Category: Church History

Protestant Profiles #18: George Whitefield

George Whitefield (1714 – 1770)

George Whitefield

Born: Gloucester, England
Role: Itinerant Preacher; significant (Calvinistic) Methodist figure; chaplain
Emphases: Divine Sovereignty; need for spiritual regeneration; open-air preaching; working across boundaries
Protested against: Anglican unfaithfulness to the gospel; Roman Catholicism

George Whitefield was closely associated with the subjects of our last two profiles (John Wesley and the Countess of Huntingdon), but he himself is a giant in the history of preaching, evangelism and religious revival; a key figure in Methodism and in American and English religious history.

American historian Thomas Kidd summarises Whitefield’s significance:

1. “Whitefield was the most influential Anglo-American evangelical leader of the eighteenth century.”
2. “He also indelibly marked the character of evangelical Christianity.”
3. He “was the first internationally famous itinerant preacher and the first modern transatlantic celebrity of any kind.”
4. “Perhaps he was the greatest evangelical preacher that the world has ever seen.” [1]

Whitefield was one of the earliest Methodists – joining the Wesleys’ ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford around 1729/30. After having a conversion-experience as a result of reading the 17th century Presbyterian Henry Scougal‘s work The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Whitefield promptly dedicated himself to gospel preaching. He was ordained as a deacon within the Anglican church, but continued to be actively involved with the earliest Methodists.

In early 1739, he preached to a very large open-air crowd in Kingswood, near Bristol in England. Whitefield gave the following account of his outdoor-evangelistic debut:

‘At four I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about ten thousand people … All was hush when I began: the sun shone bright, and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power, and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me…About nine I came home, rejoicing at the great things God had done for my soul [2]   

Later that year, he invited John Wesley to begin open-air preaching and continue the work he had begun in the area, as he prepared to head for Georgia in North America (where Wesley himself had gone a few years earlier, only to return to England after a terrible ‘false start’ to his ministry).

It is estimated that Whitefield preached to crowds of up to 50 000 people at a time during this first year he spent touring the American colonies. He started an orphanage in Georgia, which he tirelessly raised funds for while going about his evangelistic preaching ministry on both sides of the Atlantic. A friend began advertising Whitefield’s upcoming preaching dates in local newspapers to publicise the events and attract as many people as possible – which contributed enormously to his popularity and reach.

His theological differences with Wesley – one of the most famous Calvinist-Arminian conflicts in church history – led to a natural alliance with the similarly minded Countess of Huntingdon within the growing Methodist movement. The two became the lead figures among the Calvinistic Methodists and had a somewhat strained relationship with the Wesleys and other Arminian Methodists over the years. The Countess made Whitefield her chaplain and funded many of his evangelistic tours in England and America.

Like Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield’s preaching in North America was one of the major means through which God worked to bring about the spiritual revival known as the (First) Great Awakening. Whereas in our day it is not uncommon to meet Christians in their autumn years who were converted after attending a Billy Graham crusade, an enormous multitude had profound spiritual experiences under Whitefield’s earnest, dramatic and powerful preaching. And, also not unlike Graham, there was division among Christians and churches across the country as to whether Whitefield’s ministry and the revivals that seemed to be occurring were a positive thing or not.

It is of course difficult to gauge how many people who had a spiritual experience during the revival went on to bear the ongoing fruit that evidenced a true conversion. But there can be no denying that God used Whitefield’s preaching to draw many souls to Himself and bring them to salvation through the gospel of Christ. Reportedly 80% of America’s population at the time heard him preach at one time or another. And biographies of his life testify to his tireless work – day in day out, all year round – for the advance of God’s Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.

Whitefield died in his mid-fifties and the Countess of Huntingdon took care of his orphanage in Georgia after his death, along with the estates he bequeathed to her. He had laboured in the gospel for 33 years and touched countless lives. Mass evangelism has continued as a medium long after his death – made easier by the construction of stadiums and arenas, along with the advent of new technology. And yet there has never been another figure quite like Whitefield in the years since.

