“And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, the branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days...Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths...” (Lev. 23:40,42).
In the Feast of Tabernacles we have a beautiful picture of the unity of the Saints. On this notable occasion every Israelite must leave his place of dwelling, his farm, his flocks, his place of business--and assemble together in the streets of Jerusalem or along the highways, and dwell for seven days in the humble little booths which they were to construct with branches and willows and boughs of trees. They all had one common purpose in mind, to keep the Feast of the Lord in its season, and to celebrate the ingathering of their wines and oils. And if some would fear lest the enemy would attack their homes during their absence and take away their property, God promised that obedience to this ritual would be their safeguard. “Neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year.” (Ex. 34:24).
If the saints of God could only see the glory of the Feast of Tabernacles which even now looms before us, they could not possibly be in doubt or fear concerning their little fenced plots of sectarianism and division; and they would joyfully assemble together in the streets of Jerusalem and keep this glorious Feast. Let us be assured of this, our only safeguard rests in obedience to the Lord and a willingness to follow in the path which He shall choose for us. And if God reveals, as He does in this present hour, that the Body of Christ is being firmly knit together by the Spirit to form a vital, living organism, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit--then obedience to that revelation is all that matters. God will look after our property; our pet doctrines, our theories, our little churches, our opinions, our ambitions, and so forth. If any of these are of God, He will preserve them for us; if not, then who is concerned about maintaining them?
What then is involved in the revelation of the Body of Christ? Briefly and simply it is this: that henceforth we must learn to minister and function as members of that Body, and not as members of a sect or a denomination. In other words, we must recognize that the Body of Christ is a spiritual organism, whose Head is in Heaven, and whose very life and being is in the Holy Spirit Himself. If any individual or group of individuals is unwilling to recognize the Holy Spirit as the life of the Body, and His ministries as the faculties of the Body, then a “sect” is born. The word “sect” from the original Greek means ‘opinion’, ‘sentiment’, ‘party’. Therefore it is quite possible to have non-sectarian sects, as well as sectarian sects. That is to say, it is not necessary to belong to a religious system in order to be a “sect.” There are many sects who loudly denounce the whole ecclesiastical system--but they themselves are the most sectarian of any. To be a member of a “sect” all one has to do is to refuse to recognize the ministries which God is raising up and setting in their place in the Body of Christ. To be non-sectarian it is not sufficient to withdraw from the maze of religious schemes abroad in the world today; but we must become a vital member in the Body of Christ, functioning according to the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the place and ministry which God has ordained for us in the Body.
IS THIS UNITY POSSIBLE?
It is amazing how unbelieving a believer can become. One might as well call Christ a liar, and his apostles false witnesses of God, as to deny that God is going to have a Body functioning in absolute unity of the Spirit, with each member in his proper place, and all members working together as one harmonious whole. Here again, there is only one reason why “believers” refuse to believe it, and it is because we have never seen it either in our own experience or in the history of the Church, and it is scarcely visible in the days of the early apostolic Church. When will the saints of God realize that the sins of Israel are recorded in the Word “to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1Cor. 10:6). The story of strife and division and corruption that is recorded in God’s Word concerning God’s people is for one purpose, namely, that we should not follow in their pathway of disobedience. And the Church’s long and bitter history of disunity and strife does not prove that God’s Word means disunity when it speaks of unity. If God said it, it is going to come to pass; and if Jesus prayed for it, not all the devices of Satan can prevent the glorious fulfillment of that prayer of faith.
THE INTERCESSION OF CHRIST
Let us examine briefly John 17, where we have the request of the Son of God for this vital union among the saints: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are...”
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
Surely this marvelous prayer needs little comment. The unity for which Christ prayed, and which the Father is duty-bound to create, is going to be fulfilled. It is a unity both inexpressible and exquisite: “Even as we are one...” As surely as the Father tabernacles in the Son, speaking through Him, thinking through Him, walking in Him, working with Him...so shall it be in the Sons of God. They shall have “the mind of Christ,” and therefore they shall be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Cor. 1:10; 2:16). The many members shall function as the members of the human body, in unity and harmony of purpose (1Cor. 12:13,14). They shall “be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). They shall have the mind in them “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Unthinkable! Yes, but God is able to do exceeding and abundantly above all that we can ask or think!
