And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err.
~ Leviticus 26:33, Deuteronomy 28:64, Isaiah 30:28
And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
~ Zechariah 3:1
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
~ Luke 22:31
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
~ Job 1:8-11
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
~ Job 2:3-6
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
~ 1 Peter 5:8
Upon Amos 9:9, by James Renwick. Sermon 20.
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
Dear friends, I would have you to remember this of our case, that it is such, that scarcely ever a church was trysted with the like; so that I may allude to that, Lam. 1, 2, 3. How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is the become as a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! she weepeth sore in the night, and her fears are on her cheeks: Among all her lovers the hath none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies: Judah is gone into captivity, because of affliction, and because of great servitude: She dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest; all her persecutors overtook her between the straits. And likewise Lam. ii. 16, 17. All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: They hiss, and gnash the teeth: They say, we have swallowed her up: Certainly this is the day that we looked for, we have found, we have seen it. The Lord hath done that which he hath devised: He hath fulfilled his word, that he hath commanded in the days of old: He hath thrown down, and hath not pitied, and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee; he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries. O! what shall I take to liken our case to? Are not enemies saying, This is the day we should have had, and that we looked for? So that I may allude also to Lam i. 12. Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. And to that in Jer. viii. 15. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble. Ver. 20. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. Is not this then a sad case? But, I say, a suffering case is, ay, a sad case.
But to come to the words, For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel, &c. In the beginning of this chapter, the prophet sees the Lord, standing upon the altar; and the prophet gets a commission to smite the lintels of the door, that the posts thereof may shake, and to cut them in the head; and he says, I will slay the last of them with the sword. By cutting the posts in the head, is meant the heads, and strength of the people, and their desolation; hereby the Lord confirming them, that all the ways they took, or should take, to escape, should not prevail, but they should be taken; although they should dig down to Hell, yet thence he would bring them up; and though they should flee unto Carmel, yet thence he would bring them back; and though they go into captivity. yet there would he cause the sword, and it would slay them, So, from all this, we may say to you, sirs, think not to miss the stroke that the Lord hath to bring upon this generation; no, no. Some may dream to be among the enemies, and yet not be known, or among strangers, and so escape; but remember, and take the Lord’s word for it, that you shall not escape: And it is long since the Lord threatened this land with judgments, and desolating strokes: And, to confirm it this tells whose hands they have to go through: It is he that buildeth his stories in the heavens; it is the Lord of hosts that toucheth the land, and it shall melt. And, then, lest they should say, that they were a people in covenant with God; the Lord answers, and says, Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me? Notwithstanding of all the privileges that I bestowed upon you, yet, ye are even as ugly unto me as the Ethiopians; and suppose ye should object and say, hath not the Lord delivered us out of the land of Egypt, and brought us through the wilderness, and will he now destroy us? Also the Lord answers to that, that he had likewise delivered the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Assyrians from Kir; and therefore they needed not conclude, that their privileges should save them; for he tells them; That his eyes were upon the sinful nation, and that he was looking always. that he might destroy them: And, I think, that this is the language, that he is saying to Scotland, that is so bewitched with whoredom, drunkennness, profanity, perjury, and backsliding, that he will destroy them.
But there is a promise made to his own people, that he will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob. And then, in the text, he tells what he will do with them, that he will sift the house of Israel among all nations; yet one grain thereof shall not fall to the earth; there shall none of them be lost: And he tells who they were that he would sift, they were the secure folk, who said, That the calamity should never overtake them. So then, the folk likely that the Lord will find out and count with, are these who have their own starting holes, that they think they will flee to for safety: Be taken who will, they shall be taken, and shall not escape. But then, the issue is sweet, verse 11. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.
So much for the connection, and now I come to the words, I will sift the house of Israel. The meaning of the words is, that the Lord will command to sift his church, as narrowly as corn is sifted in a sieve: And this is to be understood, that either the Lord should sift them among the nations; or else, that they should be as narrowly and sharply dealt with, as if they had been so used: This may be understood from this; and yet, notwithstanding of all the hard usage that this church shall meet with; yet, where there is a grain, if it be but like a grain of grace, it shall not be lost: For, by the falling of so small a grain to the earth, is meant, that it is lost, and cannot be gathered up again: And so, I shall divide the words into these two heads:
1. That the Lord will narrowly sift his people and church.
2. That one grain of grace shall not be lost; not one of his people shall be lost. And from the first head I fall lay down this doctrine.
