On the banks of the Jordan the Lord told Israel, through Moses, that Palestine was a land of hills and valleys watered by rain, rather than by irrigation like the land of Egypt. The eyes of the Lord would be upon it throughout the entire year to see that -the first rain and the latter rain" fell "in due season," that they might "eat and be full." The rain would fall, provided they would "hearken diligently" to the divine commandments and turn not aside "and serve other gods, and worship them." They should love the Lord and serve Him with all the heart and soul. Otherwise His wrath would visit them, and He would "shut up the heaven, that there be no rain"; and, therefore, there would be no harvest, so that they would "perish quickly from off the good land." (See Deut. 11:10-17.)
This promise was so completely fulfilled during the reigns of David and Solomon that Israel became a great and prosperous nation, which was "the head, and not the tail." She loaned to other nations, and did not borrow from them. The land supported a population of from fifteen to twenty millions. In Palestine the early rain fell in October, soon after the Feast of Tabernacles. There could be no plowing or seed sowing until the parched soil was prepared by the refreshing showers of the early rain.
The latter rain fell in the spring to mature the barley and wheat harvests for the sickle during the seven "weeks of the harvest" following the Passover, and ended with Pentecost, which was a thanksgiving celebration because of the ingathered harvest. The very existence and welfare of the nation depended on these two rains, which in turn were dependent on the spiritual condition of the people. A delay of either rain brought earnest prayer, accompanied by fasting and confession of sin, individual and national. This heart-searching experience leading to a revival took precedence over all else.
These two rains are used throughout the Scriptures to illustrate the two great outpourings of the Holy Spirit at the beginning and close of the gospel dispensation. "The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel, are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close."--The Great Controversy, pp. 611, 612.
In Hosea 6:1-3 we are told that when we "return unto the Lord," He will "revive us" and "bind us up" because of the wounds sin has made. If we "follow on to know the Lord," "He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and the former rain unto the earth." The text indicates the Lord intends that the two rains should come close together.
JOEL'S PROPHECY.—The second chapter of Joel is the Laodicean message of the Old Testament. The gospel trumpet is to be blown in Zion, the church, because of an alarming spiritual condition just before "the day of the Lord cometh," and when it is "nigh at hand." When Zion is awakened to her need, responsibility, and privilege, the inhabitants of the earth will tremble. The situation calls for fasting, weeping. and mourning, and a rending of the heart in deep repentance and a seeking of the Lord with all the heart and soul. It demands the calling of solemn assemblies and individual and congregational consecration.
The spiritual state of God's remnant people calls for leaders so conscious of the seriousness of the situation that they "weep between the porch and the altar," and cry unto the Lord to spare His people lest the world "rule over them" and the question be asked, "Where is their God?" As the result of this revival and reformation, the Lord pities His people and gives them "the former rain moderately," and causes "the former rain, and the latter rain" to come down "in the first month." The Holy Spirit is poured out "upon all flesh," and "whosoever shall call upon the ,name of the Lord shall be delivered." There is a great gospel harvest, so that "the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil." (R.V.)
The marginal reading for "former rain" is "a teacher of righteousness," and for "moderately," "according to righteousness." Moderately means "like the gentle rain," in contrast to a downpour. These Spirit visitations come because the Lord is "in the midst of Israel"—not knocking and pleading for entrance, as is pictured in the Laodicean message. This great time of spiritual refreshing and ingathering of souls comes just before "the great and terrible day of the Lord."
The apostle Peter quoted this prophecy of Joel to explain what happened on the day of Pentecost. (See Acts 2:16-21.) Being the former rain, Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy that predicted the falling of both rains before the close of the gospel dispensation. It definitely includes the latter rain upon "the remnant whom the Lord shall call" just before "the great and terrible day of the Lord come.- This prophecy is, therefore, up to date at the present time. It is "meat in due season" in connection with the preaching of the Laodicean message, "the solemn testimony upon which the destiny of the church hangs."
The outpouring of the early rain has a double, if not a threefold, application. Its first and chief employment is to the Pentecostal visitation of the Spirit in apostolic days. Read again the statement on pages 611 and 612 of The Great Controversy: "The prophecies which were fulfilled in the outpouring of the former rain at the opening of the gospel,' are again to be fulfilled in the latter rain at its close." Here is also further evidence that the prophecy of Joel has another application. "The outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the apostles was the 'former rain,' and glorious was the result. But the latter rain will be more abundant."—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 21. In order to be effectual, the latter rain must be preceded by an early rain, because it takes both to mature a gospel harvest. Therefore, the early disciples had their early-rain experience in the upper room, and Pentecost was their latter rain. And "glorious was the result."
