The Sermon for All Saints’ Day, Sunday, November 6th, 2022
The Lessons: Ecclesiasticus 44:1-14; Psalm 149; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12
The Text: Matthew 5:8
The Topic: Becoming pure in heart
The celebration of all the saints of the Church is our theme today. In giving thanks to God for all the saints, we are not merely thinking of the heroes of the faith, such as those mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, but everyone who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and persevered in faith and in the good works God prepared beforehand for them to do. Most of these are ordinary people, rather than Apostles or prophets, pastors teachers, evangelists or martyrs, or ordained ministers. All those believers that have gone before us to be with the Lord Jesus Christ, are the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) spiritually surrounding us Christians in this world as we run the race of the faith, and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). Indeed, the prayer of us all should be that when we reach the end of our life on earth, we can say with St. Paul the Apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The Beatitudes of our Lord, William Barclay wrote, are not so much religious hopes of what will be, nor glowing but vague promises of future bliss, but congratulations on what is. A beatitude is here equivalent to a Hebrew exclamation translatable as “O the blessedness of….!” Through this we know that our Lord was pronouncing divine approval and blessing on a series of qualities or characteristics of those who belong to God’s kingdom.
PURITY OF HEART
Today we consider closely just one of these characteristics of those in God’s kingdom, the virtue of being pure in heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, KJV). This beatitude reflects, but expresses more clearly, insights we find in the Psalms. For instance, in Ps. 15, the answer to the question of who may dwell in the Lord’s presence, or on his holy hill, is given as the person who lives rightly, does what is right and speaks the truth from his heart (Psalm 15:2), among other virtues. In Ps. 24, the answer to the question of who may ascend God’s hill or stand in his holy place is the one “that hath clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4a, KJV). What we all need is a spiritual cleansing and makeover, with the Holy Spirit doing in our hearts something like the makeover depicted in the show Clean House, that aired from 2003 to 2011:
On the Style Channel’s “Clean House,” experts sweep into a cluttered home with the purpose of leaving it more comfortable, attractive, and livable. The experts face the challenge of clothes strewn across the floor, bulging cabinets, closets filled from top to bottom, cluttered countertops, and overflowing kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms – not a clean room in the house!
The experts’ first step is to take an inventory of all the stuff. Then, decisions are made about what to sell at a yard sale and what to keep. The homeowners try to hold on to favorite clothes from years gone by, childhood keepsakes, and space-taking trivia, but then they yield. They have a yard sale, and the money they earn helps with the makeover. Then the family leaves, and the work begins.
Rooms are cleaned out, redone for more efficiency and attractiveness, and repainted. Curtains are hung, cabinets set in, and walls decorated. When the family returns, nervous anticipation quickly yields to excitement and laughter. “Thank you! Thank you!” the family says amid smiles and tears.
In the spiritual realm, the Holy Spirit requires our cooperation to rid our lives of all that is sinful and unnecessary, all that hampers our growth in God’s kingdom. The great makeover in our lives is done by the Holy Spirit, working with our willingness, and working at times in ways we do not see. He is the One who cleans house and transforms our lives into an astonishingly successful makeover! He is the one who creates in us a pure heart.
What, then, is a pure heart? The Greek word for “pure” (katharoi), it has been pointed out, was used in different senses:
- Originally it meant “clean”. It could be used of clothes which had been washed clean.
- It was regularly used of corn which had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all chaff; in the same way, it could refer to an army purged of all discontents and inferior soldiers.
- It appeared along with another Greek adjective, “akeratos.” This word was used of milk or wine not mixed with water, or of metal without any alloy.
The essence of a pure heart is a mind unmixed with impure motives, whole-hearted in its devotion to the Lord, and sincere. This concept is also expressed by our Lord in Luke 11:34-36, his sayings concerning the eye as the light of the body, the eye really being a metaphor for the soul, or spirit, of a person. In that teaching, when the eye is single, the whole body is full of light. By “single” is meant “sincere, whole-hearted and pure in love for God.”
William Walsham How, the bishop who wrote Hymn 126, “For all the saints,” described how a minister should be: “a man pure, holy, and spotless in his life; a man of much prayer; in character meek, lowly.” This, indeed, is how the Christian ought to be also, single-minded in his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) quotes the warning of St. Ambrose on this subject, “the man or woman who does not want to see God will not see Him. God is not seen in any place except the clean heart.” St. Augustine adds that if one does not devote oneself to the kind of spiritual work needed to continually cleanse the heart – that is, to free oneself from worldly thinking and pursuits which result in spiritual darkness and fleshly lusts – then one does not really want to see God.
A WAY TO PURITY OF HEART
How, then, do we have the purity of heart by which we shall see God?
To do this, we begin with faith and repentance, as we began our Christian life. It is impossible to see God if one does not please God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), the writer of the Hebrews warns us.
- Faith, or trust, in God is necessary, for we must both believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.
- Secondly, we must live a life of righteousness, peace, and holiness, since “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:6)
- Thirdly, we must take captive and banish from our minds every disobedient and sinful thought (2 Corinthians 10:5)
- Fourthly, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit, rejoicing in the Lord, giving him praise and thanks in all things and for all things (Ephesians 5:18-20)
- Fifthly, we should seek the Lord’s presence in prayer, calling upon Him, waiting on Him, and listening to His word
No great saint ever found it easy to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and to be pure in heart. Will you take the steps outlined above, and follow Christ faithfully and single-mindedly all your life?
 p. 102, William Barclay: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume One. Louisville, London: Westminster John Knox Press, William Barclay Estate, 1975, 2001.
 p. 404, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.
 p. 99, Robert J. Morgan: Then Sings my Soul, Book Two. Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.
 See pp. 73-74, David Hazard: Early will I seek you. A 40-Day Journey in the Company of Augustine, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1991.