Category Archives: Witnesses

Lady Jane Grey: A Protestant Martyr

Though the legendary 1833 portrait, by French Romantic artist Paul Delaroche, is somewhat sensationalized, the story of Lady Jane Grey’s execution reveals a young woman with great faith in Christ.

The history of the Reformation was written largely by men, about men. But women often played a crucial role in the spiritual turmoil of 16th century Western Europe. What led to the execution of Lady Jane Grey is one of those stories.

King Henry VIII made it his life goal to obtain a male heir to the English throne. He finally had one son, Edward, who did succeed him. But Edward VI suffered terrible health problems, and he died at age 15, in 1553, after serving as king only since the age of 9.

Anticipating the worst ahead of time, Henry VIII had made provision that his oldest daughter, Mary, would succeed Edward VI, in the event Edward’s illnesses might eventually shorten his life. But young Edward VI had other ideas of his own.

Edward VI had been raised by Protestant tutors, and he firmly held to an evangelical faith. His older half-sister, Mary, was a devoted Catholic. Edward VI did not want England to be ruled by a Catholic queen. He did have a cousin, not too much older than himself, who might be a better fit for Protestant England. Lady Jane Grey had received an education similar to Edward’s, sharing his firm Protestant faith.

Edward’s adult Protestant advisors had steered the Church of England away from Roman Catholicism, in a more Reformed, Protestant direction. Edward feared that Mary would undo these changes, and he had good reason for his fears. He trusted that Lady Jane would keep England on a Protestant course, so he made arrangements for Lady Jane to succeed him, upon his death.

Mary I, Catholic queen of England, who cut short the reign of Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey became queen, once Edward die. But the political bickering erupted, and she did not remain queen for long. The young teenage queen had become a pawn in the hands of those who sought great power and influence. Mary, recalling her father’s wishes, asserted her right to become queen. In less than a couple of weeks, Lady Jane Grey had been deposed, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

However, this is where the story takes on a more spiritual, rather than political, significance. Lady Jane Grey was directly opposed to Mary’s Catholicism. Viewing Lady Jane as a threat, Mary sought to have Lady Jane executed. But in hopes of persuading Lady Jane to disabuse herself of her Protestant ideas, Mary sent her personal chaplain, a man named Fecknam, to go see Lady Jane Grey, to see if she might recant and return to Catholicism. John Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, recalls the record of the conversation that took place.

            Fecknam.–“What is … required of a Christian man?”

            Jane.–“That he should believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God.”

            Fecknam.–“What? Is there nothing else to be required or looked for in a Christian, but to believe in him?”

            Jane.–“Yes, we must love him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbour as ourself.”

            Fecknam.–“Why? then faith justifieth not, nor saveth not.”

            Jane.–“Yes verily, faith, as Paul saith, only justifieth.”

            Fecknam.–“Why? St. Paul saith, If I have all faith without love, it is nothing.”

            Jane.–“True it is; for how can I love him whom I trust not, or how can I trust him whom I love not? Faith and love go both together, and yet love is comprehended in faith.”

When Fecknam quizzed Jane on the subject of the Lord’s Supper, she responded with equal firmness:

            Jane. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper, offered unto me, is a sure seal and testimony that I am, by the blood of Christ, which he shed for me on the cross, made partaker of the everlasting kingdom.”

            Fecknam.” Why? what do you receive in that sacrament? Do you not receive the very body and blood of Christ?”

            Jane.–“No surely, I do not so believe. I think that at the supper I neither receive flesh nor blood, but bread and wine: which bread when it is broken, and the wine when it is drunken, put me in remembrance how that for my sins the body of Christ was broken, and his blood shed on the cross; and with that bread and wine I receive the benefits that come by the breaking of his body, and shedding of his blood, for our sins on the cross.”

            Fecknam.–“Why, doth not Christ speak these words, Take, eat, this is my body? Require you any plainer words? Doth he not say, it is his body?”

            Jane.–“I grant he saith so; and so he saith, I am the vine, I am the door; but he is never the more for that the door or the vine. Doth not St. Paul say, He calleth things that are not, as though they were? God forbid that I should say, that I eat the very natural body and blood of Christ: for then either I should pluck away my redemption, or else there were two bodies, or two Christs. One body was tormented on the cross, and if they did eat another body, then had he two bodies: or if his body were eaten, then was it not broken upon the cross; or if it were broken upon the cross, it was not eaten of his disciples.”

