Selina Hastings (1707-1791)
Deeply admired by such contemporaries as King George III, Henry Venn and George Whitefield (who described her as "all in a flame for Jesus"), Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, left an indelible mark on the Evangelical Awakening of the 18th Century. Closely involved for nearly 40 years with the leaders of the revival, she gave herself unstintingly to the cause of Christ, contributing sacrificially to the construction of 64 chapels, the opening of many more, and the founding of Trevecca College in Wales. Her life shows what God can accomplish through the tireless labors of a godly woman whose heart's desire is to glorify the Lord.
During a time when women didn't have many opportunities to publicly serve the Lord, Selina Hastings shines forth as an example of how God can accomplish His work by using a woman who is totally devoted to Himself. While many people have at least some knowledge of the great "Methodist Revival" that took place under the Wesley's and George Whitefield in 18th century England, not many are aware that the fires of revival were spread due, in part, to the diligent efforts and financial backing of one woman: Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.
"Dear Lamb of God, my best, my eternal, my only Friend, should have all dedicated to His service and glory."
Selina was born in Leicestershire, England in 1707, the daughter of Lord Washington Shirley, Earl of Ferrars, and Lady Mary Shirley. She lived her young life among the aristocracy, and in 1728 at age 21, she married Theophilus Hastings, the ninth Earl of Huntingdon. Together they had seven children.
Although Selina was raised to fear God, it wasn't until after the death of her four young children and her own severe illness that she began to see her need for a relationship with God and began to seek Him. Selina's conversion experience in 1739 came at a time when revival was coming to England. From the beginning of her Christian walk, she was ready to help the cause of Christ with her faithful witness, financial support, and influence.
Soon after her conversion, Selina developed friendships with both John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, a leader of the Evangelical Revival, whom she invited into her London home to deliver speeches to audiences of distinguished guests. Selina had power and influence and did not hesitate to use it for the good of revival. Being in her company opened many doors for these men, including opportunities to preach to the aristocracy and to gain financial backing for their work.
While her husband was a religious man, it doesn't appear that he was a Christian. Yet, he never interfered with Selina's new-found faith. It appears that he was sympathetic to the Christian cause and didn't hinder her work. However, it wasn't until after her husband's untimely death in 1746 that Selina was able to give herself fully to the work of the Lord and turn her full attention toward revival. She spoke of revival to everyone with whom she had contact, and her witness spread widely, especially among the nobility. Selina was held in high regard, even by the King himself.
Selina not only devoted herself, her time, and her influence to God, she also gave her incredible fortune to further the Lord's work. Her husband had left his vast fortune in her control and it is estimated that she gave many millions of dollars (equivalent) in her lifetime to furthering the Gospel. The Countess lived simply and sacrificially, selling her country homes, jewelry and other trappings of the aristocracy, giving the proceeds of these sales to Christian work.
With her wealth and social status, Selina directed her efforts toward converting the upper class. She funded 64 chapels, led missions from England, and founded the Trevecca House (a college to train preachers) in Brecknockshire, Wales. Because of her work, the network known as "The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion" was formed. This network included chapels and chaplains operating with her support.
Opposition to Selina's work came from the Church of England in 1779. While she considered herself a part of the Church, they felt differently. The Church ordered Methodist ministers to disassociate with Selina's offices and towns. As reported in Lady Huntingdon's Reformation, she wrote to Reverend Hawksworth:
"I am to be cast out of the Church now only for what I have been doing this forty years—speaking and living for Jesus."
Selina attempted to skirt their ruling under the authority of the Toleration Act, which allowed non-conformists their own place to worship. Through the Act, she had to register her chapels as "dissenting places of worship" with ecclesiastic or civil authorities, driving away many influential members of the Connexion.
Selina continued to persevere, despite the Church of England's regulations and her illnesses, until her death on June 17, 1791, in London. Trevecca College now rests in Cambridge and many of her chapels are still in use today as Methodist congregations. Huntingdon College, a Methodist institution in Alabama, stands in her honor. She also became the namesake of Huntingdon County due to her remarkable piety and the considerable funds she donated to Reverend D. William Smith of the University of Pennsylvania, who later laid out the county. Lady Selina Huntingdon humbly served the Lord by simply touching the lives of those with whom she came in contact, giving of her time and her resources. Even at her death, she thought of the welfare of others, bequeathing her entire estate to support Christian work. She gave herself to her Lord in both life and in death. Her last words were,
"My work is done. I have nothing to do, but go to my Father."