Whatever be the siftings that men may take to escape, and sift the sieve by, yet they need not think to escape so: Whoever they be that have escaped this search, yet they shall not pass unsifted.
And now for confirmation of this point, ye see what John the Baptist says, concerning Christ coming to his church, Matth. iii. 12. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Do ye think that a man that hath a heap of corn and chaff lying together, that he will let them lie to? No, no, he will not; for he will winnow and sift it, till he get the corn and chaff parted: So also, the Lord will sift hypocrites from among his people: For, as it is in Mal, iii. 3. He shall sift as a refiner, and purifier of silver. He shall purity and purge out all the dross of his people, Zech. xiii. 9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. So the Lord will purge his people. Do ye think a man that hath a heap of gold and dross lying together, will suffer it to remain so? No, certainly; but he will bring it to the furnace, and melt and separate them there!
Now, in speaking to this point, there are five things that I would speak to from this:
I. A word, in shewing some sieves, that the Lord sifts his people with…
II. What he sifts them for.
III. What he sifts them from.
IV. What the Lord purposes in the sifting of his people.
V. Some words of use. Now, as to the first of these.
1. The Lord sifts his people, by the sieve of his word, Heb. iv. 12. For 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 is a seive that the Lord oft makes use of in the sifting of his people; and much of his sifting by his word have we gotten; the Lord sifts by his law, and by his gospel. And now, I would pose you, as in his sight, in whose hand this sieve is, Do you know what it is to be sifted by the law? if not, and if ye continue so, as sure as the Lord lives, he hath the axe in his hand; and there is no delivery from this hand of his, that this sieve is in.
2. The Lord sifts his people with the sieve of the discipline of his church, and by this he sifts out many hypocrites and hypocrisy: And although this is a thing, that the want thereof is looked but lightly on by many; but let them, or any, think of it as they will, yet this is a crying sieve. When he had a well constituted church, by doctrine and church discipline, how terrible were we to the enemies? For, what was the thing that caused the malignants fear at, and be so much averse to the presbyterial church government, but because they could not endure the discipline of the church? For they would never have been so careful (at least many of them) for prelacy, if it had not been this.
3. The Lord sifts his people with the sieve of affliction, Lev. xxvi. 15, 16. And if ye fail despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant, I also will do this unto you, I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eye; and cause sorrow of heart: And ye shall sow your feed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. The Lord hath appointed all sorts of affliction, as a sieve to discover the dross and hypocrisy of his people, and therefore, O friends! the use that you should make of these your afflictions, sickness, and crosses; or whatever trouble you have, if it were but a toothache, should be, to make you search yourselves, and to hate all your sin and hypocrisy: For this is God’s design in afflicting his people, to part them from all their dross and hypocrisy.
4. The Lord sifts his people with the sieve of desertion. Psalm xlii, 6. O my God, my soul is cast down within me. Here he gives proof of his being interested in God, by calling him, My God; and yet he is here under a desertion: And believe it, sirs, desertion will sift strongly; it will try what grips ye have of Christ, and of grace. And, by the way, when we speak of this sieve, do not grudge at it; grudge not at desertion; for although it be not joyful or comfortable, yet it is needful, and will sift narrowly.
5. The Lord sifts his people with the sieve of persecution: And this sieve the Lord makes sometimes wider; and he gives enemies a permission to sift with it: Yet still he keeps the sieve in his own hand; and he hath been sifting this long time with this sieve, and hath been heating the furnace anew. He began first with a wide sieve; and, O! but much chaff and dross went through at the first: But, now he hath laid that by, and made hot the furnace anew: And, O! but the chaff be much that he hath found out, and will find out: It is much, and will be much ere all be done; for, it is now come to that, we say, that all that was pleasant to the outward eye, we are robbed of it: God is now making use of this; and, O! but he hath sifted out much chaff with this sieve: In charity, it could not have been believed, that so much chaff should have been found within so short a time, as is discovered already.
