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Memoirs of the Reformers - John Bradford (1510-1555)

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John Bradford, who, from the kindness and benevolence of his heart, and the purity of his life, obtained the epithet of the holy John Bradford.

DIVINE grace, though it does not absolutely change the natural temper of men, most assuredly moderates, corrects, and keeps the unruly passions from prevailing in the lives of the saints. Some men are naturally bold, fearless and firm; others timid, and possessing a softness of temperament, better calculated to comfort friends, and convince them, by their unassuming and true arguments, and for building up professors in the faith, than to war against the powers of darkness, or attack the strong holds of error and corruption.

Of this last character was John Bradford, the subject of the present memoir who, from the kindness and benevolence of his heart, and the purity of his life, obtained the epithet of the holy John Bradford; His worst enemies could lay nothing to Ms charge, except his protestant opinions and pious manner of life. They were so extant of excuses in putting this harm­less and universally beloved individual to death, that, like the Jew, they could only say, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die.

He was born at Manchester in Lancashire. His parents brought him up in learning from his childhood; and when he had acquired the knowledge of the Latin tongue, being an ex­pert penman, ‘steady and industrious in his habits, he was en­gaged with Sir John Harrington, treasurer to the king’s camps and buildings as clerk. Sir John had such early proofs of his talents and integrity, both at home and abroad, as induced him to entice Mr. Bradford with the management of his most important tariffs; and found them better transacted than he could have done them himself. Here Mr. Bradford continued for several years and was in a promising way for making his fortune. But God touched his heart, and turned his attention from the bustling scenes of the present life, to the contemplation’ of the world to come. No sooner had Mr. Bradford tasted that the Lord was gracious, than he resolved to publish the gospel of salvation, to perishing sinners. Accordingly, having settled with his .employer, he abandoned his worldly pursuits, ,and proceeded to the university of Cambridge, to meditate on the word of God, and prosecute Ms studies in divinity.

Here his progress in learning, and pious demeanor, was so satisfactory, that the university thought proper to confer on, him the degree of Master of Arts in less than a year. Immediately after this, the master and fellows of Pembrokehall chose him to a fellowship in their college; and that great man, Martin Bucer, had such a favorable opinion of his talents and sincerity, that he endeavored to persuade him to preach; but Mr. Brad­ford declined it, supposing himself still deficient in the learning necessary for an undertaking so responsible. What! said Bucer, if you cannot feed them with the finest of the wheat, yet give the starving people such as you have, were it barley bread. While Mr. Bradford was thus, persuaded to enter into the ministry, Dr. Ridley, bishop of London, made him apprehend of St. Paul’s; where he continued preaching the word, sharply reproving sin­ners, and in defending the truth against the errors and heresies of the time. And even after Queen Mary was seated on the throne, he continued to preach to the people, as he had hereto­fore done, till those in power unjustly persecuted him, and sent him prisoner to the tower.

On Sunday, the 13th of August, in the first year of Queen Mary’s reign, Dr. Bourne, then bishop of Bath and Wells, made a sermon at Paul’s Cross, wherein he railed against King Ed­ward, then dead, and so coarsely handled the reformation and the reformers, that the patience of the common people gave way to rage and resentment, and a very great uproar was rais­ed among the congregation then present, insomuch that the lord mayor and all his officers could not silence it. Such was the tumult, that one of the people threw a dagger at the preacher’s head, which narrowly missed him; and we are told the people would have torn Mm to pieces had not Mr. Bradford harangued them so long on the propriety of peace and good order, that at last they became quiet, and went away peaceably; yet, notwith­standing that the mob was greatly dispersed, Mr. Bourne would not remove’ for fear of his life, till Mr. Bradford and Mr. Rog­ers conducted him to the grammar school, which was hard by, at the peril of their lives; and as a reward for their disinterested kindness, both these generous individuals were brought to .the stake. About three days after this, Mr. Bradford was sent to the tower of London, where the queen at that time resided, and ordered to appear before the council. He was charged with sedition at the uproar which he had been the means of pacifying, and of saving the life of bishop Bourne. He was removed from the tower, and tossed about from one prison to another for almost two years. After his condemnation, he was taken from the king’s bench Southwark to the compter in London. During his confinement in each of these places, he preached twice a day, unless prevented by sickness, where he frequently celebrated the Lord’s supper; and the keepers were so kind as permit many people to come to the sermons and the sacrament, so that his chamber was generally filled, on these occasions, with serious Christians. His credit with the keeper was such, that he was permitted to go abroad any evening, on his bare promise to return by such an hour; which he at no time overstepped, though no guard attended him.

