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THE CHRISTIAN GUARDIAN
CHURCH OF ENGLAND MAGAZINE.
MEMORIALS OF THE ENGLISH MARTYRS.No. VI.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!” We sometimes see in the midst of this proud and contentious world, the lovely, lowly, saint-like characters described in these words, and we discern in the unwavering faith and in the undisturbed peace of their inward spirit—that spirit which shines through their fleshly tabernacle, like the pure flame burning and shining with intense brilliancy through a lamp of crystal—the bright assurance that the kingdom of heaven is within them, yes that its unextinguishable light is already kindled in their hearts, is already and always burning like the lamp of the wise virgins : to shine, not only with its steady lustre during every succeeding hour of their mortal life, while they wait and watch for the Bridegroom's coming, but to burn with its brightest, fullest radiance when the night-watches are all ended, and when at the deep dark mid-night, they obey their sudden summons and go out from this uncertain world to meet Him, and go in with Him to the marriage. The gentle, lowly Bradford, was one of these lovely saintlike characters. We weep over the story of other martyrs; but while we read the record of his course of suffering and cruel indeed his sufferings were—our tears cease to flow, and as we consider his life and death, our sympathy is insensibly awakened rather to rejoice with one that rejoiced, than to weep with one that wept.
John Bradford was born in Manchester, soon after the year 1510, of respectable parents ; in his early manhood he forsook the worldly calling upon which he had first entered, when he served Sir John Harrington, one of the treasurers of King Henry the eighth, and his son Edward the sixth, as secretary. He had doubtless served an earthly master, not with eye service, but 1844.
as the servant of the Lord; but he desired and sought a calling, where as the minister of the sanctuary, he might wholly serve God, and proclaim to others, that gospel of grace and peace, which had filled his own soul with gladness. It seems that he had received his first serious impressions, under one of Latimer's powerful exhortations, and his conscience being awakened by God's word and spirit, he saw at once in its true light some act of injustice in his past life, by which however, he had not advanced his own interests but those of his employer. He appealed to him to make restitution, but finding that his appeal was fruitless, he took it upon himself to do so, though he was obliged to give up his own patrimony in consequence.
Bradford left London on giving up his employment, for the university of Cambridge, where he soon became the friend and associate of the wise and holy men of the reformed faith who were then residing there. He was made a fellow of Pembroke Hall, and by the advice of Martin Bucer, was induced to take orders sooner than he had at first intended. In reply to Bucer's solicitations, Bradford had urged, that he was too unlearned to preach, but Bucer would take no denial ; If thou hast not fine manchet bread,' was his pithy reply, yet give the poor people barley bread, or whatsoever else the Lord hath committed unto thee.'
Bishop Ridley, who was Warden of Pembroke Hall, ordained Bradford Deacon, kindly dispensing with some superstitious observances to which he had objected in the ordination service, as it was then administered ; and giving him a licence to preach : he made him also a Prebend of St. Paul's Cathedral.
In this preaching office' says Foxe, by the space of three years, how faithfully Bradford walked, how diligently he laboured, many parts of England can testify. Sharply he opened and reproved sin, sweetly he preached Christ crucified, pithily he impunged heresies and errors, earnestly he persuaded to godly life. After the death of blessed young king Edward the sixth, when Queen Mary had gotten the crown, still continued Bradford diligent in preaching, until he was unjustly deprived both of his office and liberty by the Queen and her council. To the doing whereof (because they had no just cause) they took occasion to do this injury, for such an act as among Turks and Infidels would have been with thankfulness rewarded, and with great favour accepted, as indeed it did no less deserve.