Fecknam was unable to persuade the 16 year old teenager to reconsider, and finally gave up.

After this, Fecknam took his leave, saying, that he was sorry for her: “For I am sure,” quoth he, “that we two shall never meet.”

            Jane.–“True it is,” said she, “that we shall never meet, except God turn your heart; for I am assured, unless you repent and turn to God, you are in an evil case. And I pray God, in the bowels of his mercy, to send you his Holy Spirit; for he hath given you his great gift of utterance, if it pleased him also to open the eyes of your heart.”

Two days later, Lady Jane Grey was led to the scaffold, where she recited Psalm 51. She handed off her prayer book to another person, and then received the blindfold. Unable to see, she was not able to reach out to the executioner’s stone block. Fecknam himself is said to have assisted her, in placing her hands on the block, as she laid her neck upon the stone. The axe ended her life just moments later.


A Tribute to Dick Terman

 

In just a few weeks, Dick Terman, a dear friend and mentor of mine, will be moving away from Williamsburg, Virginia. I want to tell you about him.

Dick Terman grew up in the Midwest, in a Christian family. His grandfather was a Free Methodist pastor, and strict promoter of “Prohibition,” the 18th Amendment, that sought to ban alcohol in America. Dick describes his grandfather as a caring man, but boy, could he be strict. Dick remembers his grandfather (rightly) scolding him once, from the pulpit! As a kid, Dick took only a casual interest in spiritual matters.

When Dick was in high school, he was active in the Boy Scouts. However, he had trouble. Another boy in the troop loved to pester and irritate Dick. One day, on a troop hike, the boys were hiking the perimeter above a steep gravel pit. The thought crossed Dick’s mind that he could push this pestering boy off this high ledge. It would only take a few seconds, a strong shove, and Dick’s problem would be gone.

Dick restrained himself. But the angry temptation that filled his heart, scared the wits out of Dick Terman. He could have gotten rid of this bothersome boy, by pushing him over a hundred foot drop, to the boy’s death.

Dick could have been a murderer.

Dick had come face to face with his own sinful nature. He knew he had to get right with God. So, Dick kneeled in prayer before his Maker, admitted his need for a Savior, and gave his life in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Continue reading


Parking Space 23, and The Story of John Knox

(Editor’s Note: I have been trying to get an avid Veracity reader to write this blog post for several years, as he has personally been to Scotland to see “Parking Space 23.” But alas, in this, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, I could wait no longer…)

If you go to Edinburgh, Scotland, today, you might have trouble finding the grave of Scotland’s greatest Protestant Reformer of the 16th century, John Knox. Hidden away, underneath the asphalt of parking space 23, lies the body of one John Knox, who paved the way for the Reformation to transform the country of Scotland. A plaque embedded in the pavement reads:

“The above stone marks the approximate site of the burial in St Giles graveyard of John Knox, the great Scottish divine who died 24 Nov 1572.”

Why would John Knox’s grave be found in a parking lot? Just imagine if the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. were bulldozed over, and converted into a parking garage.

In much of secular Scotland today, the Christian faith of the Reformation era is largely forgotten. Yet John Knox is unquestionably the founder of modern Presbyterianism, as he resolutely preached his way throughout Scotland, moving this northernmost segment of the British Isles away from Roman Catholicism towards a Protestant faith. Within a few centuries, the Scottish church would become one of the greatest missionary sending communities of all time, establishing Christian witness over all the world.

Was there something about Knox himself that contributes to this historical neglect? Though a fiery evangelist, with a great love for the Gospel, John Knox was also known to be rather severe. Was it because he acted as a bodyguard to another Scottish preacher, for a time? Was it because he suffered for two years of oppressive prison labor, aboard a French galley ship? Was it because he actively opposed the idea of having a woman as a secular ruler?

Yet it might be time to restore John Knox, Scotland’s greatest Reformer, from this historical neglect.

The film Knox explores these questions, and tells his story. Here is the trailer:

For a review of Jane Dawson’s recent scholarly biography of John Knox, consult the resources at the Gospel Coalition.


