The Former and the Latter Rain.

It is a true saying, "There is no royal road to learning," though some who learn may be more apt scholars than others. Thus is it in the things of God; there is no jumping into the position of a father in Christ, or of a full-grown spiritual man, save as each saint has been disciplined in the school of God, long or short as the period of discipline may be. Every believer is indeed complete in Christ. In Him he has a perfect standing as well as acceptance; "as He is so are we in this world," but we have to make acquaintance practically with the things which are ours, to increase in the knowledge of God, to grow up into Christ in all things, and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In order to this there must be diligence in "adding" (2 Peter 1:5), so that we should be neither barren nor unfruitful in this knowledge, and thus have an abundant entrance ministered into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Here we find that the experience and discipline of saints varies much. Very different is the experience of one "whose eyes look right on" from that of the man "whose eyes are in the ends of the earth." The one is going right on his way, and his experience will be the record of what he has found in the way of the Lord's choice, and the supplies of mercy and truth from Him who has made his soul to "lodge in goodness" (Ps. 25:13, margin) while walking in His paths.

Such an one will have an abundant entrance. The experience of the other will, much of it, tell of wanderings and mistakes in and through which he has had to learn himself and his own folly, as also the barrenness he has found for his own soul in the devious paths which have invited his footsteps. It will not be the record so much of attainment as of the fact that he has spent his labour for that which satisfieth not. It is the experience of a Lot, or of those who wandered in the wilderness forty years, rather than of an Abraham, a Caleb, or a Paul. In Lot we see no sense of the calling of God; he was a righteous man, but his faith scarcely rose above himself, and what in his own estimation was for his own benefit; he never laid hold of the gifts and calling of God. In the wanderers in the wilderness we find that, though the calling was known, there was no energy of faith in them to make the calling and election sure. Lot is delivered out of Sodom, and at last the people get into the land, after forty years have been spent in bringing the flesh to nothing. It is an immense thing when the soul really sees what God has taken it up for, when in the sense of what grace has given it lays hold of it, and pursues it as an object, not in any strength of its own, but in the energy and power of the Holy Ghost. There is a countervailing power, but "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." If one has not a clear sense of the calling, one cannot pursue it, and if our object is not in accordance with it, it must be something lower than that which God has put before us. Old habits of thought are often a hindrance to our perception. This was the difficulty with the disciples in those last moments of their company with the Lord on earth. He is unfolding to them the place to which He, as the earth-rejected One, was going, and their part with Him there, as well as the desires of His own heart, and His Father's as to them. Peter does not understand the fitness which the Lord's washing by the Word alone could give, nor Thomas that He alone was the way thither; and as to the unfoldings of the Father's thoughts, He has to say to them, at the close of His discourse with them, "Do ye now believe?" and then tell them that they would be scattered each to his own, and leave Him alone, so little did they understand that their part was with Him. Peter would indeed have taken part with Jesus in his own way and strength, little knowing that to have this part according to the Lord's thoughts the energy of man must tumble down, and "another Comforter" enable him to enter into it.

Without going more into detail, I would only notice that in John 14 the promised Comforter is to be the power during the Lord's absence of knowing the divine Persons - the Father and the Son - and of oneness and living association with them. "At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you." And again, to the one who keeps His commandments, "I will love him and will manifest myself to him," and "my Father will love him, and we will come to him." He would enable them also to know the things which were theirs. "He shall teach you all things," and in chap. 16, "He will guide you into all truth." And the things were, what Christ had said to them on earth - "my things" as the glorified One, and "things to come." He would demonstrate also the true condition of things as to the world which had refused Christ.

It becomes thus of immense importance, that the soul should have distinctly before it what the thoughts of the Father and the Son are about us, as now told out by the Holy Ghost sent down, and of equal importance, that we should know the power of the same Spirit, so that in faith we should make good the steps which we take in the hope of the calling.

