Amo_9:9. 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.
THOUGH God does not see fit to preserve his people wholly from national calamities, yet he interposes, either to lighten their afflictions or to sanctify them to their good. Daniel and the Hebrew youths were carried captive with their nation; yet were they eminently protected by that God whom they served: and Jeremiah, though not raised to any exalted station, was on many occasions marked as an object of God’s incessant care and attention. The Prophet Amos was commissioned to foretell the dispersion of Israel which began in the Assyrian captivity, and was completed at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans: but the God of Abraham promised by him, that he would be mindful of “his hidden ones,” and deliver them from the evils to which the profligate and secure should surely be exposed.
There are now, as well as in former ages, sifting times, (if we may so speak,) both to the Church at large, and to the individual members of it: and the same distinguishing regard is still, though less visibly, manifested by God to his dear children; not the smallest of whom shall ever be overlooked. To illustrate this truth we shall shew,
By what methods God sifts his people—
God sees that a state of perfect ease would by no means conduce to his people’s welfare: and therefore he suffers them sometimes to be agitated,
By outward afflictions—
[Persecution is the common lot of all who live godly in Christ Jesus: and this, together with other trials common to the world at large, is made use of to separate the godly from the ungodly, and to purify them from the corruptions that cleave to them in their present state. While the world smiles upon us we are too ready to seek its friendship by sinful compliances; and when we enjoy an entire freedom from troubles, we are apt to grow careless, and to relax our diligence in seeking “the rest that remaineth for us.” God therefore causes us to he “emptied from vessel to vessel, that we may not be settled on our lees [Note: Job_36:8-10. with Jer_48:11.].]
By inward temptations—
[By far the sorest trials which Christians experience, are, for the most part, of an inward and spiritual nature: Satan wounds them with his fiery darts, and harasses them with many painful suggestions. That wicked fiend indeed desires to sift them as wheat, that he may prevail against them to their destruction; but God permits him to do it for a very different end, namely, that he may root out all their self-confidence, and stimulate them to greater exertions in their spiritual warfare. This was the effect which it produced on Peter [Note: Luk_22:31. compared with 1Pe_5:8.]; and it is with the same benevolent intent that our Almighty friend gives licence to our adversary to make his assaults on us. Doubtless such “tossings to and fro” are very distressing to us at the time; but they are overruled for good, in that they separate us move effectually from an evil world, and render us more meet for the heavenly garner.]
Doubtless many who make a fair appearance, perish by these means: nevertheless we are assured of,
The security of all those that are truly upright—
There is an essential difference between the hypocrites and the sincere—
[As chaff and corn may to a superficial observer resemble each other, so may the real and merely nominal Christian. But as there is a solidity in the corn which is not to be found in the chaff, so the truly converted person has something, which clearly distinguishes him from the most refined hypocrite: he is not contented with an appearance of religion, but seeks to possess it in truth: nor can he rest in the performance of duties; but labours to have his heart engaged in them. To be high in the estimation of men is, in his eyes, a poor matter; he would approve himself to God in all he does: nor is there any measure of perfection with which he would be satisfied, while there remained a hope and prospect of attaining more.]
Moreover, God will infallibly distinguish the true professors from the false—
[Man may easily be mistaken in his estimate of characters: but God will form an unerring judgment: he discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart: he weighs the very spirits of men no less than their actions: “he needs not that any should testify of man, for he knows what is in man:” he will discover sincerity under the most unfavourable circumstances, and hypocrisy under the most artful disguise. Abijah alone of all the house of Jeroboam had some good thing in his heart towards the Lord God of Israel, and God did not fail to notice it with tokens of his approbation, while he poured out the vials of his wrath on all the family besides [Note: 1Ki_14:13.]. If we were less than the least of all saints, if we were only as “smoking flax,” having but one spark of grace and a whole cloud of corruption, God would assuredly observe the latent principle, and discover the workings of his own Spirit amidst all the infirmities of our fallen nature.]
Nor will he ever suffer the weakest believer to perish—
[From the violence with which corn is agitated, an ignorant person would imagine that much of it must be lust with the chaff: in like manner many that are weak in faith may be ready to cry, “I shall one day perish [Note: 1Sa_27:1.].” But God pledges himself for the preservation of every the smallest grain. lie represents himself under the image of a woman, who, having lost a small piece of silver, lights a candle, and sweeps diligently till she find it [Note: Luk_15:8.]; and he assures us, that “it is not his will, that any of Ins little ones should perish [Note: Mat_18:14.]. We have no reason then to fear: for whilst he continues possessed of omniscience to discern his people, and omnipotence to preserve them, we shall be as secure amidst all our agitations, as if we were already lodged in the granary of heaven.]
How much are we concerned to be found sincere!
[There is a day quickly coming, when Christ, the Judge of (piick and dead, shall sift and winnow us all. Nor will he merely cause a separation of the precious from the vile, but such a separation as shall be followed with endless happiness or misery [Note: Mat_3:12.]. Should we not then diligently inquire whether we be wheat or chaff? To what purpose is it that “the tares grow up with the wheat,” and sometimes are mistaken for it, if, at the harvest, they must be separated for ever [Note: Mat_13:29-30.]? So it will be of little avail to have been reputed Christians, if, the very instant we die, we are to take our portion with hypocrites and unbelievers. Let us then turn to God now with our whole hearts, that we may “have confidence before him at his coming.”]
How may we welcome afflictions, provided we be truly upright!
[What are afflictions but the sieve in our Father’s hand, whereby he takes us from among the ungodly, and “purifies us unto himself a peculiar people?” And shall we distrust his skill, or doubt his love? If the countryman, instructed by him, knows how to suit his threshing-instruments to the nature of his corn, shall God be at a loss how most effectually to produce his ends on us [Note: Isa_28:26-28.]? Let us then leave ourselves in his hands, and submit cheerfully to the means, that we may at last attain the end.]
How important a grace is faith!
[Under the various trials with which we are harassed, it is faith alone that can keep us steadfast, or afford us any solid comfort. If we be destitute of faith, we shall be tormented with ten thousand fears: but if we be strong in faith, we shall, under all circumstances, “stay ourselves on God, and be kept in perfect peace [Note: Isa_26:3.].” However sensible we be of our own weakness and unworthiness, we shall expect the accomplishment of God’s promise, and shall dismiss our fears, “knowing that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him [Note: 2Ti_1:12.].” May we all be enabled in this manner to trust ourselves in his hands, and to wait quietly for that salvation which he has prepared for us!]