THE MEANS TO THIS END
It is because such a measure of unity and harmony is so positively beyond us, and almost inconceivable, that men refuse to believe it is possible. And of course, it is impossible. But with God “all things are possible.” Let us not limit the Holy One of Israel. For God has established a sure and a certain means by which this inexpressible unity is going to be brought into being, even the ministries of “apostles, ...prophets, ...evangelists, ...pastors, ...teachers.” These are given, we are told, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry,...” Step by step the work is brought to pass: the ministries perfect the saints, and they in turn are empowered “for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Thank God the hour is at hand when this glorious unity for which Christ prayed, and for which He ascended on high and bestowed gifts unto men, is about to be manifested. Ministries are being raised up and established in the Body of Christ--and these constitute Christ’s love-gift to the Church for their perfection. Will they bring this unity to pass? To doubt it is to doubt God’s Word. It is not a case of rejecting man, because of his faults and failures; but to reject the God-ordained ministry is to reject God who gave him. Many would much rather prefer to perfect themselves through prayer, fasting, reading the Word, and so forth. These, of course, all have their place, and will do much to prepare the heart and soul. But in themselves they will not produce this perfection. God has ordained ministries in the Body by which this perfection shall come to pass. To refuse the ministries, then, is to say to Christ: “I don’t need your Ascension Gifts. I prefer to be perfected some other way.”
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF CHRIST’S MINISTERS?
The sincere saints of God are being subjected to a great test; of that there is no question. For they are being called upon to receive God’s ministers on the one hand, and to refuse the false minister on the other hand. And in this great hour when God is establishing His ministries in the Body of Christ, Satan is likewise sending forth His ministers of light; and we must learn to discern the true from the false. Truly the saints are like the multitudes over whom Christ yearned in the days of His earthly ministry--for He beheld them as sheep having no shepherd. Yes, there were Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, men who loved to wear the garb of religion, and say long prayers, and receive greetings in the marketplace, and to be called “Father,” and receive the applause of men. But there were no true shepherds. Even Paul in his day was forced to testify: “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil. 2:21). It is therefore with the greatest concern and tenderness that the Holy Spirit doth now raise up true ministers in the Body of Christ to establish the saints, and to lead them in the path of righteousness. And though it might be difficult for us to discern the true from the false, if we will pay good heed to God’s Word, and the pattern of the true minister as outlined therein, we shall not go astray. Here are a few ways and means by which we shall be able to discern the true from the false:
THE TRUE MINISTER WILL LOVE THE FLOCK
The good shepherd, Jesus tells us, will be prepared to lay down his life for the sheep. (Jn. 10:11). In this hour of comparative security and ease, there are thousands of hirelings ruling over the sheep. But let persecution come our way, or let some difficulty arise in the assembly that is apt to prove dangerous to the minister,--and the hireling will flee because he is a hireling and careth not for the sheep. But the true shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep.
THE TRUE MINISTER WILL NOT BE COVETOUS
The size of the congregation, the amount of money one is to receive, the kind of place a man will have to live in--these will not matter to the true minister. He will as readily preach to the ones and the twos, as to the hundreds and thousands. And if necessary, he will work with his own hands to sustain himself, rather than burden the flock. Paul said, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound...” (Phil. 4:12). Very few “know how to abound.” Riches have deceived many and ruined their ministry. The true minister, as a pattern of the flock, must know how to suffer hardship in times of difficulty, and to use the world without “abusing it” in times of plenty.
THE TRUE MINISTER WILL SHOW THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” We must admit there is a woeful lack of the real fruit of the Spirit everywhere; but it is beginning, nevertheless, to become manifest in those who are going on with God. And this fruit shall be the final test: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith (fulness), meekness, temperance (self-control)...” (Gal. 5:22,23).
THE TRUE MINISTER SHALL NOT SEEK HIS OWN GLORY
“He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true...” (Jn. 7:18). It is usually not difficult to discern whether the minister is taking the glory unto himself, or ascribing all the glory unto Christ. The true minister will exalt Christ, and Christ only; and not merely with lipservice, but from the heart.
