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FIRST-PERSON: Might Jonathan Edwards help us hear a sound in the treetops?

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Now and then New Agers try to appropriate or engineer what they call “harmonic convergence.” They’ll gather near Taos or Sundance (never Newark or Tupelo) when the planets are aligned just so, don their crystals and sit under makeshift pyramids, hoping to soak up the salubrious effects.

In contrast, we may speak meaningfully of a true and holy harmonic convergence, one created by God himself. By this I mean his sovereign arrangement of circumstances to bring about revival of his people and awakening of many lost souls. In this connection, we might turn to great revivals of the past for help as we try to read our current times. Let’s look briefly at two:

In “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls,” Jonathan Edwards details the precursors and manifestations of the Northampton revival, part of the 18th century’s Great Awakening. Of course, Edwards’ powerful biblical preaching was crucial. You don’t read his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and doubt that this pastor came to church to do the sort of serious spiritual work God honors. But Edwards gives strong credit to the social context.

In April 1734, “a young man in the bloom of his youth” suffered “a very sudden and awful death” from pleurisy, Edwards recounts. This and the funeral service “much affected many young people.” Not long after, a young married woman died. She’d struggled with assurance of salvation, and when she found comfort in the Lord, she counseled others to seek the same. “This seemed to contribute to render solemn the spirits of many young persons; and there began evidently to appear more of a religious concern on people’s minds.”

I think we see signs of that solemnity in America. Newsweek reports that in some quarters, crime, divorce and bar patronage are down, and that Bible sales and worship attendance are up. We hear television accounts of the collapse of tourist trade in Las Vegas and on Miami’s South Beach. The fear of flying counts, but so does the growing sense that what transpires there is tacky and even revolting.

Go back to 1857. On the eve of the Civil War, the nation was in a financial panic — bank failures, bankruptcies, factory closings, soaring unemployment. In the midst of this, Jeremiah Lamphier of New York City ran a prayer meeting notice in the paper. Only six appeared at the first gathering, and they were late, but they decided to continue the next week. By God’s grace, the cause grew exponentially throughout the city, nation and world. Six months after that first meeting, 10,000 New Yorkers met regularly for noonday prayer, and in two years, American churches gained a million members.

Is it too much to hope that the present looming recession will prompt a nation to sustained and desperate prayer?

I’ve heard the accumulating signs of impending revival likened to the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees (2 Samuel 5:24). Let’s return to Edwards for items we might correlate with these rustlings in our own day.

He tells of a miracle his church experienced in March 1737. The freezing and thawing of ground had, through the years, spread the walls. The timbers loosened, and the balcony fell during the morning service. All expected to find dead and maimed parishioners in the rubble, but there were only cuts and bruises. Not a single broken bone. They called a special service to celebrate God’s gracious providence, and the revival advanced.

Edwards also talks of the radical conversion of a woman, “one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town.” He was most gratified that “God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified,” but he was concerned that some might take it wrong, as a sign they could continue in sin for a season or that they could fault the church for low associations.

He found the reverse to be true and estimated that it was “the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of any thing that ever came to pass in the town.” He said the news of it was “almost like a flash of lightning, upon the hearts of young people, all over the town, and upon many others.”

So let us watch and pray — and listen.

Did you just hear something in the treetops?
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.comeletusreason.com and www.listten.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger