The Fan and the Sieve

 •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 9
What a separating process is needed in order to prepare “the bread which strengtheneth man’s heart”! Great indeed is the toil of preparing the ground before the husbandman can “cast in the principal wheat, and the appointed barley, and the rye, in their place.” But when the harvest has rewarded his toil, then, first, there is the threshing, to separate the grain from the ear -a laborious process, whether by cattle dragging over it, “the threshing instrument having teeth”; or by the flail, so dexterously wielded by the husbandman; or by the more scientific machine of modern days. After the grain is thus sifted from the ear, it needs another process to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is effected by winnowing. In winnowing, there are two instruments specially used, the fan and the sieve.
By the first, the chaff is separated from the grain; by the second, the stunted grain and any other refuse are separated from “the fat kidneys of the wheat.” Thus we get a good sample of grain, even as in the happier day in reserve for Israel. “Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth; and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures; the oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat clean provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and the fan.” If we follow on farther, we shall find more labor needed: “bread corn is bruised” -it must be ground; a weary toil it was, especially for females. “Take the millstones and grind meal.” Neither can we stop here: if we would separate the bran from the flour, a fine sieve is needed, and the process of bolting at length brings out “the fine flour” with which God so abundantly fed Israel, and Israel gave to her idols (Ezek. 16:1919My meat also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou hast even set it before them for a sweet savor: and thus it was, saith the Lord God. (Ezekiel 16:19)), and which is marked also as a special part of the merchandise of Babylon (Rev. 18:1313And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. (Revelation 18:13)).
There is a beautiful passage in the twenty-eighth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, which shows that God Himself, as the husbandman, has constantly been carrying on a process analogous to the above, in “his husbandry” or “tillage” (1 Cor. 3:99For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)). Awful indeed is the judgment of God, pronounced by the prophet against Ephraim for their exceeding pride and presumption. Yet, in the midst of this denunciation, so as to interrupt and break its course, mercy rejoices against judgment, and the Lord’s own sure foundation is announced as the only one which would stand, when “the hail would sweep away every refuge of lies.” God would “do his work, his strange work, and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” “Now, therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong.” For while Israel or men may mock at the thought of the judgment of God; yea, they may fortify themselves, as they suppose against them; they may sneer also at the idea of the grace of God, and despise the foundation; “mockers, “ “scorners,” “scoffers,” marking alike the last days of Israel and Christendom -yet God has not all this while been acting without counsel and design; He may deal with man, Israel, or the great professing Christian body, in a variety of ways during His long-suffering, yet the appointed evil will come. It was fixed and settled, as to Israel, in the prophetic announcement: “I have heard from the Lord GOD of hogs a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.” “Give ye ear, and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place? For his God cloth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin: but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cum-min with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because be will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” Surely we may say: “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge” -even all the preparatory means in agriculture, unto a definite end -does He not know how to manage man? how to make man understand that He is God alone, and man himself but the creature of His hands?
But the analogy will be found very striking if we regard the many processes of separation, whether by judgment or by mercy; or rather by the combination of mercy and judgment. “I will sing of mercy and judgment: onto thee, O Lord, will I sing (Psa. 101).” Ever since sin came into the world, separation has been God’s principle of blessing. When God has separated to blessing, there have been two principles set in operation -separation from the corrupt mass obnoxious to the judgment of God, and separation unto God Himself. The character of this separation determines the character of the holiness of those separated. Thus it pleased God to separate a people (the people of Israel) from other people, to be His own peculiar people; and there was a sanctity connected with this, marking them both as separated from other people, and as separated unto God as a worshiping people. “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations, which I cast out before you; for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowl and clean; and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beasts or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people that ye should be mine (Lev. 20:23-2623And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. 24But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. 25Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. 26And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. (Leviticus 20:23‑26)).” The principle of separation did not stop here: it was followed by a separation of a class and also of a tribe. “And take unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.” “Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel: and the Levites shall be mine (Num. 8).” The “God of Israel had separated the Levites from the congregation of Israel, to bring them near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them.” But the priests were separated unto greater nearness: the very censers of the Levites, who presumed to burn incense before the Lord, were made “broad plates for a covering of the altar, to be a memorial unto the children of Israel, that no stranger which is not of the seed of Aaron shall come near to offer incense before the Lord.” Even in the priestly family there was further separation; the high priest was brought into greater nearness to God than his brethren, the father and the sons (Heb. 9:6, 76Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 7But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: (Hebrews 9:6‑7)).
