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Joel, the prophet of the coming of the Holy Ghost, held up as the first of Israel¬ís prophets the immense beaconlight of His coming. But it remained unfulfilled for eight hundred years, until Pentecost. Meanwhile, revival after revival swept through Israel. Exactly so, the advent of the Holy Ghost in His second downpour has delayed for two thousand years. Meanwhile revival after revival has swept through the Church of God. These revivals, blessed though they are, have not been the complete fulfillment of Joel.
Generations came and went, and prophets greater than Joel arose, and prophesied, and passed. Great religious revivals and revolutions, followed by fresh violence and atheism, came and went. The prophecy seemed to have failed, and doubtlessly many explained away--exactly as they do today--its miraculous portents. Yet at last came the Apostle¬ís triumphant cry-- "This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16).
Most important have been the revivals in between. Revival has always been a fresh inrush of Divine life into a body threatening to become a corpse. The revival under Hezekiah (2 Chron. chapter 29), as wonderful a movement as ever swept a country and transformed a generation, arose upon a moral midnight.
Pentecost itself trod hard upon the heels of Calvary--life from God after actual deicide: God¬ís enormous gift of a torrent of new life after the Temple had become a carcass for eagles. It was in the midnight of the Dark Ages that the huge revival which we call the Reformation, breaking out in an Augustinian monastery, convulsed Europe, and changed the history of the world.
The conditions before the revival of Wesley and Whitefield have been thus described: "Death in the churches, rottenness in public morals, infidelity coming in like a flood." Blackstone, the commentator on the laws of England, under George III, says he went to every church of note in London, and found it impossible to discover whether the clergyman was a follower of Confucius, Mahomet or Christ.
Before the last great general revival, that of 1860, the lands the revival visited were those lying under a pall of riches, deepening doubt and alarming ungodliness. Historically, conditions of appalling darkness have not been against revival, but for it. Revival is God, by a mighty uprush, saving the world from its downgrade to hell.
So we see exactly what revival is. Revival is (as at Pentecost) the localized presence of Deity, revealing man to himself, and so shaking the soul to its foundations.
In an African revival, a missionary wrote: "We have been praying for revival, and behold, instead, unheard of abominations have been revealed amongst our Christians." It is a breaking up of the fountains of the great deep. In the Japanese revival, a pastor exclaimed: "I have only wept twice in my life; once, when my mother died; and now, in this meeting."
Whitefield thus describes some of his meetings: "Their bitter cries and tears were enough to break the hardest heart. Some were struck pale as death, others lying on the ground, others wringing their hands, others crying out almost as if they were in the sharpest agonies of death.
"They seemed like persons awakened by the last trump, and coming out of their graves to judgment. I myself was so overpowered with a sense of God¬ís love, that it almost took away my life."
An Avalanche Of The Holy Spirit In A Coming Epoch
But the Most High foretells through Joel, in the first of the great promises after the Messianic, first in time and first in importance, something far more stupendous than the revivification of a dying Age--an avalanche of Life, in a coming epoch of life.
"I will pour forth"--no longer in driblets as under the law, but in floods under the Gospel. The word means not to distil, but to pour forth in great abundance (Calvin)-- "of My Spirit"-- "of" My Spirit, because none but Christ, and not even the whole human race, can contain all the Spirit of God-- "upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17).
See the exact character of this tremendous movement of the Holy Ghost. It is the sovereign action of God. It depends in nothing on man. It is instantaneous; it is a down-rush of power embodied in a Person. It is so a descent of the Godhead that miracle as well as salvation pour forth from it.
It initiates a movement which has the enormous advantage of prophetic guidance and miraculous testimony, for "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy," in a general outburst of the prophetic gift. Nor could it be more universal. "All flesh" is a description in Scripture never confined to Israel, or to any section of mankind.
We know not whether it means all flesh in the sense of all without distinction, not all without exception--some of all ranks and classes; or else a final, universal action of the Holy Spirit upon every human soul. But in either case it is an enormous sweep of action, embodying directly or indirectly, God¬ís last personal touch on the entire human race.
It is not man wanting God and making a desperate attempt to reach Him, but God wanting man, and making a last effort to save him. It is the whole Spirit for the whole race, before judgment swallows mankind as the Flood swallowed the antediluvian world.
