Remembering Lady Jane Grey

An important Reformation hero to be remembered on the upcoming anniversary of Reformation Day (October 31) is Jane Grey (1537-1554). Her faith and witness, which shone out so strongly in the days before her execution on February 12, 1554, is a good reminder that the heroes of the Reformation are not simply the remarkable cadre of theologians that emerged at that time, men like Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, and John Calvin. But the faith that these Reformers sought to explicate and promote gripped the hearts of many who were not vocational theologians. Jane Grey was such a one. Only a day or so before her death, Jane wrote in her Greek New Testament a letter for her younger sister Katherine, who was fourteen. She was seeking to encourage Katherine to turn from the fleeting pleasures of this world to embrace Christ and find a treasure that is eternal. She wrote: “I have sent you, good sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, yet inwardly it is more worth than precious stones. It is the book, dear sister, of the laws of the lord: It is His Testament and Last Will, which He bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy, and if you, with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire, follow it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. …as touching my death, rejoice as I do and consider that I shall be delivered of this corruption and put on incorruption, for as I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, find an immortal felicity.”

Here we see the typical Reformation love of the Scriptures: “it is more worth than precious stones.” And central to this love of the Scriptures is Jane’s clear understanding as to why they were given: to lead sinners—those whom Jane calls “us wretches”—“to the path of eternal joy” and “immortal and everlasting life.” Finally, she has an assurance of salvation, a basic datum of New Testament Christian experience that had been recovered by the Reformers.

If we ask why she had such an assurance, a final document that she wrote, also on the eve of her execution, tells us. She wrote the following three sentences in her prayer book, the first in Latin, then one in Greek and the final one in English: “If justice be done with my body, my soul will find mercy with God. Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God. If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour.” She has assurance of salvation because she stands justified before God, she has been made right with God, and thus is now confident of his favour.