I stand in silent meditation in the busiest thoroughfare of the busiest city of the world. The rolling carriages, the rattling carts, the hurrying throng of foot passengers, and the loud ceaseless hum that rises on every side are scarcely heeded by me. My mind is occupied with the thoughts of by-gone days. The grand and magnificent Cathedral which now stands before me has disappeared, and in the place of the gigantic dome, and the beautiful towers and stately porticoes of its Corinthian architecture, and all the stately proportions of the vast and wide spread edifice, the old cathedral of St. Paul's has arisen-a noble gothic pile with an unrivalled spire. I see the Lollard's tower surmounting the cathedral walls on the west, and here, on the eastern side stands Paul's cross. A preacher enters its stone pulpit, and the crowd stand in silence listening to his sermon—but soon a murmur rises and spreads among the throng. The preacher has not only given his undis
guised commendation to popish errors, he has dared to cast aspersions on the name of the young and godly Edward the sixth, whose beloved memory is embalmed in the hearts of the hearers, and the murmurs of the people have burst forth into a tumult, and the shouts of angry voices are mingled with groans and hisses ; vainly does the Lord Mayor exert his authority to restrain the rage of the people, vainly the fierce and bloated Bishop Bonner scowls and blusters. The burst of popular indignation yields to no such interposition, a dagger is hurled at the preacher. In another moment he has withdrawn himself, and the pulpit is occupied by one who has only to be seen to calm the tumult with his gentle presence. “Bradford. Bradford! God save thy life, Bradford !' is the cry which now resounds, and gradually the storm of popular rage subsides, as every eye is fixed upon that calm sweet countenance, where the eloquent blood gives its pure glow to the cheek and lip of the speaker, as with mild energy he pleads with the people, and gravely commands them to disperse, and retire peaceably to their houses. It was at the entreaty of Bourne, * the preacher who had given such offence that John Bradford had come forward. He had been standing behind him, and the dagger that was aimed at Bourne had rent his sleeve and well nigh wounded him. But Bradford did more than interpose from the pulpit to save the preacher's life. Yielding a second time to his urgent desire, he with Rogers guarded Bourne till he reached the school master's house, which was next to the pulpit, in safety, Bradford keeping close behind him, and shadowing him with his gown from the people, and so he brought him in safety away.
The greater part of the multitude had by this time quitted the spot, but many still lingered about, burning with anger at the attack which Bourne had made upon the king, who had been so deservedly loved by his people. “Bradford, Bradford,' said one gentleman, as they passed by, thou savest him that will help to burn thee. I assure thee, that if it were not for thee, I would run him through with my sword.'
The same Sunday in the afternoon, Bradford, as Foxe relates, preached at the Bow Church in Cheapside, and notwithstanding a private warning which he received, not to run so great a risk with the people who were still deeply incensed, he did not scruple with godly faithfulness to rebuke them sharply for their seditious outbreak.
Is it to be credited, that from the conduct of the mild and saintly Bradford on this occasion, a serious charge was brought against him of sedition, and of taking upon himself to govern the people. Within three days of that same Sunday, he was taken in custody, and committed to the tower, where the Queen then was, to answer before the council. His enemies did indeed prove themselves to be put to a hard shift to find any cause of accusation against him, when they were forced to ground their charge upon a deed of christian love.
He had perilled his life, and exerted the influence, which God had given him over the people, to whom he had preached the gospel in all love and faithfulness for three years, in order to save a fellow-creature from a violent death : and for this he was called to account as a criminal. Well did he exemplify the words of the apostle: “If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye,” _“for it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing." He was removed from prison to prison during the next fifteen months ; but wherever he went, like the godly Daniel, God “brought him into favor and tender love” with those around him. And thus prison was scarcely a prison to this gentle follower of Christ, for he inspired his very gaolers with so perfect a confidence in his truth and uprightness, that he had license, upon his promise, oftentimes to go in and out ; and during his imprisonment, both in the King's Bench, and the Poultry Compter, he was permitted to preach twice a day continually, until sickness prevented him. In his chamber the sacrament was often administered, and many good persons were admitted to be present on such occasions; so that his chamber was often crowded with christian worshippers and hearers. Preaching, reading, and praying was all his occupation, and his continual study was upon his knees. In the midst of dinner,' says Foxe, ‘he often used to muse with himself, having his hat over his eyes, from whence came commonly plenty of tears, dropping on his trencher : very gentle he was to man and child, and in so good credit with his keeper, that at his desire in an evening, he had license, to return again that night, to go without any keeper to visit one that was sick. Neither did he fail his promise, but returned to his prison again, rather preventing his hour than breaking his fidelity: so constant was he in word and in deed.