He was so well respected by all good men, that many who knew him only by report, greatly lamented his death; even the papists, many of them were sorry that he was not spared. In my conscience, said bishop Ridley, on a former occasion, I con­sider Mr. Bradford more worthy to be a bishop than many of us bishops are to be parish priests. About twelve o’clock at night, when it was thought nobody would be on the streets, he was removed to Newgate; but contrary to their expectation, the streets were crowded with people, who waited to see him pass and take farewell; which they did with prayers and many tears, and he took his leave of them in the same affectionate manner, exhorting them to be strong in the Lord, and praying that he would bless them, and keep them steadfast in the truth. A report had gone abroad that he was to be burned at Smithfield at four in the morning, at which time the place was crowded; but Mr. Bradford was not brought forward till nine. Passing through Newgate, he spied an old friend, to whom ‘he called, and gave him his velvet cap and handkerchief, etc. A little after, his brother-in-law came up and shook him by the hand; for which Woodrooffe the sheriff struck him on the head, till the blood flew all about; and as they could not change many words, Mr. Bradford desired to be remembered to his mother and friends, and advised him forthwith to go to a sur­geon. He was escorted by a strong guard of armed men; and when he arrived at the place where he was to suffer, he fell on his face and prayed; after which, he took one of the faggots and kissed it, also the stake; and having put off his clothes, he stood up by the stake, and lifting his eyes and hands toward heaven, said, O England! England! repent of thy sins—Repent! re­pent! beware of antichrists—take heed they do not deceive thee. Then turning round to John Leaf, a young man of twenty years of age, who suffered with him, he said, Brother, be of good comfort, for tonight we sup with Christ, where all our pains will terminate in pleasure ineffable, our warfare in songs of joy, triumphant exultation, and! never-ending tranquility. Having kissed the reeds, he exclaimed, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life eternal.” After this he was made fast to the stake and burnt, on the 1st of July 1555, and in the prime of his life.

We shall now give some short account of his examination before the queen’s council. On January 22d 1555, he was brought before Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, and the other commissioners appointed by the queen. When he came into the presence of the council, Gardiner told him, he had been a long time prisoner for his sedition at Paul’s cross, also for his false preaching and arrogance, in presuming to preach without authority. But the time of mercy is now come, and if you will accept of it on the queen’s terms, you will find, as we have found, I warrant you.

Bradford. My lord, and lords all, I have indeed been long imprisoned, and with humility and reverence be it spoken, un­justly, inasmuch as I did nothing seditiously, falsely, or arro­gantly, either in word or deed, preaching or otherwise; but rather, as an obedient subject ought to do, endeavored, by de­claring the will of God, to restore peace and godly quietness to an enraged multitude, wherein, by the help of God, I was made instrumental in saving the life of Dr. Bourne, now bishop of Bath, and that at the peril of my life; as the bishop, were he present, could sufficiently attest.

At these words the infamous Gardiner gave him the lie. The fact, said he, was seditious, as my lord of London can tes­tify. You say true, said Bonner, I saw him with mine own eyes, when he impudently took upon himself to rule and lead the people, thereby declaring that he was the author of the sedition.

Brad. My lords, notwithstanding of both my lord bishop’s seeing and saying, I have told you nothing but that which almighty God, before whom we must all of us one day appear, will re­veal in presence of all the children of men; in the meantime, seeing I cannot be believed, I must, nay, I am ready to suffer whatever God shall permit you to decree concerning me.