In the Old Testament the purposes of Jehovah about a people for the earth are recorded by the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of Christ, speaking in prophecy; but the rejection of the Lord from the earth has brought out the eternal counsels of God before the world was. When the Lord was here, He came as "the minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the fathers," and accordingly in Luke 4 He presents Himself in the synagogue at Nazareth as personally anointed with the Holy Ghost, according to Isaiah 61, to bring in Israel's blessings, only to be at once thrust out of the city, and led out to the brow of the hill to be cast down headlong. Yet He manifested the power of the Holy Ghost in casting out demons, and healing every kind of sickness, so that it might have been as the days of heaven upon earth, had the heart of man been capable of receiving the blessing thus come in the person of the lowly Saviour. But, alas! there was the rejection of the power of the Holy Ghost with which He was anointed thus to bless, and of Himself also, until all culminated in the cross, where, according to the determinate counsel of God, He was crucified for Israel's guilt, and also that He might become the propitiation for the whole world.

Ascended up on high, He received the Holy Ghost to give down here in a twofold manner, as the former and the latter rain upon the earth. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost as the promise of the Father, and as the power of blessing for Israel and the earth, attested by Peter quoting the prophecy of Joel, which speaks not of the indwelling Spirit, but of its being poured out on all flesh in connection with those coining days of blessing. In Acts 3 the offer of the return of Jesus Christ, and consequently of these times of refreshing, was distinctly made by Peter to the rulers, and refused; and finally, the Holy Ghost, in that character, was definitely rejected by the stoning of Stephen. There remained His abiding presence as the promise of the Father, unfolding heavenly things (how blessedly to Stephen at that moment!) to a people who must be dissociated now from the earth, and associated with the heavens, which must still retain the rejected One. The earth is now left as it is, and Satan's energy in fallen and rebellious man possesses the scene. It has had the witness of the blessings in store for it, by the presence of Him who was anointed by the Holy Ghost, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost Himself. It will have to await now the judgment which will sweep the power of Satan from it, "the day of vengeance of our God," ere "the Spirit can be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field … then righteousness will remain in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." (Isa. 32) Then will be the days of heaven upon earth, when the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Till then it is the wilderness still, nor can it be aught else; but we do not wait only for these times of refreshing, but for the summons to meet the Lord in the air, to be with Him in the Father's house in heavenly glory ere He comes, and we with Him, to bring them in. The effects of the cross of Christ will then be made good, both in the resurrection bodies of the saints in glory, and in millennial blessings on the earth; meanwhile the Holy Ghost is unfolding to us all the value of the cross, resurrection, and present place in glory of the Lord Jesus, as well as His coming again; and as dwelling in us He is our power of present enjoyment of all.

Thus the wilderness becomes the place where the energy of the Spirit of God ought to be known in the present enjoyment of the revelation of the Father and the Son, and as the power of worship and service, and entrance into heavenly things. Alas! it is often the place where the flesh in us is discovered, and through the exercise and discipline of the way practically annulled. Still, how blessed to have such a Comforter, faithful to Christ, abiding with us for ever, and dwelling in us. It is the former rain we possess, not the latter; the power of the Spirit of God is not yet turning the wilderness into a fruitful field, but filling our hearts with heavenly springs while we are there. If the flesh is allowed, instead of enjoying the heavenly springs, we shall be murmuring because it is a wilderness, and our own blessed portion in grace will be forgotten. If the grace is tasted, there will be joy in tribulations also, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. The tribulations of the wilderness will be the opportunity for the display of the sufficiency of grace; but if the difficulties and privations to the flesh which we find there govern us, then it will be the place which God will use to chasten and judge the flesh, in order to our learning practically what His sentence upon the flesh is.

Every truth connected with the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ must be applied to us by the Holy Ghost. How can I reckon myself to be dead, save as the death of Christ is applied to me by Him? The water of separation (Num. 19) is the application of the judgment of sin, which took place nearly 2000 years ago on Calvary, in present power to the soul by the Holy Ghost through the Word. To talk about being dead with Christ is otherwise a mere doctrine. The Holy Spirit demonstrates the true character of the world and its prince, and unfolds to us what the position is into which the Lord by death and resurrection has led those who believe on Him. How else can I enter into it? The present position of the saints is characterized by His indwelling; nor is there a single blessing, which through grace is ours, that can be known and enjoyed apart from Him, while we are still down here in bodies of sin and death.

