THE MAN OF GOD  Or "Spiritual Religion Explained and Enforced"
by Octavius Winslow

The Man of God Sifted

"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." -Amos 9:9

God's Church has ever been a separate and scattered people. The apostle Peter recognizes this in the dedication of his First Epistle, "To the strangers scattered abroad." And yet, separated and dispersed though they are, like the Jews, they have never lost their peculiar and distinctive character. The "holy seed," mingled though it has with the world, growing up side by side with the tares, has ever maintained its essentially divine and holy character- uncorrupted and incorruptible- the precious seed of God's own right-hand planting. More than this, they have never been dispersed beyond the eye and the heart of the Lord their God. We may trace this truth in the history of nations. When God is about to bring some signal judgment upon an ungodly people; it has invariably been accompanied with an especial provision made on behalf of His elect. The subject we are about to consider is a remarkable illustration of this.

God was about to visit the Jewish nation by a process severely searching. And yet, the words which announce the judgment bring with it the mercy. While He sifts, He spares- while He searches, He protects. "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." In considering this subject, the points for our study are- THE PRECIOUS SEED- THE SIFTING- and THE SECURITY.

There are various reasons why this figure should be employed to designate God's one Church, divided though it may be, into separate and distinct branches. It is not the least one, that God will put a marked difference spiritually between the Israelites and the Egyptians. It is the grand effort of Satan to counterfeit what is good, and blend it with evil. There is a striking passage bearing upon this in Isaiah 5:20, "Woe unto those who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" There is that principle in our fallen and corrupt nature that is perpetually calling good evil, and evil good. Ah! it is a solemn thought, and it should cause us to tremble how we decide any point of doctrine or practice whatever for which we have not a "Thus says the Lord." But the Lord has put an essential and palpable difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians- the Church and the world. We have to do in this matter not with ministers, but with God; not with churches, but with the judgment-seat of Christ; and the moment is coming- oh, how fast it speeds!- when we shall have to test our creed, test our principles, test our Church, by God's unerring Word.

The figure, also, sets forth the beauty and excellence of the Church of God. By nature it is as others. There is a sinnership as well as a saintship in the character and history, of every believer. God forbid that we should merge the one in the other! We would never forget, in the highest view the Spirit of God gives us of our saintship, no, nor even when "Abba, Father" is but lisped by our lip, the horrible pit from which sovereign grace has taken us. From the highest pinnacle in heaven we shall look down, and remember that we were once "children of wrath, even as others." But the Church of God is His especial treasure: "You only have I known of all the nations of the earth."

But the figure also illustrates the preciousness of the believer. No language can adequately set this forth. A precious Jesus has died for them- precious blood purchased them- a glorious righteousness covers them- the Holy Spirit dwells in them- and the mark of God is upon them. Who can compute the value of a soul that has upon it the blood of God's dear Son? Who can portray the beauty and holiness of a soul that stands before God complete in the righteousness of Christ, and enshrines God, the Holy Spirit? Truly they are the precious seed of the Lord.

The figure is also expressive of their fruitfulness. The chaff is not fruitful; it is only the true grain that has in it the germ of fruitfulness. We look for no spiritual fertility in an ungodly man. We do not expect to see the graces of the Spirit engrafted on a dead stock. We go to the living branch, to the soul that has union with Jesus, for the fruit of the Spirit. There alone will you find holy contrition, lovely lowliness, precious faith, divine love, high principles. There alone can we trace the evidence of that Divine grace that changes the heart, and imparts a new and a heavenly nature.

But observe, God sifts His people like corn. 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.

After the great searching, there comes the declaration that allays all our alarm, and fills us with joy and gladness, "Yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." Not a particle of the work of God in the soul thus sifted shall perish. It is utterly impossible it should be so. It cost God too much. Peter lost not one grain when his faith was sifted: "I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not;" and you can answer; when God has carried you through dark and deep waters, have you lost anything worth retaining? You may have lost your worldliness and self-confidence; but was that worth retaining? Has Christ ever become less dear to you? Has the throne of grace become less attractive to you? Has the onward path of holiness been less dear to you? Have the saints of God become less lovely to you? Has the Word of God become less sweet to your taste? Oh no! not one grain has fallen to the earth of that Divine grace the Holy Spirit has planted in your soul.

What secured it? They are the beloved of God, and He keeps them; they are the redeemed of Christ, and He secures them to eternal glory. The indwelling of the Spirit secures them. He has taken possession of them forever; and Satan and sin can no more destroy them than they can destroy the being of Jehovah. You may deem this strong language, my reader; but it is strong truth. The day is coming that will sift our Christianity, our religion, and our principles; and woe be to that man that is not held by this threefold power, which alone can keep the believer in the time of trial that is coming upon this world!

The great question arises, What am I? You may have a religion; so has the Pagan. You may have your forms of religion; so has the Papist. You may have your lamp of profession; so had the five foolish virgins. But if God were now to put you into His sieve and test you by His Word, by His law, by His gospel, do you think there would be any precious grain left? Anything that would smooth your last illness, disarm death of its sting, and rob the grave of its terrors? Do you think there would be anything left but the chaff? Oh, search your heart, dear reader! Put the question honestly to your conscience, "What is sin to me? What is God's dear Son to me?" Try yourselves by Jesus. Oh, if you are nothing but chaff, your religion nothing but chaff, your hope nothing but chaff, what will be the solemn issue?

To God's saints would we say- do not shrink from the Lord's siftings. It is but the precious seed the Lord tries. "Search me, O Lord, and try me. I want to be honest and real. I desire whatever is not like Christ to be consumed."

Oh, what a volume of meaning is contained in that word "yet." "Yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth"- not a particle shall perish; but it shall be preserved and treasured up, and every grain will the Lord place in His garner in the world of everlasting glory. God grant, dear reader, that this may be our happy experience!