The Latter Rain Revisited

The Latter Rain Revisited

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Pneuma 41 (2019) 439–457

The Latter Rain Revisited

Exploring the Origins of the Central Eschatological Metaphor in Pentecostalism

Daniel D. Isgrigg

Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University


This article explores the origins of the “latter rain” metaphor in the decades prior to its use in the pentecostal movement. While the importance of this metaphor has been documented by pentecostal histories, this is the first study of the origins of the metaphor of the latter rain and how it emerged within Wesleyan circles, was adopted by restorationist groups, and ultimately resulted in the pentecostal movement.


Pentecostalism – latter rain – eschatology – D.W. Myland – Adventism – Holiness movement

1 Introduction

One of the dominant metaphors used to describe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early pentecostal movement was that of the “latter rain.” As the revival began at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1906, William Sey- mour declared, “The Pentecostal Baptism Restored: The Promised Latter Rain Now Being Poured Out on God’s Humble People.”1William Faupel has pointed out that the concept of the latter rain was the metanarrative that held together all of pentecostal theology.2 Based on rain patterns in Palestine, the latter rain

1 Apostolic Faith1, no. 2 (October 1906), 1.

2 D. William Faupel,The Everlasting Gospel: The Significance of Eschatology in the Development

of Pentecostal Thought, JPTSup 10 (Sheffield,UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 30–43.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2019 | doi:10.1163/15700747-04103002




was built on the expectation that as the former rain was poured out at Pente- cost, so prior to the return of Jesus, God will send an outpouring of pentecostal power on the church to prepare a bride for his coming. Pentecostals used this concept not only to explain the absence of the pentecostal gifts in church his- tory, but also as a narrative that explains the return of the apostolic faith, the restoration of spiritual gifts, and the renewed interest in the pending return of Jesus. The pneumatological orientation of Pentecostalism, which is its most recognized characteristic, was firmly grounded in and dependent upon the eschatological realities they embraced. Ultimately, they believed that the Spirit was being poured outbecauseit is the last days.3

As important as the latter rain metaphor was for explaining the existence of the pentecostal movement, no one has yet attempted to trace the origin of this motif prior to Azusa.4 Almost a century before Pentecostalism began, believers in Great Britain were already praying for a “latter rain” outpouring of the Spirit in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. This article will explore how nineteenth-century believers interpreted the work of the Spirit as show- ers of eschatological latter rain in anticipation the coming of the Lord. It will chart the origins of the metaphor as it emerged within Wesleyan circles, was adopted by restorationist groups, and ultimately resulted in the pentecostal movement.

2 The Latter Day Glory

Like most aspects of pentecostal theology, the first hints of an emerging latter rain concept can be traced back to pneumatological concepts in the writings of John Wesley and his successor, John Fletcher. The first crucial development

3 R.M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 80–81,

argues that at least in the early days, pentecostal pneumatology was subordinate to its escha-

tological convictions.

4 The origins of the latter rain receive little attention in most historical studies of pentecostal

theology. Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel, 30–43, rightly notes the importance in the restora-

tionist narrative in significant characters such as Phoebe Palmer. Steven L. Ware, “Restoring

the New Testament Church: Varieties of Restorationism in the Radical Holiness Movement

of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,”Pneuma21, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 233–250,

notes that the latter rain was used by the Holiness leaders George D. Watson and A.B. Simp-

son. Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987),

26–28, makes little mention of the latter rain concept before Myland, except in the case of

Phoebe Palmer (88). Peter Althouse, Spirit of the Last Days, JPTSup 25 (London: T&T Clark,

2003), 19, follows Dayton by noting, “The latter rain doctrine was not unique to Pentecostal

thought” but does not attempt to trace the metaphor before D.W. Myland in 1909.

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occurred when Fletcher proposed that salvation history could be divided into three “dispensations”: the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospels were the dispensation of the Son, and the church age, beginning at Pentecost, was the dispensation of the Holy Spirit or “pentecostal dispen- sation.”5 For Fletcher, the whole church age was the age of the Spirit and was therefore linked with the eschatological infusion of pentecostal grace upon the church.6Employing Fletcher’s concept of the dispensation of the Spirit,Wesley imagined that there would be an outpouring of “latter day glory” that would be experienced through sanctifying grace, which would continue to progress until the earth would be “filled with the knowledge of the Lord” and Israel would come to salvation.7 Wesley’s postmillennial vision depended upon a restora- tionist metanarrative that expected a divine dispensation of special grace lead- ing up to the coming of Christ.8 Although other revivals had come and gone within church history, Wesley was convinced that the pneumatological orien- tation of this particular “effusion of the Spirit” was different because it was the culmination of a great eschatological work of God. He comments, “I cannot induce myself to think, that God has wrought so glorious a work, to let it sink and die away in a few years: no, I trust, this is only the beginning of a far greater work,thedawnof ‘the latterdayglory.’”9Thecombinationof Wesley’semphasis on the sanctifying “effusion of the Spirit” and Fletcher’s concept of the pente- costal dispensation set the stage for the concept of the “latter rain” to emerge within the Holiness movement.

5 John Fletcher and Abraham Scott,TheWorksof theRev.JohnFletcher:CompleteinTwoVolumes

(London: Thomas Allman, 1834), 776–806. Also, Lawrence W. Wood,The Meaning of Pentecost

in Early Methodism(Lanham,MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 113–162.

