English Reformer and martyr
John Bradford (1510–1555) was a prebendary of St. Paul's. He was an English Reformer and martyr best remembered for his utterance "'There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford". These words were uttered by Bradford while imprisoned in the Tower of London when he saw a criminal on his way to execution; however, the attribution has been questioned. Bradford was in the Tower of London for alleged crimes against Mary Tudor for his Protestant faith.
It is not uncommon to hear someone repeat a well-known saying upon seeing someone in worse condition than himself. "There, but for the grace of God go I." Few realize these words first came from the mouth of an English martyr when he saw a criminal going to execution for his foul deeds.
John Bradford was born in 1510 and received a good education in a grammar school in Manchester. He was able to earn a good living serving under John Harrington, paymaster to the English forces during the wars of Henry the 8th. For a time he studied law but through the influence of a fellow student he was converted to Protestant Christian faith. Because of this he left the study of law and began his study of theology at Cambridge.
Though he would only live seven more years he was often referred to as "holy Bradford" not in derision, but from respect to his unselfish service to God and those around him. In 1550, during the reign of Edward the 6th, he was ordained by Bishop Ridley to be a "roving chaplain". Following Edward's early death, England was ruled by Mary Tudor who was zealous to bring back the Roman Catholic religion and to discipline "heretics."
Before Mary's reign was a month old John was arrested on a trivial charge and confined to the Tower of London, never to be a free man again. His time in prison was not wasted as he continued to preach to all that would listen and to write letters and treatises that would encourage fellow believers. During his two-year imprisonment he was cast for a time into a single cell with three fellow reformers, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. Their time together was spent encouraging one another and in careful study of the New Testament. All three were to become martyrs.
Finally on January 31st, 1555 Bradford was brought to the notorious Newgate Prison to be burned at the stake as a heretic. Though the burning was scheduled for 4 AM, there was a great crowd, made up of many who admired Bradford, who had come to witness the execution. He was chained to the stake with another young martyr, John Leaf. After begging forgiveness of any he might have wronged and freely forgiving those who had wronged him, he turned to fellow-martyr, John Leaf, with these words, "Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!"
A writer of his period recorded that he endured the flame "as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer's day, confirming by his death the truth of that doctrine he had so diligently and powerfully preached during his life."
Works by John Bradford
Imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor, John Bradford continued to live out his faith in spite of everything. He would frequently preach to his fellow inmates, and spend the rest of his time praying, studying, and writing. Among his writings was Godly Meditations upon the Lord’s Prayer, in which he explores in depth a person’s relationship with God in the present and eternity through the lens of the Lord’s Prayer. Considering his own situation of religious persecution, his thoughts on forgiveness, suffering, and death have encouraged readers throughout the years.
Because of his dedication to the Church of England, Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor imprisoned Bradford, then burned him at the stake. In spite of his persecution, though, Bradford did not let despair triumph over him. While locked away in the Tower of London, he preached to his fellow inmates every day, often concerning topics such as repentance, eternity, affliction, salvation, and the fear of death. This collection contains some of these sermons, plus a few short explanations of more complex theological matters.
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