A Double or Triple Application
The second application of the early rain was to the great spiritual refreshing at the beginning of the great Second Advent Movement from 1833 to 1844. This was the greatest visitation of the Spirit since Pentecost, and was felt in all parts of the world. This last message has both an early and a latter rain. "The power which stirred the people so mightily in the 1844 movement will again be revealed.."—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 252. There are to be two outpourings of the Holy Spirit, one at the beginning and one at the close of the threefold message of Revelation 14.
But there is also a third application. The individual who receives the latter rain must first experience the early rain in a spiritual awakening similar to that of the disciples in the upper room, and of the early Adventists just before the close of the 2300-year-time prophecy.
In both Hosea 6:1-3 and -Joel 2:23 the two rains are described as coming close together and upon the same people. The Lord sends "the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month." The latter rain will be received only by those who make a definite preparation as the result of the moderate showers of the gently falling early rain which leads to confession and repentance, revival and reformation, in preparation for the greater showers of the latter rain.
"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 need to be hewed and squared for the building... 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." —Early Writings, p. 7x.
The Two Great Outpourings
In the writings of the Spirit of prophecy it is made clear that there must be an early rain just before the latter rain, to prepare God's remnant people for the coming of the Holy Spirit in the fullness of divine power. It is by this means that His work is finished in the earth and cut "short in righteousness." Indeed, the former rain is "a teacher of righteousness," and the message is "according to righteousness." These thoughts indicate that the glorious truth of righteousness by faith constitutes the message's center and core. The early rain comes as a result of the preaching of the Laodicean message with its complete remedy, an important part of which is the offered "white raiment" of Christ's righteousness to cover our shameful "nakedness." Note the following :
"This I do know, that our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths."—Gospel Workers, p. 301.
"Yet the work will be cut short in righteousness. The message of Christ's righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the glory of God, which closes the work of the third angel."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 19.
"'Several have written me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, "It is the third angel's message in verity." ' "—Christ Our Righteousness, p. 80.
"Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in large meastire."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 92.
That the remnant of the church will receive both rains is evident from the following : "We may be sure that when the Holy Spirit is poured out, those who did not receive and appreciate the early rain will not see or understand the value of the latter rain."—Ibid., p. 399. Note also the following from Testimonies to Ministers in the chapter entitled "Pray for the Latter Rain":
"In the East the former rain falls at the sowing-time. 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 unless 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. . . .
"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. The work that God has begun in the human heart in giving His light and knowledge, must be continually going forward. . . . Unless we are daily advancing in the exemplification of the active Christian virtues, we shall not recognize the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. It may be falling on hearts all around us, but we shall not discern nor receive it.
"At no point in our experience can we dispense with the assistance of that which enables us to make the first start. The blessings received under the former rain are needful to us to the end. Yet these alone will not suffice. While we cherish the blessing of the early rain, we must not, on the other hand, lose sight of the fact that without the latter rain, to fill out the ears and ripen the grain, the harvest will not be ready for the sickle, and the labor of the sower will have been in vain. Divine grace is needed at the beginning, divine grace at every step of advance, and divine grace alone can complete the work. There is no place for us to rest in a careless attitude. . . . It will never do to cease our efforts. If we do not progress, if we do not place ourselves in an attitude to receive both the former and the latter rain, we shall lose our souls, and the responsibility will lie at our own door."
From these statements we learn that our greatest need today is the early-rain experience that will prepare us for the latter rain. Many of the rich showers of spiritual blessings experienced from time to time are early-rain showers and should not be confused with the latter rain. The latter rain will be much "more abundant," and will be an experience far beyond anything that has yet come to this people. Those who fail to receive the early rain will not receive or discern the latter rain. Like many on the day of Pentecost they will think it fanaticism. When the latter rain falls it will be recognized only by those who will have had the early-rain experience. The time has come to explain to all our people the significance of the early rain and its relationship to the latter rain, and urge them to pray for this experience so that they can be ready for the coming of the fullness of divine power.