In all this process, we are instructed in a deep principle, which is the root of holiness of every kind: it is God who separates, or sanctifieth unto Himself, whatever may be the order of separation. That order once was “only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of reformation.” But it was ineffectual in keeping Israel “as holiness unto the Lord, the first-fruits of his increase.” Israel speedily adopted the gods of the nations, which yet were no gods, and by mingling this false worship with the worship of Jehovah, effectually destroyed their separateness as a people unto Jehovah; and not only so, but at the same time they presumed on their separateness in a. spirit of self-complacency, and thus brought out that worse form of evil, which ended in saying, Stand by, I am holier than thou; and in rejecting God Himself in order to maintain their own character.
During the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth, the question of the day was about purification. It was mooted between the disciples of John and a Jew. The Jews wanted their ceremonial purification, so as to esteem one of another nation “common or unclean.” It was a higher crime in their esteem to come into contact with a Gentile than to meditate murder. “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early, and they themselves went not into the judgment-hall lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the pass-over.” They please not God, and are contrary to all men. Such was the result of separating themselves, instead of being separated unto God. The ministry of John the Baptist was a direct inroad on the ceremonial purification. Born as John was of the family of Aaron, he found his place of ministry not in the temple but in the wilderness. He “came in the way of righteousness”: descent from Abraham, or observance of ordinances, did not meet the requirements of his ministry. Repentance was an inward moral purification -an order immensely beyond the Jewish ceremonial order, but still immensely below that new order of purification to which the ministry of John was but the introductory. Those who really justified God in John’s baptism were prepared to justify Him farther in the reception of Him to whom John bare witness -even Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the baptizer with the Holy Spirit.
It is the new order of purification from above to which John turns the thoughts of his disciples, when so many turned from John their master to Jesus. They appeared jealous for their Master’s honor; John, on the contrary, quietly recedes from the scene, to make way for the display of the saving power of Him whose faithful witness and forerunner he was. John saw now that the time was come. for superseding his order of purification, high as it was, compared with that of the Jews, by the introduction of this new and heavenly order by Jesus (John 3:27-3627John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease. 31He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. 32And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. 33He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. 34For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:27‑36)). God -who had secretly separated to Himself under every dispensation by His quickening power giving faith -now manifestly separated to Himself, by presenting Jesus as the object of faith. It is no longer separation by ordinance, or even by merely moral change; it is separation and purification by the blood of Christ, the Son of God, and the Lamb of God. We are “justified by His blood,” “sanctified “by His blood, and by it, from being afar off, brought nigh to God (Eph. 2:1313But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)). The blood of Christ is the power by which God Himself calls into peace with Himself.
In this view we see the same principle in action of God separating unto Himself: only it is now by a reality -even the blood of the cross -of which all the previous ordinances had been but shadows; and those so separated are placed not in national or official nearness to God, but in real personal nearness to Him. It is not only nearness of position, but inseparably connected with it is the positive power of recognized nearness by the quickening and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus cannot be known as the Son of God and the Lamb of God apart from His being the baptizer with the Holy Spirit. And then a new ground of nearness of God is ascertained to the soul -it is nearness in Him, as well as by His blood. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” It is therefore a heavenly nearness, heavenly pacification, a heavenly sanctity, -which is our portion. God calls us to be saints, or we are saints by calling. “We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth; whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is evident that the maintenance of such nearness to God, which is the groundwork of “righteousness and true holiness” -connected necessarily, as sure nearness is, with a new order of being which can stand and delight in such nearness to God must be attended with many difficulties. Such a calling and standing is equally threatened by a return to ordinances, the natural order of separation; or by using Christ Himself only as the conservator of the moral order, by which indeed man may be separated from his fellow, without being separated unto God. Now it is in immediate connection with His baptizing with the Holy Spirit that Christ is spoken of as the Winnower. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” When threshing is used, it appears as the simple emblem of judgment; but winnowing conveys rather the double idea both of separation unto mercy and unto judgment, and this especially in connection with the fan. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirl-wind shall scatter them.” So also in the passage which presents to us the Lord having the fan in His hand -the chaff is burnt up with unquenchable fire; and the wheat is gathered into the garner. While this passage has its direct application to a future separation of the chaff on the earth -When all Gentile glory shall become as “the chaff of the summer threshing floor,” and the Lord’s own floor (evidently on earth in connection with Israel) shall be thoroughly purged, and the wheat gathered into the garner -yet it has its present application. “What is the chaff and the wheat, saith the Lord?” may be a question at all times suitably asked, not only in the falsehood which mimics truth, but where there may be the form of godliness apart from the power.
