Purity of Heart
by Ray DeGraw
[On Sundays this year we are publishing a series from Ray that focuses on the Sermon on the Mount, analyzing each characteristic of godliness found in Matthew 5-7. [Essay 1, Essay 2, Essay 3, Essay 4, Essay 5, Essay 6, Essay 7, Essay 8, Essay 9, Essay 10, Essay 11, Essay 12.]
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Being pure in heart is an interesting concept, since it includes not only an attribute (purity) but also a location (the heart).
O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, PURE, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day. (Moroni 9:6)
(It is worth pointing out here that each of those adjectives appear to be synonyms – that white does not denote an actual color, but rather the absence of stain.)
In all the scriptural passages I have found, purity deals exclusively with a condition of spotlessness – or cleanliness – or lack of stain. Initially, that seems easy to understand, as it appears at first blush to say nothing more than sinlessness, since sins generally are understood to be spiritual stains. However, nothing I read as I perused the Topical Guide and the scriptures listed there led me to look at it that way. The verse does NOT say, “Blessed are the pure – in every way imaginable.” It says, “Blessed are the pure – in heart.”
So what? Why does that matter?
It matters because of what the heart appears to mean. As I read the passages dealing with our hearts, the following jumps out at me.
Our physical hearts and brains are the source of our physical life. People are considered medically dead when one of two things happens: either their hearts stop beating or their brainwaves cease. The brain controls the nerves that allow us to process information and to feel pain: the manifestation of threats to our bodies. On the other hand, our hearts control the flow of blood throughout our bodies, and it is our blood that keeps our bodies from decaying, rotting, becoming tainted and impure, or that spreads infection or disease and eventual death. A healthy brain keeps us engaged in life and, through the recognition of pain, able to feel things that threaten our health; a healthy heart keeps us able to function at the best of our capabilities, without the draining result of impurities.
Ever since I can remember, I had equated our heart in these passages simply to our spirit and being pure in spirit as repenting and keeping our spirits clean. It just seemed to make sense, but as I thought about it more deeply, I wondered if that is all there is to being pure in heart. I think perhaps it is, but how do we gain this purity? Is it just a case of eliminating stains from our spirits by exertion of our will? I wondered, perhaps, if being pure in heart means something more.
What is the equivalent of blood in our soul? What is it that can course through us and keep us pure, or taint us and make us rot spiritually? I think it might be a connection (or lack thereof) to the Spirit of God manifest to us through the Holy Ghost, spirit in a way, but not just our individual spirits that joined our mortal bodies to create our unique souls. I read the allegories and visions in our scriptures that constantly describe fruit (the Tree of Life, the allegory of the vineyard, the True Vine, “by their fruits shall ye know them”, etc.), and I see the similarity between blood and sap. Just as sap does not keep any tree pure, alive, or vital when it is removed from the tree, blood also does not provide purity when it is removed from the body. It can be stored and injected when necessary, but, while it sits isolated from the body, it does no good.
Our spirits, likewise, do us no good if they are isolated from the Holy Ghost. We are taught that the Holy Ghost is a cleanser (e.g., Moroni 6:4) – a purifier. In this context, it appears that we cannot purify ourselves; that we must be purified by regular exposure to the Holy Ghost. Also, it is when our hearts are connected to the true vine that they are able to bring forth fruit meet for repentance (John 14:1-5; Alma 13:13) – which leads to baptism, which leads to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which leads to the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which leads to an infusion of the Spirit of God, which leads to an enlivening connection to God, which leads to doing the will of God, which leads to becoming like God, which leads to seeing God – not only eventually in the next life, but in ourselves as we become more like Him.
In the end, as I John 3:2 states:
Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
Being connected to God through the Holy Ghost will allow us to do more than see Him in all that is around us; it literally will allow us to see Him as He is.
In summary, becoming pure in heart means being connected to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost, and the result of that purity is the ability to see God’s will for us and literally, in one way or another and in this life or another, see God as He is. I believe the key is to pray diligently to be cleansed and hearken (hear and follow) unto the promptings of the Holy Ghost at all times, to repent by becoming more and more like Him as we go through life.