John Bradford - English Reformer and martyr
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.”
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