Many in contemporary culture incorrectly believe that Christianity has historically considered the female portion of the human race as less important than its male counterpart. These revisionist historians ignore the glaring examples of women who have played key roles in leadership because of the cultural-changing influences of sound Christian doctrine.
The Wesleyan movement owes much to the work of an English woman of Royal descent. She is the daughter of the Earl of Ferrers, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, (Lady Huntingdon).
Selina was married to Theophilus Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon. Two of her sisters-in-law, Lady Margaret Hastings and Lady Elizabeth Hastings were fond of the Oxford Methodists, (John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Benjamin Ingham). Due to a personal bout with a severe illness and becoming bored with the life of a royal, the countess gained a saving faith by the influence of the sisters-in-law, Lady Margaret and Lady Elizabeth.
Quickly, Selina also became a fan of the Oxford leaders of the Holy Club, George Whitefield and the brothers Wesley.
During the early portion of her faith walk, her husband sent for an Anglican Bishop to restore her to a “saner mind.” The learned Bishop tried to woo her from the Methodist leaders, but failed miserably. At one point in the persuasive arguments, the Bishop expressed his regret about ordaining George Whitefield. In typical Lady Huntingdon style, she gave the following reply to the Anglican leader, ‘Mark my words my Lord, when you are upon your dying bed that will be one of the ordinations upon which you will reflect with pleasure.’
After nearly 20 years of marriage, in 1746, Lady Huntingdon became a widow. From this point forward, the spreading of the Gospel message became her life’s passion.
Moving in the most aristocratic circles Lady Huntingdon was not ashamed of her ‘lowly’ Wesleyan friends. She quickly invited John Wesley to her residence at Downington Park. In the midst of the pomp and circumstance, Wesley preached with success to her stylish acquaintances. On another occasion, she sent for Whitefield. He too met with favorable results among the well-to-do friends of Selina.
The efforts to preach to the women bedecked with elegant plumes on their heads, led many of high society to become devout Christians, but there was the occasional skeptic. One fair lady, the Countess of Suffolk burst into a violent rage as she blasted Lady Huntingdon to her face, proclaiming that she was insulted by the cross-eyed preacher’s words (Due to a childhood bout with the measles, Whitefield had one eye which could not focus forward). Upon completion of her diatribe, she departed, never to associate with Selina again.
This event failed to destroy the evangelistic determination of the royal-lady, inspiring her to greater heights for the kingdom of God. She consistently demonstrated her courageous zeal by her generous donations to the cause. She reduced her personal expenditures, even going as far as downsizing her residence in order to support traveling preachers. These same funds channeled into building chapels for the poor. She did away with her personal servants. She sold the luxurious carriage and royal jewels to aid in the acquisition of theaters and halls in England, Ireland and Wales. These buildings were quickly converted and opened as places of public worship. She also gave generously for the founding of Princeton College in the colony of New Jersey. Her donations to the cause of Christ approaching more than half a million pounds.
For more on Selina.