These are what defile a person…”
We take such great care to keep ourselves undefiled by outward conformity to what we consider standards of righteousness in action and in thought. It doesn’t matter whether these standards are those of our own invention or those based on our reading of scripture. Our behavior before God is in His sight as well as those of other men, and He sees the motives of the heart. It isn’t what we say of ourselves, that we are sinners and unworthies saved by grace, and the like, that has any bearing on the reality of our salvation, but what we say of others. This is heard not only by men, but by God, who hears what fills the heart before we ever speak. No one has to tell Him who is speaking; He knows whether the words are His, or the enemy’s.
Whether we speak or remain silent, it is what fills the heart that cannot be hidden forever. A good testimony within us can’t help but get out; so it is also with a bad testimony. Who it is that we have enthroned in the heart, that is whom we really obey and serve, whatever we might profess outwardly. We have good reason to fear, not only for the Day of Judgment in the future, but for the Day of now, for what the prophets spoke they still speak, and their words are not for the dead, but for the living: ‘In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?’ (Ezekiel 28:2-3).
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Yes, it is true, ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…’
Where are we, Lord? Where have we placed ourselves? At the foot of Your throne in heaven? At the foot of Your cross on earth? What offerings do we bring You, our Lord and Savior? Is it the blood of goats and rams, our wicked and our righteous brothers, like the priests of old? Or is it our own blood, following the example of Your Son? Is it the sacrifice You require? Or is it that which we feel it is our right to offer You, the fruits of our soil. We think ourselves innocent farmers and envy our shepherd brother, as Cain envied Abel, and where does that envy lead us? Save us, O Lord, from ourselves! Cleanse us, since we have no soap to wash our hearts clean. You alone can purify us. Have mercy, Lord!
Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for Purity, Book of Common Prayer (1662)