He remains an inspiration to evangelists, Calvinists, Wesleyans and many other Christians the world over.

You can read more about Whitefield’s life and ministry here.

 

Sources

[1] Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, pp. 260 & 263.
[2] George Whitefield’s Journals137.

F. Lambert, “Whitefield, George” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.
“George Whitefield” wikipedia.

 

Protestant Profiles #17: Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon

Selina Hastings (1707-1791)

Selina_Hastings,_Countess_of_Huntingdon_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_18444

Born: Leicestershire, England
Role: Patroness of evangelical ministry; founder of eponymous Connexion; Principal of Trevecca College
Emphases: Training of effective gospel ministers; Calvinistic Methodism; renewal of English Church

Due to a combination of illness and endeavouring to spend more time with family during a holiday break, this installment of the series is regrettably both late and concise.  

Selina Shirley (later Hastings) was born in the early 18th century to a noble family and herself married an earl in 1728. Her marriage lasted for the better part of two decades, before her husband’s death in 1746. Following her conversion seven years earlier, the Countess Huntingdon was active in the evangelical scene of the Anglican church – but her significance to Protestant history – and the Methodist movement in particular – largely came about during her four and a half decades of widowhood.

The Countess was part of the very early Methodist movement and a member of the society established by the Wesley brothers and others. But over time, she found that her theological perspective aligned much more comfortably with the emergent Calvinist branch of Methodism, which included figures such as George Whitefield (see next profile).

Taking advantage of a legal provision which allowed the English nobility to establish their own private chapels and appoint chaplains (in reality ‘preachers’) as they saw fit, the Countess financed and facilitated a network of godly, revivalistic preachers across the country. While there were apparently some grumblings within church and society that she was overstretching this provision, the Countess was not prevented from establishing more than 60 chapels that allowed for ministers of her choosing to conduct evangelistic preaching ministries.

The Countess established an evangelical Bible College in Wales in 1768 – effectively the world’s first Methodist seminary – but it did not manage to attract the number of ministry candidates she had hoped for. Eventually her excessive liberality with respect to acquiring personal chapels and chaplains reached a breaking point with the Anglican establishment and in 1783, she found herself and part of her network operating outside of the state church – effectively becoming a dissenting denomination which would come to be known as the “Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion.” While the Connexion had an entirely male ministry, it was at the time perhaps the only English denomination that was in effect headed by a woman.

One of her biographers, H.M. Jones says of the Countess:

“Lady Huntingdon’s significance was remarkable. The roles she exercised (hostess, patroness and private spiritual exhorter) were acceptable for a woman of high rank, but she exercised them on an unparalleled scale, thanks to her combination of rank and wealth with an iron will and charismatic character. She thus acquired a degree of religious authority that was, for a woman, almost unprecedented. By hosting worship and preaching in her own home (a great mansion) she created an alternative space for worship from that of the established church. By giving her patronage to not one or two, but to hordes of preachers and clergy, she became, in one sense of the word, their bishop.”[1]

Measuring the Countess’ true impact as a patron of the Methodist renewal movement is a difficult task. On the one hand, the college and denomination she founded continue to this day in different forms – but they do not appear to be making the same impact on the 21st century religious landscape of the U.K. that their founder had on the 18th. On the other hand, everyone who heard Whitefield and the other preachers that she supported is long gone – and yet in the last 250 years or so, surely thousands upon thousands of people have become Christians in England, Wales and around the world during the harvest of the seeds the Countess of Huntingdon sowed through her financial and spiritual investments in her 50 years of zealous ministry.

Sources

[1] D.M. Jones, “Huntingdon, Selina Hastings, Countess of”, Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, p. 320-321.

