I came to Christianity late. In real terms, I met Jesus in God’s own time. But in terms of my temporal existence, I was already in my 30s and, as a young Christian, I felt really behind in understanding the church, church history, theology, how we got here, what we believe and why we believe it. My learning curve was steep, and I studied like mad. My learning curve is gentler these days, but I often feel I still need the encouragement of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
I just finished Faith Cook’s Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England (published by Evangelical Press). Lady Jane Grey was 16 when she was executed in England in 1554. She was Henry VIII’s great-granddaughter and Edward VI’s cousin and a devout Protestant. When Henry’s son, Edward VI, died at a young age, Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth were the key players in the succession, as was Jane. Jane’s whole life had been marked by control by her parents, including where she went, what she was learning and who she married. But Jane was her own person. In her short life, she was devout above all else. She immersed herself in Scripture and Reformation teachings, including direct and personal correspondence with many of the Reformers who marvelled at her sharp intellect, spiritual fervour and doctrinal acuity.
With Edward VI’s death came a mad scramble for the throne, and a large part of the scramble was tied up with religion. Mary was Catholic. Elizabeth and Jane were Protestants—Jane staunchly so. Jane’s father, along with other powerful nobles, sprung into action. They planned to seize power over the throne by installing the young Jane as queen. However, Jane’s father—weak, faithless and self-serving—lost.
While forced to take the crown at the behest of others who were plotting to seize control through her, she remained faithful and steadfast until her execution. When all was lost and Mary was crowned queen, Jane was placed in the Tower of London. She wrote to her sister from the Tower:
“I have sent you, good sister Catherine , 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 … And 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.”
There is much to learn from Jane and others. I recommend them to you—particularly Tyndale by David Teems, The Wesleys by Julian Wilson, Amazing Grace (on William Wilberforce) and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, George Müller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. These stories show us where we have come from. They give us examples to encourage us and build our faith. We see God’s work through them and they are witnesses to us—that we may be witnesses to God, and to others through our lives.