THE TRUE MINISTER SHALL DISCERN THE BODY
He shall recognize the ministries which God is beginning, and will continue, to establish in the Church. God is going to vindicate his true ministers so that there will be no confusion in the minds of those who are really seeking to follow the Lord. The ministries will be contested, as with any ministry God ever established in Old Testament or New. They contested the authority of Moses, of Aaron, of Elijah, of Elisha, of David, of Solomon, of Jeremiah, of all the prophets, and of Christ Himself. But God vindicated them all in one way or another--and in such a manner that the people feared God, knowing that of a truth they were His chosen. The ministries will not be established by self-appointment, nor by human-appointment, but by Divine Appointment; their word shall be with power and authority, and not as the Scribes; and the servants of Christ shall recognize and acknowledge them.
“And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates” (Deut. 16:14).
Israel continued to live in peace and prosperity as long as they obeyed God and walked in His ways. But with disobedience came drought and famine and depression--and the Feast of Tabernacles ceased to have any real meaning to them. It is just as true with the Church of Christ. And though the Church as a Body has never really observed this Feast, there were nevertheless periods in her early history when she had a foretaste and an earnest of its glory. Our testimony is therefore that of Joel:
“The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted; the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. The vine is dried up, the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men” (Joel 1:10-12).
The new wine, the corn, the oil, the wheat, the barley, the palm, the apple: all these speak of the abundance of spiritual blessings and the joy which they impart to the saints. And because of the spiritual drought in the Church: “Joy is withered away...”
THE BLIGHT OF BABYLON
This hilarity of our modern churches is not the joy of the Holy Ghost. In most cases it is the song of Babylon. In other words, it is an attempt of the enemy to lull the saints to sleep and to cause them to forget their heritage in the Spirit. By Babylon we mean what it meant to Israel; bondage in a strange land. When Israel walked in disobedience they lost their glory, their beautiful temple, their place of worship, their prominence as a nation and kingdom. And when the Church of Christ walked in disobedience, she too lost her glory, her beautiful temple was destroyed, and from her lofty position as a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood” she degenerated into a nation of slaves and bondservants. Her people were taken captive at the hands of the world, the flesh, and the Devil--and her joy departed.
And so the Babylonians came to the children of Israel in their captivity, and said unto them, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” Perhaps many of them consented. The Church, likewise, has been too willing to accommodate the world in this manner, and to partake of her false joy. But the godly remnant in Israel refused to do so, because they knew they had nothing to sing about. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion...” How could they rejoice as they contemplated the desolation of their beautiful temple and city? “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” was their reply. (See Ps. 137).
We ought to have been mourning and howling for the desolations wrought in the Church, instead of trying to generate a false joy in our midst. And yet this continues unto this very hour: the world is invited to come and hear “one of the songs of Zion.” You may read in the advertisements in the “church” section of the newspapers about good orchestras... lively singing... so-and-so will play the sleighbells, or anything else that might produce a tune. Why not? they would argue. Get the sinners out to “church” and then preach the Gospel to them. But “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Far better that the Church should mourn and howl before God, and her priests be clothed in sackcloth and sit in ashes.
Israel did not have one percent of the glory that the Church had in the beginning, and yet her people expressed far more sorrow and repentance in their desolation than we have in ours. “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground. Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine?” (Lam. 2:10-12).
Where is corn and wine? Where is purity of thought and conduct? Where is holiness of life, and separation from the world and its charms? Where is victory over sinful habits, freedom from covetousness, from lying and falsehood, from malice and bitterness? Where is the desire to pray and seek God? To intercede on behalf of others? To deliver those who are held captive by Satan, and set the oppressed free? Where is the mind of Christ, the life that is hid with Christ in God? Where is corn and wine?