“Countess of Huntingdon” wikipedia

Protestant Profiles #15: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

383px-Jonathan_Edwards_engraving

Born: East Windsor, Conneticut Colony, North America
Role: Pastor/Preacher; revivalist; theologian; supporter of mission to Native Americans; 3rd President of Princeton University
Emphases: Beauty, Majesty and Sovereignty of God; religious affections; justification by faith
Protested against: Arminianism, false revivalism

Jonathan Edwards looms as a giant of giants among early American Protestants. Dubbed by some “the last of the Puritans,” Edwards was a major figure in the religious revival known as the “(First)  Great Awakening” and delivered perhaps the most famous sermon in the English language. He had an incredible impact: in his native New England; throughout America; and across the Atlantic. His influence would also later inspire many missionaries as they prepared to take the gospel to unreached parts of the world.

Edwards became assistant minister to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in his mid-20s. A couple of years later his grandfather died, leaving the young Edwards in charge of one of New England’s most prestigious and important churches. Edwards was concerned with the spiritual health of many in his congregation, but in the mid 1730s (a few years into his solo ministry), he began to see some incredible results in response to his faithful, gospel preaching.

In the space of just six months, around 300 people were recorded as experiencing a meaningful spiritual conversion under Edwards’ ministry. Edwards took a great interest in how Christians should understand the nature of true conversion and this concern characterised his ministry and writing for many years to come – as religious revivals occurred across the land. Edwards rejoiced in the ministry of the revival-preachers that saw much fruit in New England during the next decade, such as George Whitfield and Gilbert Tennent, but he grew concerned about some of the emotionalism and unscriptural attitudes that arose as the Great Awakening unfolded.

In addition to his production of several important treatments of the nature and characteristics of true revivals, the 1740s saw Edwards publish three of his most notable works.

In 1741 he preached his most famous sermon – perhaps the most famous ever American sermon – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards was not theatrical or manipulative in his presentation, unlike some later revival-preachers, but the sheer gravity of his message about the imminence of divine judgement and the real and present danger of sinners falling into hell-fire at any moment, had a profound impact on many of his hearers. While many Protestants and Evangelicals in the 21st century would be embarrassed by the nature of such a message, there is little denying that Edwards’ handling of these themes in a serious manner carried spiritual potency.

In 1746, he produced a work on Religious Affections, showing his indebtedness to earlier Puritans when it came to the effect that religious knowledge should have upon the hearts of those who receive them. The gospel moved the heart to an intense fear of judgement; an intense love of God and an intense hatred of sin and worldliness. This is the kind of resource from Christian history which is invaluable to those concerned about cold, heady Reformed orthodoxy on the one hand and warm, fuzzy spirituality unanchored in doctrine on the other.

1749 saw Edwards publish the Life and Diary of David Brainerd – detailing the ministry and intense personal struggles of a sincere, Christian young man who had gone to live among Native Americans and share the gospel with them. Through making Brainerd’s life known to many Christians around the world, Edwards was used by God to challenge untold numbers of people to missionary service to the unreached ends of the earth.

A couple of years after publishing this work, Edwards became involved in ministry to Native Americans himself, as his family relocated to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a town where relations were tense between white American settlers and local tribes. Edwards enjoyed a productive, but by no means easy ministry during the 1750s, before accepting the presidency of the College of New Jersey (today Princeton University) in 1758. In a strange and unexpected twist to the end of his life and ministry he died in March of that year after volunteering as a test subject for a smallpox vaccine in the name of promoting medical research. He was president of the college for just a few weeks.

Edwards theology and spirituality continue to have a sizeable impact on American Reformed Evangelicalism and he continues to attract the interest of lay Christians, pastors and scholars in many parts of the English speaking world: including the UK, South Africa and Australia. As we celebrate 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, Edwards not only reminds us that religious revivals do have a legitimate place in the life, ministry and history of our movement – but provides us with resources to evaluate the extent to which a “move of God” is occurring.

You can read Edwards’ well known “Resolutions” for living (produced when he was around 20 years old), here.
Or Desiring God has an extensive treatment of his life and ministry by John Piper here.