6 Fletcher,The Works of the Rev. John Fletcher, 783, says, “The dispensation of the Spirit is again

distinguished by peculiar language. This is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel: ‘In

the last day,’ or under the last dispensation of my grace, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all


7 Wood, The Meaning of Pentecost in Early Methodism, 178. Wood quotes Wesley saying, “The

times, which we have reason to believe are at hand (if they had not already begun), are

what many pious men have termed the time of the latter day glory; meaning the time

where in God would glorious display his power and love in the fulfillment of his gracious


8 Faupel,The Everlasting Gospel, 58, n. 51, and Peter Prosser, Dispensational Eschatology and Its

Influence on American and British Religious Movements (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press,

1999), 116, both point out that Wesley’s millennial views are vague and disputed except to say

that his eschatology was soteriologically centered and reflected his process view of salvation

toward perfection in the eschaton.

9 John Wesley, “The General Spread of the Gospel,” in The Works of the Reverend John Wesley,

M.A.II(New York: J. Emory and B. Waugh, 1831), 78.

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3 Praying for the Latter Rain

In the early decades of the nineteenth century in Britain, Wesleyan pneuma- tology was gaining popularity among clergy. In 1820, a number of Anglican clergy were engaged in promoting the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit through sermons, lectures, and calls for prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit. In 1821, Rev. Lewis Way wrote a treatise entitled The Latter Rain; with Observations on the Importance of General Prayer for the Special Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in which he sought to garner support for a united Christian effort to pray for the “latter rain” to bring about a universal “effusion of the Spirit” in the church.10The same year, Rev. James Stewart also solicited prayers for the “gen- eral outpouring of the Holy Spirit” that was needed in the church to “increase the zeal, and love, and holiness of all true Christians.”11 Using Wesleyan lan- guage, Stewart comments, “We are therefore authorized by Scripture to look for a greater effusion of the influences of the Holy Spirit than has ever yet taken place.”12Stewart’s postmillennial outpouring expected an “effusion of the Spirit” to equip believers to evangelize the world and usher in the salvation of Israel.13

Lewis Way regarded the outpouring of the Spirit as more than simply an experience of divine grace upon the church; it represented a twofold eschato- logical application. Like Wesley, he believed that the latter rain had a “spiritual application” as the outpouring of divine graces of the Spirit on the church. But Way sought to draw attention to another “much neglected” aspect, namely, the “literalreference to the Jews.”14He believed the latter rain was a prophecy that the literal rain cycles would be restored to Palestine in anticipation of the com- ing restoration of the Israel. Therefore, Way’s encouragement for believers to pray for the general outpouring of the latter rain in both its literal and spiri- tual dimensions was essentially a call to the church to hasten the restoration






Lewis Way, The Latter Rain; with Observations on the Importance of General Prayer for the Special Outpouring of the Holy Spirit (London: John Hatchard and Son, 1821). James H. Stewart,Thoughts on the Importance of Special Prayer for the General Outpouring of the Holy Spirit (London: Hammersmith, 1821), 4–6.

Stewart,Thoughts on the Importance of Special Prayer, 18. Stewart uses Wesley’s concept of “effusions of the Holy Spirit” and “latter day glory.”

Stewart, Thoughts on the Importance of Special Prayer, 11–18. Stewart believed that the evangelistic efforts would bring the gospel to the whole earth so that “all Israel will be saved.”

Way, The Latter Rain, v, comments on Joel’s promise to pour out on all flesh: “When the prophetic vision is fulfilled, it is said that the dispersed tribes of Israel shall be reunited, that they shall be restored to their own land, and that the Messiah shall be their king.”

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of Israel’s latter day glory in the Messianic kingdom.15 The latter rain, then, became not only a sign of the eschaton but also the means by which the king- dom would be ushered in.

Meanwhile, developments in Palestine were supporting these assertions about the literal aspects of latter rain concept. From the 1820s to the 1860s, Britain’s newly established control of Palestine opened up the land to new scholarly research. In this effort, the British government established the Pales- tine Exploration Fund (PEF), which commissioned a number of scholars, archeologists, and royal officials to research the land of the Bible.16 The PEF was described as “a society for the accurate and systematic investigation of the Archeology, theTopography, the Geology and the Physical Geography, the Man- ners and Customs of the Holy Land, for Biblical Illustration.”17 As researchers began carefully to document the conditions of the Holy Land, biblical scholars became interested in the physical climate of Palestine.18 Because of the grow- ing interest in the concept of the latter rain among clergy, between 1860 and 1880 the PEF funded a study of the climate in Palestine, and the results were published in its quarterly publication.19The reports documented the amounts of “latter rain” that fell, complete with charts and explanations of how it corre- sponded to passages in the Old Testament.20 Bible scholars and pastors alike began to use this data and reports in their commentaries and sermons. For



17 18



Way, The Latter Rain, 7–15. He further comments, “If [Israel] cannot pray with the spirit and with the understanding, we should carry her, in the arms of our faith, and lay her at the foot of the cross. The church, as the Spiritual Israel of God, ought to pray without ceasing for her.” Way,The Latter Rain, 31.

John James Moscrop, Measuring Jerusalem: The Palestine Exploration Fund and British Interests in the Holy Land(London: Leicester University Press, 2000). W.M. Flinders Petrie, The Story of a “Tell” (Palestine Exploration Fund, 1802), 16, describes thePEFas “A Society for the accurate and systematic investigation of the Archeology, the Topography, the Geol- ogy and the Physical Geography, the Manners and Customs of the Holy Land, for Biblical Illustration.” Other publications by the PEF included: “The Survey of Western Palestine,” “The Recovery of Jerusalem,” “The Geology of Palestine and Arabia,” and “The Survey of Jaulan.”

Petrie,The Story of a “Tell,” introduction.

For example, see George Henry Taylor, Notes and Lessons on the Geography and History of Palestine(London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851), 19–21.

Thomas Chaplin, “Observations on the Climate of Jerusalem,” in Palestine Exploration Fund: Quarterly Statement, (London: Society’s Office, 1883), 9–40.