On The Threshold Of An Upheaval Of The Holy Ghost
Now the point of extraordinary importance to us is the date. When is this flood of the Holy Ghost? See exactly the phrasing of Peter. Peter says: "This is that which"--this is of a kind with, a sample of, an earnest of what -- "was spoken by the prophet Joel:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days"--the last days of the age, the last days of the world, the closing epoch immediately prior to judgment. "Though the wonders of Pentecost were the first and literal fulfillment of this prophecy, they by no means exhausted its meaning." (Lange).
The Apostle carefully avoids the word "fulfillment" so constantly used of Old Testament prophecies accomplished in the New. On the other hand, he most definitely says -- "This is that:" that is to say, Pentecost was a partial, but not an exhaustive, nor even the main fulfillment of Joel. Like Elijah, the downpour has come, yet it is still to come.
What is so decisively conclusive--that for the greater part it is yet future--is that the Spirit through Peter deliberately includes the later judgment sentences: "and I will show"--manifestly simultaneously, or nearly so-- "blood"--blood falling (Revelation 8:7)-- "and fire"--flaming meteors and falling lightnings (Rev. 8:10)-- "and pillars of smoke"--clouds of deadly atomic vapor.
So here we arrive at the fact of such thrilling moment to ourselves. Vastly more was wrapt up in the descent of the Holy Ghost than the Church has yet experienced, or than the world has yet seen.
And the Holy Spirit Himself thus reveals that while the Christian centuries are "the last days," and Pentecost began the wonder, we today, standing in the last of the last, are on the edge of a second and more tremendous upheaval of the Holy Ghost.
And embedded in the prophecy is a most glorious fact--this mighty movement of the Spirit, just preceding the coming of the Day of God, is the beginning (for all who respond) not of sorrows, but of miracles, not of destructions but of salvation.
Individual contact with the Holy Ghost, acting directly on this generation, becomes a fact throughout the world--just before that contact passes away for ever, and it is a contact for a last mighty salvation for the race.
It is as tremendous an effort to save as will be its judicial recoil--Gehenna--if it is finally rejected. The sun delays to turn black, and the moon to change to blood, that a final effort may be made to save the world.
"And it shall be"--blessed prophecy of an actual coming fact-- "that whosoever"--the mercy-offer will be as wide as the "all flesh" touched by the Holy Ghost-- "shall call on the name of the Lord"--Jesus, Whom, Peter states in the same breath, God has made Lord (Acts 2:36), "shall be saved."
Doubtlessly this cry to God covers the rapture-prayer commanded by our Lord (Luke 21:36), which is answered by ascension. But that it also means evangelical deliverance is proved by the fact that Paul quotes this very verse of Joel (Romans 10:13), as applying to Gospel salvation, thus bridging over from Pentecost to the last downpour, across two thousand years, from the early to the latter rain.
And it is still more strikingly proved by the fact that no sooner had Peter quoted it, and the Spirit had fallen, than three thousand souls--blessed harbinger of the last revival-- "pricked to the heart," called savingly on God (Acts 2:14-41).
Before The Great And Terrible Day Of The Lord
So, just before the day of agony dawns, salvation is to be had free by anyone and by everyone, everywhere, and only at the cost of a cry. It is not salvation in the Millennium, for it is "before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." It is not only salvation now, for it is presented to us in the immediate foreground of a blackened sun and a blooded moon, as a salvation penetrating and permeating the last judgments.
There may be mystery about the darkened sun, but there is no mystery about the salvation to be had. A call will save. From the forebodings of doom, from the terrors of an awakened conscience, from all efforts to save ourselves, from the love and guilt and power of sin, from the judgments falling thick and fast--even the abnormally wicked at the end, from whom grace would seem to have utterly vanished, all can be saved by a cry.
The Spirit¬ís Miraculous Double Downpour
That God, who loves to shadow grace through nature, designs a parallel between the natural downpour and the effusion of the Spirit, He Himself asserts through Isaiah: "I will pour water on him that is thirsty...I will pour My Spirit on thy seed" (Isaiah 44:3).
So our Lord said: "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit"; and of the Spirit in miraculous downpour for the Apostle adds: "for the Spirit was not yet given" (John 7:38-39), that is, at Pentecost. So in Joel we read: "He causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month"; and God adds, "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:23,28).