How many there are who very consciously know the Lord, not only as holding the fan in His hand, but that He has used it in their case for severing them from many a long-cherished feeling, from many hereditary and traditionary ways, which have been blown away as chaff before the wind -when Christ Himself as a substantial reality has been manifest to the soul! Old habits and prejudices have dropped off one by one before the power of truth. Many have been astonished to find how many things they have cherished and clung to, which have no warrant whatever from scripture, and yet have been more tenaciously held than any scriptural truth. The fan of separation has been needed -and we have under-stood in some measure the remarkable expression of the apostle Peter: “For as much as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” But after knowing the power of the separation of the fan from much of the chaff, and being brought to realize the liberty which we have in Christ, worship in the Spirit, and service in the Spirit also -we are subjected to the far more searching process of the sieve -a process which goes on within -entering into the inmost thoughts, and proving that God requires “truth in the inward parts.”
It is thus the Psalmist expresses it: “0 Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou winnowest my path and my lying down and art acquainted with all my ways.” And when the Lord applies Himself in most searching dealing with Israel at a yet future day -with Israel as His people -this is the language used: “For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” It is humbling indeed to come under the scourge of the Lord; yet “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth,” and that because He loves them.
Yet to be subjected to the sifting process, although still a proof of the Lord’s love, is more powerful to us than the very scourge itself. It is in love and mercy notwithstanding; it is to separate us into our own proper and peculiar blessings in Christ; it is to remove every obstacle in the way of our abiding in the immediate presence of God; it is to get rid of the refuse that the clean grain may be brought forth. The Lord is no less jealous of our blessings than He is of His own honor. He will sift us by circumstances, that the joy arising from circumstances may give way for joy in the Holy Spirit. How many have regarded all the most elaborate skill of man, when used in the worship of God, as chaff, by becoming true worshipers, in spirit and in truth! But, after so great a spiritual advancement, circumstances may have their influence, and the sieve may be needed, and “singing and making melody in the heart to the Lord” may be learned by congregations being dispersed, and by the saints themselves being driven into loneliness.
It is the sieve which so fearfully lays bare the unchanged evil of the flesh in the saints, and its readiness ever to take its part. It would be an interesting inquiry whether the Lord resorts to the process of sifting on the failure of self-judgment, or whether it is necessary even when there is honest self-judgment, to search into that which self-judgment would fail to seek. “The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” This passage shows what discoveries may be made to the soul by the searching application of the word by the Spirit, so as to lead the soul into the practical sense of the need and value of the present priestly ministry of Christ (Heb. 4:12-1612For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 14Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:12‑16)). The sifting process is also connected with the priestly ministry of Christ, as we find in that memorable passage: “And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
But that which appears to be so humbling, in the sifting process, is the agency of Satan. It would seem, both from the case of Job of old, and of Peter at the close of the Lord’s ministry on earth, that Satan was allowed by God to take all advantage of circumstances to get at the weak point of individual character, as well as to manifest the counsels of the heart, and to bring out those reasonings and high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God; so that every thought might be brought in captivity to the obedience of Christ. But there is something beyond this, the deep purpose of God in blessing, by Satan even being made the instrument of finding the grace of God at the bottom.