But Babylon has been good to us; so good, in fact, that we are one with them, participating in her pleasures, her politics, her wars, her earthly programs, her strife, and her religious systems. Consequently, as it was with Israel, so it is with the Church; as the cry goes forth in this hour for separation from the world and its systems, there is dismay. God says, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). Babylon means “Confusion.” It speaks of this whole world-system, political as well as religious. But we have been utterly deceived by her veneer and her charm, not realizing that “her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Rev. 18:5). In her there is no good thing. Satan is “prince of the power of the air,” and “god of this world,”--and the whole world-system is anti-God and anti-Christ. Her doom is sealed. “Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit...” (Rev. 18:2). “The abundance of her delicacies” have deceived all nations, including the majority of God’s people. “She hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously,” and all nations of the earth have “committed fornication and lived deliciously with her” (Rev. 18:9). Has the Church of Jesus Christ not followed hand in hand with the course of this world for centuries, befriended her in all her devilish programs, and lived as her captive slaves? “Ye adulterers and adulteresses,” says the apostle James, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (Jas. 4:4).
But what else could we do? We were captives in a strange land, with no power to deliver ourselves. However, the cry goes forth, “Escape from Babylon...” Let the Church arise from the dust and shake herself, and return unto her land and Temple, even “Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” And God will abundantly pardon, and give grace to re-establish the praise, the worship, in the Temple of the once-glorious Church.
THE LORD TURNETH OUR CAPTIVITY
With the turning of the captivity of the Church, joy is once again being restored, even the joy of the Holy Ghost. Songs of Zion can be heard once again in the congregation of the saints, and the Choir of Praise has been restored to the Church. Singing in the Spirit is one sure evidence that Zion’s captivity is coming to an end. Says Paul, “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Surely it is significant that Psalm 126 has now been restored by the Spirit, music included:
“When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion,
We were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing:
Then said they among the heathen,
The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us;
Whereof we are glad.
Turn again our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the south.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed,
Shall doubtless come again,
Shall doubtless come again,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.”
This, then, is a time for rejoicing. “Be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (Isa. 65:18,19). A faithful remnant are returning from the captivity to raise again the walls of Jerusalem and restore the gates of Zion. And God is in the midst of her to bless and to impart the joy of the Holy Ghost.
“And the Feast of Ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labors out of the field” (Ex. 23:16).
If the Passover was wonderful--and it certainly was--how much more wonderful shall we expect Pentecost to be in its fullness? And if Pentecost is wonderful, how much more shall we expect Tabernacles to exceed it in glory? In the Passover we have but the Sheaf of Firstfruits by way of harvest, and not the harvest itself. But Pentecost was the harvest. And what a tremendous harvest there was! And so now the Feast of Ingathering must far surpass Pentecost, even as Pentecost surpassed the harvest of the Sheaf of Firstfruits.
A GREAT ECLIPSE
The Cross and Pentecost--this was but the dawning of the great Day of the Church. That Day has already extended some nineteen hundred years and more, and the sun rises higher and higher and higher in the heavens of God’s eternal purpose. We are not inferring that the glory of the Sun continued to grow more brilliant as it rose in the sky. It should have done so, but through the disobedience of the reapers the sun was darkened, and the moon (even the Church) did not give her light. The history of the Church is a history of darkness and sorrow and bitterness. What happened? Did the Sun of Righteousness set in the heavens, and was the Church swallowed up in defeat? Ah no! It was not the setting of the Sun, but it was a great eclipse that caused the darkness, even the eclipse of the Dark Ages.
First there was the eclipse of the moon, the Church. In her circuit about the heavens she was caught in the shadow of the earth, and the corruption of the earth transformed her beautiful glow into blood and sorrow. And then there was the eclipse of the Sun. The apostate Church in her circuit obscured the glory of the Sun, so that earth-dwellers witnessed the eclipse of Truth himself. Truth perished from the earth; and joy withered away from the sons of men. Hence the Dark Ages! A few godly saints were left, for God has always had His believing remnant; and how they must have thought the Sun had set forever upon the once-glorious Church! But no! It was just an eclipse, and in due course--according to Divine pattern, the moon began once again to take on her celestial glow, and the Sun began to shine brilliantly in the heavens of the Church Age. The Reformation had started. Light began to dawn upon the darkened understandings of men, and truth began to be restored to the Church. And the Reformation has not ended by any means. Indeed, it too seems to have gone into partial eclipse. But rays of promise are again breaking forth from the heavens. “The darkness is passing away, and the true light now shineth” (1Jn. 2:8, Literal).
