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Ancient Testaments: God keeps refining, filtering his people

If you want to ruin a bricklayer's day — if you want to derail his usual satisfaction in creating beautiful and lasting walls — put rocks in his mortar. The rocks don't have to be big. Even little tiny rocks will do it.

Fine-grained "mason's sand" has been screened or sifted. If the rocks aren't filtered out, the mortar doesn't just ruin the mason's day. It forces the bricks to shift and tilt. It leaves joints unstable and unsightly. It ruins the whole wall.

Of course, all sorts of projects in life require sifting, including the establishment of God's work. In early church history, each difficulty, move, or sacrifice refined the church.

The heartbreaking part of sifting is the occasional retreat of some beloved soul — perhaps embittered or discouraged.

But sifting also results in strength. It brings a higher concentration of joy.

The Colesville (New York) Saints were an example of this purifying. Having been the first branch organized in this dispensation, they were later the first to migrate into Missouri and create a church settlement there.

Some 178 years later, you will find only narrow, urban streets and crowded, somewhat declining neighborhoods in the place — about 12 miles west of Independence, Mo. — where the Colesville Saints settled.

But at that time, the place was an inviting, rolling prairie complete with sparkling creeks, tall grass and scattered forests. The soil was black and rich. The land was wild, flourishing with animal and plant life.

Looking like ragtag pilgrims, they were in fact a group of heaven's beloved, a quiet congregation of nobles. They had lost just about everything. But the filtering somehow deepened their commitment to the restored gospel, their sense of mission, their will to work and their unfaltering affection for each other.

Parley P. Pratt lived among them for a season while recovering from a severe illness. He wrote: "The winter was cold, and for some time about ten families lived in one log cabin, which was open and unfinished, while the frozen ground served for a floor. Our food consisted of beef and a little bread made of corn, which had been grated into coarse meal by rubbing the ears on a tin grater. This was rather an inconvenient way of living for a sick person; but it was for the gospel's sake, and all were very cheerful and happy."

Rather inconvenient for a sick person? Brother Pratt is understating matters. Probably rather inconvenient for any person at all! Yet he said "all were very cheerful and happy." All? That is what this notoriously honest man reported. We are forced to believe that this includes all 10 families in that one-room, frozen-floored, unfurnished cabin.

From one of Brother Pratt's other entries, we read: "We enjoyed many happy seasons in our … meetings, and the Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, and even on the little children, insomuch that many of eight, ten or twelve years of age spake, and prayed, and prophesied in our meetings and in our family worship. There was a spirit of peace and union, and love and good will manifested in this little Church in the wilderness, the memory of which will be ever dear to my heart" (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pages 56 and 72).

There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the screening of mason's sand and the strength of a brick wall. Likewise, the sifting and filtering of the Saints leads directly to their happiness, their "love and good will."

God was constantly filtering his people then. We shouldn't be surprised if he seems to be doing so now.

Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.