It is therefore probable that the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, not only uses the sieve when there has been failure of self-judgment, but even where it has been honest, knowing how much we are the creatures of circumstances. He may sift. His saints, that they may, by the exercise of faith, get above that power of circumstances, and be occupied with realities. “Is thy servant a dog that he should do these things?” may have been the language of pure and honest intention, though betraying entire ignorance of the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the heart. “The Lord hath showed me that thou shalt be king over Syria,” is the simple reply of the prophet, yet how full of meaning. The sifting of Job ended in a rich blessing. “The Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” “Doth Job fear God for naught?” is Satan’s reply; and then permission is given to Satan: “Behold all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thy hand. “ Satan was thus allowed fall power over circumstances; but still he was only the sieve in the hand of the Lord.
In the dispute which arises in his lamentable condition between Job and his friends, more truthful and magnificent sentiments, as to the attributes and perfections of God, are not to be found in any other part of Scripture, than we find in the lips of Job’s three friends. But they do not meet the case of Job, and are rather to be regarded as fragments which show the need of God in some special manner manifesting Himself, as He has done by incarnation and in the cross, than any vivid presentation of God to the soul. The soul of man cannot be satisfied by arguments on the perfections of God, neither can the dealings of God with man be satisfactory to the soul, where man, instead of God, is affirmed to be the end of those dealings. It was in this respect that Job had spoken more rightly of God than his three friends. They had asserted that Job’s conduct was the solution of the strange dealing of God with Job; he, on the contrary, had referred the solution to God Himself -that God alone could explain the reason of His own conduct. Yet Job had “darkened counsel by words without knowledge.” Job had, in his own case, “contended with the Almighty”; he had “reproved God,” and this he must answer. But the mouth of Job is stopped in the immediate presence of God. He is not able to argue his case there. “Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer: yea twice, but I will proceed no further.” Now the end of all this terrible sifting was to bring Job into the reality of the presence of God, so has to have to do with God, instead of speaking even true things concerning Him, and thus from the immediate presence of God Himself, to learn even what “the perfect and upright man” was, as a creature brought there; in other words, to learn the truth of himself, by learning the truth of God. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore, I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Surely, if the more close sifting in winnowing only bring out the perfect wheat, this close sifting of Job brought him to have to do with realities; and in his thus deepened know-ledge, both of God and himself, instead of any longer arguing with his friends, he is put in the honorable place of praying for them, “for him (says the Lord) I will accept.” There may be even a complacency arising from the favor of God, from a conscience approving that we do fear Him, from the approbation of others, which may in effect displace God from His rightful supremacy. We must then be sifted, that God may be God, and man be man. “No flesh shall glory in His presence; he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” In the case of Peter also Satan was allowed to take all advantage of circumstances against the disciples of the Lord; and if he prevailed to make one traitor, he almost succeeded in doing the same with another. But Satan could not prevail, with all the power of circumstances at his disposal, against the prayer of Jesus for Peter. Surely, Jesus had power to have hindered the sifting altogether; but Peter needed, and we all too need, the sieve. A deep practical truth was to be learned by Peter, and by Peter that he might instruct others, that no wit or wisdom of man, no honesty of purpose, no determinateness of resolution, can stand before the overwhelming power of circumstances! and that faith alone rises superior to them. “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” Well might it fail when with the fondest expectations so rudely shocked by the arrest of Jesus, all appeared in the bands of “the power of darkness. “ It seemed as though God had given up everything. All forsook him and fled. “
But when the power of darkness had so far prevailed as to lead Peter to curse and swear, and deny Jesus with an oath; when by the cock crowing this was brought to his sorrowful recollection; then, for faith not to stagger or fail is marvelous indeed. It was indeed a deep soul-trying sifting which Peter needed; but how pure and clear does the wheat come forth! What a gainer was Peter! His faith failed not. It was all that was left him. Where is Peter? Lo, we have left all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” What is to become of his boast? “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” Peter is left without any ground of boasting. He can make no new resolve. He is stripped of everything, and brought back to know himself as “Simon, Simon.” But there was the same Lord, before Whose feet he had fallen at the outset, confessing himself a sinful man. His faith did not fail. He looked to Him still, and he knew the power of restoring grace. How well was he able to strengthen his brethren after this fall and recovery! It was the severe sifting he had gone through which gives such emphasis to his words, “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” He could very feelingly say, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.” Satan had indeed, by the power of circumstances, brought out from Peter that which Peter little suspected to be in himself, and doubtless thought thus to ruin Peter and to dishonor the Lord. But Satan was but the sieve in the hand of the Lord: that which was defective was sifted away; and Peter comes forth from the painful process converted from self-confidence to confidence in the Lord, strong by knowing his own weakness, and by proving faith in Jesus to be a blessed reality indeed.
