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Death has a way of focusing the mind on the transcendent. It helped set off America’s First Great Awakening. In April 1734, the little community of Pascommuck, three miles outside Northampton, Massachusetts, suffered what Jonathan Edwards recalled as the “very sudden and awful death of a young man in the bloom of his youth.” Not long afterwards, “a young married woman, who had been considerably exercised in mind, about the salvation of her soul,” unexpectedly followed him to the grave. The youth of the parish began developing a new seriousness, further concentrated that autumn by “the death of an elderly person, which was attended with many unusual circumstances, by which many were much moved and affected.” By December, Edwards reports, “the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us.” Five or six local residents were converted “in a very remarkable manner.” The entire town became consumed by religion and matters eternal. The following summer, all Northampton “seemed to be full of the presence of God.”

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