and the Sieve
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.
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." 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.
We are subjected to the sifting process to separate us unto 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. After spiritual advancements, circumstances may have their influence, and the sieve may be needed, and "singing and making melody in the heart to the Lord" may be learnt by being driven into loneliness.
It is the sieve which so fearfully lays bear the unchanged evil of the flesh in the saints, and its readiness ever to take its part. It would be an interesting enquiry 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. 4:12-16). 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" (Luke 22:31-32).
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.
In the case of Peter, 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 the Lord Jesus for Peter. Surely, the Lord 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 learnt 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 hands 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? 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. 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 Ps. 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 me, 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."
"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 already been 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 the Lord Jesus, then will the Lord Jesus Himself be learnt 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 the Lord Jesus from having the supreme place in our hearts.
Much may indeed have passed through the sieve. 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 alone be exalted. --J.L.H.