But observe, God sifts His people like wheat. We need scarcely remark upon the necessity of this process, it seems so palpable and self-evident. Take the holiest man of God for illustration. There is such a mixture of contradiction in him, that he needs to be winnowed. It has been remarked, “The best of saints are exposed to the worst of sins.” Look at Job. Study his character, and then his sifting. “And the Lord said unto Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and shuns evil.” What a precious grain of wheat was here! yet, see how God put that grain of wheat into the sieve!
Who could have thought there would have been so much self-righteousness in Job, such hard thoughts of God? Who could have thought there had been so much chaff mixed with the wheat? But God sifts His wheat. The first great sifting is when the Holy Spirit separates a man from himself- when He dissolves his covenant with the law, and shows him the worthlessness of his own righteousness. The first step in conversion is not separation from the world, but from ‘self’. We may carry our own righteousness into the loneliest desert. A man may separate himself from others, and may never be separated from himself. So long as we stand in our self-righteousness we are an offence to God. I do not hesitate to say, that a self-righteous man, a man going about to establish a righteousness of his own in opposition to the righteousness of Christ, is, with all his works, with all his charities, a greater offence to God than the poor outcast whose life is one mass of sin. A self-righteous man denies the holiness of Jehovah, turns his back upon the great work of God’s dear Son, and expects to get to heaven on the basis of a human righteousness. But the Holy Spirit sifts a man, as corn is sifted; uproots his love of self, his trusting in good works, and lays the soul prostrate at the feet of Jesus.
See how the apostle was thus separated from himself: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” My reader, have you been so separated from a righteousness to which you are so closely wedded by nature, but from which, if saved, you must be entirely divorced by grace?
With regard to the methods which the Lord adopts in this sifting process, we would first mention the Word. Oh, how searching and sifting is the Word of God! Who has not found it so? How it detects the latent principle of evil in the heart! The Word of God shows a man what he is- it rebukes, searches, and sifts him. Blessed is that man who knows what the siftings of God’s Word are; who is willing to have his principles and conduct tried by it, and whose ardent desire is, “Lord, sanctify me through Your truth.”
Sanctified trial is another mode. Ah, what a mighty fan is this with which God winnows His people! He leads them about, sends cross providences, dark dispensations, thwarted designs, blasted hopes, and the precious grain is driven about, wondering what will be the issue. Messenger follows messenger; bearing tidings of woe still more lamentable than the former, and the poor afflicted believer stands appalled, and marvels what the Lord means by all this trial and sifting. But oh, what a blessed result!
Seasons of trial are searching, sifting, and separating seasons. God designs by that trial not to wound you; oh, no! there is too much love in His heart to put you to needless pain; but to separate the precious wheat from the refuse- to scatter the chaff that has mingled with the divine grain, concealing and deteriorating it. Yes, many a child of God living much in the region of the world, and often, perhaps, yielding to its temptations, has been placed by God in this sieve. We have gone and wept when we ought to have rejoiced with him. He has come out, oh what a different character! What a higher tone it has given to his spirituality. How dead he seems to the world! He acts, and speaks, and prays like another man. Why? God has sifted him! The chaff has been separated, the storm has scattered it, and the image of God has been brought out in all its true beauty and power.
Satan’s temptations, too, may also be spoken of as a sifting process. Christ said to Peter, “Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Oh, what a sifting process did he pass through! And if grace had not been in him, what would have become of Peter when thrice he denied his Lord? But oh, how the chaff vanished! What a different man was he after that sifting process! We do not say these are pleasant seasons; but we do say, blessed is the man that is tempted! We do not hear of Satan desiring to sift Judas; but he seizes upon the precious grain. There was something to sift in Peter; there was nothing to sift in Judas. If we speak to any who are the marks of Satan’s fiery darts, let us meet you with this consolation- it is only the true wheat Satan seeks to sift. Notwithstanding all this, not one grain shall perish. It is just the truth we need.