“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?” (Song 6:10). She is the group known as the overcomers. She is the “undefiled,” “the choice one of her that bare her.” As we mentioned before, there are many, many groups in the Church, according to God’s plan and purpose; and we are not attempting to make any particular distinction between them. “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one” (Song 6:9). There is a place for all God’s people in His great House; but shall we not seek after that intimate place of fellowship and communion with Him in the very “secret place of the Most High?” Says Paul, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor...” All the saints have a place in God’s Church; but one company receiveth the highest prize. The challenge is therefore thrown out to the saints everywhere, to rid themselves of the corrupting influences of the flesh and of the natural, and to diligently seek the things of the Spirit of God. “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2Tim. 2:20,21).
THE CHURCH, THE GARDEN OF GOD
Jesus testified, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (pruneth) it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (Jn. 15:1,2). The Church, the Garden of God! Surely this truth alone is sufficient to establish the fact that the Church’s day must end in great fertility and unparalleled prosperity. If we constitute God’s Garden, then nothing shall prevent the great Husbandman from bringing His heritage to abundance and fruition. It is His responsibility to look after it, and to see that it brings forth a harvest for His glory. “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the Garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isa. 51:3).
God always brings light out of darkness, life out of death, joy out of sorrow, strength out of weakness, and fruition out of barrenness. We can rejoice, therefore, as we see the desolation of Zion, knowing that her “desert” shall become like the very Garden of the Lord. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing...” (Isa. 35:1,2).
WINDS OF JUDGMENT AND BLESSING
“A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed... Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices there of may flow out” (Song 4:12,16). Both winds are necessary for God’s Garden: the blighting cold wind of the north to test and try the saints; and the warm breezes from the south, to bring forth the fragrance of the Spirit. We can be thankful, then, that in all the strife and bitterness of the Church’s history, God’s sovereign purposes have been fulfilled. For God has reserved the time of the “south wind” until now. “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth” (Song 2:11,12).
THE LATTER RAIN
We are looking forward with anticipation for the coming of the promised “latter rain.” The saints of God are thirsting for these living streams from heaven. But how little do we realize that God is more anxious for the “latter rain” than we are! And why? Because He is the Gardener; and He is waiting for the Feast of Ingathering, when He might gather in the precious produce. “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he (it) receive the early and latter rain” (Jas. 5:7). God is waiting for the hour when He shall bestow His latter rain, just as anxiously--and even more patiently--than we are. James says, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord,” for in a very real sense the coming of the latter rain is the coming of the Lord into the midst of His people. That is exactly what the prophet Hosea declared: “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth” (Hos. 6:3). The time is at hand when we may with all confidence expect the latter rain, for this is the last day, and God’s triumphant Church must be a glorious Church. However, it is not only the latter rain for which we are looking, but the latter and former rain! What does this mean?
Let us refer to Joel’s prophecy concerning the former and the latter rain. This refers to the seed rain and the harvest rain. God promised that His people should have both in due season as they walked in His ways: “The first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil” (Deut. 11:14). This is what James was referring to, and it is that which Joel prophesied about: “Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:23,24).
Of course, this passage did have a partial fulfillment at Pentecost, inasmuch as Peter declared: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel...” and we have already pointed out that Pentecost is a harvest of Firstfruits. The fullness of the harvest, however, is the Feast of Ingathering in the seventh month, when the wine and the oil were gathered in. You see, Israel observed two different calendars: they had the Sacred Year which began with the Passover in April, commemorating their departure from the land of Egypt, and their beginning as a redeemed nation. But they also had what has been termed a Civil Year, or an Agricultural Year, which began in October. This, then, was the first month of the Civil Year, but at the same time it was the seventh month of the Sacred Year--the month of the Feast of Tabernacles.
What Joel prophesied then, was this: “Be glad then, ye children, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately...” Dispensationally this was Pentecost, when God first poured out His Spirit in copious showers of the former rain. Peter therefore could testify: “This is that...” But it was only part of what Joel had prophesied, for he continued: “And he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain, in the first month.” The period from October to April was the rainy season. Then followed the long summer months when no rains were to be expected. The October and early November rains were called the former or the seed rains--the rains which prepared the ground for the seed; then the rainy season ended with the latter rains of April, or the harvest rains--that which caused the grain to ripen; preparatory for the harvest.