6. The Lord sifts his people by the sieve of temptations; and this is a narrow sieve; It is narrower than the sieve of persecution, but think not strange that the Lord should take this sieve; for Christ himself went through this sieve, Matth. iv. I, -12. No doubt but this is a narrow sieve, because this sieve of temptation is fourfold: As,
(1.) When the temptation is suited to the inclination; and that will try the man or woman to purpose: And, believe it, ye that know any thing of this, ye will find yourselves oftner tried with this, than with any other temptation: For drunkenness is not so oft the man’s temptation, that is not inclined to it, as it is to him whose inclination is after it.
(2) There is another sort of temptation which Satan ordinarily assaults by, and that is, when the temptation suits the man’s necessity; and this Satan did to our blessed Lord, when he was an hungered; for then the tempter bade him command the stones to be made bread, Matth. iv. 3.
(3.) The third sort of temptation is, when Satan suits the temptation to the creature’s advantage; when Satan by the temptation says to the man, Do this thing, and the other thing, and ye will get the gear kept in this evil time; and if ye do otherwise, ye will be hurried out of the door; as that, if ye go not to the kirk and court, and take the bond that is coming through, ye will not get the corn and the cattle kept. And so, it is not the want of light, that hath made so many of the professors of Scotland run so many black roads; but only this, to get the gear kept.
(4.) And there is a fourth sort of temptation, that is most prevailing, and that is, when the temptation is grounded upon the word of God, that is, when Satan brings in Scripture, that the temptation may get the better place; this also he did to our blessed Lord, Matth. iv. 6. If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written. He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up. Yea, Satan will not miss to cite Scripture, for making the temptation work the stronger; but still he will keep back that place of scripture that is most significant, or else leave it out altogether: For he will make use of no more scripture than serves his turn: This he did to Christ, when he cited Psal. xci, 11, 12. he left out these words, To keep thee in all thy ways: For, that was none of his ways that he advised him to, and to, no promise of keeping in it. O! but the devil hath been busy to sift with this sieve, and he hath prevailed with many; so that whatever they appeared once to be, they are now found to be, but chaff. If you will ask at some, what makes them go and hear these corrupt clergy, that are profane in their practice? They will answer, They sit in Moses’s seat, and therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; and do not after their works, Matth. xxiii. 2, 3. And if ye shall ask at some professors, what is the reason that they have laid by their profession, and that they do not now appear for God, and own his cause? They will cite that scripture, Amos v. 13. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time: for it is an evil time. And if ye but speak to them of the cess-paying, they will answer with that word, Matth. xxii. 21. Rend therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s: Whereas, we neither have a Caesar, nor are they in case to give that unto him; for they give unto him, whom they call their Caesar, that which is God’s; for they have given away their conscience unto him.
7. The Lord sifts his people by the sieve of stumbling blocks, and by this he sifts the Church of Scotland, as when enemies wax stronger and stronger; and, as to the outward dispensations of providence, the Lord seems to be with them: This stumbles many, and makes them either to question the way of God, or to leave it: This made even David to stumble, to see the prosperity of the wicked, Psal. Ixxiii. 3–17., Ay, this hath been a stumbling block to many, wherewith the Lord hath sifted them. There are some, that he will set to his work, that will build a while; but when tribulation ariseth because of the gospel, then they cast all down again: This hath been seen in many, who once seemed to be tall cedars; so that their fall hath stumbled many. And; O! how many are there, who have quit their profession, because so many ministers and professors have in this day stept aside, and left the way of God! Alas! many have fallen to the ground because of this, that will never rise again: So, ye may see, that the Lord lets some fall, to be stumbling blocks to others; so that many break their necks upon the falls of some, who once appeared to be something, that are now discovered to be but incarnate devils. Hath not this sieve laid by many, who some times endeavoured to act for the Lord most publicly and solemnly? O! this hath been a sieve, that hath sifted Scotland many times; and we think that the Lord is saying. That if there were not another sieve but this, even this, that he will thereby find out many, and make them to fall over stumbling blocks.
