Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season…
The Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us, etc. To a country so liable to drought as Palestine, the regular, periodic rainfall was of the utmost importance. If they had not the former rain - that which came first after seed-time - the seed would not germinate in the soil; and if, when near the harvest, the rain did not come again, there would be no full corn in the ear: it would not swell out and mature in any way to the husbandman's content. "Hence the people of those lands speak of the weather and the crops with a more immediate reference to God than is usual with us. It is said that the common expressions of the peasantry are such as much impress travelers with their apparently devout recognition of the Almighty's agency." A lady and her party were one day traversing, under the conduct of their Arab guide, the fertile plains west of the Carmel range. "Rain began to fall in torrents. Mohammed, our groom," so the lady tells, "threw a large Arab cloak over me, saying, 'May Allah preserve you, O lady, while he is blessing the fields!'" "Blessing the fields," - what a beautiful synonym for the rain! But it indicates the constant dependence of those lands on these rains, and the people's sense of the high value of this gift of God. The husbandman relies entirely upon the early and the latter rain, and if these do not fall copiously in their season famine will ensue. Therefore, when wishing to point out some signal mark of the Lord's favor to his people, the prophet selects this, that he "giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season," etc. The prophet knew that every heart would assent and own the goodness of the Lord herein. Probably he was more sure of it there and then than he would be here and now. We have got so mystified with the modern doctrines of "the order of nature" and "the uniformity of natural law," that we have come to regard the universe almost as a great machine, the regular working of which excites no surprise, and demands and obtains still less gratitude. But all this is very sad. Happy they who, in the coming round of the seasons, the fall of the rain and the blessed harvest, are both able and glad to confess, "It is the Lord, who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth forever." But let this verse not so much suggest the literal facts here commemorated by the prophet, as those other and higher spiritual facts which they resemble and suggest. The three blessed gifts of God in the natural world here spoken of, tell of gifts like to them in the spiritual world. And first they remind us of -
I. THOSE PERSONS WHO ARE SO HAPPY AS TO REALIZE ALL THE THREE: the two rains - both the former and the latter - and the harvest. Now, there are many such, God be praised for them! In their own religious life they know what God's blessing of the former rain is. There was such vivid realization of the love of Christ, such hatred of sin, such sweet sensitiveness of conscience, such free intercourse with God in prayer, such bright onlooks into the glory to be revealed, such ready delight in worship and in work, such prompt siding with the will of God - in a word, such enjoyment of him, that it is still, and will ever be, a delightful retrospect.
"What peaceful hours we then enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!" That was the early rain. The seed had just been sown, and the Master, to make it take deeper root, and to make it spring up faster into the green blade, gave them the sacred shower of his loving presence. And then there came afterwards the fatter rain. For such is needed even in the holiest Christian's life. The early excitement, the power of novelty, which is a power in the religious life as in all other, wore off, as it is its nature to do. Many weary leagues of life's pilgrimage had to be traversed, many disappointments to be met with, many trials to be endured, many temptations - subtle, strange, strong - had to be met and overcome, and they left the soul weary and exhausted. And, but for the blessed latter rain, the strength and vigor of the Divine life in the soul would have died down. But then there came, brought about in one way and another, the second baptism of the Holy Ghost. And, by means of that, separate acts of obedience crystallized into blessed habits, which made their discharge prompt, easy, and effective. The power of prayer became more marked, the knowledge and experience of the truth of God's Word deepened. The unseen and eternal came out of the mist and vagueness of former years into clear, well-defined reality, so that the seeing him who is invisible came to be a daily vision; and the walk with God grew to be constant, delightful, and more intimate each day. And so the harvest of peace with God, of holy calm, of settled obedience, and of loyal, happy service, was daily reaped. And in the case of those who have passed into the skies, the harvest of glory has been reaped also, or rather is being reaped, the joy of which is ever-during with the eternal life of the soul. So again and again has it been in the experience of the Christian life. And likewise has it been also in the work and service rendered to Christ. That, too, in many an instance, has had its former rain of blessing. It was begun in Christ and for Christ. Tokens of the Lord's presence were not wanting even at the very outset. Sinners were converted, believers were edified, souls were saved, as the result of the early toil in the Master's vineyard. The sermons may have been juvenile, unskilled in mere sermonic art, but they had the Divine power with them. The teaching given to the scholars in the class may have been sadly unscientific, and wanting in symmetry and system; but Jesus was commended to the children, and his love so spoken of that they listened, were touched, were persuaded, were saved. And then years after the latter rain came. For a long while the work went on in a quiet, almost monotonous way. There appeared no stir, no great impression made. But he who gave the early rain now sent the latter also. And a new outpouring of the Spirit's influence was given. And again and increasingly the Word was spoken with power; the influence of Christ's servant told with all the added strength that life-long consecration to that work gave to it, and many a soul confessed the might of that ministry which Christ enabled him to discharge. And a blessed harvest was reaped, day after day, week by week; the sickle of the Word seemed never so keen, the hand that wielded it