Joel’s prophecy, therefore, speaks of Pentecost--but it goes on to embrace the fullness of Pentecost, even the Feast of Tabernacles. God did give the former rain moderately--in the Pentecostal Age extending from the early Church until now. But here is something very unusual. Right here in the “first month” of the Agricultural Year (the seventh month of the Sacred year) God has promised to do something most unusual; for He would give, not only the former rain which belongs to that month, but He would give the former rain and the latter rain combined!
Can we not see from this what God has promised His people in this great hour? Not only the fullness of a great and glorious harvest, as in Pentecost. And not only the wonderful harvest of Tabernacles, the Feast of Ingathering. But all the glory and power of the early Church combined with all the glory and power which rightfully belongs to the triumphant Church of the last days! All her former glory combined with all her latter glory! Truly we cannot begin to imagine the great and tremendous things which God hath prepared for them that love Him! “And he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain, in the first month,”--Or, “in the beginning of the season.” It is the promise, not only of the early and latter rain in the hour of the Feast of Tabernacles (the “first month” of the Civil Year, but the seventh of the Sacred Year)--but it is also a promise of the great day of harvest. “And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:24). The normal procedure is: the early and the latter rain, then the harvest which culminates at Pentecost, then the long summer months of dry weather, and then the final ingathering at the year’s end. And that indeed is the way it has happened dispensationally in the Church: the former rain at Pentecost, but only moderately-- producing only a moderate harvest, and followed by a great period of drought for century upon century. Now the Lord will do a quick work in the earth. This is the focal hour of Church history. Now we shall have not only the great and mighty harvest of the seventh month, the Feast of Ingathering, but the former and the latter rain combined! A veritable deluge of rain from the gates of Heaven! No wonder the prophet prophesied, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former...”
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
“And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.” Or, literally, “New wine and oil,” beautiful symbols of the fruit of the Spirit in the saints. Said Paul, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). And the oil, as we know, is a symbol of the anointing. “The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you...” (1Jn. 2:27).
This great ingathering is the harvest for which the husbandman has been waiting ever since the foundation of the Church. Gifts of the Spirit are really no evidence of spiritual attainment; God bestoweth His gifts freely by His grace upon whomsoever He will. But with fruit it is entirely different. Fruit must grow; and God has never intended that the Body of Christ should ever bring forth fruit except through a continual Divine growth in the Spirit of God. The Ascension gifts that we mentioned are for the purpose of adding growth to God’s Garden, that we “may grow up into Him” (Eph. 4:15). God will not come to us looking for gifts, but for fruits of the Spirit. He gave us His gifts freely by His grace, and all we had to do was to receive them and use them. What God wants now is fruit, because that is something which He can receive from you. That is something which must grow upon you by your patient and continual walk with God and your appropriation of His Spirit. Until now the Husbandman has come into His garden, pruning, cultivating, watering--without expecting anything in return. But now the harvest time is approaching, and soon He shall visit His garden for one purpose and for one purpose only: seeking for fruit, and trusting that His tender care over the vine has produced genuine fruit of the Spirit.
Let us never forget that the fruits of the Spirit, and not the gifts of the Spirit, constitute the real test of spiritual life; for the latter are given to produce the former, and it is the fruit that is the embodiment and expression of Christ-likeness within the heart and soul. That is why Paul exhorted, “Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts...” (1Cor. 14:1). Gifts are absolutely necessary, for they are the means to the end; but Love is the end, the consummation, the fruit for which God is waiting. Love is the Ultimate, because “God is Love,” and it is His purpose to conform the saints even unto “the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Love is the End: but it is an End which knows no beginning or ending, for it is God himself; and when we become thoroughly united with Him we are in a realm which is eternally progressive.
O what a grand and glorious day awaits the Church in the Feast of Ingathering! The Day of the fruit of the Spirit! Because we do not have the fruit of the Spirit in any degree of fullness, we cannot appreciate its glory. Before the gifts of the Spirit were restored to the Church we had a faint conception of what they would be like, but what a revelation it is as we see them gradually unfolding before our eyes! So with the fruit of the Spirit. We know what they are: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22). But we shall never appreciate any measure of their real glory until the fruit of the Spirit becomes visibly manifest in the saints of God.