Imagine this. Imagine waking up one day to news reports that droves of people from all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds in your city are suddenly coming to faith in Christ and experiencing radical change. What would that look like? Furthermore, what would you assume to be the cause?
In the 1790s, revival broke out in Northampton, CT under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. And apart from this blog post’s title, you’d never be able to guess what caused it. Historian Stephen J. Nichols records the following:
…there was a most unexpected work of God in converting a particular person in Edwards’s own town of Northampton. He discreetly refers to her as a “company keeper,” which more than likely meant that she was a prostitute . . . He, however, feared that the congregation would not rejoice with her but instead look upon her with contempt. Again he was surprised: “The event was the reverse, to a wonderful degree; God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town.” Edwards makes a rather self-effacing comment, attributing the revivals not to his own preaching so much as to this unlikely instrument used by God. In his view, the display of grace in this anonymous woman’s life sparked the revival.
Stephen Nichols, Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought
The cause? A prostitute. More importantly, what did this revival look like?
Using the terms of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), one of the highest marks of revival is when prodigal sons come home and are embraced by their elder brothers. It is a miracle in itself that the prodigal would come home, but it is a far greater miracle that such a prodigal would be accepted and elder brothers would be stirred out of their complacency.
That’s what true revival looks like. God’s grace melts the heart of both the religious and the irreligious, and they are reconciled to one another to celebrate the redemption and forgiveness of sins that has come through Jesus Christ.