The Beatific Vision | William Perkins

Beatific Vision

William Perkins
A Godly and Learned Exposition
of Christ’s Sermon in the Mount

Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8

These words contain the sixth rule of Christ, touching true happiness, wherein, as in the former, observe two points: the persons blessed; and wherein their blessedness consists.

I. The persons blessed.

I. The persons blessed are thus qualified: they are pure in heart. This is diversely expounded. By “pure in heart,” some understand those that are chaste; others, those that are simple-hearted, void of guile and deceit. But the words will bear a more general sense, and betoken such as are holy in heart, having their hearts purged from the defilement of their sins, and be in part renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost. And that they are so to be taken, may appear from Psalm 24:4, whence these words are borrowed, where also the prophet expounds the pure in heart to be such, “as have not lift up their mind to vain things.” To which purpose, the author to the Hebrews says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man can see God” [Heb. 12:14]. Again, the intent of our Savior Christ in this place, was no doubt to cross the pharisaical conceit of those times, whereby men did content themselves with outward holiness, as sufficient to true happiness, and therefore he says, “Blessed are the pure,” not outwardly, but inwardly in heart. Further, by heart we are to understand the soul, with the parts and faculties thereof; that is, the mind, the conscience, the will, and the affections. And that we may yet conceive more clearly of this point, we are to search out two things: first, in what manner; then in what measure the heart is made pure.

The manner of purifying the heart.

For the first, the purifying of the heart is by a twofold action of the Holy Ghost. First, by creating in the mind a saving faith, which unites a man unto Christ, and as a hand applies Christ’s purity, that is His obedience to the heart. So Peter speaks of the Gentiles, in the council at Jerusalem, that “by faith the Lord purified their hearts” [Acts 15:9]. Secondly, when a man is in Christ, the Holy Ghost purges and sanctifies the heart inwardly, by mortifying all the corruptions in the mind, will, and affections, and by putting into it inward holiness, whereby the image of Christ is renewed therein. And this our Savior Christ expresses, when He says, “that the Father purgeth everyone that bringeth forth fruit in him” (John 15:2). Now unto these the Holy Ghost adds an excellent grace of Christian resolution, whereby a man has a constant purpose not to sin against God any way, either in thought, word, or deed, but in all things to please God continually, so as if at any time he sins, it is against his holy resolution.

The measure of purification.

Now for the measure of this purification, it is only in part in this life. For the grace of sanctification is not perfect till death, as the apostle says, “we receive but the first-fruits of the Spirit” [Rom. 8:23]; that is, not the tenths, but as a handful of corn to a whole field. The soul is freed from the punishment and guilt of sin, and in some sort purged from corruption, but not wholly. This we must observe the more diligently, because the papists teach otherwise (Concil. Trid. sess. 5 sect. 5.); to wit, that after baptism and regeneration, sin is so taken away, that there is in man nothing that God can hate. But experience in every child of God, shows this to be false. The chief ground of their opinion is this, that if sin properly called, should remain in the regenerate, then God should repute a man to be just, which is a sinner. But we answer, that God never reputes an impenitent sinner just, but only the repentant, and regenerate, which are by faith in Christ, and so in effect are no sinners, because though corruption remains in them in part, yet it is not imputed to their persons. Besides, in the act of their conversion, corruption has received that deadly wound, whereof it shall never recover, but daily die, till it be quite abolished, and therefore does it not reign in them. And thus we see in what manner and measure the heart is purified, whereby the pure in heart may be thus described:55 they are such as believe the pardon of their sins in Christ, and be in part renewed in their souls by the Holy Ghost, having their natural corruptions mortified and abolished in some measure, and the graces of God’s image repaired in them, and a godly resolution wrought in their hearts, not to sin against God in anything.

The Use. Considering that the pure in heart be blessed, we must search ourselves, and see whether our hearts be qualified with this grace. As in former times, so at this day inward purity is much neglected. The ancient Jews stood upon their legal purity and righteousness, and the Pharisees after them, relied upon their outward holiness. And the Holy Ghost foretold, that in “the latter days should come perilous times” [2 Tim. 3:1], by reason of sundry sins, whereof this is one, “that men should content themselves with a shadow and show of godliness, and in truth deny the power thereof” [2 Tim. 3:5]. And does not experience show this to be true among us? For the pure heart is so little regarded, that the seeking after it, is turned to a byword, and a matter of reproach. Who are so much branded with vile terms of Puritans and Precisians [those accused of being too precise in religion], as those that most endeavor to get and keep the purity of heart in a good conscience?

