The Lord very often chooses to use monetary means as an instrument to fund the advance of the Gospel. The 18th century evangelical awakening was no exception. This is a well-written account of the focal point of the funding, Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington.
She was born into a wealthy but divided family in 1707. Her parents later divorced which led to further turmoils and trials. Her marriage to the Earl of Huntington allowed her to spend much time in the royal court of George III. Although she was wealthy in the world's goods, she was impoverished spiritually, trusting only in her good works that were worthless for salvation.
Not surprisingly, she was opposed to Gospel preaching that was used in the salvation of an increasing number of her friends and relatives. Through the use of a seemingly minor incident, God brought conviction and saving grace into her life.
Almost immediately she began to be involved in benevolent works. She established schools for the poor. She visited the sick and the needy. She corresponded with Wesley and Whitefield for her spiritual counsel and mutual encouragement. Seven years later, at thirty-nine, she became a widow.
She then began to devote more time to funding the spread of the Gospel. Simultaneously she increasingly embraced Calvinistic doctrine.
Her heart continually beat with a desire for the rich and the royalty to hear the Gospel and be saved. Much of her time was spent scheduling services, constructing chapels and renting residences in order to broaden opportunities for the Word to be evangelistically proclaimed by the noted and less noted pastors that God raised up in her day.
Her influence with the Church of England allowed a number of evangelical pastors to be ordained. Yet her fervency for the spread of the Gospel began to outpace the supply of available pastors to preach at the plethora of preaching points that she had established.
Undaunted, she turned her attention to the establishment and funding of Trevecca College in Wales. Here, future pastors were to be trained. However, in her eyes the needs in the field were so great that young men were sent out to fill pulpits often to the neglect of their studies. This was but one problem that the Countess faced at this educational institution. Other concerns included the turnover in leadership capacity due to ongoing doctrinal controversies and the payment of mounting bills that she was unable to immediately fund due to her widespread financial obligations.
I mention these problems to illustrate the fact that Faith Cook has written an honest biography of her highly esteemed subject. She does not hide the Countess' indwelling sin that she continually fought. These sins led to great consequences in family life as well as in her relationship with various evangelical leaders of that day.
The Countess was well aware of many of these sins. This awareness turned her eyes all the more upon Christ and deepened her desire to more faithfully serve Him. Her desire was realized. Prior to her death in 1791 she was overseeing over one hundred chapels, the College as well as a variety of missions endeavors.
A number of appendices, a bibliography and an index enhance this well-written, very readable biography. The author focuses on Selina in such a way that the greater focus is on Jesus Christ and His work in and through this godly lady.
I finished the book with a better understanding of the times, triumphs and trials that made up the evangelical awakening in the 1700s. I was also struck again with how God uses sinners for His glory and the importance of Christians faithfully serving God in the social status God has placed them without succumbing to peer pressure.
Men and women can read this volume with much spiritual profit in our day. The author has done contemporary readers a great favor by providing this well-researched work. Lady Selina's life and legacy provide much humility and encouragement for those who become acquainted with her faithfulness.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.