Sources

“Jonathan Edwards” at Wikipedia
R.W. Caldwell & D.A. Sweeney, “EDWARDS, Jonathan” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals
Diane Severance, “The Great Awakening” http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/the-great-awakening-11630212.html

Protestant Profiles #14: John Bunyan

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

John_Bunyan

Born: Bedfordshire, England
Role: Author, baptist preacher and pastor
Emphases: Christian life as pilgrimage/warfare; divine grace; justification by faith
Protested against: Roman Catholicism; legalism; English Religious Conformity; Quakerism

Pressed for time this week, so a disproportionately short sketch of a very significant figure in Church History follows, supplemented by a helpful video about his life and ministry. 

John Bunyan came from humble beginnings, had a colourful, personal spiritual and religious journey and endured a fair share of suffering for his biblical convictions. He became the author of one of the most notable works of English literature – a book which has been called the first English novel and one of the best-selling and most widely read English texts after the KJV Bible.

Bunyan was the son of a tinker and learned his father’s trade, before being swept up in the chaos of the English Civil Wars, in which he served as soldier in the Parliamentary Army that was waging war on forces loyal to King Charles I. He had something of a spiritual awakening as a result of reading devotional works of earlier Puritans, Arthur Dent and  Lewis Bayly. His first wife had gifted him with copies of Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Pietywhich he read with great interest and acknowledged the profound impact they had on his outlook for the rest of his life.

At least as early as his late twenties, Bunyan was associating with Separatist congregations of Independent or Baptist persuasion, which operated outside the structures of the official, national English Church. He was an effective preacher and came to have a significant influence amongst these congregations. It was likely because of this that he was singled out for particularly harsh treatment by the authorities when the monarchy was restored in 1660 and  (what we would now call) Anglicanism was enforced as the state religion. Bunyan spent 12 years in prison from 1660-1672 for rejecting the Book of Common Prayer and preaching without a state-sanctioned licence to do so.

His masterpiece, Pilgrim’s Progress, is believed to have been penned in the mid-late 1670s, while Bunyan was imprisoned for a second, much shorter period. It is a Christian allegory, charting the journey of a pilgrim (named ‘Christian’) from his homeland (“The City of Destruction”) to the Celestial City, after being told the good news by a character called Evangelist. Along the way, Christian is joined and encouraged by other pilgrims and meets characters who bring him spiritual refreshment or enlightenment. But the journey is perhaps even more characterised by Christian’s encounters with characters and places that threaten to prevent him from reaching his destination.

Christian embarks on his journey

Thousands of Christians in the last three centuries have been blessed and encouraged by this work (not to mention Bunyan’s other writings) as they see themselves and their own struggles in the story of the Pilgrim’s journey. Every page drips with the intense, Puritan vision of the spiritual life as a quest to remain faithful to Christ and follow Him to the Heavenly Jerusalem in the midst of perilous temptations, trials and discouragements.

Desiring God has a full and free version of Pilgrim’s Progress, which includes a more substantial biographical account of Bunyan’s life by John Piper. A great opportunity to read this classic if you never have before (or would like to again!). The video below gives a good account of Bunyan’s life and historical context if you prefer something audiovisual.

Sources

“John Bunyan” wikipedia

“Pilgrim’s Progress” wikipedia

D.L. Jeffrey “BUNYAN, John” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

Protestant Profiles #11: William Perkins

William Perkins (1558-1602) 

Born: Warwickshire, England
Role: Preacher, university fellow, early Puritan reformer
Emphases: practical piety, covenant of grace, sola Scriptura, solo Christus, double predestination
Protested against: forced religious conformity; religious formalism; kneeling at Communion; Pelagianism

With his lifetime spanning the reign of the mildly Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, William Perkins was one of the most significant figures in the early phase of English Puritanism. One of his biographers, Carl Trueman, has described him as “doubtless the most influential English theologian of his time” – noting his enormous influence on subsequent generations of English and Dutch Protestantism through both his writings and students.

