On February 12, 1554 a martyr mounted a London scaffolding having denounced the Catholic doctrines of salvation by works, transubstantiation, and Papal authority. As from so many other martyrs, it was Psalm 51 heard recited from their lips before the axe fell or the tinder was lit.
The martyr’s name was Lady Jane Grey.
She was 17 years old.
Why Psalm 51? Why the confession of an adulterous, murderous King on the saintly lips of this young girl and countless others willing to die for their faith?
Just read the following words and imagine them coming from a 17 year old girl with her pious head on a chopping block.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
King David uses no fewer than 5 different terms for his acts of adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband: transgressions, iniquity, sin, evil, and bloodguiltiness. For these he is pleading with God for mercy, for washing, cleansing, purging, renewal, restoration, deliverance and salvation. David confesses that the sin he was born in and continued to walk in are not just constantly visible to his own eyes but to God’s as well. In fact, even though others suffered deadly consequences as a result of his adultery and murder it was God Himself that David repents of sinning against.
Like King David, Lady Jane Grey held the throne, albeit for a mere nine days, and like King David she was hunted by another monarch, only her persecutor met with ultimate success. Neither sought the throne themselves and yet that is where their royal similarities seem to end. Except for the thing they held most in common– the God they served. And in her time of deepest testing, it was the failed king’s Psalm of repentance that sprang from Lady Jane Grey’s lips.
To be continued…