There is one result connected with the sifting of Peter most blessedly brought out. The Lord knew what was at the bottom of the heart of Peter, for his grace had put it there. In a temperament naturally sanguine, under a mass of fleshly confidence and forward zeal, there was genuine love to the Lord Jesus Christ. After his terrible sifting, how readily can Peter answer to the challenge of his Lord, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Simon no longer voluntarily undertakes to be put to the test. He has no such thought now in his heart as, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee; yet will I never be offended;” but he appeals to that very omniscience which had searched and sifted him. He knew that Jesus “searched the reins and hearts. “ On all former occasions Peter had acted on his own presumed knowledge of himself; now he appeals to the Lord’s own perfect knowledge of himself. In this sifting, even though Satan was the instrument, “no grain fell to the ground”; but the precious grain, buried under such rubbish, was brought forth clean and unmixed.
And is not this dealing with us according to the divine order in Psa. 139? “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me: thou winnowest my path.” And what is the reply of the soul to all the sifting through which it has consciously passed? “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts. “ If such be the result, well may we, having the like spirit of faith, say, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto ice, O God! how great is the sum of them!” Brethren, beloved of God, are we conscious of the painfulness, the shame, the perplexity, arising from actual sifting. Let this precious thought comfort our hearts, that the Lord is thus sifting away much that we have cherished more than Himself, but only to bring out that which He knows to be at the bottom of our hearts; for He by His Spirit has put it there, faith in Him, and love to Him. Let each one then bare His heart to Him that makes Himself known in the churches, as “searching the reins and the heart,” and say, “Search me, O Lord.”
Granted that we have broken down under the very weight of the blessings conferred by the goodness of God on us. Granted that we have exhibited much weakness and folly. Spots have been discovered to mar the good report of a long career of usefulness in the church. Double-mindedness between Christ and the world, between faith and human resources, between the truth of God and human wisdom, has been made sorrowfully manifest. Humbling indeed is the process; yet we can justify the Lord in using it.
“He is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his words.” Much of the evil which has been concealed even from ourselves is now being made manifest; that which was rankling underneath is now on the surface. Enough indeed has been already done to make us feel that “to us belongeth shame and confusion of face”; but if faith fail not in answer to the intercession of Jesus, then will Jesus Himself be learned in a way He was never known before. The soul will be led consciously to have to do with Him: nearness to Him and intimacy with Him will take the place of things valuable in themselves, but hurtful in proportion to their value when used by the folly of our hearts to hinder Jesus from having the supreme place in our hearts. Much may indeed have passed through the sieve; the comfort derived from enlarged Christian intercourse, the honest desire for testimony against evil, the use of an enlarged platform of truth: but the “one grain” has not fallen to the ground -faith in Christ and love to Christ -this comes forth more simple and more unmixed than ever. The sieve has been needed to strengthen some of us, even as Peter was strengthened. To one choice servant Satan was used as a buffeter, lest he should be exalted by the abundance of the revelations vouchsafed to him. But in the case of Peter, Satan was used as a sieve, to show the impossibility of the flesh using aright the wondrous revelation made to him of the glory of Jesus, the Son of the living God -the unassailable foundation of the church. We need to be strengthened by experimentally learning the security of this Rock under us, when every confidence in which the flesh could possibly take part has utterly failed. The Lord alone can bear the glory. He abideth faithful. He cannot deny Himself. Let Him be alone exalted. “No flesh shall glory in His presence.” “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
The Present Testimony 16:150-152, 164-166, 179-180.