8. The Lord sifts his people by the sieve of death; and this sifts hypocrites thoroughly and finds them out; and this sieve will try his people; yea, this sieve will make many to change their notes and thoughts, that have been esteemed to be something, and that have flocked after the gospel; yet this will discover them to be but chaff. The Lord hath appointed men and women once to die, Heb. ix. 27. So that, although ye should escape all the rest of the forenamed sieves, yet ye shall not escape the sieve of death.
9. The Lord will sift us by the last judgment; for, at the day of judgment, there will be a full separation; but I do not mean that he will sift hypocrisy from his people then, for, they will be separated from that, before the day of judgment come; and then will be the parting, betwixt the sheep. and the goats, betwixt the corn and the chaff, betwixt the gold and the dross: Then will he gather the wheat into his barn; but the tares will be gathered and bound in bundles, and cast into the fire: There shall not be one wicked person left among the godly, no chaff shall remain with the corn; then the Lord will sift and part them cleanly. Many hypocrites, and real Christians, are living together now, but they will not belong together; for the day of judgment will part them cleanly. O! then, think what ye will do, and what ye will say in that day. Many think little of saving grace now; but a dram weight of it will be found precious in that day:
II. The second thing that I promised to speak to, was,
What it is that the Lord sifts in his people: And,
1. He sifts his people’s profession: Peter had the greatest profession of all the disciples; so he got the greatest sifting. What do ye profess? If ye profess much, then resolve that ye shall be as well tried. Do ye profess much zeal, faith, and love! Then resolve, that it shall be as well tried and sifted. I do not say this, to fear any from their profession, or to think that these who are real in it, shall be dung from it; but to stir you up to more diligence, and to make sure work, to build your profession rightly, upon the sure rock, Christ Jesus: for I am sure, nothing that that man meets with will ding him of his feet; but he shall be carried through the storm. So, remember that he will sift your profession; and although that there have been many professors of his truth, yet he hath found but few confessors of his name among them.
2. He will sift the principles of his people: And, O! but this be a narrow sieve: He will try, whether ye took up that principle that ye hold, at your foot or got it from him; so he will try if ye came rightly by it; and by this he will try, if ye came rightly by it; and by this he will make it out of many that they never got their principles from him; So, he will try, if ye came rightly by this or that principle. O! try yourselves and see that ye be well-principled. O! I fear, that many will be found to have taken up their principles at their feet, and that they never got them from the Lord; and such shall be found to be unstable as water, Reuben-like, and so, shall not excel, Gen. xlix. 4.
3. He will sift your closing (that is, to do that which God desires them to do in exercising faith) with Christ: What, have ye closed with Christ? Well then, he will discover this; he will sift you by his word, and he will sift you by temptations, and he will sift you by persecution. O! how many said, by their profession, within these eight years, that they would never quit with Christ and his way? and yet they have made irrecoverable apostasy from him. O? see how ye are principled, that ye may abide the trial of all these sieves, and see how ye have closed with Christ; for this will be tried and sifted also.
4. He will sift the graces of his people, not only the reality of them but even the quantity of them, and the measure of them: This he did with Peter; he thought that he had grace enough, and that he would die or burn for Christ; so Christ said that should be tried, not only as the reality of it, but as to the measure and quantity of it. So, then, resolve to be tried, sirs, not only in the reality of your graces, but even as to the measure and quantity of them, and in your love zeal, and stedfastness. O! friends resolve on this, that it shall be tried if ye can be denied to all these, yea, even to the reality of your graces as to trust in him; and to look to the Lord alone for your future through-bearing: Ay, I will tell you, friends, that measure of grace that have born up in time by past, will not do it now; that which would have borne through at Pentland, Bothwel, and Airs-moss, will not do your turn now, to carry you through cleanly: We read that Peter’s faith served a while; but when he came upon the raging waves of the sea, he began to sink: So, look how ye will win: through this narrow sieve; study, not only to have grace, but to have an exceeding measure of grace, and that in exercise.