Chaplin, “Observations on the Climate of Jerusalem,” 12. Chaplin includes charts of rain from Palestine 1883 comparing the amounts of rain from 1860 to 1880, including the amount of “latter rain” each year (34–37). He does not indicate, however, that the amount of rainfall was increasing, as was speculated during this period. The Expository Times 6 (October 1894–September 1895), 389–392, used this report to discredit the latter rain revivalist claims by demonstrating that rainfall had remained somewhat consistent.

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example, in 1856, James Smith’s treatise The Early and Latter Rain opens with this declaration: “The rain in the East fell periodically, at set seasons of the year, the one about seed time, the other just before harvest. The former prepared the ground for the seed, the latter filled the ear and prepared the corn for the sickle.”21 Just as the literal rain prepared the harvest, so they believed the spir- itual rain was preparing the eschatological harvest. Rooting the literal aspects in Israel’s climate became an important eschatological signpost during a time when Christian evidences were becoming an important methodological enter- prise. Nineteenth-century evangelical believers now had biblical scholarship to support what had been, up until this point, a somewhat subjective spiri- tual assertion about the eschatological nature of the outpouring of the Spirit in Holiness revivalism.22

4 The Latter Rain Spreads

In 1826, British statesman Henry Drummond began a yearly “Conference for the Study of Prophecy” at Albury Court for the purpose of comparing escha- tological views.23 Drummond became interested in eschatology after reading LewisWay’s work in the “London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews” and invited him to be one of the speakers at his conference.24Drummond began to connect Way’s literal and spiritual aspects of eschatological rain with Fletcher’s concept of dispensations, except that he reversed the postmillennial notion of progress by arguing that the present dispensation will end in a time of judgment upon Christendom in anticipation of the premillennial coming of Jesus.25 So where Wesley’s concept of the latter day glory was a progressive



23 24


James Smith, The Early and Latter Rain (Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1856), v. Although the book does not expressly articulate his understanding of this concept, Smith equates this metaphor in terms of the life of the Spirit found in those who live in holiness and are used by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel.

Donald W. Dayton “Pentecostal Theology,” in Christian T. Collins Winn, ed., From The Mar- gins: A Celebration of theTheologicalWork of DonaldW. Dayton,PTMS75 (Eugene,OR: Pick- wick, 2007), 156–157, uses a very broad definition of “evangelicalism” that encompasses the Protestant traditions in the nineteenth century influenced by Holiness revivalism in America and Great Britain. This definition is also shared by David W. Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody (Downers Grove, IL: Inter- varsity Press, 2005), 23.

Faupel,The Everlasting Gospel, 93.

DavidW. Bebbington,EvangelicalisminModernBritain:AHistoryfromthe1730stothe1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 82.

Henry Drummond, A Defense of the Students of Prophecy in Answer to the Attack of the Rev.

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outpouring toward establishing the kingdom, Drummond emphasized the out- pouring as a sign of the coming deterioration of the world before the return of the King.

One of the attendees at Albury was the Scottish pastor Edward Irving, who became interested in premillennialism after reading the works of James Frere.26 Way’s pneumatological concept of the latter rain resonated with Irv- ing and he became convinced that there would be a restoration of the gifts of the Sprit in anticipation of the second coming, including speaking in tongues.27 A year later, Irving began to encourage his followers to expect and pray for the latter rain to restore the gifts in his church.28 Over the next few years Albury participants, led by Irving and Way, gathered to pray for the latter rain, and many members were having dramatic experiences with the Spirit. The charis- matic manifestations that followed led Irving to declare, “This outpouring of the Spirit, is known in scripture by ‘the latter rain,’ of which I deem the reli- gious revivals of the last thirty years to be as the first droppings of the shower.”29 One of Irving’s followers, Margaret Macdonald, is reported to have had a charis- matic vision in which she was caught up in the Spirit and in which the Lord revealed to her that only those who are filled with the Spirit will be caught away when Christ returns.30As more attendees of the conference were experi- encing dramatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit, such as healing, visions, and


27 28



Dr. Hamilton (London: James Nisbet, 1828), 124–125. Drummond taught that the dispen- sation would close with judgments on Christendom, the return of the Jewish nation, and the return of Christ to sit on his millennial throne.

David Malcolm Bennett, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement (Eugene,OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 113–114.

Prosser, Dispensationalist Eschatology, 134–139.

Oneof Irving’searlybiographers,JeanChristieRoot,EdwardIrving:Man,Preacher,Prophet (Boston,MA: Sherman, French & Company, 1912), 78–79, notes that at Albury in 1825, “Irv- ing probably received his first inspiration to hope for the renewed ‘Gifts.’” According to Root, a year after these discussions at Albury, Irving began both to expect and to pray for the renewal of gifts in his parish.

Edward Irving, “Translator’s Preliminary Discourse,” in Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra,The Coming of MessiahinGloryandMajesty, trans. Edward Irving (London: L.B. Seeley and Son, 1827), v. According to a transcription of McDonald’s testimony in Paul Richard Wilkinson, For Zion’s Sake: Christian Zionism and the Role of John Nelson Darby(Milton Keynes,UK: Pater- noster, 2007), 262–265, MacDonald does not use the term rapture, but she does declare that believers must be filled with the Spirit in order to “fit us to enter into the marriage sup- per of the Lamb.” Dave MacPherson,The Incredible Coverup (Plainsfield, NJ: Logos, 1975), has argued that Darbyreceivedhis two-phase coming of Christ and secretrapturedoctrine from MacDonald. However, as Wilkinson, For Zion’s Sake, 197, points out, several scholars doubt MacPherson’s theory. SeeThomas D. Ice, “MacDonald, Margaret,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology(Grand Rapids,MI: Kregel Publishing, 1966), 244.

