English Religious Leader
1707 – 1791 A.D.
Selina Shirley, second daughter of the Earl Ferrars, was born in Chartley, England, August 24, 1707. Many people seem to be of a trifling disposition so that it seems difficult to ever bring their attention to heavenly things. Not so in this case. She only waited for Divine illumination, and when that was given she heartily embraced the offers of mercy. All her lifetime surrounded by the gayeties [sic] and splendors of the nobility of England, yet she felt satisfied only when in possession of the true riches, which moth and rust do not corrupt.
At the age of twenty-one she married to Theophilus, Earl of Huntingdon. To them were born six children. She shone for a time among the most fashionable elites of England. Like Cornelius, she prayed, fasted, gave alms, and tried to have a clear conscience. And these things came up as a memorial before God. Lady Margaret Hastings, sister of Lord Huntingdon, upon hearing the preaching of the man of God, Ingham, found blessed deliverance from legal bondage, and her new and joyous experience was the means of bringing light to Lady Huntingdon. While upon a sick bed the latter yielded, prayed and prevailed. Thereafter her life was a light upon a candlestick, an unbroken record of long activity in her Master’s service. Faithful as a wife and mother, she found also other fields of usefulness. See her visiting a poor, sick woman, expounding to her the way of life. Others, overhearing her gracious words, gather in, and daily she ministers to their spiritual needs, some finding blessed salvation.
This was at the time when Wesley and his associates were scattering the holy flame over the kingdom. Lady Huntingdon invited the Wesley’s to her home, and became their warm friend. Her influence was wide among fashionable circles, and these friends she invited to hear with her the many “joyful sound”, and know the joys of sins forgiven. Many of them were saved, and aided in the great work of evangelism.
The Episcopalian Church was the established church of England. Ministers were assigned to their parishes or livings, were paid by the Crown, were the only instructors in Bible truth, were forbidden to preach in any other parish but their own, every service to be conducted in a church consecrated after their form, and only the prescribed liturgy and ceremonies to be used. Under the Toleration Acts, dissenters were allowed to vary from these requirements, but were universally despised and set aside.
The new evangels [sic] of truth – Whitefield, Ingham, the Wesley’s, Berridge, Romaine, Venn, Fletcher, Harris, Hill, and others – were not content with the state religion, and found that the new life within could not be confined to the narrow, stinted channels of the past. Flaming with ardor, they visited the prisons, gained access to pulpits wherever they could, and when ejected from these by the frightened clergy, who shared the sheep but fed them not, they found a pulpit on some old box in a barn or a temporary stand in a field, graveyard or hillside. Many thousands listened to the Gospel message, believed, and were saved.
In 1744 two beautiful sons of Lady Huntingdon died of small-pox. Two years later her husband also went into the eternal world. He had ever been kind to his wife’s Christian friends, and listened to the Gospel preached many times in his own home, but never professed saving faith in Jesus Christ. These afflictions caused the Countess to lean more heavily upon her Lord and live more entirely for heavenly things. Her four remaining children were a comfort to her, with some exception. Here eldest son came under the influenced of Lord Chesterfield and Bolingbroke, and became quite worldly and skeptical, though always respectful to his mother. Her youngest daughter, Selina, became a very happy, devout Christian, was an inspiration to others, and a close companion to her mother. Her death, at the age of twenty-six, was a most severe affliction to her mother. Truly “the refining pot is for silver”, and they who desire most to be made a blessing to others must submit to being frequently thrust into the furnace of affliction. Like Job, they come out as gold.
She cut off many luxuries of her rank and day, that she might have more means for her Master’s service. She used her income in building chapels to accommodate the growing congregations. She sold her jewels, gave up her aristocratic equipage, her expensive residences and liveried servants that her means of usefulness be increased. She gave away for religious purposes more than $500,000. She lived humbly, allowing herself only one new dress per year. Her influence extended over England, Wales and Ireland. Hundreds of the wealthy sent her gifts to use in her benevolent enterprises.
The preaching appointments which she opened up in her homes, in chapels erected for the purpose, in old tabernacles or factories, in time formed quite a network over her native land. They numbered sixty-seven at her death. What a rebuke to idle hands and slackened zeal!
In her eighty-fourth year, she was infirm, no longer active and alert, but fast ripening for Heaven. She carefully arranged all her business, leaving her chapels, houses and furniture, estates and effects, to four trustees, who at their death were to appoint successors.
After eight months of sickness, she went home to Heaven. Thus departed from this life the founder of Canvinistic [sic] Methodism. What a holy example of faithful stewardship. Well may every Christian of wealth learn from her the privilege of using their means without stint for spreading of the Gospel.
Reference: Men and Women of Deep Piety by Mrs. Clara McLeister. Edited and published by Rev. E.E. Shelhamer. ©1920.