By Arthur Wallis
"And I will cause the shower to come down in its season; there shall be showers of blessing" (Ezek. 34:26).
"What are the prospects of revival?" asked the writer of an aged servant of God.
"They are as bright as the promises of God," was the swift reply.
No truer answer could have been given. We know that there are to be those in the last days who shall say of the hope of Christ's coming, "Where is the promise?" (2 Pet. 3:4). Even so there are those today who question the expectancy of revival, because they cannot see in God's Word any ground for such a hope. "Where", they would ask us, "is the promise of revival?" If, however, they are right in implying that there is no promise, then they must be asked to explain why, down the centuries of the church's history, God's people have been led and moved to plead with Him to do what He has never promised to do, and why He has done it again and again in answer to their burdened prayers. But is there no promise?
Already some of the great revival promises of the Old Testament have been quoted. They could be easily multiplied. Let us take the familiar chapter 35 of Isaiah as an example: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God.
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompence of God; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water" (verses 1-7).
It may be objected, however, that these Old Testament prophecies refer to national Israel, and find their fulfilment in a dispensation other than this age of the church. It is not disputed that this may be the primary application of many such passages, but we surely make a great mistake when we confine such glorious promises to their immediate and literal fulfilment.
God never intended that we should limit His word in this way, by restricting His precious promises to dispensational pigeon-holes, for He has not done so Himself, as we shall see when dealing presently with the Joel prophecy.
When the Spirit of God causes these Old Testament promises to come alive in the hearts of His children, and gives them faith to appropriate them in prayer and plead them before His face, until He answers from heaven in revival, who are we to suggest that this is a misapplication of God's promises to Israel? The outcome is conclusive evidence that God does not think so. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground" (Isa. 44:3) was one of the promises constantly pleaded in the recent Lewis Awakening, and God responded to such pleading. It has been so with almost every revival.
The promise of revival, however, is not confined to the Old Testament. The verse just quoted, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground", has its New Testament counterpart: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink . . . as the [O. T.] Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37, 38). The teaching in both passages is the same, and it is the whole principle of revival: the personal thirst - assuaged by the water of the Spirit - resulting in an overflow of blessing.
Next in order there is the statement of Peter on the day of Pentecost referred to in the opening chapter: "In the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17), where he relates the Joel prophecy to the age of the church. This must be considered more fully in a moment.
There are the further words of Peter in his address in the porch of the Temple: "Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send the Christ" (Acts 3:19, 20).
The order set forth here is important. Firstly, repentance and turning to God; secondly, seasons of refreshing from His presence; thirdly, the return of Christ. Here is the promise of revival, "seasons of refreshing", before the return of Christ, and as definite as the promise of the return itself.
The latter half of Joel 2, from which Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost, applies primarily to the time of Israel's national restoration. It relates to a day when Israel has responded to the call of the Lord (verses 12-17) and her people have turned to Him with all their heart. He will then have pity upon them, and cause that they should be no more a reproach among the nations (verses 18, 19).
After He had driven away from them "the northern army" (verse 20), He would bless their land by restoring the former rain and the latter rain that "the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil" (verses 23, 24), and they would know that the Lord was in the midst of them (verse 27). After this, the Lord promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh, in the familiar prophecy, quoted by Peter at Pentecost (verses 28-32).
These prophecies of the restoration of the rain and of the out-pouring of the Spirit which was to follow come within the space of six verses. They must both be taken literally or both figuratively. We cannot take one literally and spiritualize the other without doing violence to the passage. Plainly, the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit can only be literal, therefore the promise of the former and latter rain must be also taken literally to mean that those special seasons of rain in Palestine to which the Jewish farmer looked in order to obtain maximum fertility from the soil, are to be restored in full measure, as in the beginning, and that this is to take place at the time of Israel's national restoration.
But "afterward", as Joel says, these natural and temporal blessings were to be followed by their spiritual counterpart - there was to be an outpouring of the Spirit, not upon selected ones here and there, as in Old Testament days, but upon all flesh. This was to be accompanied by wonders in the heavens and in the earth, and was to precede "the great and terrible day of the Lord" (verses 30, 31). There would be a calling on the name of the Lord for deliverance (verse 32), and all this was to be when God should bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem (3:1) as promised.