5. He will sift the duties of his people, and find what reality is in them, Mal. iii. 14. Ye have said, It is vain to serve God. And what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? Oh, this is very sad! they would have served the Lord for outward advantage; but when matters went not with them, as they would have had them, then they were discovered, that it was never out of love to him that they performed their duties: O! remember that this land was once very forward in flocking to Christ’s ordinances, and in setting days apart for humiliation for sin; and so the Lord hath sifted there, and they are found not to be bell-metal; and so, this day the Lord hath discovered, that your duties were never from a right principle; Your going to ordinances when ye had the gospel among you, and all your other duties, we tear there hath been much formality in them: O! then study to examine your duties, that they may not be found to have been but lip labour and formal; and try your practice whether it be conform to the rule of the word of God; whether ye took his word and Spirit to be your guide, or not: He hath sent afflictions and trials, to try you by these; but if there have not done your turn, to part you from your sin, ye shall be yet variously and better sifted, ere all be done. O! then will ye study the perfection of the thing, although ye cannot win to be absolutely and thoroughly perfect; yet, in your resolutions, so study to walk, that ye may be bell-metal: I assure, you, if ye, were rightly resolved to be thus sifted, ye would be more tender, and more zealous. Ye that are lo slothful and carnal now, and so untender of his glory, remember, if ye thus continue, God will sift you, and ye shalt go off at the left hand, among the chaff, that will be cast in. to unquenchable fire: So, remember, that he will sift your duties; therefore study to make conscience of them.
III, The third thing proposed to be spoken to, is this, What is it, that the Lord by his sifting, sifts from his people and,
1. The Lord sifts hypocrisy from his people; and he sifts carnal hypocrites from among his people. O! ye that are carnal hypocrites, remember, that ye must, either part with your hypocrisy, and study to be real Christians; or else ye shall be cast of at the left hand into unquenchable fire; ye must quit your carnal thoughts, and your uncleanness, and hypocrisy, and whatever sin ye are lying under; or else he will cast you into the fire of indignation.
2. He will sift from his people self-seeking: What way think ye to win through, sirs? will ye quit your self seeking? O! he hath discovered many, who have been but self-seekers: O! quit this, sirs, or else he will cast you off at the left hand, and give you your portion in unquenchable fire: Remember, God will either have you and your self-seeking parted; or. else ye shall be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.
3. He will have his people sifted from self-love: many there are, that have been but lovers of themselves; so that thereby they have let Christ, his cause, and gospel go, to get, their own things kept: ministers and professors are guilty of this; they have resolved to lay all by when hazard came, and have chosen the world; but the Lord will either have them to let the world go, or else he will sift them so that they shall turn chaff, and be cast off at the left hand, into unquenchable fire.
4. He will sift his people from their self-conceit: This is the chaff that sticks to many of his own people; but he will sift them thoroughly, till they quit with that conceit that many of them have of themselves and get it put away: So, people that think much of themselves must be weaned from such high thoughts! O that ye would remember this; for, Christ will sift you, until he have you parted from this: I wish ye may consider what a conceit Peter had of himself, and fear, and tremble; for, said he, though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended: And, though I would die with thee, yet will I not deny thee, Matth. xxvi. 33-35. Ay, but Peter was sifted, till he was parted from that conceit: The Lord made him see his own weakness: Then, what says Christ to Peter, after he had denied him? Ye may observe, that Christ said nothing by way of rebuke; to cast Peter down; but, after his resurrection, where the disciples were all assembled, and Christ among them, then he says to Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? Now, Peter durst not answer him with the confidence he had done before but answers him more calmly, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee, John xxi. 15, 16. Peter was driven out of his self-conceit, and self confidence that he had: So, remember, that Christ will either have this self.conceit sifted from his people, or else he will cast them off at the left hand, and give them their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.