Now the analogy between nature and grace is most illuminating and even startling. Two downpours occur in Palestine, at either end of harvest. "He giveth you the former rain moderately" --restrainedly. One of the Jews¬í names for Pentecost signifies "restraining" (Lightfoot)--for a mightier Pentecost is still to come. "And He causeth to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month" (Joel 2:23)--April; or, as at the first--Pentecost.
The former or autumnal rain falls in October, and softens the soil for the seed, both before and after the sowing. The "latter" or spring rain falls in April, and swells the ear in the corn. The former rain comes just after the sowing, the latter rain just before the ripening.
How exceedingly striking is the parallel! Between seed-time and harvest, during which the plant springs up and matures, nature exacts her needed interval. Special interventions of heaven are vital at both ends--for seed-germinating and for grain-ripening-- "I will give the rain of your land in its season, the first rain and the latter rain" (Deut. 11:14). If either shower fails, the harvest is lost.
And the second shower is definitely linked with the Second Coming of the Lord. "After two days will He revive us; on the third day He will raise us up." Certain Jewish rabbis interpreted this to mean that after 2 millenniums of spiritual death there would come a millennium of life to Israel:
"And we shall live before Him; His going forth is sure as the morning"--the day-dawn, the Morning Star; "and He shall come unto us as the rain"--a violent or plentiful rain; "as the latter [from a word meaning ¬Ďdelayed¬í]...rain that watereth the earth" (Hosea 6:2,3).
Before The Hurricane Of God¬ís Wrath
Now it is obvious that Israel has an enormous share in this last downpour of the Holy Ghost. "Repent ye therefore," Peter cries, "and turn again, so there may be seasons of refreshing from the Presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19).
Isaiah also says: "Upon the land of My people shall come up thorns and briers...until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high" (Isa. 32:13-15). And after their restoration to their own land God says-- "Neither will I hide My face any more from them; for I have poured out My Spirit upon the house of Israel" (Ezek. 39:29).
That it is a torrent which deluges the whole earth also is obvious from Joel: "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28); "as the latter rain that watereth"--not Palestine only, but "the earth" (Hos. 6:3). The Seven Spirits of God are to be "sent forth into all the earth" (Rev. 5:6).
So the Apostle James brings it definitely within the province of the Church. "Behold the husbandman [God] waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also [as well as God] patient for the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:7-8). That means the latter rain falls in the neighborhood of the Second Coming of the Lord.
It is certain that the wheat is throughout Scripture a type of the Church, all the seed sown between the two Advents, Christ being both Sower (Matt. 13:37) and Reaper (Rev. 14:14). It is for the ripening of the wheat that the latter rain is required. "I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh, before the great and terrible day of the Lord"--the hurricane of God¬ís wrath-- "come" (Acts 2:17-20).
It occurs not only before the kingdom but before the great tribulation. Exactly as Pentecost occurred between the lightnings of Calvary and a persecution which scattered the whole Church, so it is the violent heats of the Tribulation (Rev. 14:15, margin), alternating with blessed showers of the Spirit, which will finally ripen the harvest for Heaven.
A Holy Ghost Cloudburst -- A Deluge In A Day Of Storm
Now we arrive at the critical and golden privilege and command which we do well to press on our own hearts and on all. "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain" (Zech. 10:1). As the day draws near, the prayer is to begin, and every argument for the imminence of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus recoils upon us if it does not produce in us this prayer!
This prayer proves that, primarily, not literal rain is referred to, but spiritual. Modern Palestine equally requires, and will equally receive, both rains. But the former spiritual rain fell two millenniums ago, and so all we are to ask now is for a final Pentecost.
"Ask ye even of the Lord that maketh lightnings"; for it will be a cloudburst, a deluge in a day of storm; "and He shall give them showers of rain; [pouring rain--Baron; rain in torrents--Pusey]; for the Teraphim have spoken vanity, and Mine anger is kindled against the shepherds" (Zech. 10:1-3).
Just as Pentecost was a cloudburst that followed hard on the awful lightnings of Calvary, so the last effusion of the Spirit will fall from clouds laboring up the horizon big with judgment. It is the very blackness of the skies and the very horror of the apostasy, which will provoke and justify the prayer. "When their tongue faileth for thirst, I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys" (Isa. 41:17-18).
Prayer That Produces Rain
Prayer can achieve the impossible! Wind and rain are the two elements utterly impossible of human control, and both are figures of the Spirit of God--one in regeneration, and one in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Revival Power! And while human skill, human power, human merit are powerless to compel rain, prayer will produce it! "Ask, and He shall give showers of rain"; for "His favour is as a cloud of the latter rain" (Prov. 16:15).