It is evident from consideration of these factors that the prophecy, as we find it here in Joel, has not been fulfilled, and must await that day when world-wide blessing shall come through national Israel turning to God, when "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26) and "a land shall be born in one day", and "a nation be brought forth at once" (Isa. 66:8).
Paul expressed it thus: "If the casting away of them [the nation of Israel] is the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15).
However, the wonderful fact is that Peter declared on the day of Pentecost, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel", and then changing the word "afterward", he continued, "In the last days. . . I will pour forth of My Spirit". The inspired Apostle thus revealed that Joel's prophecy had an earlier application to the age of the church, "the last days", which began with Pentecost.
It is a feature of Old Testament prophecy, that there is very often a secondary fulfilment as well as the primary and literal one. The primary fulfilment is of necessity an exact fulfilment of the prophecy in every detail. The secondary fulfilment which usually precedes and anticipates the primary, will be but a partial fulfilment. Failure to recognize or acknowledge this duality in prophecy has led to much confusion.
Joel thus predicts for Israel, at the time of her national restoration, the return of the former and latter rain in Palestine, bringing abundant temporal blessing, to be followed by a glorious "latter rain" of the Spirit. Peter reveals by inspiration what could not otherwise have been known from the passage in Joel, that the promised "latter rain" of the Spirit was also to apply to the age of the church; that hidden away in that Old Testament prophecy was a secret purpose of God, to pour out His Spirit during this age and before the time of Israel's national restoration, and that this began with the outpouring at Pentecost. "Upon all flesh" indicates that the outpouring was to be unrestricted - as to sex, "sons and daughters" (Acts 2:17); as to age, "young men and old men" (2:17); as to race, "to you and to your children [Jews], and to all that are afar off [Gentiles]" (2:39).
It hardly needs to be asserted that the history of Israel in the Old Testament has a spiritual application to the church. Who has not seen that the redemption from Egypt, the wanderings in the wilderness, the entering of the Promised Land have a fulfilment in Christian experience? The New Testament confirms this again and again, for it is packed with Old Testament allusions to illustrate and enforce New Testament truths (viz. 1 Cor. 10). It now remains to show that the promised outpouring of the Spirit referred to by Peter at Pentecost was prefigured by the rain that God promised He would pour out upon the land in response to the obedience of His people.
When the nation was about to enter Canaan, God said through Moses, "The land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven. . .
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil" (Deut. 11:11-14).
It is clear from this passage that the harvest was dependent upon the rain, and that the rain was promised by God, contingent upon their obedience.
There are many references in Scripture to the long "dry season" in Palestine which commences in April and lasts until October, leaving the ground parched and the cisterns almost empty. Only those who have experienced this "dry season" in the East can appreciate the great longing which fills the hearts of all for the coming rain. How graphic are David's words in this connection: "My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee, in a dry and weary land, where no water is" (Ps. 63:1; cf. Isa. 32:2; 35:7).
The rainy season usually commences about the end of October with light showers that soften the ground (Ps. 65:10), and then continues with heavy intermittent falls of ten lasting for two or three days, throughout November and December. These heavy falls were called in Scripture "the former [or early] rain" (Heb. yoreh or moreh). The farmer depends upon the former rain to render the rocklike soil suitable for ploughing and sowing.
A native of Palestine has written in this connection, "When the rains have come in sufficient quantities, he must begin to plough. He may have to plough in the face of hail and snow, storm and tempest, but plough he must, for if he does not plough and sow with the early rains, he will not reap after the latter rains" (Prov. 20:4; Eccles. 11: 4) (Samuel Schor).
When these heavy falls are over, lesser showers still continue intermittently. "At no period during the winter do they entirely cease" (Smith's Dictionary). With the approach of the harvest, however, the heavy rain would return to swell the grain and fruit in preparation for the time of reaping. This was known as "the latter rain", meaning the rain of ingathering, which was very similar in character to the "former rain", for both are described by the word "geshem", meaning gushing rain. "Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain [geshem], both the former and the latter, in its season; that reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest" (Jer. 5:24; cf. Joel 2: 23, 24, Hos. 6:3).
We see from this that the former and latter rains are distinguished from various other kinds of rain spoken of in Scripture (in all ten different Hebrew words are used) by their own distinctive names, and by the description "geshem" or "gushing rain", that pours down in copious falls. It is also clear that the former and latter rains could not be expected at any time, for they had their appointed seasons. Finally, both were related to the long-looked- for harvest, for without them there would be neither sowing nor reaping.