It is blessed, as we think of how oft the flesh in us grieves and hinders the Spirit, to see His power so working in an earthen vessel like Paul, that he could be "out of himself to God" (2 Cor. 5:13), while if he were sober, it was to come down to the actual state of the saints at Corinth; but in the energy of the Spirit he so looked at everything as it was before God, by the death and resurrection of Christ - flesh gone - and in Him new creation, that he knew nothing else. And while it is as true for us as for him, that in Christ it is new creation, and nothing else, how have we to speak of the actual condition of ourselves as saints, and the wilderness as the place where we are learning to estimate the flesh aright; and as we learn so to do, to find out what is our own true and blessed portion.

We have the former rain - "the first-fruits of the Spirit." (Rom. 8:23.) We cannot too much press this on one another. In Laodicea, the apostle's grief - those "who mind earthly things" - is fully developed. No wilderness is recognized there, nor association by the Holy Ghost with heavenly things. In Philadelphia there is present association with Christ and what is of Him. How can it be but by the Holy Ghost? for "if we live after the flesh we are about to die; but if through the Spirit we mortify the deeds of the body we shall live." Mortifying is by the Spirit, enabling us practically to apply to the deeds of the body the fact that we are dead, that the old man has been crucified with Christ. The slavery of sin in the flesh has been broken, and we are free to live in the Spirit, and thus to enjoy our own true position of sons as being led of Him by whom the cry of Abba, Father, is produced in us. What a moment will it be, when the creation will be delivered from the slavery of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God; that will be the moment of the latter rain. Then we who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ will have, not only glory ourselves with Christ, but also the joy of administering with Him in grace to the now groaning creation the liberty of that glory.

He'll bid the whole creation smile,
And hush its groan.

And we are to be engaged in hushing groans with Him! What then is now our place as indwelt by the Spirit? Suffering with Him, and in patience waiting for what we hope for, and have the earnest of, in the first-fruits of the Spirit - that blessed time when we shall have the redemption of the body, and our place of sonship manifested, and when our groans and those of creation will be hushed for ever. Then "instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier the myrtle tree;" till then, we are in the place where thorns are, and where our Lord wore them when He tasted the effects of sin in the suffering which had come in through it. Man, who was set in dominion in the earth, had let the usurper rule it, and till the bright morning of his overthrow, it is the place where those who are going to reign suffer with Him. But while groaning in sympathy with that which groans, it is ours, as having the first fruits of the Spirit, and enjoying the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, and those bright anticipations of the moment when the Lord Jesus will take the place of dispenser of blessing in the power of the Holy Ghost on earth and in heaven, if only our poor hearts can hold ever such a trickling of the living water, to let that little rill go out to the need of this poor world. And if we think of our own failure as saints, but know that nothing has failed on God's side, that with Him there is no straitening, may He enable each one of us that can put his trust in the living God to answer to the cry of the prophetic watchman, "Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people." (Isa. 57:14.) The stumbling-blocks we encounter are the results of the Church's, of our failure; it is not a hostile world but a corrupted Christianity that entangles our way; they are not so much the thorns of persecution as the many sorrows of worldly lusts that pierce us through. The steps of the saints drag in the desert, but the heavenly things are untouched. Christ is the same. What is founded on His death and resurrection abides. He is coming to make it good, and, blessed be His name, the Holy Spirit abides. He may have to be occupied in showing us how little we have answered to our calling, but it is of grace that it is so; for never did He awaken in a heart the desire to lay hold on what grace has given but that it might be satisfied.

May that blessed Spirit who abides with us awaken in the heart of each saint a present answer to the thoughts and desires of the Lord Jesus about us. It is a strange mystery of love, that we who by nature are the very opposites of all that He was and is, should be taken up by Him in grace, and separated by the power of His death and resurrection from all that we were - sanctified by the Holy Ghost; and the measure of our sanctification is His place in glory. But more, that in passing through the wilderness, where our hearts are put to the test, we should learn how that love stoops to wash our feet, so that there should be no hindrance to our having part with Him. There too (in the wilderness) the Spirit unfolds to us; aye, and can fill our hearts with what we shall so soon possess. If the heart of any is thus moved to lay hold by faith of what it will be to be with Him and like Him, will it not produce a corresponding answer in the walk down here, and an echo to the voice of the Spirit and the Bride as they invite the Bright and Morning Star to come? T. H. Reynolds.

Whenever it is necessary to clothe the truth in attractive forms to secure attention, it is a sign that the saints are becoming weary of the bread of God - which is Christ. (Num. 21:5.)