Who Is Clarke Morledge?

Who-Is-Clarke-Morledge


The Quest for the Historical Saint Francis

Franco Zefferilli’s 1972 classic film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, created an exalted portrait of St. Francis of Assisi. Zeffirelli is most known for the TV classic, Jesus of Nazareth.

Did Saint Francis of Assisi really say, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words?”

In a sermon delivered by one of my (very fine) associate pastors this past week, there are good reasons to doubt the quotation’s authenticity. Even though the quote is regularly presented in sermons, etc., there is little evidence that the famous medieval Christian from Assisi, Italy ever said this.

The quote is typically used to suggest that Christians should focus more on their quiet witness, with acts of mercy and compassion. But often, the result is a silencing of the Word of God, an excuse for disobedience, something the Scriptures warn against (Acts 6:1-7 ESV). This is not an either/or issue. Believers are called to love people with good deeds and to verbally proclaim the message of Jesus. We should not neglect the latter for the sake of the former.

As is often done with Jesus of Nazareth, our impression of the historical Francis of Assisi reflects many of the cultural values of the times, and the real story gets lost. In 1972, Italian film producer, Franco Zeffirelli, made a film on the life of Saint Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Zeffirelli portrayed Francis as an idealized Christ figure. Francis embodied a pure example of non-violence, harmony with creation, and freedom from materialism.

When I first saw the film, I was deeply drawn to the message. But when I watched it again some years later, Francis began to appear like a cartoon figure. Was this guy for real? How did he and his order of brothers support themselves financially? What motivated the people in his day to follow and admire Francis? Was Francis really a pacifist?

I had more questions than answers. As I listened to the Donovan soundtrack, I found myself keeping the tune of Hurdy Gurdy Man in my head, and I began to suspect that Zeffirelli’s Francis looked a whole lot like a Woodstock-era hippie. I mean, I could almost smell the scent of marijuana rising up from the movie screen.

So, I finally sat down to read a scholarly biography, by André Vauchez, Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint. Vauchez proved to be a difficult read for me, but he got his point across. The story of how biographers have memorialized him, over hundreds of years, is just as diverse and complex as the life Francis actually lived in the late 12th to early 13th centuries. Histories of Francis often reflect the values of his historians, just as studies of the historical Jesus, often reflect the values and prejudices of those Jesus historians.

However, one thing stood out from Vauchez’s work. The Franciscan order that Francis founded was foremost a preaching order. Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ came first.

One of the most remarkable episodes of Francis’ life was during the Fifth Crusade, when Christian armies were up against Islamic armies in Egypt. In 1219, Francis did not come as a warrior, but as a peacemaker. Yet contrary to some popular opinions today, as reflected to a certain degree, in the 2016 docu-drama film, The Sultan and The Saint, Francis was not trying to paper over the differences. Rather, he purposed to gain an audience with the Muslim leader, Malik al-Kamil, with the intention of sharing the Gospel with him and winning him to Christ. Francis crossed enemy lines, was captured and threatened with decapitation, but he negotiated his way to see this Sultan, al-Kamil.  The Sultan asked Francis if he came to convert to Islam. Francis declined, insisting instead on sharing the Gospel of Jesus with the Sultan.

We have no record of the actual conversation that Francis had with al-Kamil. But we know that the Sultan even allowed Francis to stay in the Islamic camp and preach to the Sultan’s soldiers for several more days. Evidently, the Sultan was so impressed with Francis’ boldness, that he granted him safe passage back across enemy lines.

The Sultan was not persuaded by Francis’ message to embrace Christ, but Francis’ visit nevertheless had a positive effect several years later. In 1229, three years after Francis’ death, al-Kamil did negotiate a peace agreement with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, a man who grew up in Assisi, knowing Francis as a long time friend.

Needless to say, Saint Francis did “preach the Gospel at all times.” But clearly in this case, he used words.

 

Following is a 7-minute clip from the 1961 film, “Saint Francis of Assisi.” Though it looks like they used staging scenery from early Star Trek TV episodes, you can get the basic contour of the traditional telling of the story of Francis meeting the Sultan…. Another book I have wanted to read, like Vauchez’s, but more accessible, is Augustine Thompson’s, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography, given a positive review at First Things magazine.

 


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