“Behind every great man,” so the joke goes, “stands a surprised mother-in-law.” For George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, it wasn’t a mother-in-law, but an amazing lady, Selina the Countess of Huntingdon. The countess used her position and wealth to support and encourage the evangelical revival in Britain in the C18th.
In an era when the established Anglican church was largely moribund, other means were found to bring hope to the poor in the mining towns and emerging industrial cities. As one could only preach in an established church and evangelicals were prevented from preaching in them, the wily countess used her privileged position to establish chapels. She was allowed to do this as the aristocracy moved around the country to their various estates. She was permitted to set up six chapels. She obviously couldn’t count as she established 64 evangelical chapels and supported many others in which people such as the Wesleys and Whitefield could bring a message of hope.
Ultimately she was forced to disassociate herself from the established church and throw her lot in with the dissenters. After the expulsion of a number of Methodist students from an Oxford college she set up her own training college in Wales – Trevecka.
The countess also encouraged the spread of the gospel among the slave and Indian populations in the American colonies.
If you read any biography of Whitefield (such as Arnold Dallimore’s excellent two volume edition) or the Wesleys, Selina Countess of Huntingdon emerges as stalwart and incredible supporter of the spread of the gospel. She is evidence of the amazing variation of talents and gifts in the body of Christ. The task the Lord had for her was to enable the light of the C18th revival to burn far brighter.