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even speaking in tongues, Drummond became increasingly uncomfortable and in 1830 abruptly shut down the meetings.31 Although the Albury conference came to an end, another one of the attendees, John Nelson Darby, took Drum- mond’s dispensational concept and began to popularize it at his own confer- ence at Powerscourt in Ireland, only without the restorationist and charismatic emphasis.32

During the next few decades, conferences across Britain began proclaim- ing the message of holiness, healing, and prophecy, all of which themes were expressed through latter rain pneumatology. In 1860, a number of London clergymen published a volume entitled Sermons on the Person and Work of the Spirit, which expressed their desire to draw attention to the topic of the Holy Spirit and to defend the great religious revivals as signs of the latter rain promisedbytheScriptures.33Forexample,EmiliusBayleyarguedthatalthough the Spirit has been present during the “entire dispensation,” there is a particular application of the promise in Joel to the present-day revivals.

The analogy of the former and the latter rain [in Joel 2] might lead us to suppose, that as at the beginning, so also at the end of the dispensation, a special outpouring of the Spirit was intended to take place … Is it not, then a very natural inference to draw, that we may look for a special out- pouring of the Spirit at the present time? Nay, more than this: such special outpouring has already commenced; America, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland, andWales, are the witnesses; and England is now beginning to receive the blessing.34

The metaphor of the latter rain, therefore, became a way of talking about the pneumatological and sanctifying grace available to believers through the vari- ous revivals.

31 32



Faupel,The Everlasting Gospel, 93.

Wilkinson, For Zion’s Sake, 192–197. Darby adopted three concepts from Drummond that became the hallmarks of his dispensational premillennialism: the dividing of time into “dispensations” terminated by a period of judgment, the restoration of national Israel in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus to reign on earth, and the concept of the two- phase coming of Christ that includes an exclusive rapture prior to a period of judgment. Sermons on the Person and Work of the Spirit (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1860), vi–vii, records, “We are convinced, moreover, that God has made promises with reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit, which have never yet received their full accomplishment, and that the Church of Christ is warranted in expecting, in answer to special and united prayer a special and abundant blessing.”

Emilius Bayley, “The Promise of the Spirit,” inSermons on the Person andWork of the Spirit, 12–14.

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The latter rain metaphor was particularly present in the Keswick and other “higher life” conventions. During the London “Scriptural Holiness and Divine Healing” conference in 1885, William Boardman is reported to have made “spe- cial reference to the promise by the Prophet Joel, of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter days, both in saving power and supernatural signs, initiat- ing the hope of the near approach of its glorious fulfillment in our own day.”35 Delegates at this meeting testified, “We are living in the times of the latter rain. The Lord has given the former rain, and He is giving the latter rain abundantly, and he is going to bring the crops on the face of the earth to ripeness, and that in our time.”36 A frequent attender of these British conferences was A.J. Gor- don, the well-known Baptist pastor and friend of D.L. Moody, who used the metaphor to connect theparacleteat Pentecost with theparousiaat the end of age.37

In redemption the early rain of the Spirit was at Pentecost, the latter rain will be at the Parousia; the one fell upon the world as the first sowers went forth into the world to sow; the other accompany “the harvest which is the end of the age” and will fructify the earth for the final blessing of the age to come, bringing repentance to Israel and remissions of sins, “that the times of refreshing may come.”38

Gordon’s restorationist views of healing, sanctification and the subsequent experience of pentecostal power were grounded in the belief that the present mission of the Spirit was a result of the latter rain.39

The agricultural nature of the latter rain image naturally became a powerful metaphor describing the effective evangelistic efforts taking place around the world, particularly in Christian and Missionary Alliance circles.40 A.B. Simp-

35 36 37

38 39 40

Word, Work, and World (September 1, 1885), 233.

Word, Work, and World (September 1, 1885), 236.

A.J. Gordon, Ministry of the Spirit(Philadelphia,PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894), 49.

Gordon, Ministry of the Spirit, 210.

Gordon, Ministry of the Spirit, 67.

W. Sprague, “Power That Converts,”Word, Work, and World (February 1, 1883), 22, declares, “We live in the ‘latter days,’ more truly than any who have preceded us. The ‘early rains’ of Pentecost started the Church on its missionary career. Shall not the ‘latter rains’ complete the harvest of the world? And when we see the refreshing showers of diving grace ‘going on and increasing’ over America and England, and occasionally breaking out in unlooked for places, as among the Telugus of India, shall we not hasten to ‘ask of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain?’”

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son believed that the latter rain outpouring of the Spirit would accompany a great end-time “harvest of souls” prior to the pending coming of Christ.41 The latter rain was crucial to Simpson’s emphasis on the “Soon Coming King,” a concept that became the heart of the fourfold gospel motif of evangelical and ultimately pentecostal theology.42 For Simpson, the global evangelistic work was proof that the “first drops” of Joel’s eschatological promise to pour out the Spirit on all flesh was coming to pass.43A minister at the 1898 C&MARochester Camp meeting declares, “Many do not realize that the ‘latter rain’ is falling … spiritually we are asleep, and the rain which is fitting God’s people for the soon coming of Christ, and translation, is falling all around, and we do not know it.”44This was a crucial step in the development of pentecostal understandings of the bride. It supposed an exclusive rapture in which the outpouring was of “fitting” or preparing the church as the “bride” for the coming of the “Bride- groom.”

