tendency towards this limitation in the idea of Christ’s Manhood which the history of art shows. The endless controversies about justification have tended to weaken our sense of the Perfect Man. Christ has become an idea to be argued about rather than an Ideal to be reverenced, loved and obeyed. Not a living Christ Who is among us in every household gathering and Who goes with us on every expedition, but a Christ Who is dead and buried and has left a will for theologians to interpret and controversialists to dispute over. This has been too much the rigid teaching of what *has been called ‘the hard Church’—this is the defective picture still drawn in many quarters. The storm and stress of religious controversy has obscured the Divine Figure; the tempest of theological passion has dimmed men’s purity of heart, and they have lost sight of the Father in struggling for the details of a system.


One thing is quite certain, that an unhappy familiarity, a diminution of reverence, a mere slackening will not help us; rather we need a deepening of awe, a greater solemnity of love, a trust in His power to deepen all things, to lift the commonplace into the poetic by His spirit. Thus He will give us a sense of greatness in doing the smallest duties; He will fill all life with the sense that, through its slightest details, we are being educated for the fulness of the Vision.


These are the steps along which we slowly advance. We see God in nature, in man, in Christ. But of the final Vision, of the unutterable beauty of the uncreated holiness, it is not given to us men to speak save in parables. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered the heart of man” to conceive the exceeding loveliness of that final and satisfying Vision of God. We can only go back to the complete assurance of steadfast trust—“But as for me, I will behold Thy presence in righteousness, and when I wake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.”


Eyton, R. (1896). The Benediction on the Peacemakers (I). In The Beatitudes (Second Edition, pp. 145–164). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. (Public Domain)

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