On the face of it, the similarity between this rainy season of Canaan and the age of the church is striking. Just as that season was heralded by preliminary showers that soon gave way to the copious falls of the former rain, so in the ministries of John the Baptist (when there "went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan" Matt. 3:5), and of Christ, (when "there followed Him great multitudes from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judaea and from beyond Jordan" Matt. 4:25), we see distinct movements of the Spirit which told all those looking for the consolation of Israel that the season of drought was over, and that a new and glorious season of rain had come.
At the outset of His ministry the Lord said, "Thou shalt see greater things than these" (John 1:50), and at its conclusion, "Greater works than these shall [ye] do" (John 14:12). The former rain was at hand, and Pentecost marked its commencement. "In the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit." The outpourings continued throughout that first century, gradually decreasing in power and frequency as time elapsed and faith and spirituality decline.
However, all through the ensuing centuries of the dark middle ages, the showers continued here and there, now and again. Such histories as Broadbent's Pilgrim Church make it clear that at no point, not even in the darkest days, did the rain of blessing entirely cease, though the heavier outpourings of revival were few and far between. Since the Reformation there have been outpourings more distinct and frequent.
The latter rain is in preparation for the day of harvest; it is the last epoch of the rainy season prior to the final ingathering. But when and what is the harvest? In the parable of the tares the Lord explained that "the harvest is the end of the age" when "the Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity" (Matt. 13:39, 41). It will be the time when the word shall come to the one "like unto a son of man" sitting upon the white cloud, "Send forth Thy sickle, and reap: for the hour to reap is come". He will then "cast His sickle (viz. angels; Matt. 13:39, 41) upon the earth", and the earth shall be reaped (Rev. 14:14-16). The harvest is clearly associated in Scripture with the coming of Christ at the end of the age.
It has been shown that this age of the church is the time of rain. We may look upon Pentecost as the commencement of the former rain, for it was during those first and powerful effusions of the Spirit that the gospel was spread throughout the civilized world, and the ground prepared for the final harvest. Before the age concludes with the personal return of Christ at harvest time we must expect the latter rain of promise, or the rain of ingathering.
How can the day of reaping come before this final season of the outpouring of the Spirit, so vital for the final maturing of the spiritual harvest? Just as the rainy season of Canaan concluded with the same kind of rain as it began, the "geshem" or heavy rain, so should we expect before the coming of Christ a season of mighty outpourings, eclipsing all that the church has experienced since the Reformation, and only comparable in character and in power with the former rain of the early church.
James puts the matter beyond doubt when he says, "Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (Jas. 5:7, 8).
Do we long for the day of harvest? Do we grow impatient for the coming of the Lord? It is as though the apostle would curb our restless spirits, and enjoin us to be patient by reminding us that the heavenly Husbandman has been waiting all through the long seasons, waiting for the fulfilment of His purposes, waiting for the precious fruit of the earth at the time of harvest.
We must be imitators of "the God of patience", who has been waiting so much longer than we have. The Husbandman knows, and those also who labour as His servants should know, that before the final harvest day can dawn at the coming of the Lord the fruit of the earth must receive the early and the latter rain.
If we in this day can look backward to the former rain, we have still to look forward to the latter rain, the final epoch of the age, prior to the day of harvest.
Leaving aside for a moment the testimony of Scripture on this point, one has only to survey with unprejudiced eye the harvest-fields of God's kingdom, one has only to examine the spiritual condition of that which is growing up unto the harvest to be convinced of the absolute necessity of the latter rain of the Spirit before the fruit of the earth can be mature for harvesting.
If it has been shown that there is in the word of God a promise of revival for us today, if there is any evidence that we are, in the purpose of God, moving into the era of the latter rain, then let us heed the word of God to Israel, let us do what they shall do in a coming day: "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain, even of the Lord that maketh lightnings; and He shall give them [geshem] showers of rain" (Zech. 10:1).
Pour down Thy Spirit once again, dear Lord;
Our cry goes up to Thee for "latter rain";
Unite Thy people as the "heart of one",
And Pentecostal days shall come again!
- E. M. GRIMES.