Belief in the nearness of the return of Christ through the metaphor of the latter rain continued to be reinforced by more reports of the physical condi- tions in Palestine as the turn of the century neared. In 1891, J. Townsend Trench declared, “For some 2000 years the latter rain has more or less been withheld from Palestine. Hence Palestine’s agricultural desolation. But, wonderful to say, for the last few years God has been restoring more and more of the latter rain.”45 The prophetic impact of the spiritual rain on the church and the physical rain in Palestine seemed almost certain to be a harbinger of the imminent resto-




44 45

Although the latter rain is used often by contributors to the Alliance Weekly (AW), Simp- son himself did not regularly discuss this concept. See, for example, “Christ our Savior and Sanctifier,”Christian Alliance and MissionaryWeekly9, no. 5 (July 29, 1892), 71, where Simp- son declares, “This is the time of the latter rain. The only condition of its reception is the asking.”

Bernie Van DeWalle, The Heart of the Gospel: A.B. Simpson, the Fourfold Gospel, and Late Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Theology (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2009), 22–23, “To under- stand Simpson’s theology is to understand late nineteenth-century American evangelical theology. Simpson’s Gospel was not something peculiar to himself or the C&MA. Rather, in the late nineteenth century, it was the heart of the gospel.”

A.B. Simpson, “What Is Meant by the Latter Rain,”AW 29, no. 3 (October 19, 1907): 38, com- ments, “We may therefore expect in the latter day manifestations of the Holy Spirit. All of these will reappear with equal, if not greater, power than of the days of old. We are not to suppose that what we have seen in various instances during the past months in Christian and heathen lands is anything more than the sprinkling of the first drops of a mighty rain.” The Indicator 8, no. 33 (August 17, 1898): 1.

“Christ Our Coming Lord,” Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly 4, no. 13 (March 27, 1891), 201.

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ration of Israel and the eschatological climax of the ages.46 In The Alliance Weekly, Hilda Bushness describes her experience after visiting Palestine in 1898.

I saw clearly that as the early or former rain which began to fall in Pales- tine in October, caused the seed which had been sown to germinate, or start, so the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit started the church; and the next great outpouring of the Spirit or the latter rain will come as the lat- ter rain did in Palestine, to mature the grain for harvest, and that it will mature or prepare the Church for the Lord’s return.47

Only a few years later, both the pentecostal movement and the Zionist move- ment would emerge as seemingly infallible proof of that the latter rain had indeed come.

5 Rain on the Borders of Evangelicalism

While the latter rain fueled the pneumatological and eschatological outlook of mainline evangelicalism, fringe groups within these streams also took notice. Following the Great Disappointment of 1844, the successors of William Miller were forced to reinterpret his prophetic teachings in a way that would affirm their eschatological beliefs without repeating the follies of Miller’s date-setting miscalculations.48 One new eschatological concept that emerged in this pro- cess came from a series of visions received by Ellen G. White, the wife of promi- nent Adventist leader James White. Ellen White was reared in the Methodist church and even as a young girl was deeply spiritual.49 Like many Holiness


47 48


“Field Notes: The Jews,” Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly 13, no. 4 (July 27, 1894), 93, comments, “The latter rains have returned, and even in the last ten years, the month of April, which used to be a dry month has become as rainy as March, so that the climate is radically changing, and God is preparing the land for the people, and sending the people to the land.”

AW (November 19, 1898): 472.

Everett N. Dick, “The Millerite Movement 1830–1845,” in Gary Land, ed., Adventism in America (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1998), 26–27. Several key lead- ers within the movement were debating where the predictions went wrong and sought to sway followers to their own particular ideas, leading the group to convene the Mutual Conference of Adventists in April 1845. The gathering greatly benefitted the movement as leaders were encouraged to abandon extremist ideas and recapture a simple Adventist message.

Ellen G.White,EarlyWritings of Ellen G.White(Washington,DC: Review and Herald, 1882), 11.

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believers, White was attracted to William Miller’s emphasis on holiness as a way of preparing for the coming of Jesus, and she gave her life to Christ during one of his meetings. Years later, in 1844, while in a special time of prayer, White testified that the “Holy Ghost fell upon” her and she received a vision of Jesus’s second coming.50 White interpreted her experience with the Spirit as a sign that the promised last days outpouring had arrived and that God was restor- ing the long absent charismatic gifts to the church.51 She comments, “When the people of God shall attain to primitive faith and practice … will not the “latter rain” again develop the gifts? Reasoning from analogy we should expect it.”52In another vision, White testified that God revealed to her that before the “commencement of the time of trouble,” Adventists will be “filled with the Holy Ghost” in order to proclaim the Sabbath more fully.53Despite the controversial and exclusive Sabbatarian teachings, Adventist meetings were often marked by Holiness revivalism. White testified that in one meeting where the “Spirit fell,” peoplecameforprayer,“healingpowercamedown,andthesickwerehealed.”54 Similar to early Pentecostals, White believed that her visions and the manifes- tations of the Spirit were a direct confirmation that the coming of the Lord was imminent despite the damage that was done by the Millerite debacle.

Although not everyone accepted White’s charismatic teachings early on, her reputation as the charismatic Adventist prophet allowed her to become a cen- tral influence within the Adventist denomination, in large part due to her belief in the latter rain.55During the next two decades, writers in the Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald (ARSH)used the latter rain to describe an attainment of an experience with the Spirit that prepared believers for the second coming.56For example, Simon Patten comments, “The truth looks very precious now, and in the strength of the Lord I will try to live it out in all its parts, stand every test, that I may be fitted for translation by the latter rain.”57Following a particularly

50 51

52 53 54 55



Dick, “The Millerite Movement 1830–1845,” 31.

Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts: The Great Controversy between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels(Battle Creek,MI: James White, 1858).

White,Spiritual Gifts, 6.

White, Early Writings of Ellen G. White, 33.