never so vigorous, the sheaves never so large, until the reaper was called away to join in the glad festivities of the eternal harvest-home. Yes, so it has been again and again. And, would we have it so with ourselves, - and would we not? let it not be forgotten that the realization of these blessings - the early and the latter rain, and the harvest - in our work depends upon our personal realization of them in our own souls. The soul not alive in and for God can never accomplish much in his work and service. We must take heed to ourselves" would we successfully take heed to our work, and be the means of salvation to others. Yes, let us remember this. But be encouraged by remembering also that it is God's way and wont to send this threefold blessing. This verse speaks of his giving these great gifts as his customary habit. It is not an exceptional or strange thing with him, but that which we may, and even should, look for. May he help us so to do, and then give us our heart's desire! But next consider -
II. THOSE LESS HAPPY ONES WHO REALIZE ONLY TWO OUT OF THESE THREE GIFTS OF GOD. They have had the early and the latter rains, but the harvest they have not yet rejoiced in. There are such experiences, both in the Christian life and in Christian work. The men were truly converted to God at the first, and they have in after years felt the power of his Spirit again and again; but that harvest of settled peace and joy, that power habitually to walk with God in the comfort of his love, and in prompt, joyful obedience to his will, has not come to them. And they grieve over it much. And yet more is this delay of the harvest often known in the sphere of Christian work. The whole Christian Church mourns today over this delay of harvest. The early rain of the Pentecostal day fell refreshingly upon them; and since then there have been spring-tides of Divine influence, copious outpourings' of the Spirit of God, latter rains in deed and in truth. But the harvest - where is that? Where is the world, or even one entire nation, won for God? The boundaries of the kingdom of Satan do not seem much diminished, nor those of the kingdom of God much enlarged. And so, too, individual Churches have, in like manner, been blessed with early and latter rains, but the harvest of their work has not come. They can tell you of times in their history when there seemed a general movement Godwards; when the people met for prayer in unwonted numbers and with unwonted fervor. Their early history may have been one of difficulty and struggle, but these were overborne by a glorious awakening, a girding of them with power, by the Spirit of the Lord manifestly setting up his standard in their midst. "And the Lord added to them daily such as should be saved." And in more recent years they have had like and even larger experiences of his glorious presence. But yet the harvest is not reaped. Not only is the neighborhood around hem still for the most part as it was, untouched, unimpressed by the power of the gospel, but many who gather with them Sunday by Sunday, and in their week-day assemblies, are yet unconverted and unsaved. Where is the harvest? Why does it not come? "How long, O Lord, how long?" these servants of God continually cry to him. And so, too, with the individual worker for Christ. He, too, can look back on a time when he began his holy labor, whether in more prominent or more obscure place it matters not; but there was given to him the early, and since then there has been the latter, rain. But he looks round his class, his family, his school, his congregation, and oh, what a scant portion of the field is as yet even begun to be garnered for Christ! How powerless his words seem to fall on many of them! How unanswered his prayers on their behalf still seem to be! Now, what are we to say to all this? Well, these three things we may surely say: First, that God reserves the weeks of harvest. He has appointed them, but the day of their coming he has reserved in his own power. The husbandman must have long patience; the growth and development of the holy seed is an orderly, and is generally a slow, process. All God's greatest works are slow. Science is ever teaching us this. What ages upon ages do the geologist and the astronomer demand for the processes of which they tell! How our little chronologies dwindle into insignificance besides those vast periods which they have conclusively shown to have been occupied by the Creator in perfecting those phenomena of which their several sciences take account! And, in the far greater and more difficult work of the moral and spiritual regeneration of human souls, shall we be impatient if God do not begin, continue, and end it all in the short space of our little lives? Surely this is to be unreasonable, is improper, is wrong. But remember, too, that the harvest itself is a long process. They are "weeks of harvest." The ingathering has begun when only one sheaf in a field has been reaped. The Lord Jesus said, "The fields are white already unto harvest," when he held in his hand only one solitary ripe ear of corn, the conversion of the woman of Samaria. Hence we may possibly be mourning that the harvest has not come, when in fact it has actually begun. Why, my brother, it began in you from the first hour that you were converted to God. He was cutting the bonds that bound you to this world when he first called you to himself; and all the varied means by which he is separating you from the world is but the reaping continually going on; and when the sickle of death comes and cuts down this bodily life of yours, it will be but the last stroke of the reaper that tells that the harvest for you is finished at last. And so with your work. The harvest is begun. That child's heart you won for Christ here, that soul that was brought to Jesus through the Word preached by you there, those others gathered to the Redeemer's feet elsewhere, - what were these blessed facts but the beginning of the harvest, a beginning that is to go on? You are not strong enough to reap all the Lord's field; be content that he lets you reap a part. Other workmen are to enter in where you may not, and to their arm shall fall the sheaves that you may not gather. So say not any more, "The harvest is delayed." Why, you are actually engaged in it now. You are not a mere sower, but you are a reaper too. And remember the full harvest shall be reaped. He is the Lord of it, and will not let it waste; by one means or another it shall all be gathered in. This is what we have to say to you who mourn at the harvest's delay.
