The Touchstone of Purity
Ashton Oxenden, 1882
"To the pure, all things are pure — but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." Titus 1:15
I propose in this chapter to take 'Purity' in its widest and fullest sense, as including purity of motive, purity of heart, inward holiness, an unstained life, etc. And to this subject, so important to the Christian, I wish faithfully to apply the Touchstone — so that each one of us may ascertain for himself if he possesses that purity which God requires of His people.
1. It seems as if there were some in the world in whom this purity is almost inborn. They are naturally amiable, naturally well disposed, naturally blameless in their conduct.
There are in America, and also in some parts of Europe, forests which have existed for hundreds of years. The trees in these forests are of nature's growth. They have not been planted by the hand of man, but are the natural outcome of the soil. They are beautiful in their symmetry, and require no training.
Again, among our English cornfields we now and then see a field of wheat or oats which have been self-sown. The crop of the former year was gathered in when overripe, and some of the grain was shed, which has sprung up of its own accord, producing a crop in the coming year.
So there are some people who seem to be naturally religious — or rather religious from their earliest days. We may almost say that the seed of true religion was self-sown in their hearts. They are free from open sin. They are gentle and amiable. They have embraced, as a matter of course, the truth of God, and it has become almost a part of their nature. These are indeed beautiful characters as far as they go, though they are sometimes found unequal to any great effort, and may lack strength at any special crisis. They have not, and probably never had, any doubts or misgivings. God's Word is welcome to them. They receive it unhesitatingly, 'not as the word of man, but as the word of God, which lives and abides for them.'
To such pure minds as these, 'all things are pure.' They see no difficulties in the way. The temptations of the Great Enemy fly over them, and leave them unscathed. Their minds are too pure to be injured by these fiery darts. Ungodliness and worldliness do not seem to touch them — and the things of God are lovely in their eyes. There is evil all around them, but they are armored against it — they are not contaminated by it. One cannot but admire such naturally religious people, and wish that there were more of them to be met with.
2. But there is another class of Christians, who are even more to be admired, and whose high standard we may all of us (if we seek God's help) be enabled to reach. I mean those who, though once perhaps careless and worldly — have been awakened by the grace of God, have been enabled to conquer self, and by earnest and persevering prayer have become so conformed to the image of Christ, that to live near to Him, and to walk in the narrow path of holiness, has become their second nature. They now breathe an atmosphere of purity. The heavenly life is already begun in them; they are living for another world, and to know God and to serve Him, to love Him and to work for Him — is their everyday delight. They have arrived at this state by slow degrees, and perhaps after much conflict, and have at length attained to that purity of heart which is acceptable to God.
Now to these also 'all things are pure.' What others stumble at, and what they themselves once stumbled at — is no longer to them an occasion of falling. They hear impure words spoken, and witness too often the deeds of the ungodly — but they remain untainted, their garments are unspotted by the flesh. Moreover, they are inclined to take a charitable view, and put a good interpretation upon the words and conduct of others, which many are disposed to carp at. And as the bee gathers honey from every flower which comes in its way, so they turn to profit almost every event of life, extracting even good out of evil, and sweetness from what is bitter. Yes, to these pure ones 'all things are pure.'
3. But there is another side to the picture. There are some to whom nothing is pure — but their minds and consciences are corrupted.
Here is the reverse of what has been said. To one . . .
who is defiled by the admission of sin into his heart,
who walks according to the course of this world,
who gives way to the natural bent of his uncontrolled mind,
who lets loose the reins and allows himself in the practice of evil,
who rejects the truth of God,
who glories in his freedom from those religious shackles which bind others
— to him 'nothing is pure.' Evil is ever present with him, and like a jaundiced man, to whom whatever he see or tastes is nauseous — so he takes a wrong view of even what is right; for his mind and conscience are corrupted.
Now, to this I feel that you will readily assent. But we have regarded the subject as yet only in a general way. Let us now try and gather from it at least TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS for ourselves.
The first is that we should, all of us, aim at this purity. 'Blessed (says our Lord) are the pure in heart — for they shall see God.' It is a great mercy if we have been taught to feel the evil of sin, if God in His love has led us to the cross, there to obtain pardon and acceptance with Him. Oh, who can tell how great is this blessing! Happy are those who enjoy it, having been brought near to God through the atoning blood of Christ.
But there is a higher state than this. There is something more to be desired than mere pardon and acceptance. There is a yet more exalted standard for the Christian to reach. He must not rest until he indeed hates whatever God hates, and loves whatever He loves — until his one great desire is to be ever seeking to do God's will in all things, bearing the Savior's cross cheerfully, and faithfully following His footsteps; ever striving, in fact, to be as holy as God is holy, and as perfect as He is perfect. Are we thus advancing in our Christian course? Is the work of purification going on within us? Are we growing in grace, and pressing on to a higher and yet higher state?
But there is one phase of Purity to which I cannot help specially alluding. I mean Moral Purity — the purity of our thoughts, of our desires, of our words, and also of our deeds. Sometimes alas our bodies are the instruments of evil, when they ought only to be the instruments of good. But we should remember that, as Christians, our bodies are consecrated to God's service, for it is written, 'The body is for the Lord.' Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 'I will dwell in them (He says), and walk in them.'
How careful then we should be to preserve them as such — to use them for no unholy purpose, to allow no stain to rest upon them, but to devote them to God's service, ever remembering the Apostle's injunction, 'Keep yourself pure!'
With regard to purity in general — may it ever be growing and deepening its hold of us, so that we may become pure within; and may unconsciously display such purity of heart and life, as will bear the scrutiny of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. It is true that we cannot reach perfection, sinless perfection. We cannot attain to perfect holiness. But as he who would hit the distant target with his arrow must aim high, so should we.
May God give us more and more of this purity of heart, and make us to grow up unto Him in all things.
Another lesson suggested to us by the consideration of this subject is, that Purity of heart is the best safeguard against unbelief. There is alas in the present day a great amount of skepticism, both open and secret, both head unbelief and heart unbelief; both that which springs from the intellect and that which arises from a spirit of indifference.
And where do we find this unbelief prevailing? It generally prevails among the careless, the worldly, and the lovers of sin — but rarely among the true-hearted and pure-minded. It is true that sometimes even God's children are exercised by unbelieving thoughts; for Satan tries hard to snatch them out of God's hands. But, as I showed in my first chapter, there is this great difference between the two: the one cherish and encourage their unbelief; but the other abhor it — it brings a dark shade over their souls.
And if you earnestly desire to be emancipated from the doubts and difficulties which may be troubling you — be much in prayer, draw near to God; and as He more and more manifests Himself unto you — the more will every cloud be dissipated which now gathers round you. 'To the pure all things are pure, 'and the pureness and holiness of God's revelation specially commends itself to those hearts which are striving after holiness.
May God give us grace to rise higher in the Christian scale, to breathe more of the pure atmosphere of Heaven, to live more in God's presence here — so that, whenever He is pleased to call us hence, we may be ready, quite ready, to 'depart and be with Christ, which is far better!'