5. He will have his people sifted from their self-slothfulness; they are little in duty, careless and formal in it: Now, this is a thing that is so contracted in folk, that it is not easy to get them parted with it; but, quit it ye must, or else he will quite cast you off: Remember that threefold exhortation of Paul’s, Examine, try, and prove yourselves: Now, a threefold cord is not easily broken; O! then rouse up yourselves from this self-slothfulness, and beware of it; for, if Satan get you once rocked in this cradle, he will rock, and keep you; if he can asleep still. O! then, study to rouse up yourselves to diligence; for Christ will either have you sifted and and parted from this, or else he will cast you off at the left hand, and give you your portion in unquenchable fire.
6. He will have his people sifted from their worldly mindedness, and love to the world, he will take his word, and trials, persecution, and afflictions of all sorts, and sift his people with them for this end, that they may be parted from their worldly mindedness: And, O! but the Lord hath made much use of this sieve for this end; and yet how few are brought to quit with all for Christ? And, O! how many have quite given over all that they seemed to have of religion, and complied with enemies to get the world kept? Oh! it may well be called a factor to the devil; ay, it may be said of the world, as it was said of Saul and David, other sins have slain their thousands. It is a word among the Latinists, that the throat kills more than the sword; so, I will say it of the world, that the world kills more souls than the sword doth of bodies. O! believe it that excessive love to the world is a rife sin, but is little regarded: O! study to part with it, or else God will cast you off at the left hand, and give your portion in that lake that burns with fire and brimstone, where there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.
7. He will have his people sifted from their presumptions many there are, who have proud and presumptuous thoughts of themselves, that they have much religion and much love to God; and the Lord sees them, and knows that they are but chaff; and by sifting will discover many, who have taken up their religion at their foot, ay, and that have taken it up, ere it took them; for, they know not, nor cannot instruct, how they came at their religion at the first; but they soon waxed confident in it, like Peter who thought that he had more strength than he had: O! remember this, sirs, and fear, and study to keep humble; for, God will either sift presumption out of you, or else he will cast you off at the left hand, into unquenchable fire.
8. He will have his people sifted from their unbelief: Oh! how rife is this! O! there is much of this to be sifted out of his people: But this is the chaff that he will not let stay with his people: O! unbelievers think upon this: the Lord will sift you, till he discover you to be but chaff, and cast you off at the left hand, and give you your portion in that lake of unquenchable fire; And as for you that are his people, remember that God will put you through many sieves till he get you and this chaff of unbelief parted.
9. He will have his people sifted from their trusting and putting confidence in man, or in the arm of flesh. Alas! how many were there of us, that looked that their deliverance mould have come that way, even by that party that was lately on foot with Argyle, expecting that the Lord would do great things by them? But, for my part I never thought such a thing, that our deliverance would come that way; for, the Lord broke a party at Pentland Bothwel, and Air’s-moss, that there was more to have been looked for from them, and more confidence to have been put in them, than in this party; But, I will tell you, the Lord will never leave of sifting of his people, till he see them shaken out of all carnal confidence, and bring them to look to himself only for delivery; but I think that few of his people looked for a delivery directly, by these men; but thy did it indirectly, by thinking as I thought that the Lord might make use of them to break the common enemy, that so he might make way for himself; but he will have his people taken off all these, and brought to a non-plus what to do; and are not we at this already? But the Lord will have us brought more into it yet, that we may look to himself allenarly (only).
10. He will have his people sifted from their envying and grudging at his enemies; O! but this sin prevaileth much; at prevailed even with David; for he was even envious, and grudged to see the prosperity of the wicked; yea, was brought to think that the wicked had the best of it, and said that he thought that he had washed his hands in vain, till that he went into the sanctuary, where the Lord let him see their end. But, O! poor, things, they need not be envied in their gold, and in their gear; but rather they are to be pitied, and their case mourned over, considering the dreadful day that is abiding them, though now they enjoy their good things.