III. But there are others less happy still. THOSE WHO CAN CLAIM TO HAVE REALIZED ONLY ONE OF THESE THREE GIFTS OF GOD. The harvest is not theirs, nor both the former and the latter rains, but only one of them. Now, this one may be only the former rain. In their religious life they were blessed with this; the wonted happy results followed; but since then there has been a standstill, and those observing them are, as St. Paul was in reference to the Galatians," in doubt" about them, and sorrowfully ask the question, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" Their goodness has been "like the morning cloud and the early dew" - it has gone away. And so also in much of religious work. At the beginning there was a zeal and fervor and force which promised great things, but it all soon died down. They had no staying power, and because all was not accomplished in one vigorous rush and charge, and because the difficulties that had to be overcome presented a more stubborn and obstinate front than was anticipated, those who went forth to do battle with them became discouraged and soon turned back. In these cases, both in the life and the work, though there was the former rain, the latter has not as yet fallen. Now where, as is often the case, this has been owing to neglect of those Divine aids which God has placed within our power - the blessed aids of prayer, watchfulness, and the diligent Use of grace already given - then not pity but censure must be awarded to those of whom we speak. "They have not because they asked not;" or if they asked they "asked amiss." Ah, what a sad amount of such asking amiss there ever is! - asking as a substitute for working, instead of as an aid and encouragement thereto; asking, but with motives marred by selfishness, strife, and many forms of that "regarding iniquity in the heart," which ever bars the coming of the needed answer. And so there have been decline and decay, and a fresh fall of the heavenly rain is indeed wanted. Oh, do these words apply to any of us, either in regard to our stunted life or our ineffectual work? It may be so. But, thank God, such sad facts are not always the cause. God may be pleased, notwithstanding that his servants wait upon him for the outpouring of his Spirit they so much desire, to delay his answer. The rains of God have their season, and he best knows what and when that season is. His purpose is to stir you up to yet more earnest prayer, to greater energy of spiritual endeavor. All the night through did Jacob wrestle with the angel, ere he won the glorious name of Israel. Not till after so long and so arduous a struggle that his physical strength gave way, the sinew of his thigh shrank, and he seemed reduced to utter powerlessness; - not till then was the victory won. If, therefore, any of us, in cur own religious life or work, are still waiting in prayer and watching thereunto, but yet the desired answer has not come, regard it not as denial, but only as a delay sent to test and try your faith - that faith more precious in the sight of God than gold and silver, and which when tested shall come forth triumphant, to the praise and glory of his grace. But there are those who have the latter rain only. Is it not so with all those instances of late repentance, of eleventh-hour turning to God? Such coming to God at the last does now and then occur, and the promise of our Lord, "Whosoever cometh unto me I will," etc., is made good. Such have the latter rain, but they can hardly be said ever to have known the former. And so, too, with those who all their lifetime have been subject to bondage, have walked in darkness and have seen no light, - to these tried children of God light often comes at eventide; they have the latter rain, but not the former. And it is so also in many departments of Christian work. Take the long and painful history of many of our missions. For how many years, amid how many discouragements, from deaths, desertions, disease, and the like, have the pioneers of those missions toiled on as the missionaries in Central Africa, so repeatedly deprived by death of one and another of their little band, are yet doing! The early rain has never come, but the latter we are sure they and all such shall have. Oh, how they deserve and demand our sympathy and our earnest prayers! Shame will it be on the Church at home if these be withheld. But we believe they are not and will not be. These are, however, a third class less blessed than those who have both the former and latter rain, and still less than those who have added on the crown and consummation of all their toil - the joyous harvest. But far, far more blessed are they than that other and last class of whom also we are reminded.
IV. THOSE WHO HAVE NEITHER OF THESE BLESSINGS - NEITHER FORMER NOR LATTER RAIN, NOR HARVEST. The profession of the Christian life may be made, and one or other form of Christian work may be undertaken, but all manner of motives, all manner of reasons, save the alone right and true one, may account for such facts. The religion and the work may alike be hollow, formal, insincere; a life and a work on which neither the former nor the latter rains of God's Spirit will ever come, and the only harvest which shall be reaped will be one of" shame and everlasting contempt." There is no Diane life in the man's soul, and therefore none in his work either. No more pitiful spectacle can any contemplate than this, and from being examples of it may God in his mercy deliver us all. But there is no need of this. The Lord our God is wont to give "rain, both the former and the latter, in its season," and to reserve unto us the appointed weeks of harvest. This is his declared will. Why, then, should we be without his blessing? Oh, let every one resolve that if importunity of prayer can for Christ's sake win it, we will know the joy of both the former and the latter rain, and will anticipate and look out for the appointed weeks of harvest. You who have had both the former and the latter rain, be ready for the reaper's work. You who have had but the former rain, plead mightily for the latter too; and you who have had neither, whether in your own life or in your work, remember the fault is your own, but resolve in the strength of God's grace that it shall be so no more. Turn in him your Lord and Savior, who came that you might have life, and might have it more abundantly, and beseech him to give you what you must have or die. And so for you and for us all we would pray -
"Diffuse, O God, those copious showers,
That earth its fruit may yield,
And change this barren wilderness
To Carmel's flowery field." C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.