In this great second advent movement, the subject of the "latter rain" has long been one of special interest and importance. As far back as 1857, the Lord presented to His messenger in vision a thrilling picture of events that would take place in the closing of this work, including the experience of God's people in receiving the latter rain. Much instruction was given during subsequent years that should lead all believers to give careful study to this important subject. It is especially unsafe and unwise for our teachers and preachers to be content with vague or hazy ideas concerning this phase of our message, having their ideas formed by a merely casual reading of the "Testimonies," and occasional allusions by other workers. We may well give careful and prayerful study to every scripture and every statement in the Spirit of prophecy that will make clear to us what the Lord has revealed concerning the early and latter rain.
In James 5 :7 we read the admonition: "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." Here is a lesson designed for those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord. Its significance is explained in "Testimonies to Ministers :"
'Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain.' He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain.' In the East the former rain falls at the sowingtime. It is necessary in order that the seed may germinate. Under the influence of the fertilizing showers, the tender shoot springs up. The latter rain, falling near the close of the season, ripens the grain, and prepares it for the sickle. The Lord employs these operations of nature to represent the work of the Holy Spirit. As the dew and the rain are given first to cause the seed to germinate, and then to ripen the harvest, so the Holy Spirit is given to carry forward, from one stage to another, the process of spiritual growth. The ripening of the grain represents the completion of the work of God's grace in the soul. By the power of the Holy Spirit the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character. We are to be wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ.
"The latter rain, ripening earth's harvest, represents the spiritual grace that prepares the church for the coming of the Son of man. But sinless the former rain has fallen, there will be no life; the green blade will not spring up. Unless the early showers have done their work, the latter rain can bring no seed to perfection."—Page 306.
A brief study of the subject will make it obvious that the expressions "early" and "latter" rain may properly be used as applying (I) to dispensations, (2) to generations, and (3) to individuals. The showers of the Holy Spirit may fall upon the individual with a life attuned to God, while others about are dry and barren. Dispensationally, the early rain fell at the time of Pentecost, and the latter rain comes in the closing of the gospel work on earth. And as for this generation, we understand that showers of the early rain fell in the 1844 movement, causing the seed of truth concerning the great judgment-hour message and the imminent appearing of Christ to spring up. From that time to the present, God's people have looked forward to the final outpouring of the latter rain. Returning to the paragraph in "Testimonies to Ministers" just quoted, we learn:
1. It is the early or former rain that causes the seed to germinate and the tender shoot to spring up.
2. The latter rain falls near the close of the season, ripening the grain and preparing it for the sickle.
3. The ripening of the grain represents the completion of the work of God's grace in the soul, by which the moral image of God is perfected in the character, and we are wholly transformed into the likeness of Christ.
We understand that all the work of God's grace in the soul is carried forward by the Holy Spirit, and that He is present with and in the believer from the moment he accepts Christ. Yet it must be obvious that there is some distinction between the work ordinarily done by the Holy Spirit and the special work which is called "the completion of the work of God's grace in the soul." Otherwise there would be no meaning in the illustration of the former and the latter rain. It is also evident that it is not the latter rain that falls upon the seed when it is first sown and causes it to spring up, for if the former rain has not done its work, "the latter rain can bring no, seed to perfection." The latter rain falls upon the grain that is approaching, or has reached,. maturity, and "prepares it for the sickle." This thought is further emphasized thus:
"Many have in a great measure failed to receive the former rain. They have not obtained all the benefits that God has thus provided for them. They expect that the lack will be supplied by the latter rain. When the richest abundance of grace shall be bestowed, they intend to open their hearts to receive it. They are making a terrible mistake."—Id., p. 507.
Here the matter of the early and latter rain as a personal experience for each believer is made plain. Many are neglecting or ignoring the work that should be done in their lives by the former rain, hoping and expecting that it will be accomplished by the latter rain. But this is "a terrible mistake." How important it must be, then, for each individual to understand and experience the work of the Holy Spirit as represented by the former rain, and make all necessary preparation in his own life for the final work of the Holy Spirit under the latter rain.
The question which now definitely confronts us is, What is embraced in the early rain experience? We know that the early rain is necessary in order that the seed may germinate. But how long will it be before the latter rain may be expected to fall upon those who have received the former rain? Evidently this is not a matter of time, but of growth and development. In harmony with the inspired illustration, we infer that should the latter rain fall upon grain only a third or half-grown, it would not bring it to maturity. The Spirit of prophecy definitely indicates that the believer who has received the early rain must, under its ministry, obtain a certain degree of growth and maturity before he can receive the benefit of the latter rain. It is this startling fact that makes the whole question one of such vital importance to us as individuals.
I now give somewhat copious quotations from the writings of God's messenger, as I wish to avoid giving a wrong impression such as is sometimes made by taking a sentence out of its proper setting. In each case, those who are interested in the subject should read the whole chapter, or passage, from which the quotation is taken.
"I saw that many were neglecting the preparation so needful, and were looking to the time of 'refreshing' and the 'latter rain' to fit them to stand in the day of the Lord, and to live in His sight. Oh, how many I saw in the time of trouble without a shelter ! They had neglected the needful preparation, therefore they could not receive the refreshing that all must have to fit them to live in the sight of a holy God. Those who refuse to be hewed by the prophets, and fail to purify their souls in obeying the whole truth, and who are willing to believe that their condition is far better than it really is, will come up to the time of the falling of the plagues, and then see that they needed to be hewed and squared for the building. But there will be no time then to do it, and no Mediator to plead their cause before the Father. Before this time the awfully solemn declaration has gone forth, 'He that is unjust let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.'
"I saw that none could share the 'refreshing,' unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action. We should, therefore, be drawing nearer and nearer to the Lord, and be earnestly seeking that preparation necessary to enable us to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. Let all remember that God is holy, and that none but holy beings can ever dwell in His presence."—"Early Writings," p.
Other statements from the same source repeat and emphasize the solemn facts stated in this paragraph. Still others deal with different aspects of the same subject; but in not a single one is the latter rain promised on any other conditions, nor are the conditions diminished or modified. Summarizing our findings thus far:
1. Mrs. White saw that many were neglecting the preparation so needful.
2. They were looking to the time of refreshing and the latter rain to fit them to stand.
3. They were without a shelter in the time of trouble.
4.They had neglected the needful preparation; therefore they could not receive the refreshing which all must have to fit them to live in the sight of a holy God.
5. They refused to be hewed by the prophets and failed to purify their souls.
6. They were willing to believe that their condition was far better than it was.
7. Thus they will come to the close of probation and the falling of the plagues, and there will be no Mediator to plead their cause.
The conditions upon which those who failed might have received the latter rain are very plain and unequivocal: "I saw that none could share the 'refreshing,' unless they obtain the victory over every besetment." To show how the conditions upon which anyone receives the latter rain are emphasized and reiterated, notice this quotation from the "Testimonies:"
"Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the 'defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, p. 214.
—To be concluded in October