But there is a worse sort of envy, which is more dangerous, and that is, to envy grace in the Lord’s people, and that is trip us in holiness. O! beware of this sin; it is true and it cannot be denied, but that we should all stir up ourselves in diligence, who may be foremost in grace; but this is from a bad principle; but O! envy not because you cannot win up to the measure of others; but strive that ye may; for, true grace envies not to see others thriving in grace, but rejoiceth, though they should be least of all. Then! study to get the chaff purged out; for, God will have you parted from this, or else he will cast you off at the left hand, and give you your portion in the lake that burneth with unquenchable fire. And so, ye see that the Lord sifts hypocrisy from his people, and he will sift them from their self-seeking, from their self-love, from their self-conceit, from their self-confidence, from their self-slothfulness, from their worldly-mindedness, from their presumption, from their unbelief, from putting confidence in man, and from their envy: O! there are many things that he hath to sift his people from, even from these who have grace. O! there will will be many and much winnowing, before they win to the true grain. I come now to the —
IV. Thing proposed to be spoken to, which is this, What is God’s design, end, and purpose in sifting of his people? In answer to this, I say,
1. God’s purpose in sifting his church is, to discover the hypocrites: If the Lord had not taken Scotland in his hand, and sifted it, many ministers and professors who were but hypocrites, would never have been known: Why is it, that he is sifting his church with the sieve of persecution and stumbling blocks, but to discover hypocrites and hypocrisy in his own people? and woeful is the case of ministers and professors, who have given proof that they are but hypocrites.
2. God’s purpose in sifting of his church is that they may win to know themselves; Peter came never to know himself, till he was tried; we do not know what we will prove till once we be tried; O! then study sincerely, for ye will be tried.
3. God’s purpose in sifting of his church, is that they may be brought thereby to know him; there are many who are very ignorant of him; I may pose many of yourselves in this place, what deep ignorance of God ye are under, and if it had not been for the trial and discovery of the deep ignorance that many are in of him, and bringing them therefrom, the Lord had not taken this sieve in his hand.
4. God’s purpose in sifting his church, is that he may purge and purify away the dross that is in them; for, why is it that man takes the sieve in his hand, but to cleanse, and better cleanse, the true grain from the chaff? And why is it that the goldsmith puts the gold into the furnace to melt, but that the true gold may appear the purer? So, the Lord’s end in sifting his church is, that he may make a cleanly people for himself; it is for this that he is sifting his people; ‘O! then; study to be holy, dear friends for this is the language of all his sieves, that his people may be holy.
5. God’s purpose in sifting his church is, that they may be more precious: A heap of corn is more precious when the chaff is separated from it: And, as the Lord faith, Zech. xiii. 9, And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; And that is, that they may be the more precious; for the goldsmith refines and purifies the metal, that it may be the more precious; and so it is with the church of Scotland this day; he hath cast all into the furnace, that he may bring out the bell-metal; this will be the upshot of all, the dross he wilt consume, and the good metal shall be more pure. O! my friends, the best days that ever Scotland saw, are at the back of this, but coming. There shall be a pure church, and a holy people: All the ministers that ever were in the church of Scotland have been naught, in comparison of what they shall be, that the Lord shall give to Scotland; and they shall be a pure and holy people. So then, if we by faith could win to see that glorious building of the Church of Scotland that shall be, it would be all our outcries, that the cost that was spent upon it, was nothing in comparison of the building, it shall be so glorious.
6. God’s purpose in sifting of his church is, that the graces of his people may appear the more clear; the Lord hath brought on the sieve of persecution, and all the rest of the sieves, because there hath been so much corruption that the true grace of God could not be seen for weeds. O! sirs, ye know that a decayed old house, if there come a flood over it, it takes away the rubbish, and makes the stones of the building to appear clearer. Also, ye know what were Sarah’s words to Abraham, cast out the bond woman and her son, for he bill not be heir with my son lsaac. So, cast out all the fruits of the bond woman, and your graces will appear the clearer.
7. God’s purpose in sifting of his church is, that thereby he may prove his interest in them; ye know, if a man come by a heap of corn and chaff, if he have no interest in it, he will not concern himself with it, but if it be his own, he will take all the pains he can, in sifting and winnowing it, till he get the corn’ and the chaff parted so it is with Christ and his church, he will pass by the faults of others, that he is not concerned with; but he will not pass by the faults of his own people: For, whom he loveth he chastiseth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, Heb. xii. 6. O! it is in this that he proveth his interest in his people; for, because there was much dross in the Kirk of Scotland, therefore he hath done what he hath done; so, he will take much pains in sifting the same, to part the chaff from the corn, and the dross from the metal; and so by this he proves his interest in us. Away with that saying of enemies, who say, we are not the Lord’s people, because he afflicts and chastens us so sore; for, I say, that by his sifting us to sore, by to many sieves, his care of us, and design to part us from our chaff and dross, appears; and this proves us to be his people, and that he hath an interest in us.