Exactly as a word, uttered in the stillness of Alpine heights, disturbing the unstable equilibrium of the snow fields, will bring down the sudden avalanche of fertilizing snow, so the uttered cry of God¬ís people will break the bending cloud, and flood the earth with the last and biggest blessing it will ever know on this side of the great White Throne! (Luke 18:7-8).
The Spirit of the Lord is calling today to prayer for world revival, world evangelism and the world return of our Lord!
The Christian world has been misled by false teachers until it has become apostate. Nevertheless it is still groping after God. If every true pastor, evangelist and missionary throughout the world will simultaneously turn unto God in utter self-humbling, in intercession, in seeking the face of God, and in repentance, such an upheaval of holy prayer will shake the earth!
Now it is certain that we are rapidly approaching this worldwide downpour of the Spirit. The very judgments which we see in the earth warn us of the revival dated to arrive before the final scenes, and seem to intimate that we are in the immediate neighborhood of this immense movement of God the Holy Ghost.
So in linking up ourselves with myriads of Christians throughout the globe in praying for world revival, world evangelism, and the world return of our blessed Lord, we are praying for solid coming facts, and therefore we know that we are praying according to the will of God.
We are praying for that in which we may (or may not) at any moment have sudden and glorious part. We are praying for the world the biggest blessing it will ever have on this side of the great White Throne.
It is before the dwindling institutions of a dying church, with all watchfulness gone, a church living on a past reputation and a burnt-out flame, that our Lord presents Himself as "He that hath the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 3:1), the mighty flood-tide of the Godhead¬ís power, the Seven Spirits yet to be "sent forth into all the earth" (Rev. 5:6).
Elijah Our Example of Fidelity, Prayer, Rapture
The miracles of Elijah¬ís ministry, far from meaningless prodigies, were portents extraordinarily suggestive for us in the last days. Like ourselves, Elijah stood alone in an age of universal apostasy. As we hope to do, he never saw death but went up in a chariot of fire, and it was he who prayed down a mighty downpour from heaven before he went.
Extraordinarily challenging to us, therefore, is Elijah¬ís prayer for the downpour on Carmel. And first, as he had God¬ís definite foretelling to go upon, "I will send rain upon the earth" (1 Kings 18:1), so also have we-- "I will pour forth My Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17). But in both cases there is absolutely no sign.
"Go up now," Elijah said to his servant, "and look toward the sea. And he went up and looked"--for we are to be as keen in world-watchfulness as we are intense in world-prayer-- "and said, there is nothing."
The heavens are brass; the earth is black. Multitudes are dying in the fearful drought. In all that long wait on Carmel, no slightest sign quivered upon the heavens.
For nine days the Apostles must have prayed in the Upper Room without a single response from God. And yet Elijah had already said to Ahab: "There is the sound"--the rumor, the far-off rustle -- "of abundance of rain" (1 Kings 18:41).
He may have heard it in the low moaning of the wind preceding storm, for revival is in heaven before it arrives on earth. He may have seen it in the repentance of Israel slaughtering the prophets of Baal; or he may have known it by the supersensitive hearing of one who walks with God. Yet throughout his prolonged prayer, not a wisp of cloud cheered his sight in the vast heaven of God.
Elijah¬ís Profound Self-abasement And Desperate Loneliness
Now it is vital for us to mark that the Holy Ghost presses Elijah upon us as a supreme example of prayer, and not only Elijah in general, but Elijah on Carmel¬ís peak absorbed in worldwide vision, seeking God¬ís highest and best, and praying down enormous blessing on others.
Of all the Hebrew giants of faith, he alone is singled out by the Apostle James. His fear and unbelief in flight, and his impatience and despair under the juniper, are recorded in order to prove that he was "a man of like passions with us" (James 5:17). And his prayer for rain, not his prayer for drought, is alone recorded for the Church of Christ. While we are in full sympathy with all God¬ís coming judgments, as children of grace we are not to pray them in. We are to pray in His coming floods of mercy, which shall sweep whole nations into salvation.
