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The Queen Who Died for Justification by Faith Alone

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Have you ever heard of Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554)?

She reigned as queen of England for a mere nine days, from July 10th until July 19th 1553, after which she was deposed, locked up in the tower of London, and executed.

She was Queen at sixteen and beheaded at seventeen.

As dramatic a story as that is, why would readers of this blog be interested in her?

Because of why she was killed.

Of course, there were political factors leading to her execution. But just as importantly, she died for her Protestant faith, especially for her belief in justification by faith apart from works.

After the new Queen signed her death warrant, Lady Jane Grey was interviewed by a Benedictine monk named John Feckenham, hoping she would see the error of her ways, recant her Protestant faith, and thereby save her soul. But Lady Jane refused to budge:

Feckenham: How shall we love our neighbour?
Lady Jane: To love our neighbour is, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty, and to do to him as we would do to ourselves.
Feckenham: Why, then, it is necessary unto salvation to do good works also, and it is not sufficient only to believe.
Lady Jane: I deny that; and I affirm that faith only saveth. But it is meet for Christians, in token that he followeth his master Christ, to do good works. Yet may we not say that they profit to our salvation; for, when we have done all, yet we be unprofitable servants, and faith only in Christ’s blood saveth us (see here).

As historian Michael Haykin summarizes:

“As to how a person is saved, Jane maintains what had become the standard evangelical perspective: people are saved by faith alone. It is not faith and love or faith and good works that saves, but faith alone. This faith involves both love and good works, in that true faith issues in works of love and goodness. But Jane affirms unequivocally that salvation is first and foremost based on simple trust in God” (see here).

The quibbler in me wants to say that the love produced by faith is normal and expected, but not inevitable, but that looks pretty uncharitable given that this is a teenage girl, faced with long imprisonment and imminent death and yet still willing to die for faith-alone salvation.

A French poet named Agrippa d’Aubigné, writing about the failure of the Reformation in France, wrote these words about her life (my translation):

A kingdom is for her, another King gives her
Grace to despise the mortal crown
Searching for the immortal, and gave her eyes
To exchange England for the kingdom of heaven:

.…

A prisoner there, but a princess above,
She traded her throne for a scaffold (Les Tragiques, IV, 207-12, 215-16).

D’Aubigné emphasizes the literal exchange of kingdoms in her martyrdom. It reminds me of what Paul said to Timothy: “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us” (2 Tim 2:12). Salvation is free. But all faithful believers will be rewarded by reigning with Christ.

When put to the test, Lady Jane Grey endured in her faith and proved faithful. Are your eyes just as set on the immortal crown?

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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