8. God’s purpose in sifting of his church is, that he there, by may give us many errands to himself (I do not mean only such as call upon God, when trouble is upon them, but when it is removed, there is no more din of it, or their seeking of God, or calling upon him) but these that are fast pursuing him, for peace and acquaintance with him, that by his sifting them with these sieves of affliction, &c. it will be like a spur, to make them run the faster; and so, it is for this end that the Lord sifts his church and people, that they may have the more errands to himself, so that, when the creature comes with one errand to him, he will answer it, and give it another errand, by putting another work in his hand. And so, O! my friends, as the Lord is increasing the number of his sieves, pray the more, and be the more in all duties, and make use of them, as means to make you go with more errands to him.
9. God’s purpose in sifting of his church is, that he may make his holiness to appear, that he is of purer eyes than he can behold iniquity; and so, he will purge it out of his people; otherwise, it would be thought that he winked at the sins of his people, if it were not so, that he took so much pains, by so many sieves for sifting of his people.
And so, I shall come to the last point, that I proposed to speak to, which is, to give some uses of the doctrine.
Use 1. Seeing that it is so, that God hath so many sieves that he sifts by, then resolve not to sit down secure, but resolve on strange sufferings and siftings; and do not think to pass unsifted for if ye belong to him, he will sift you thoroughly, till he get the chaff sifted from you: O! then, resolve with this, sirs: Have ye not yet met with these sieves? Indeed we think there are but few, but they have met with some of them, if not all of them; but he may make the sieve narrower yet: Indeed we may resolve to meet with as narrow a sieve, as ever a land met with; O! resolve in the matter, and see what ye will prove: If ye prove chaff, then ye will be bound in bundles, and cast into the unquenchable fire; but if ye prove corn, ye shall be presented among his people, in that day when he makes up his jewels, Mal. iii, 17.
Use 2. Resolve on this, sirs, that the Lord will sift your principles, your practice, your love, and the measure of your patience, your stedfastness, and all the rest we named: And O! I fear, that many shall be discovered to be but hypocrites; for, I fear there be many of you unfixed, and that the counsel of some subtle pretended friend will turn you from your stedfastness: O! resolve to be sifted, by all these sieves I have named: And O! if ye give proof of yourselves, that ye are professors, and not confessors, then away to the bing of chaff with you; and if ye give proof of your principles, and not from a right end, then away to the bing of chaff with you; and if ye give proof that ye have no grace, then away to the bing of chaff with you: ‘But if ye have a grain of grace, if it were but a grain, it shall not be lost; for, although ye should be drawn through held, as Jonah was in the depths, yet ye shall be preserved. O! resolve then, to have all your prayers; and duties tried; for he will have all put through the sieve; then resolve to be tried, in-through, and out-through.
Use 3. Is it so, that ye will be sifted? O then be intreated to quit these things, that God would have you sifted from, as self-love, and all the forenamed things, that come under the name of chaff; for God will continue the sifting of his Church in Scotland, until he get a remnant sifted from these.
Use. 4. Seeing then, that the Lord hath so great purposes and gracious ends, in sifting and winnowing his people, then take all well out of his hand, whether it be persecutions, temptations, or stumbling-blocks; or all other trials: take all well out of his hand; and if he call you to it, take up your cross, sit not his call, and study to take all well out of his hand; this is a proof that ye are interested in him; for, there is no surer proof that ye are interested in him, and that he is interested in you, than this, his taking pains to get you and sin parted. O! study to be parted from the chaff, and take all trials well out of the Lord’s hand, seeing that his purposes are so gracious therein.
And now, to him who hath all these sieves in his hand, be praise for ever. Amen.