Again, the general ignorance that everywhere abounds does plainly argue the want of this grace, for what can be in the heart but impurity and iniquity, where there is no knowledge of the will of God in the mind? And for such as have more knowledge than the rest, generally they are not answerable unto it in practice. For take a view of all the markets in the land, and you shall hardly find a man that is to sell his grain, that will be brought to abate one jot of the highest price, no not unto the poor that stand in extreme need, which as it argues a bloody and cruel heart, so it shows our times to be evil days, wherein men profess much, and do naught. Which sin will draw God’s judgment upon us, and cause the gospel to be removed, and given to a nation, that with profession, will join the power of godliness in heart and life. What befell the fig-tree whereon Christ sought fruit, and found nothing but leaves, was it not accursed [Matt. 21:19]? And how shall we think to escape, if we be like unto it? “For the earth that drinketh in the rain that falleth oft upon it, and yet bringeth forth briars and thorns, is very near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned” [Heb. 6:7–8].

Secondly, if the pure in heart be blessed, then we must labor to practice the counsel of the prophet, “Wash you, make you clean” [Isa. 1:16]; and “sanctify the Lord in your hearts” [Isa. 8:13]; yea as the apostle says, “Let us purge ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” [2 Cor. 7:1]. Indeed it is the “work of God to purify the heart” [Acts 15:9]. Man of himself can no more do it, than the black-moor can change his skin, but yet everyone that would feel in himself this work of God, must use the means, wherein the Spirit does purge the heart. First therefore, we must humble ourselves unfeignedly for all the sins and corruptions of our life already past, and for the time to come, grow to a resolute purpose, not to sin against God in anything, which we must testify by a godly endeavor to obey Him in all things. For a pure heart, and a purpose to live in any one sin, cannot stand together. But this constant purpose not to sin, is a notable grace, and an infallible token of a renewed and sanctified heart.

II. Wherein this blessedness does consist.

II. The second point in this rule is wherein this blessedness does consist; namely in this, “that they shall see God.” For the understanding hereof, two points must be handled. First, how God may be seen; secondly, how the seeing of God is true happiness. For the first, the apostle says, “no man hath seen God at any time” [1 John 4:12]; yea further, Paul calls him, “King of kings, whom never man saw, neither can see” [1 Tim. 6:16]. We must therefore know, that there is a twofold sight in man: the sight of the eye; and of the mind. By the sight of the eye no man can see God in His essence and substance, which is most spiritual, and so invisible, for the eye sees nothing but things corporal and visible. A man by his eye cannot see his own soul, and much less the substance of God.

Objection 1. But Abraham [Gen. 17:1] and Moses [Ex. 33:11], saw God, for He appeared unto them. Answer. They saw Him not in His nature and substance, but in certain created images and similitudes, wherein God for that time did testify His presence unto them. Some indeed say, that though a man cannot see God in this life, yet in the life to come he shall see Him with his bodily eyes. But this opinion is not true, for though the body shall then be perfectly sanctified, and the eye sanctified, yea glorified, yet still it remains a true body, and a true eye, and therefore cannot see the essence of God, which is invisible to the eyes of flesh.

Objection 2.I shall see God in my flesh (says Job) and mine eyes shall behold him” [Job 19:26–27]. Answer. He speaks there of God His Redeemer, who is not God simply, but God incarnate, for the word translated “Redeemer” signifies one allied unto us in blood. Now no man doubts, but God in Christ may be seen, as in John 14:9, “He that hath seen me, hath seen my Father.

Objection 3.We shall see him face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Answer. God has no face, and therefore that cannot be understood literally, but thereby is signified, that we shall have plentiful knowledge of God, as we have of him whom we see face to face.

Objection 4. If we shall not see God with our eyes, then they serve to no use in heaven. Answer. God forbid, for besides the glorious company of all the saints, we shall therewith behold our Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us by His blood, and made us kings and priests unto our God, to whom we shall sing praise, and honor, and glory forevermore (Rev. 5:12).