Gardiner. I know thou hast a glorious tongue, and tells thy story well; but all are lies.

Brad. My lord, What I said before I say again. When we appear, as appear we must, all of us, before the tribunal of the great God, truth will then, as it is now, be truth, notwithstand­ing of all you may say against it. I took nothing upon myself, what I did was at the earnest request of Dr. Bourne, which, as I said before, be can, and I doubt not will, do me the justice to attest.

Gard. Well, to drop this matter, what sayest thou? Wilt thou return and do as we have done, and receive the queen’s mercy and pardon?

Brad. My lord, I thank my God, that my conscience does not accuse me of having said or done any thing that entitles me to punishment: I shall be glad, however, of the queen’s favor on terms that correspond with my duty to him whose favor is life, but whose displeasure is worse than any death that mor­tals can inflict.

Gard. Well, if thou make this babbling, rolling thy elo­quent tongue, and yet being altogether ignorant, and so vain­glorious; that thou wilt not receive the mercy now proffered thee, know, for truth, that the queen is minded to make a purgation of all such as thou art.

Brad. The mercy of God I humbly request and desire, and would also be very thankful to the queen, for being permitted to live as an honest subject with a conscience unclogged; but otherwise I know into whose hand I have committed my life, and that without his permission none can take it away; his good pleasure therefore be done. Life, with his displeasure, is worse than death; and his favor alone is that which enhances the value and felicity of life.

Durham. Why, tell me what sayest thou about the present ministration of the communion.

Brad. My lords, before I can answer your question, I must first have an answer to another which I am obliged to make. I have been six times sworn not to submit to any authority or jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome within this realm of England; now therefore, I beseech your lordships to tell me, whether you ask this question by his authority? for if so, I dare not return an answer under such authority, unless I would be foresworn; which God forbid.

Gard. Tush! Herod’s oaths, a man should make no con­science of them.

Brad. These were no unlawful oaths, but plain dealing oaths, corresponding with the word of God, as you yourself have well affirmed in your book Vera Obedientia. [This book of Gardiner’s was written against the pope’s supremacy, and fur­nished with a recommendatory preface by Bonner, during the quarrel between Henry VIII and the Roman pontiff; both these ambitious ecclesiastics perceiving that the moment was propitious for procuring royal favor and consequent pre­ferment.]

Secretary Bourne. Yea, it has been reported, that he has done more mischief by his letters and counsel to those who came to him on the score of religion, than ever he had done while abroad preaching. In his letters he curseth all those who think otherwise than he preaches, and exhorts them to abide in the doctrines he and others of the’ same opinions has taught them. What say you, sir, have you not thus seditiously written and taught the people?

Brad. I have not written nor taught any thing seditiously, nor, thank God, have I admitted any seditious thought, nor, I hope, ever will.

Secretary Bourne. Yea, but thou hast written letters.

Gard. Why speakest thou not? Hast thou not written as he saith?

Brad. What I have written I have written.

Southwell. Lord God, what an arrogant and stubborn boy is this, that so stoutly and dallyingly behaveth himself before the queen’s council.

Brad. My lords and masters: The Lord God, who is, and shall be the judge of us all, kuoweth that I desire to behave myself, both before you and towards you, with all due reverence; if you are disposed to take it otherwise, I have no other means of convincing you. In the meantime, however, I shall suffer with patience all your hard sayings, and I hope also whatever you may be permitted to appoint concerning me.

Gard. We shall never have done with thee I perceive now. Be short, be short, wilt thou accept of mercy? Say now wilt thou?

Brad. I pray God extend me his mercy; and if therewith you also extend yours, I will by no means refuse it, otherwise I crave none.

Here a great noise arose, some said one thing, and some another; while others accused him of arrogance in refusing the queen’s mercy, which her majesty, in her great clemency, had held out to his very hand and acceptance.

Brad. If I may live as a quiet subject, with a conscience unclogged, I shall heartily thank you for your moderation; and should I afterwards violate the laws, I must stand by their award. In the meantime, I only require the rights of a sub­ject till convicted of transgression. If I cannot obtain this, which hitherto I have not, then God’s good pleasure be done.