The traditions surrounding Perkins’ life portray him as a drunkard and no-hoper who had a dramatic religious conversion while studying at Cambridge in the 1570s. His early ministry does demonstrate a heart for those from the wrong side of the tracks, as he became the equivalent of a prison chaplain, preaching every Sunday to the inmates near Cambridge. There is a remarkable story of Perkins praying for a young man moments before his execution and sharing the gospel with him, leading to the astonishing conversion and comfort of the condemned criminal.

[When Perkins’ prayer had ended, the young man] rose from his knees cheerfully, and went up the Ladder again comforted, and took his death with such patience and alacrity, as if he actually saw himself delivered from the hell which he feared before…

This illustrates the way God used Perkins as a minister to so many people, gifting him with an exceptional capacity for pastoral care and resolving issues of conscience, doubts about salvation and fear about eternity. His Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience (published after his death) was a very influential work on how pastors might address the spiritual concerns of their parishioners. This was the beginning of the art the Puritans sought to master in subsequent years – taking the biblical truths recovered in the Reformation and turning them into a kind of applied science of pastoral care to promote healthy growth in godliness and Christlikeness.

This was Perkins’ major contribution to the English Reformation: holding firmly to Protestant and Calvinist theological emphases and seeking to ensure that the implications of these beliefs were fully realized in Christian life and pastoral ministry. He famously described theology as “the science of living blessedly forever.” ‘Practical divinity’ as the Puritans would come to call it, was all about knowing God in truth and having a vibrant spirituality based on that knowledge.

Perkins did not push as hard for ecclesiastical or doctrinal reform within the wider, established English church (that had embraced a stagnant via media during Elizabeth’s reign in the name of religious “settlement”) as some of his contemporaries and successors. However, he did land in controversy for taking the classic English Protestant stance against kneeling at communion, on the basis that it conveyed a wrong notion of reverence which was residue from Rome rather than biblical practice.

The scope of his influence can be appreciated, at least in part, from the distribution of his writings and the significance of those who learned from him and built upon his approach to theology and ministry.
As Beeke and Pederson recount in their biographical sketch of Perkins: “By the time of his death, Perkins’s writings in England were outselling those of Calvin, Beza, and Bullinger combined.” An incredible feat indeed.

Perkins had a major impact on a younger generation of Puritan pastors who would themselves continually think about how to apply the grand truths of Reformed theology in a pastoral manner that was conducive to assurance, piety and spiritual growth. William Ames and Richard Sibbes are notable examples. His influence extended both to Calvinist churchmen such as Archbishop James Ussher and the emergent Congregationalists, including Thomas Goodwin and John Robinson.

In today’s religious climate there are a range of problems posed by dry Protestant orthodoxy and people who are better suited to online theological wrangling than pastoral ministry on the one hand, and wishy-washy approaches to counselling and spirituality divorced from solid biblical doctrine on the other. In times where cold Calvinism, hollow liberalism and frothy spirituality all gratify the carnal, prideful nature of sinful people – Perkins’ commitment to biblical truth, theologically-informed piety and gospel-saturated pastoral care challenges us to take stock of how we’re approaching the Scriptures, life and ministry God has graciously given to us.

 

Sources

Carl Trueman, “William Perkins” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals

“William Perkins” in Joel Beeke & Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans

“William Perkins” wikipedia

Samuel Clarke, “The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History” (1654)

 

Protestant Profiles #1-10 The 16th Century

Lion & Phoenix is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a series of Protestant Profiles, featuring significant figures from the last five centuries. We’re nearly a third of a way through as we approach the anniversary on 31 October and I thought it would be good to provide a “catch-up” for anyone reading who may have missed some of the brief biographical sketches included so far.

Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church Door, instigating the Reformation

Our upcoming profile on William Perkins will take us out of the 16th century, so here are the notables from the 1500s we’ve featured in the series.

