WONDERFUL THINGS: Countess or convict, we all have the same problem
Selina Hastings was born on Aug. 24, 1707, the daughter of Lord Washington Shirley and Lady Mary Shirley. Her family was part of the aristocracy of Great Britain, and as such she lived a life of privilege, wealth and great comfort. In 1728 she married Theophilus Hastings, the Earl of Huntingdon, and this marriage gave her the title Countess of Huntingdon.
From early on she considered herself an exemplary Christian, faithful in attending religious services and steering clear of the excesses of the rich. Like so many, her assurance of salvation rested upon her personal goodness and righteousness.
But 10 years into her marriage, her assurance in her own goodness was greatly shaken when she heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached by George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. For the first time, she realized that Jesus is a savior for sinners — not the righteous and that it is faith in the sin-bearing and law-keeping Christ by which we are saved. In other words, it was not her good works but trust in the person and work of Jesus which saves.
God opened her heart to receive this gospel truth. She was so radically changed by the love of Christ that her husband at first thought she had lost her mind. He sought the help of an Anglican Bishop to restore her sanity and bring her back to proper religion. Yet it was her life and witness that God eventually used to bring her husband to saving faith.
One of her high society friends, the Duchess of Buckingham, wrote to Selina and also sought to convince her of her error of listening to the preaching of the Wesley’s and Whitefield. The Duchess of Buckingham wrote:
“The doctrines of these preachers are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect toward their superiors, in perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl upon the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good breeding.”
(For you "Downton Abbey" fans, can’t you hear the dowager Countess saying these same words?). “It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl upon the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting.”
The Countess is right. The Gospel is offensive and even insulting to us. All of us are fallen. All of us have hearts that rebel against loving and trusting our creator. Everyone one of us stands in need of a great savior.
The Countess saw that the Gospel humbles before God but it also humbles us before everyone else. How can I look down on anyone as any worse than I am? Men and women in jail, what is their great problem? A sinful heart. The rich and successful folks who live down the street, what is their great problem? A sinful, fallen heart. Liberal Democrat, what is their great problem? A sinful heart. Conservative Republicans? A sinful heart. Black, yellow, brown, white skin, what is their great problem? A sinful heart. Every one of us have the same affliction. You can’t walk in the jail and say there is a sinner — not me. No, we are all sinners. We are all rebels. We are all alienated from God and his goodness. Countess or convict we all stand before God as sinners.
How can we be saved from the sin that has infected all of our hearts? There is only one way — by the sin overcoming work of Jesus. In his death he bore the guilt of our sin and by his grace he clothes us in his righteousness, so we are loved by the God we rebelled against. The Countess of Huntingdon came to know and experience this truth. Have you?
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at email@example.com.