White, Early Writings of Ellen G. White, 37.

Richard W. Schwarz, “The Peril of Growth 1886–1905,” in Land, ed., Adventism in America, 78.

See ARSH26, no. 20 (October 17, 1865): 158; ARSH32, no. 19 (November 3, 1868): 1; ARSH38, no. 5 (July 18, 1871): 37; ARSH 50, no. 23 (December 6, 1877): 183. The latter rain was rarely addressed during the 1880s, but reemerged prior in the revivalist and prophetic fervor of the turn of the century.

ARSH 29, no. 16 (March 26, 1867): 189.

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blessed General Conference in 1893, Adventist charismatics, such as A.T. Jones, proclaimed that only drops of rain had fallen on the church, but that the “loud cry” of the Angel of Revelation 14 had begun in 1888 that announced the com- ing of the “latter rain” upon Adventists to preach the Sabbath to the world.58As with other evangelical groups, Adventists used the latter rain as a way for inter- preters to focus on the pneumatological and eschatological orientation of their faith, which justified their existence and embodied the message of their move- ment. Although Adventists did not have a direct influence on the pentecostal movement, the employment of this narrative in these groups demonstrates the extent to which restorationist streams used the metaphor.

6 The Exclusive Rain

Prior to the pentecostal movement, the signs of the latter rain included prayer, increased emphasis on the Holy Spirit, sanctifying grace, healing, restoration of spiritual gifts, and physical conditions in Israel. The introduction of the phe- nomenon of speaking in tongues within the pentecostal movement began to complicate the criteria for what constituted the latter rain. While a large por- tion of evangelicals adopted the premise that the gifts of the Spirit were being restored to the church, few among their ranks believed that speaking in tongues would be a crucial element.59 For example, William Arthur said of the gift of tongues at Pentecost:

This gift does not seem to be clearly designed to be either universal or per- petual. We are not called upon to say that it will never be restored to the



George R. Knight, A Search for Identity: The Development of Adventist Beliefs(Hagerstown, MD: Review & Herald Publishing Association, 2000), 109; George R. Knight, A.T. Jones: Pointman on Adventism’s Charismatic Frontier (Review & Herald Publishing Association, 2011), 118–119.

There are extant examples of individuals who did expect speaking in tongues as a mis- sionary gift. For example, at the 1885 Conference on Divine Healing and True Holiness, a Mrs. Baxter asks, “As the gift of tongues and the gift of the use of tongues is mentioned in the New Testament more often than the gift of healing, is not the former gift as nec- essary to missionary work as the latter?” She testifies that while praying the Lord laid it on her heart to preach in German to the members of a village, she responded, “Lord, I cannot,” to which God replied, “I could not do, He could do.” As she stood up to speak, she spoke in German. She comments, “It was Christ instead of me—The Lord just stand- ing and whispering what had to be said. It was really He bearing me up and not a bit of power in me.”Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holiness (London: J. Snow & Company, 1885), 130–132.

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Church; for that is never said in the world of God; nor should we ridicule or talk disrespectfully of the faith of any Christian who devoutly expects its restoration. All we say is, that we have not scriptural ground to claim it as one of the permanent gifts of the Spirit.60

However, as Pentecostals began to be baptized in the Spirit according to the pattern of Acts 2, they reasoned that speaking in tongues was not just a sign of the latter rain; it became the “true sign” that the latter rain was falling. Partic- ipants at Charles Parham’s Bible school who were baptized in the Holy Spirit declared tongues to be the “first showers of the latter rain.”61 Parham singled out speaking in tongues as the particular sign of the latter rain because it was the means by which missionaries were equipped to evangelize the world.62As a result, early pentecostal histories meticulously charted examples of early show- ers based on the strict criterion of occurrences of glossolalia in history.63

While previous revivals were considered “sprinklings” or “early showers,” Pentecostals believed these previous Holiness revivals “fell short” of the apos- tolic standard established at the day of Pentecost, that is, speaking in tongues.64 G.F.Taylor argued that what had taken place in previous generations was “glori- ous and wonderful” but should not be mistaken “for the latter rain itself.”65For



62 63



William Arthur, The Tongue of Fire (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1856), 153. Similarly, Sermons on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 158, comments that the Holy Spirit will not, “as on the wondrous day of Pentecost, give him utterance in tongue he hath not learned or known.”

James R. Goff, Fields White unto Harvest, (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1988). Lillian Thistlewaite titled the history of the Apostolic Faith Movement “The Won- derful History of the Latter Rain,” in Sarah Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham (Joplin, MO: Hunter Printing Press, 1930), 51–61.

Charles F. Parham,The Everlasting Gospel (Baxter Springs,KS: 1906), 31–32.

B.F. Lawrence,The Apostolic Faith Restored (St. Louis,MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1916), 12,tracesspeakingintonguesthroughoutchurchhistoryinefforttoshowthat“suchawork was permanent in the church rather than to trace any historical connection with the prim- itive believers.” Similarly, Stanley Frodsham,With Signs Following(Springfield,MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1926), 353, says, “Since the same significant phenomenon is occurring in all parts of the earth today as was seen in the days of the ‘early rain,’ as described in the Acts of the Apostles, surely it suggests that we are in the days of the ‘latter rain,’ that is due before the coming of the Lord.”

Stanley Frodsham, “The Latter Rain,”Pentecostal Evangel (February 24, 1917): 8, declares, “If ‘This is that’ nothing else is ‘that,’ and we need to look for ‘that’ manifestation of the Spirit’s presence if we want ‘that’ which Joel prophesied God would send.”