* Afterward Bishop of Path.
The description of his person has been given by the honest old historian, and our readers may like to look upon it even as they would upon a painter's portrait, for his outward frame seems to have been a fitting tenement for his inward spirit. "Of personage, he was somewhat tall and slender, spare of body, of a faint sanguine color. with an auburn beard. We see him, keeping this description in our minds, in his first interview with the wily Lord Chancellor, Gardiner and the other commissioners, in the council chamber of the tower of London,—as he rose up from kneeling down on his knee, in token of respect towards the Council, when the Lord Chancellor had bidden him to stand up. Whilst he stood there, we are told that Gardiner fixed his eyes upon him with a settled searching stare, as if he would have belike over-faced him,' by earnestly looking upon him. But Bradford shrunk not from the searching look. 'He gave him no place, that is, he ceased not in like manner to look on the Lord Chancellor still continually, save that once he cast up his eyes to heaven-ward, sighed for God's grace, and so overfaced him.'
The first charge brought against him, was his seditious interposition for Bourne, at Paul's cross, for which he had been thrown into prison, but this was too absurd for them to make much of it. A new accusation had arisen during his long continued abode in prison. They charged him with having done more harm by his letters and treatise's written from his prison, than by all his preaching and proceedings when at large. And here I may remark, that Bradford might have said with the great apostle, when referring to the influence that he had exerted during his confinement in prison : “the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather to the furtherance of the gospel, so that many of the brethren of the Lord waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” “and I therefore do rejoice, yea and will rejoice.” For surely in those most holy and lovely writings, the Church of Christ possesses a treasure scarcely to
be exceeded in value by any other uninspired records. To these vain charges was added, the old complaint and accusation-brought against almost every one of our godly Reformers, without exception-his true and scriptural doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper, as overturning the idolatrous and monstrous doctrine of the mass. With admirable wisdom-truly it was the wisdom of the serpent combined with the innocence of the dove-Bradford met the varied and subtle arguments of those who entered into discussion with him. He was never for a moment thrown off his guard, nor would he, however strongly urged, seek a conference with any man among them, being determined never to admit that his own faith was not settled, or that he needed any confirmation from discussion with them. At last, he boldly threw off all the guards and fences, to which he had been compelled in such discussions, and manfully avowed his faith without fear of consequences. His beautiful answer must not be passed over.
Wilt thou have mercy,' was the question put to him. “I desire mercy with God's mercy,' was his reply, but mercy with God's wrath, God keep me from. At length he was condemned to die, and how finely is he described by Foxe, as receiving the announcement of his execution as about to take place on the following day, when brought to him by the kind-hearted and weeping wife of his gaoler. Reverently raising up his cap, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, 'I thank God for it. I have looked for the same a long time, and therefore it cometh not now to me suddenly, but as a thing waited for every day and hour ; the Lord make me worthy thereof."
He was burned in Smithfield with one John Leaf, a young man twenty years of age ; at the stake, he addressed the people in these words. Oh! England repent thee of thy sins ;-beware of idolatry; -beware of false antichrists ;-take heed they do not deceive you.' The last words he was heard to utter were : “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The bystanders heard no more : but as one who has written concerning him, observes ; “they saw that he endured the flame, as a fresh gale of wind on a hot summer's day.'
How nobly did Bradford thus bring into life and action his own words in his Treatise against the fear of death :— Embrace him,” he writes, ‘make him good cheer, for of all enemies, he is the least. An enemy, said I, pay, rather of all friends he is the best, for he brings thee out of all danger of enemies, into that most sure and safe place of thy unfeigned Friend for ever.
Seeing it is the ordinance of God, and comes not, but by the will of God, even to a sparrow, much more then unto us, who are incomparably much more dear than many sparrows; and since this will of God is not only just but also good, for He is our Father-let us, if there were no other cause but this, submit ourselves, our senses, and judgments unto His pleasure, being content to come out of the room of our soldiership, whenever He shall send for us, by His pursuivant, death.'
Charles B. Tayler. St. Peter's, Chester,