Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon

George Whitefield and John Wesley are well known as the primary human instruments used of God to spark the great evangelical revival in eighteenth century England and Wales. Far fewer Christians today are familiar with Selina Hastings (1707-1791), the English noblewoman who played a key role in supporting and promoting that same revival.

Selina was the Countess of Huntingdon, having married Theophilus Hastings, the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. Following her Christian conversion through faith in Christ at age thirty-one, she was filled with desire and determination to point others to Jesus as their Savior. Besides personally sharing the Gospel with many of her acquaintances, she supported scores of Christian evangelists in their ministry of traveling about to proclaim the message of salvation. In her lifetime she funded the construction of sixty-four Gospel-preaching chapels in England and Wales, established a college where many evangelists were trained, and supported missionary endeavors in colonial America and Sierra Leone, Africa.

Theophilus and Selina Hastings, 9th Earl and Countess of Huntingdon
Theophilus and Selina Hastings, 9th Earl and Countess of Huntingdon

To follow is an intriguing set of events that unfolded in Selina’s life when she was in her late forties and early fifties. They typify how the Lord used her significantly throughout her life to bring tremendous spiritual good to innumerable people.   

In 1756 Selina’s sixteen-year-old son named Henry became ill with an unidentified disorder that began adversely affecting his eyesight. She took him to London to obtain the best medical advice available. Despite the doctors’ efforts, Henry’s overall health continued to deteriorate, and he was gradually going blind.

In the spring of the following year, Selina brought Henry to Brighthelmstone (later called Brighton) on the southern coast of England. There it was hoped he would gain improved health through sea bathing, which in that day was thought to bring considerable benefit in the case of a number of ailments.

The Baths of Brighton, thought to be therapeutic
The Baths of Brighton, thought to be therapeutic

Shortly after arriving in Brighton, Selina was surprised when a woman she had never before met approached her in the street and exclaimed, “Oh Madam, you are come!”

Taken aback, Selina asked, “What do you know of me?”

“Madam,” the woman answered, “I saw you in a dream three years ago, dressed as you are now.” She went on to relate a dream she could never forget in which she had seen a tall woman dressed just as Selina was presently. She had understood that when that woman came to Brighthelmstone she would be the means of doing much good there.

Soon thereafter, Selina paid the woman a visit and learned that she likely had only a few months to live. The Countess shared the Gospel of salvation with her. The Holy Spirit had prepared the woman’s heart, and she immediately believed in Christ Jesus as her Savior.

Selina also heard of a soldier’s wife who had just given birth to twins and was not expected to live. The countess responded quickly by helping the young woman as much as she was able—physically, materially and spiritually. The dying mother wept as she began to understand her sinful state before God and begged Selina to return to teach her from the Scriptures.

Next door to the young wife’s lodgings was the public bakehouse, where the local residents would bring their dough ready kneaded to bake in the communal oven. Through a crack in the wall between the bakehouse and the soldier’s wife’s apartment, those awaiting their turn to bake their bread could hear snatches of the conversation taking place next door.

Word quickly passed through the neighborhood of the tall stranger from London, reputed to be a peeress, who was teaching about a way of forgiveness for sin. Soon other women asked to be admitted to this bedside Bible class. Before long the small room was filled with eager hearers on the occasions of the countess’s visits.

One day as Selina entered the apartment, she noticed a shadowy figure seated in a far corner, apparently hoping to avoid detection. This individual was Joseph Wall, a local blacksmith known for his foul mouth and immoral lifestyle. He had been urged to come and listen to the countess’s spiritual teaching.

As only women had attended the studies previously, Selina hesitated. She didn’t know whether or not to ask the man to leave, but instead decided to ignore him. She proceeded as usual by praying with the women and urging them to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness while they still had opportunity to do so.

God’s Word pierced the conscience of Joseph Wall, who believed its message. He was dramatically transformed spiritually, and until his death twenty-nine years later he lived a consistent Christian life.

Sadly, Henry died in Brighton in September of 1758 at the age of eighteen. Selina was deeply grieved at his death, having in earlier years been bereaved of her husband and two other of her six children. At the same time, she was strongly consoled by the fact that Henry had shown clear evidence of true Christian faith before dying. He actually died in happiness with the assurance that He would go on living eternally with his Savior in Heaven.

Not many months passed before Selina was able to perceive a further divine purpose in the trials she had experienced in Brighton. The small group of women who initially attended her Bible study at the bedside of the soldier’s wife had now become a society of both women and men whose lives had been transformed by God’s saving grace. Here was a group of infant Christians whom she could support and encourage in their newfound faith.

The next summer she recruited evangelists, including George Whitefield, to come and minister at Brighton. In the years immediately following she used her own funds to purchase land and erect a Gospel-preaching chapel in the seaside town. It was the first of more than sixty such chapels she would have built during the final three decades of her life.

The Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, Bath, England
The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, Bath, England

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The above account was drawn heavily from Faith Cook’s outstanding biography Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), pages 174-80, 184-85. Mrs. Cook’s account of Selina Hastings is an example of historical Christian biography at its very best. The work is comprehensively researched, substantive, thorough and factual. It is fair and balanced in its interpretations of Selina, her many associates, and their shared and differing convictions. The book is written in an engaging, readable fashion, is spiritually inspiring and edifying, and clearly glorifies the Lord for His extraordinary, sovereign work through His consecrated servants.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

About Vance Christie

An avid fan of historic Christian biography throughout his ministry, Vance has published nine books.

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