There Goes John Bradford (to Paradise): History for February 24

Born in 1510, John Bradford was a rising Protestant minister during the reign of King Edward VI in England and was well known for his pious dedication and unselfish nature.  After studying at Cambridge and preaching regularly around London, he was appointed as Chaplain to the King in 1551.  The common expression “There but for the grace of God go I” is often attributed to him and was a reminder to himself that grace alone has saved him.  An 1822 book on prayer says that:

“The pious Martyr Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, exclaimed, ‘there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford’. He knew that the same evil principles were in his own heart which had brought the criminal to that shameful end.”[1]

Bradford and others in the Tower of London, from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563). Public Domain.

His worldly fortunes changed in 1553 when the Catholic Mary I became Queen, and one of her first priorities was persecution of prominent Protestants.  Bradford was arrested within a month, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and sentenced to death.  While in the Tower, he wrote a letter to his mother on this date, February 24, in 1554, that included a powerful statement about prayer: God “doth put off our prayers, that he might recompense it with abundance, that is, that he might more plentifully pour upon us the effect of our petitions.” [2]  On July 1, Bradford was burned alive at the stake.

In another book on prayer, Donald McKim wrote about Bradford’s letter:
“We can imagine that no one would seek an answer to his prayers more ardently than Bradford while awaiting death. Yet he believed that even with no apparent answers to prayers, God plentifully pours abundance on those who pray!
At the end of his letter Bradford mentions God’s promise-which believers receive and anticipate, even in the midst of their sufferings and afflictions. Paul recorded the promise: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9) Plentiful abundance! Now and forever!”[3]

In John Bradford’s story, there is a terrible irony between two things he is known for – a common phrase and his martyrdom – but in the end, God is faithful, and I hope to meet Bradford someday in Paradise, where the grace of God has bought me a place.

[1] Bickersteth, Edward.  A Treatise on Prayer.  (1822).  Sourced from
[2] McKim, Donald K.  Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (2020).  P. 92.
[3] Ibid.

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