The Vision Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. - Matthew 5:8
"They shall see God"; what do these words mean? In their widest and fullest significance they must remain to us an eternal mystery. They express the object around which all the hopes and fears of the best men of the human race have always gathered, and around which they are gathering still. To see God has been the ultimate aim of all philosophy; it is the ultimate hope of all science, and it will ever remain the ultimate desire of all nations.

In all the nobler religions which the world has seen, we can trace an endeavour to rise to a vision of God. The Brahmin on the burning plains of the East gave up all the present charm of life, and, renouncing ease and love, passed his years in silent thought, hoping to be absorbed into the Eternal. The Greek philosopher spoke of passions that clogged the soul's wings, and desires that darkened its piercing eye, and he strove to purge his spirit from them by philosophy, that he might free its pinions and quicken its sight for beholding the Infinite. And in this light we can understand how the monks in the Middle Ages became so marvellously earnest. These men felt a Presence around their path which at one time appeared to reveal itself like a dream of splendour, and at another swept like a vision of terror across the shuddering heart; and to behold Him they crushed their longings for fellowship, steeled their hearts to the calls of affection, and alone, in dens and deserts, hoped, by mortifying the body, to see God in the soul. In a word, the dream which has haunted the earnest of our world, has ever been this - to be blessed, man must know the Eternal. Christ proclaims that dream to be a fact - they are blessed who see God.1 [Note: E. L. Hull, Sermons, i. 155.]

1. To see God is to stand on the highest point of created being. Not until we see God - no partial and passing embodiment of Him, but the abiding Presence - do we stand upon our own mountain-top, the height of the existence which God has given us, and up to which He is leading us. That there we should stand is the end of our creation. This truth is at the heart of everything, means all kinds of completions, may be uttered in many ways; but language will never compass it, for form will never contain it. Nor shall we ever see, that is, know, God perfectly. We shall indeed never absolutely know man or woman or child; but we may know God as we never can know human being, as we never can know ourselves. We not only may, but we must, so know Him, and it can never be until we are pure in heart.

Religion largely lies in the consciousness of our true relation to Him who made us; and the yearning for the realization of this consciousness found constant expression in Tennyson's works and conversation. Perhaps its clearest expression is to be found in his instructions to his son: "Remember, I want ‘Crossing the Bar' to be always at the end of all my works."

I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the Bar.

When in answer to the question, What was his deepest desire of all? he said, "A clearer vision of God," it exactly expressed the continued strivings of his spirit for more light upon every possible question, which so constantly appear in his poems.1 [Note: Tennyson and His Friends, 305.]

Is not the Vision He? tho' He be not that which He seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?

Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?

Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;
For is He not all but that which has power to feel "I am I"?

Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
Making Him broken gleams, and a stifled splendour and gloom.

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
But if we could see and hear, this Vision - were it not ? Hebrews 2 [Note: Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism.]

2. To see God is to be admitted into His immediate presence and friendship. In the court language of ancient Oriental despotisms, where the Sovereign was revered as if he were the vicegerent of Heaven, to "see the king's face" stood for the highest felicity of the most favoured subjects. It was the petition of the disgraced prince Absalom, after he had for two full years resided in the capital without being received at his father's palace: "Now therefore let me see the king's face; and if there be iniquity in me, let him kill me!" "Happy are these thy servants," said the African queen to Solomon; happy in this, that they "stand continually before thee." So the seven chief princes of the Medo-Persian Empire who sat first in the kingdom of Ahasuerus were they "which saw the king's face." The same magnificent phraseology passed from the court to the temple. In the Hebrew State, Jehovah was the national Sovereign; and the reigning king was, in no flattering hyperbole, but in constitutional law, His elected vicegerent. The temple was His palace, the most holy place His chamber of presence and of audience; and the one thing desired by His devout and favoured servants was to behold His beauty; their prayer, that His face would shine on them; their hope, to see His face in righteousness, and one day to be satisfied with His likeness.

In prayer there would sometimes come upon me such a sense of the Presence of God that I seemed to be all engulfed in God. I think the learned call this mystical experience; at any rate, it so suspends the ordinary operations of the soul that she seems to be wholly taken out of herself. This tenderness, this sweetness, this regale is nothing else but the Presence of God in the praying soul. God places the soul in His immediate Presence, and in an instant bestows Himself upon the soul in a way she could never of herself attain to. He manifests something of His greatness to the soul at such times: something of His beauty, something of His special and particular grace. And the soul enjoys God without dialectically understanding just how she so enjoys Him. She burns with love without knowing what she has done to deserve or to prepare herself for such a rapture. It is the gift of God, and He gives His gifts to whomsoever and whensoever He will.1 [Note: Saint Teresa.]

3. The theophany, or visible discovery of the Divine Being, which was given to the best period of Hebrew history, was a prefigure of the Incarnation - the chief theophany of all time - in which, through a human character and life, there has been discovered to us all the ethical beauty and splendour of the Godhead. To "see God" must now for ever mean nothing else than this: to see His "truth and grace" mirrored in the face of that Man, who alone of all men on earth "is of God, and hath seen the Father."

We are in the world to see God. That is the final spiritual purpose of life. Across the cradle of the babe and the playtime of the girls and boys this purpose ever falls. It can be forgotten and frustrated, but as life's highest possibility and truest destiny it is always with us. It follows the prodigal in his wandering, the fool in his folly, the strong man in his wilfulness. It is all-inclusive. It waits men in the quiet places of thought, and in the clangour of the world's work. The student, the book-writer, the weaver at his loom, the buyer and seller, the woman mid her household cares - the vision is close to them all. It is before us in the sunlight and the green earth, it is about us in all the grace and trust and intimacy of home life. In youth and age, in gladness and in grieving, the vision waits. And most of all the vision draws near to us in the life of Him who said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, The Blessed Life, 132.]

Through all the complexities of Christ's mind and mission, how essentially single His spirit and simple His method - rare as morning air, limpid as spring water, clear as a running brook, ever standing in the truth, utterly veracious and sublimely superior to worldly policy! Is not this, indeed, the meaning of that choice beatitude - among those beatitudes with their sevenfold colours like a rainbow round the throne of Christ - "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"? Not the "immaculate" - it would be superfluous to say, "Blessed are the holy" - but rather those of pure intent and single spirit, free from duplicities in their motives. "Blessed" in that trueness of spirit which gives vision, that honest and unadulterated child-heart which enables us to see our Father-God and the Good everywhere.2 [Note: R. E. Welsh, Man to Man, 90.]

If clearer vision Thou impart,
Grateful and glad my soul shall be;
But yet to have a purer heart
Is more to me.

Yea, only as the heart is clean
May larger vision yet be mine,
For mirrored in its depths are seen

The things divine.3 [Note: Walter C. Smith, Poetical Works, 478.]  

to be continued