D. M. PANTON.
A call has been issued to every evangelical pastor, missionary
and evangelist throughout the world, by the Great Commission [Matt. 28: 19] Prayer League, with offices in
Now Joel, said to be the earliest of all
Now the point of extraordinary importance to us is the date. When is this flood of the Holy Ghost? There is a Scylla and a Charybdis to avoid most carefully on either hand. See exactly the phrasing of Peter. Peter says: This is that which - this is of a kind with, a sample of, an earnest, a slice of that which 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 fulfilment of this prophecy, they by no means exhausted its meaning (Lange). The Apostle carefully avoids the word fulfilment, 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, fulfilment of Joel. 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 (Rev. 8: 7) and fire - flaming meteors and falling lightnings (Rev. 8: 10) and pillars of smoke - columns of volcanic vapour rising from earthquake rendings in the globe (Rev. 9: 2). 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 Spirit Himself thus reveals that while the Christian centuries are the last days, and Pentecost began the wonder, we to-day, 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 salvations; individual contact with the Holy Ghost acting directly on this generation becomes a fact throughout the world just ere that contact passes away for ever, and it is a contact for a last mighty salvation in the race. It is as tremendous an effort to save as will be its judicial recoil - Gehenna - if it is finally rejected; for it will save all Israel (Rom. 11: 26), and whole nations (Matt. 25: 32), until the knowledge of Jehovah covers the earth as ocean its ocean-bed (Is. 1: 9); pouring itself through the Millennial Age, it is a flood which is exhausted only at the steps of the great White Throne.
* When the Holy Spirit quotes the Old Testament in the New, not seldom it is an exposition as well as a translation; so here afterwards He changes to in the last days, to indicate that it is no afterwards in Joels context, but hereafter.
So now we arrive at the critical emphasis of the passage, and our justification in praying for a last sweep of salvation. 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 (ver. 36) SHALL BE SAVED. Doubtless 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 (Rom. 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 our last revival pricked to the heart, called savingly on God. So, just ere 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; not salvation in the Millennium, for it is before the great and terrible day of the Lord come; nor 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, can be saved by a cry. Now it is certain that we are rapidly approaching this world-wide downpour of the Spirit; for the very judgments which we see around warn us of the revival dated to arrive before the final scenes, and seem to intimate that we are in the immediate neighbourhood 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 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; and 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 Godheads power, the Seven Spirits yet to be SENT FORTH INTO ALL THE EARTH (Rev. 5: 6).
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 (Is. 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); 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; and God adds, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2: 21, 28).
* Our Lords words give the clue to the full figure: the torrent at Pentecost set up reservoirs of supply in pool and river and lake and from apostles who supplied the Spirit and worked miracles (Gal. 3: 5) - miraculous gifts flowed (Acts 8: 18); reservoirs which have long since dried up and disappeared. Rain is temporary, but fountains and rivers are meant to be ever full (Is. 41: 18). Perhaps we do not press the figure too far if we see in drenching mist (Gen. 2: 6) and distilling dew (Ps. 133.; Is. 26: 19, Hos. 14: 5, 1 Kings 17: 1, Judges 6: 38) and gentle drizzle (Deut. 32: 2) reformations and revivals, rain which cometh oft upon the land (Heb. 6: 7) during the light showery weather in Palestine between the two rainy seasons.
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 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
seedtime 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 former rain and the latter rain (Dent. 11: 13); if either shower fails, the harvest is lost. And the second shower is definitely linked with
the Second Advent. 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 two 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 (Prof. J. J. Eisen, D.D.); as the latter [from a word
meaning delayed] rain that watereth the earth (Hos. 6: 3). How
vital and glorious this last downpour will be is obvious when we recollect that
whole nations (Matt. 25: 34) and all
Now it is obvious that
* If the barley harvest is Jewish, as the wheat harvest is certainly Christian, the downpour descends on the Jew first, as barley harvest is, two or three weeks before wheat harvest; but whether the First-fruits of the Wheat, which of course disappear before the harvest (Rev. 7: 9, 14: 4), are rapt before the outpour neither the figure nor the prophecy seems to show, and no mortal knows. Our supreme reason for praying is not to obtain the downpour for ourselves, but for the world.
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.
11: 1). As the day draws near, the prayer is to begin;
and every argument for the imminence of the Advent 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;
It is obvious that both downpours must be identical in kind and effect: nothing less than miracle and inspiration can fulfil the second rain. But this compels a warning solemn beyond expression. As demonism was rampant ere the first rain fell, and has continued to descend between the two Advents in frequent counterfeit showers, so now for seventy years there has been a drenching succession of miraculous outbursts, from the birth of Spiritualism in Hydesville in 1848 to the descent of tongues in Los Angeles in 1907; and more are inevitable. Numberless believers and whole churches have thus made shipwreck. Instant and constant refusal must be given to everything miraculous which has not been submitted in a Scriptural manner to Gods safeguarding and peculiar tests.*
* See Irvingism and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost and Tests for the Supernatural.
The miracles of Elijahs ministry were no meaningless prodigies, but portents extraordinarily suggestive for us in the last days. For not only is Elijah to come back in person as a herald of the Advent (Mal. 4: 5); but, like ourselves, he 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. So striking are the Scriptures when all taken together that it seems an open question whether Elijah will not be his own antitype: for, when he returns, he is to turn the hearts of the children back unto the fathers (Mal. 4: 6) - that is, restore a remnant in Israel, exactly as he did on Carmel; he is to restore all things (Matt. 17: 2) - therefore, presumably, the lost miraculous gifts, in the last downpour of the Spirit; and, just as the predicted Pentecost is to come before the great and terrible Day of the Lord (Acts 2: 20), so does Elijah himself (Mal. 4: 5). Elijah is a Second Advent figure, and our model infidelity, prayer, and rapture.
Extraordinarily challenging to us, therefore, is Elijahs
prayer for the downpour on
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 Carmels peak, absorbed in world-wide vision, seeking Gods 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. For while we are in full sympathy with all Gods 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, and not churches only. Casting himself upon the ground, and concealing his face in intense abstraction, he prayed with prayer(James 5: 17), with ardour, with intensity, with profound self-abasement and desperate loneliness - for his servant helped him to watch, but not to pray: SEVEN TIMES THE BAFFLED SOUL FOUGHT THROUGH GODS UTTER SILENCE. Why did Elijah so pray? Because the rustling was not the rain, and the rain is conditional on the asking: because Gods 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 to-day 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): and if the cloud refuses to come, and the heavens remain as brass, nevertheless Gods 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.
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 mans hand; and it came to pass in a little while - ere provision could be made against the rush of the instant torrent that the heaven 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 mans 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 lightning. For Elijah prayed AGAIN, and the heaven gave rain (James 5: 18). The seven-fold prayer returned in a seven-fold 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; and now the slow accumulation, growing heavy with delay, is hurried along towards the thirsty world, breaks (like a water-spout) at the touch of prayer, and descends in a deluge of blessing. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation: I THE LORD HAVE CREATED IT (Isaiah 45: 8).