God¬ís Promises Provoke Prayer -- Not Prevent It
Casting himself upon the ground, and concealing his face in intense preoccupation , he "prayed with prayer" (James 5:17), with ardor, with intensity, with profound self-abasement and desperate loneliness. His servant helped him to watch, but not to pray. Seven times the baffled soul fought through God¬ís utter silence. Why did Elijah so pray?
Because the rustling was not the rain, and the rain is conditional on the asking. Because God¬ís promises are to provoke prayer, not to prevent it. Because God is depending on someone co-operating with Him in prayer. Because Elijah was overwhelmed with the momentous nature of what he asked.
So the command comes to every one of us today who has the heart of an Elijah: "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain" (Zech. 10:1); "break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hos. 10:12). If the cloud refuses to come, and the heavens remain as brass, nevertheless God¬ís promise will suddenly precipitate at the seventh cry.
In the words of William Arthur: "Above all we are not to expect it without persevering prayer. Prayer which takes the fact that past prayers have not yet been answered as a reason for languor has already ceased to be the prayer of faith. To the latter, the fact that prayers remain unanswered is only evidence that the moment of the answer is so much nearer.
"From first to last, the lessons and examples of our Lord all tell us that prayer which cannot persevere and urge its plea importunately, and renew and renew itself again and gather strength from every past petition, is not the prayer that will prevail" (Luke 11:1-3; Luke 18:1-8).
So we arrive at the golden answer at last. "And it came to pass at the seventh time that he said, Behold, there ariseth a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man¬ís hand; and it came to pass in a little while"--before provision could be made against the rush of the instant torrent-- "that the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain."
It is very remarkable that our Lord, when rebuking men for blindness in the face of enormous world events, said: "When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass" (Luke 12:54).
"Still," says Col. Conder, "the little cloud comes up like a man¬ís hand and swells till huge thunder pillars are piled black and high above the mountains; the storm bursts suddenly, the rain descending with violence, hissing on the ground, as if not able to come down fast enough, and accompanied with gusts of wind, thunder and lightening."
For Elijah "prayed again, and the heaven gave rain" (James 5:18). The sevenfold prayer returned in a sevenfold accumulation of downpour. All the time Elijah was praying with his head between his knees, prayer was manufacturing the fleecy clouds far down out of sight beneath the horizon.
For weeks and months before, the sun had been drawing to itself from lake and river and ocean, mists of water. Now the slow accumulation, growing heavy with delay, is hurried along toward the thirsty world. It breaks like a waterspout at the touch of prayer, and descends in a deluge of blessing.
So then we look and pray for that vast outpouring of the Holy Spirit! We pray for intermediate revival, and we do rightly. It may be--we do not know--that individual prophets, like Simeon and Anna, and isolated miracle such as occurred before Pentecost, may occur again. But it is the full outpouring, closely interlapping with the Second Coming for which we wait.
Alertness In Challenging And Unmasking Satanic Counterfeits
This outpouring of the Holy Ghost is connected with marvels: "I will show wonders [I will give prodigies: Wordsworth]"--the sun darkened and the moon blooded; it is miraculous-- "tongues" burst forth, and prophecies. It is for salvation, not judgment -- "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
By supernatural movement after supernatural movement all down the ages Satan has discredited by counterfeiting that which he knows is coming. It is this supernatural peril in all revival work which makes our alertness in challenging and unmasking the demons of evil absolutely vital.
The real downpour, as a final fulfillment of Joel, must be identical in character with, and as certain and as public as Pentecost. It will restore the ninefold plentitude of miraculous gift (1 Cor. 12:8-10).
"When the waves of the last agony of a submerging world break, yet once more and louder than ever goes forth the call of a vast and infinite compassion."
Now exactly when did the first downpour occur, and can we know the period of the second? Nor are we wrong in asking, for "the prophets searched what time or what manner of time [what dispensation] the Spirit of Christ did point unto" (1 Peter 1:11).
The first downpour occurred "when the day of Pentecost was being fulfilled." This is a clue of extraordinary importance. Passover, the slaying of the lamb, was on the 14th of Nisan. After three days and three nights, "on the morrow after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:10-11), the lonely Sheaf was offered--our Lord had risen from the dead.
Then, after an immense lapse of time, foreshadowed by "fifty days"--Pentecost means "fifty"--the two loaves of firstfruits (Lev. 23:17) were offered, the rest of harvest taking place some days or weeks later. The first downpour occurred at the offering of firstfruits: it is in the neighborhood of the rapture that the second downpour will occur.