‘I am encircled in the arms of love and mercy’1
Selina Hastings often thanked God for the letter ‘m’ since, she said, she would never have been saved without it. She referred to the fact that ‘not many noble are called’, 1 Cor. 1. 26. Certainly Selina was a member of the upper class, born the daughter of 2nd Earl Ferrers. At the age of twenty, she married the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. She was a high-ranking aristocrat in Georgian England, on speaking terms with royalty.
Soon after her marriage, Selina heard the message of salvation and put her trust in the Lord Jesus. She loved to listen to evangelical preachers of the day including the Wesleys, Augustus Toplady and George Whitefield. Whitefield preached regularly in the drawing room of her London home. In 1748 he wrote: ‘Lady Huntingdon is come to town, and I am to preach at her ladyship’s house twice a week to the great and noble. O that some of them may … taste of the riches of redeeming love’.2
One of Selina’s friends, the Duchess of Buckingham, wrote her a scathing letter of complaint: ‘It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding’.3 As time went by, some of Selina’s acquaintances avoided her because they would not accept the gospel message.
Selina was marked by genuine kindness to others, whether rich or poor. She took great interest in her servants and often visited impoverished residents on her estates, praying with them and providing for their needs. She had a particular care for orphaned children, Jas. 1. 27.
The countess felt a burden to use her wealth to build chapels in different areas of the country, where gospel preaching could be embedded in communities. Today, more than 200 years later, there are still twenty-two local churches in the UK operating as part of her legacy. In 1768 she established Trevecca House in Wales entirely at her own expense, intended as a college for training evangelical preachers.
King George III was aware of Selina’s charity and religious activities. In conversation with her, the king said: ‘I have been told so many odd stories of your ladyship, that I am free to confess that I felt a great degree of curiosity to see if you were at all like other women; and I am happy in having an opportunity of assuring your ladyship of the very good opinion I have of you, and how very highly I estimate your character, your zeal and abilities, which cannot be consecrated to a more noble purpose’.4
Tragedy did not diminish her enthusiasm for serving God. Like Job, Selina was stripped of her family She had seven children, but only one of them outlived their mother. Selina’s husband died when she was in her late thirties. Despite her overwhelming loss, she continued to maintain her faith in God. Towards the close of her life Selina remarked, ‘I am well. All is well, well forever. I see, wherever I turn my eyes, whether I live or die, nothing but victory’.5
GILBERT W. Kirby, The Elect Lady, 1972, Available at: https://www.cofhconnexion.org.uk/images/pdfs/The-Elect-Lady-book.pdf.
JAMES Brown, “Torchbearers of the Truth: Selina, Countess of Huntingdon”, Believer’s Magazine, April 2011. Available at: http://www.believersmagazine.com/bm.php?i=20110406.