Gard. (to the under marshall)—Ye shall take this man and keep him close, without conference with any but by your know­ledge, and suffer him not to write letters. And so they de­parted, Bradford looking as cheerful as any man could. He was again examined on the 9th of January; he was also exam­ined by two Spanish friars, and by Dr. Weston dean of West­minster; but he still held fast the profession of his faith without wavering; and, confident in the power and goodness of him in whom he believed, though naturally rather of a timid, modest, and retiring temperament, he acted on this occasion the part of a Christian hero, and, as we have seen, triumphed over the power and malignity of all his antichristian adversaries.

Mr. Fox informs us, that he wrote, particularly while in pri­son, a number of treatises, of which the following have been published: Two Sermons, the first on Repentance, the second on the Lord’s Supper—2. An answer to two Letters upon the Lawfulness of attending Mass—3. The Danger of attending Mass—4. His Examination before the Officers—5. Godly Me­ditations, made in prison, called his Short Prayers—6. Truth’s Complaints—7. A Translation of Melanchthon on Prayer—8. A Dialogue on Predestination and Freewill.

Bradford’s letters are numerous, and highly spiritual, well calculated to establish the people of God under the severity of their persecution. They are so truly excellent, that not­withstanding the rude style of these times, they are still read with edification and delight; even many of the papists were captivated with them. We shall here insert one as a speci­men of his manner.


To my Dear Fathers, Dr. Cranmer, Dr. Ridley, and Dr. Latimer. “JESUS EMANUEL! My dear fathers in the Lord, I be­seech our sweet Father, through Christ, to make per­fect the good he hath begun in us all. Amen. “I had thought that all of your staves had stood next to the •door, but find I was mistaken. Our dear brother Rogers has broken the ice valiantly, as this day, I think, or tomorrow at the farthest, hearty Hooper, sincere Saunders, and trusty Taylor, end their course, and likewise receive their crown. The next am I, who am humbly looking for the porter to open the gates, that I may follow them into the desired rest. God forgive my ingratitude for this exceeding great mercy, that amongst so many thousands it hath pleased him to choose me for one in whom he will suffer. For although it be most true that I suf­fer justly; for I have been a great hypocrite, and a grievous sinner; the Lord pardon me; yea, he has done it, he has in­deed done it already; yet what evil has Christ done, Christ, whom the prelates persecute; and his verity, which they hate in me, have done no evil, and cannot therefore be deserving of death? Therefore ought I most heartily to rejoice in the honor he has conferred on me, and the tender kindness he has thus vouchsafed towards me, in calling me to bear testimony to his truth against the enemies of his grace and glorious gospel; to his glory, to my everlasting consolation, to the edification of his church, and to the overthrow of antichrist, and the destruction of his kingdom of darkness. Oh! what am I, Lord, that thou shouldst thus magnify so vile a man, so unworthy a wretch as I have always been. Is this thy wont, t6 send, as thou didst for Elias, a fiery chariot, to fetch home to his Father’s house such a prodigal as I have been. Oh! dear fathers, be thankful for me; and for your own parts make ready, for we are only your gentlemen ushers. ‘ The marriage of the Lamb is come, pre­pare for the wedding.’ I am about to leave my flesh in a world where I received it; but I go to a better world, and shall be conveyed thither as Ignatius was at Rome. God grant it may make my persecutors better men. Amen.

“ I write, and send this my farewell to you, trusting shortly to see you, where, having finished our warfare, we shall associ­ate with all those who have faithfully followed the banner of the Captain of our salvation, made perfect through suffering, and never again be called to the field. In the meantime I will not cease to commend you, as I have done, to our Father in heaven; and that you do so for me, I most sincerely beseech every one of you. You know that now I have most need of your prayers; but God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be burdened above what we are able to bear; he never did it here­tofore, nor now, and I am assured he never will. Amen. He is on my right hand, therefore shall I not be moved, wherefore my heart shall rejoice. Out of prison in haste, looking for the tormenter, February 8th, 1555.

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