1 Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
2 Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531)
3 Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564)
4 Philip Melancthon (1497 – 1560)
5 Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)
6 Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605)
7 William Tyndale (1494-1536)
8 John Knox (1513 – 1572)
9 John Bradford (1510–1555)
10 Queen Jane of England (c. 1537 – 1554)

We also featured a couple of posts in the lead up to the series on some of the predecessors to the Reformation from early and medieval church history. You can follow these links to read about Irenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine and about Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

While doing the series I’ve been continuing my (now doctoral) research into Thomas Watson and in exploring his influences and sources, I’ve encountered many other significant early Reformation figures, including some I’d never heard of. I realised that I could easily have devoted this entire series to the first and second generation of Reformers – but from the beginning I had planned to span Protestant history to chart out how the gospel has gone forth across the centuries.

But for interest’s sake, here are a few of the early Reformation figures I might have included, had I chosen to go down the alternative route.

Martin Bucer
Peter Martyr Vermigli
Pierre Viret
Girolamo Zanchi
Andre Rivet
Antoine de la Faye
Caspar Cruciger
Zacharias Ursinus
Martin Chemnitz
Andreas Hyperius
Johannes Oecolampadius
Theodore Bibliander
Sebastian Hofmeister
Simon Grynaeus
Jan Laski
Patrick Hamilton
George Wishart
John Hooper
Nicholas Ridley
Hugh Latimer

 

Protestant Profiles #10: Jane Grey

Jane Grey (c. 1537 – 1554)

 

Born: Leicestershire or London, England
Role: Temporary successor to Edward VI as monarch of the Kingdom of England, martyr
Emphasised: justification by faith
Protested against: transubstantiation

As England’s piously Protestant, but short-lived king Edward VI (son and successor of Henry VIII) neared his death from tuberculosis, the heirless ruler was certain to be succeeded by one of three women: Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s eldest child), Elizabeth Tudor (his other daughter) or Lady Jane Grey (Henry VIII’s grand-niece).

All, in fact, would succeed him at various points in the next 5 years – but the immediate question of who would preserve the political and religious status quo after his death was one of the utmost seriousness. In fact, it would prove to be deadly serious for the first woman to bear the weight of the Crown.

Jane Grey was a teenager during the reign of her cousin Edward and was both a brilliant student and a devout Protestant. The convergence of her noble status, academic intelligence and evangelical piety led to her correspondence with significant figures in the first and second generation of Protestant Reformers, including Martin Bucer and Heinreich Bullinger – both of whom were like spiritual and intellectual fathers to her. Well versed in the Scriptures, theology and the classics – including being a diligent student of Latin, Greek and Hebrew – Jane was a remarkable young female scholar in a period when women scarcely attained such an education. Her faith also appears to have outshone many of her noble peers – including her own parents, whose vices appear to have precluded genuine religious observance.

The circumstances surrounding Jane’s proclamation as Queen of England and her de facto reign of but a few days are truly tragic. From King Edward’s perspective she was a more suitable Protestant successor to his Catholic half-sister Mary and even his other, moderately Protestant, half-sister Elizabeth. Both had been removed from the line of succession by a legal and ecclesiastical declaration that they were not legitimate children of Henry VIII and therefore ineligible to be his heirs. There was a perceived likelihood of either of them marrying a foreign Catholic prince or monarch and thus compromising the established position of Protestantism in England. Jane was already married to a Protestant English nobleman and her solid commitment to evangelical religion made her a kindred spirit with her cousin the King.

But Edward was not the main person driving the plan to see Jane succeed him as Queen. The young Lady was seen as the ideal monarch by her parents and her even more powerful in-laws, who wished to consolidate their political position in the kingdom and effectively rule through the new Queen. Their motives appear to have had little to do with maintaining religious liberty for Protestants and everything to do with personal advancement.