G.F. Taylor,The Spirit and the Bride: A Scriptural Presentation of the Operations, Manifesta- tion, Gifts and Fruit of the Holy Spirit in His Relation to the Bride with Special Reference to the “Latter Rain” Revival (Falcon,NC: Taylor, 1907), 91.

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Taylor, even those who spoke in tongues with Parham in Topeka and in other parts of the USA were still part of the early showers because they were “few in number.” The true universal and abundant showers of rain “seems to have had its starting point in the year 1906.”66 Speaking in tongues, therefore, not only became a universal sign validating the movement’s claim that the eschatologi- cal rain was falling; it also became the individual sign giving evidence that one had personally received the latter rain. Taylor declares, “The early rain began on the day of Pentecost, and the first manifestation was speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance, and then followed the healing of the sick, casting out devils, etc. So it would only be natural to expect that the latter rain Pentecost should be repeated and followed by the same manifestation.”67

However, not everyone in pentecostal circles was comfortable with draw- ing such boundaries.68One such protester was William Piper, the pastor of the famous Stone Church of Chicago and editor for the Latter Rain Evangel. For Piper, speaking tongues served as a signpost marking the periods of early and latter rain of the dispensation, but he was not willing to make tongues “the absolute and only evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”69 Piper’s posi- tion was more in line with the latter rain concept of the movements prior to Pentecostalism: speaking in tongues was a universal sign but not necessarily a personal sign.

By choosing to narrow the boundaries of what constituted the latter rain, Pentecostals ultimately were forcing a sectarian wedge in what was otherwise a broadly inclusive movement built on the basic assumptions engendered by the latter rain motif. One victim of this exclusivist shift in the latter rain metaphor was A.B. Simpson. Simpson was by all accounts an early supporter of the pen- tecostal revival taking place among many of the Alliance members and was initially open to speaking in tongues.70However, he was not willing to limit the

66 67 68



Taylor,The Spirit and the Bride, 93.

Taylor,The Spirit and the Bride, 91.

Douglas Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit (Urbana,IL: Indiana University Press, 2003), 290, comments, “Like it or not, the borderline between pentecostal and non-pentecostal faith was often as fuzzy during the early years of the movement as it is today.”

William Piper, “What Meaneth This Speaking in Tongues,”LRE (October, 1908), 15. Piper reinforces this conviction with an interpretation of a message in tongues in which he claims God not only affirmed that “this is the latter rain” but also that “all these are evi- dences of the latter rain. Just take it all together and it is an evidence that God is pouring out his Spirit on all flesh.” See also, “Manifestations and “Demonstrations,”LRE (October 1908): 16–20, where Piper declares that the teaching that speaking in tongues is the “Bible evidence” is a “false teaching.”

Charles W. Neinkirchen, A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement (Peabody, MA: Hen- drickson, 1992), 109.

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latter rain to just the phenomenon of speaking in tongues and became increas- ingly uncomfortable with the pentecostal movement’s exclusive claim to the latter rain. He comments,

The latter rain is not what is ordinarily understood by the baptism of the Holy Spirit … There is a great danger that sincere and established Chris- tians shall get into darkness in seeking for the fullness of the Holy Ghost by questioning whether they ever received the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Spirit tothe ordinary believeris not so much a special enduement for power for service as for union with Christ, cleansing from sin and equip- ment for our practical Christian life.71

Simpson rejected the narrow pentecostal view and argued that the latter rain began before Azusa with the restoration of the emphasis on healing, sanctifi- cation, and the soon return of Christ. For he and many other Holiness leaders, speaking in tongues was a latter rain phenomenon but it was only one sign among other signs.

7 The Latter Rain Covenant

Based on this historical look into the origins of the concept of the latter rain, it is clear that the metaphor was not exclusive to the pentecostal movement. Yet, it is not uncommon in Pentecostal Theology to credit D.W. Myland with pop- ularizing the latter rain. In 1909, Myland gave a series of lectures at the Stone Church in Chicago on the “The Latter Rain Covenant” in which he offered a “revelation” about the restoration of the latter rain to the church through the pentecostal movement.72 Myland’s claim to this “unique” concept came dur- ing a time of sickness, testifying that he was carried away in the Spirit while speaking in tongues and the revelation of the “latter rain covenant.”73The sup- posed uniqueness of this revelation led William Piper to declare, “The Latter

71 72


Simpson, “What is Meant by the Latter Rain,” 38.

Dayton, Theological Roots, 26–28; Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel, 30–36; Edith L. Blum- hofer, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 94–96; Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 116, each trace the latter rain motif beginning with Myland in 1909. Myland’s lectures were published over several months in the Latter Rain Evangel (LRE). See LRE (June 1906): 15– 22;LRE(July 1909): 2–3, 15–22;LRE(1909): 11–18;LRE(September 1909): 13–19;LRE(October 1909): 17–23. October

LRE(June 1909): 15; LRE(Jul 1909): 15; LRE(August 1909): 13–14.

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Rain Covenant! Who ever heard of it before?”74 But Piper had indeed heard of it. In fact, he himself had just a year earlier titled his paper The Latter Rain Evangel, which outlined this very concept. He declares,

The climate of Palestine is divided into two seasons, the wet and the dry. The wet season is made up of the latter rain. God poured out upon the early Church the early rain … When these signs again begin to appear, we know that we are in the period of the latter rain … But since there is a period of early rain and a period of latter rain, we must expect that the Holy Spirit will manifest differently in these periods from what He does in the intervening centuries.75

Despite Myland’s recitation of this already established concept, Piper praised Myland’s “unfolding of these scriptures” as a revolutionary explanation of the phenomenon of Pentecost.