The second kind of sight is of the mind, which is nothing but the knowledge or understanding of the mind, and that is twofold: imperfect in this life; and perfect in the life to come. In this life, the mind knows not God’s essence or substance, but only by the effects, as by His Word and sacraments, and by His creatures. Indeed, the special sight we have of God in this life, is by these His effects to conceive in our minds how God is affected to us, as that God is our Father, and Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost our Sanctifier. The perfect vision of God, is reserved to the life to come, where God’s elect shall see Him in regard of His substance, for “we shall see him as he is” [1 John 3:2]. Yet that we be not deceived herein, we must know that perfect sight is twofold: simple; and comprehensive. Simple perfect sight is, when man sees a thing wholly as it is in itself, and thus God is not seen by the mind of man. Comprehensive sight is, when the creature sees God, so far forth as it is capable of His knowledge, and thus shall men see God in the world to come perfectly, and be filled therewith, though they know Him not wholly, as He is in Himself, even as a vessel cast into the sea may be perfectly full of water, though it receives not all the water in the sea. But some will ask, how shall the mind see God? Answer. The manner is such, as neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither can any man tell, but they only, that have fruition of it in heaven. Yet certainly such it is, as shall give full contentment to everyone that does enjoy it. But it shall be far better for us, to seek for a pure heart, whereby we may be assured of this blessed sight of God, than curiously to search how we shall see Him, for to them that be of a pure heart, God will reveal Himself perfectly, to their joy unspeakable and glorious.

How the seeing of God is happiness.

The second point is how this seeing of God can be true happiness. Answer. A man that has been blind, will count himself happy when he receives his sight; and he that has long lain in a dark dungeon, will count it a blessed thing, to be brought out, to see the light of the sun. Now if this bodily light be so comfortable, how endless is the joy of that heavenly light, which comes from God Himself? The Queen of Sheba counted those servants blessed, that stood before Solomon to hear his wisdom [1 Kings 10:8]. Then doubtless the sons of God must needs be happy, that stand before the Lord, hearing His wisdom and beholding His glory, “for in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore” [Ps. 16:11]. Moses is renowned with all posterity for this prerogative, that God vouchsafed “to let him see his back parts” [Ex. 33:23]; and Christ’s disciples were so ravished with a glimpse of God’s glory in His transfiguration, that they would needs “abide there still” [Matt. 17:4]. Oh then, what glory is it to see Him as He is? Doubtless this sight of God is true happiness. But then (will some man say) the devils shall be happy, for they shall see Him at the last day. Answer. Their sight shall be their sorrow, for they shall see Him as a terrible Judge, not as a Savior, with apprehension and approbation of His love and mercy, which is the sight here meant. As the apostle says, “we shall see face to face, and know as we are known” [1 Cor. 13:12]. So then the meaning of these words is this, they shall see God by His effects in this life, and perfectly in the world to come, with approbation of His love and mercy.

Comfort against reproach.

The Use. This gracious promise must be observed as a ground of special comfort to all God’s children, for they that endeavor after purity of heart, shall suffer much contempt and reproach in the world. But they must not be dismayed, for God will look upon them, and show Himself favorably unto them; “he will appear to their joy, and their adversaries shall be ashamed” [Isa. 66:5]. Therefore they may say with David, “I will not fear what man can do unto me” [Ps. 118:6].

Secondly, is it true happiness to see God? Then in this world we must strive to come as near unto God, as possible we can, for the nearer we come unto Him, the more we see Him, and the nearer we are to our perfect happiness. Now that we may come near unto God, we must set God always before our eyes; that is, wheresoever we are, and whatsoever we do, we must persuade our hearts that we are in His presence. This was David’s practice; “I have set the Lord always before me” (Ps. 16:8). This persuasion will make us to walk with God, as Enoch did, who for this is said “to please God” [Heb. 11:5].

Thirdly, this must allure our hearts towards all those means wherein God shows Himself unto His children. The Lord revealed Himself in His sanctuary unto His people, and hereupon David was ravished with desire to God’s courts (Pss. 27:4; 48:1–2). And the like affection must we have to God’s Word and sacraments, therein He shows His beauty, as in His sanctuary; and therefore we must labor therein to see the goodness and mercy of God towards us, using them as pledges of His grace and love in Christ. Yea, we must endeavor to see Him in all His creatures, as His wisdom, power, and goodness to us. This is a notable step to our perfect bliss.

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