Edward’s sincere religious concerns and the political machinations of Jane’s family resulted in her becoming Queen on 9 June 1553. The royal office was thrust upon her in a sort of ambush – she was informed of Edward’s will for her to succeed him only moments after learning of his death. After initially refusing the crown on the basis that the right belonged not to her, but to Princess Mary (a view that was overwhelmingly shared by the English people), she reluctantly concluded that perhaps this fell within God’s providential will for her.

The dukes plead with Jane to accept the crown.

 

Those who had plotted to make Jane queen failed miserably in their attempt to establish her reign over the country. Supporters of Mary were able to show enough military force to assert her claim to the throne and displace Jane a mere nine days after her proclamation as queen. England would now have a Catholic monarch instead of a deeply Protestant one and Mary’s reign would see the deaths of many a Protestant martyr.

Numbered among those martyrs would be Jane herself. She was spared at first by her usurper, but committed to imprisonment in the Tower of London where she would spend the remainder of her life. An abortive insurrection was carried out by the Protestant Thomas Wyatt against Queen Mary in 1554, which hardened the authorities against keeping Jane and her (also incarcerated) husband Guildford Dudley alive any longer.

While her execution was a politically motivated one – to remove her as a potential, alternative Protestant ruler to Mary – the nature of the circumstances also make her a Protestant martyr. Her Protestant faith had been a significant element in her candidature for the English throne during Edward’s final days and it remained the factor that made her a perceived, ongoing risk to the security of Mary’s reign. Mary sent her chaplain to convert Jane to Catholicism while on death row, but Jane steadfastly remained true to what she knew was the biblical Christian faith. She was even offered a royal pardon if she would convert, but counted the truth more precious than her earthly life and refused.

Like many figures in the early Reformation, Jane was subjected by the Catholic authorities to a public disputation concerning the some of the articles of faith in contention between them. She gave a spirited defence of justification by faith and confessed the Protestant understanding of the sacraments against the unbiblical beliefs of the Catholics.
The night before her execution, Jane wrote the following exhortation to her younger sister Katherine:

Rejoice in Christ, as I do. Follow the steps of your master Christ, and take up your Cross: lay your sins on his back, and always embrace him. And as touching my death, rejoice as I do (good Sister) that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life: the which I pray God grant you, and send you of his grace to live in his fear, and to dye in the true Christian faith, from the which (in God’s name) I exhort you that you never swerve, neither for hope of life, nor for fear of death.

At her execution itself she made the following confession and plea to those in attendance:

I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I dye a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ: and I confess that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved my self and the world, & therefore this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins: and yet I thank God of his goodness that he has thus given me a time and respite to repent: and now (good people) while I am alive I pray you assist me with your prayers.

Flagg_-_Lady_Jane_Grey

 

Jane is a significant figure for who she was, but just as much for who she might have been. She deserves to be recognised and remembered as a pious and scholarly star among her peers; as one whose position and reputation was maliciously exploited by the people who should have loved her – but were far less honourable than she was. Though a victim of political skulduggery, she stood firm in the face of execution and became one of the most high-profile martyrs of the English Reformation. Although John Rogers has been rightly identified as the first English Protestant martyr (on a purely religious basis) of the ‘Marian persecutions’ beginning in 1555 that would characterise Mary’s bloody reign – Jane’s execution was the first stroke of political and religious violence by the new regime against a woman who stood firmly for the biblical faith.

There is a chance that had this Protomartyress of Mary Tudor’s terror been recognised as Edward’s successor and remained as Queen of England she could have been the greatest Protestant ruler the country had ever seen. While the political operators who sought the throne through her may have made her reign difficult for her, Protestant clergy would likely have continued to live and preach freely and their churches flourish. Instead, they were to go the same way as their would-be Queen – the way of the Cross – as England instead got one of its worst ever regimes and a Queen of Cruelty and Oppression.

 

Sources

Faith Cook, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001).

“Jane Grey” wikipedia

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs