In December 1739, the great evangelist George Whitefield was completing a treacherous overland trip from Maryland to South Carolina, and he stopped for Christmas in New Bern (“Newborn”), a relatively new parish in North Carolina, which was also one of the newer southern colonies. He had already seen phenomenal crowds attend his outdoor meetings in England, and now he stood at the threshold of America’s Great Awakening, too.
How did Whitefield (who is the subject of my latest book project) spend this Christmas? For one thing, as we see in the published journal excerpt below, the Anglican Whitefield did observe Christmas, unlike some of his Reformed and evangelical associates. But Whitefield would not take Christmas off — as on most days of his adult life, Whitefield preached the gospel on Christmas, speaking “with a Demonstration of the Spirit to the Hearers’ Souls.”
Enjoy this selection — and I pray that you and yours also have a “Christmas Day indeed!”
“Monday, December 24. Crossed Pamplico River, about Five Miles wide, Yesterday Evening.—Lay at an Ordinary near the Water-side.—Set out by break of Day; crossed New River about Four in the Afternoon, and reached Newborn Town, Thirty Two Miles from Bath Town, by Six at Night.—Perceived my Appetite to grow better; experienced some inward Teachings of God’s Spirit by the Way. Had a sweet Communion in Spirit, after I came to the Inn, with my dear Friends at England, who I supposed were joining with one Accord in fervent Prayer, and ushering in the Festival of our dear Lord’s Nativity, by singing of Hymns and Spiritual Songs. . .
Tuesday, December 25. Endeavoured still to keep my Mind as much as possible in Union with all those pious Souls who I knew were rejoicing in the Glad Tidings of Salvation by Jesus Christ.—Went to publick Worship, and received the Holy Sacrament, which was celebrated in the Court-House; but mourned much in Spirit, to see in what an indifferent Manner every Thing was carried on.—I cried mightily to the Lord in my secret Devotions, and in the Afternoon when I read Prayers and preached, he was pleased to show that he had heard me, for I scarce know when we have had a more visible Manifestation of the Divine Presence since our coming into America.
The People were uncommonly attentive, most melted into Tears, and shewed what a great Impression the Word made upon their Hearts.—I myself was much carried out, I felt the Power of God come upon me, and I spoke with Demonstration of the Spirit to the Hearers’ Souls.—After Sermon, a poor Woman, with a Heart full of Concern, ran to me, desiring that I would come and preach where she lived; another told me I had given him a home Stroke; and indeed all, I believe, felt an unusual Effect upon their Minds. The Woman where we lodged would take nothing for our Christmas Dinner, and wished we could stay with them longer.
This unexpected Success rejoiced me the more, because I looked upon it as an Earnest of future and more plentiful Effusions of God’s Spirit in these Parts.—I really believe, whenever the Gospel is preached in these Parts with Power, it will be remarkably bless’d. I have scarcely heard of one faithful Minister sent over among them; and how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a Preacher? And how shall they preach, unless they are sent by and taught of GOD? Oh how will it rejoice me to hear that some poor Soul this Day was born again! Then it would be a Christmas Day indeed!”