Myland’s approach to the latter rain was not unique except that it was applied solely to the pentecostal revival. Myland’s version was little more than an application of the concept of the literal and spiritual aspects of the lat- ter rain popularized by Way and Stewart.76 Furthermore, Myland’s use of the charts of rainfall in Palestine was simply adapted from the reports of the Pales- tine Exploration Fund. Ironically, the same charts used by previous generations to demonstrate that the latter rain had arrived were used by Myland to prove that the latter rain had not yet fallen until the advent of the pentecostal move- ment.77 Myland did not discount earlier revivals; he believed that the prayers offered during the previous decades of “ordinary rain” were instrumental in softening the ground in preparation for the latter rain.78 Myland’s roots with Simpson also shaped his emphasis that the pentecostal latter rain was more than just about speaking in tongues; it was a way of preparing for the second coming.79 Narrowing the interpretation of the latter rain to the pentecostal


75 76 77 78 79

Piper comments in the introduction to LRE (October 1909): 17, “In our study of theology we have found nothing which in uniqueness and originality equals these expositions in the blessed latter rain truths.”

William Piper, “What Meaneth This Speaking in Tongues,”LRE(October, 1908): 15. Althouse,Spirit of the Last Days, 18 credits this as a “unique” feature of Myland’s teaching. Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 125.

LRE(July 1909): 18, 21; Jacobsen,Thinking in the Spirit, 125.

LRE (January 2011): 11. He says, “The paramount and essential significance of this Pente- costal movement, beyond all tongues and interpretation is the transfiguring power of the vision of the glorified Lord on the soul of man, preparatory to the transfiguration of the Bride.”

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phenomenon helped to differentiate the movement and supported its claim to the full revelation of the true apostolic faith.

8 What Happened to the Latter Rain?

In seeking to revisit the origins of the latter rain motif, this study has demon- strated that this important eschatological metaphor was not a creation of the pentecostal movement; it was a crucial theological concept fueling much of the nineteenth century restorationist emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Across the spectrum, from mainline theological traditions to fringe groups, the concept of the latter rain contributed significantly to the resurgence of pneumatological and eschatological emphasis in Evangelicalism. As a root metaphor, the “latter rain” was not just a way of talking about the doctrine of Spirit baptism; it was an image that conveyed a grand metanarrative explaining God’s eschatological plan. In a broadly evangelical sense, the latter rain narrative offers a philosophy of history for explaining the renewal of biblical spirituality since the Reforma- tion.

Today, pentecostal scholars have struggled with the concept of latter rain as a valid philosophy of history. As Augustus Cerillo points out, providential approaches to pentecostal history are often reductionist in their understand- ing of history and have proven difficult to verify.80 For many scholars today, a shift from latter rain restorationism to a more cyclical and revivalistic outlook in which there has been an “ebb and flow” of the Spirit’s activity through peri- ods of revival and apostasy is becoming more popular among Pentecostals.81By placing all of church history into the “Age of the Spirit,” it opens up the possi- bility of seeing the pentecostal movement as a sovereign latter rain outpouring without being ahistorical or holding to complete cessationism.82However, with growing concerns over the fundamentalist and dispensational orientation of pentecostal eschatology, pentecostal scholars are looking to the latter rain as part of the theological ethos that makes Pentecostalism a unique tradition.83


81 82


Augustus Cerillo, Jr., “Interpretive Approaches to the History of American Pentecostal Ori- gins,”Pneuma19, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 29–52.

Craig L. Keener,Spirit Hermeneutics(Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 50. Keener,Spirit Hermeneutics, 50, notes, “The early Pentecostal restorationist approach sim- ply adopted contemporary cessationism and modified it by making the cessation tempo- rary.”

Peter Althouse, “The Landscape of Pentecostal and Charismatic Eschatology: An Introduc- tion,” in Peter Althouse and Robby Waddell, eds., Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatology: World without End (Eugene,OR: Pickwick, 2010), 1–21.

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As Peter Althouse points out, when Pentecostals “downplay” the latter rain doc- trine, they are rejecting the “distinctive eschatology of the early movement.”84 In a time when Pentecostals are losing their pneumatological distinctiveness, Frank Macchia argues there is a great need to reinvigorate the pentecostal doc- trine of Spirit baptism by recapturing the latter rain orientation.85

It appears to me that the true problematic nature of the latter rain philos- ophy is found in its limited use by Pentecostals in referring to the pentecostal movement.Thisstudyhasdemonstratedthattheglobal“latterrain”outpouring of the Spirit does not rest solely on ideas generated by Pentecostals. Apart from the norming of speaking in tongues, all the other pneumatological restora- tionist emphases, such as healing, prophecy, spiritual and ministry gifts, were equally parts of the progressive revelation of the Spirit’s work consistent with theconceptof thelatterrain.FromWesleyanexperiencesof pentecostalgraces, to calls for praying for latter rain to restore the gifts of the Spirit, there is a sense inwhichthelatterrainexplainstheprogressionandintensificationof phenom- ena that ultimately gave rise to the pentecostal movement.86By broadening the latter rain narrative to include the progression of pneumatological emphasis within the historical church, it could lend greater validity to this philosophy of history. In turn, it also provides the potential for drawing the pentecostal move- ment back into a symbiotic relationship with history and other traditions. The history of the latter rain demonstrated in this article recognizes that the pen- tecostal movement is not the totality of the Spirit’s work, but one piece of a larger move of God to bring the Spirit into primary focus in the church. While this may return Pentecostals to the dilemma of the “providential” approach to history, for Pentecostals it is hard not to be convinced that the global Spirit- empowered movement is certainly living in the eschatological culmination of two centuries of expectations that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh.


85 86

Peter Althouse,Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, JPTSup 25 (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 48.

Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit, 40.

Peter Hocken,The Challenges of Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Messianic Jewish Movements (London: Routledge, 2016), 6–7.

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