In this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, Stephen Nichols tells the story of the dishonest clerk who became a martyr.
Our study of the three British martyrs concludes with a look at Chaplain Bradford. John Bradford was born in Manchester, England, around 1510. He was headed for a career as a clerk and he did very well. In fact, he served as a clerk for Henry VIII and also served in the Inner Temple, a professional association for barristers in England. There he also studied law and heard the preaching of the Reformers. He was convicted by this preaching. In fact, he realized that he was not always an honest clerk, and upon hearing the gospel, he sought, as Bishop Hugh Latimer said, “the restitution of stolen goods.” So, we have a true testimony to his repentance.
He left the Inner Temple and went to pursue an education at Cambridge. He wanted to become a minister of God’s Word, and he did. In 1551, Nicholas Ridley, who was the bishop of London, called Bradford to join him in London, where he became part of a company of six royal chaplains. So, we can rightly call him Chaplain Bradford. He had this post for two years.
Of course, as we’ve seen in the lives of our two previous martyrs, in 1553, Edward VI died and Mary I came to the throne. And like all of those Reformers and all of those bishops and pastors, John Bradford too was sent to the Tower of London. During his early imprisonment, he shared a cell with Thomas Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley. They encouraged on another as they suffered in their imprisonment. They were held simply to give them time to rethink their position and recant.Toward the end of his imprisonment, Bradford was taken out of their cell and was imprisoned very briefly with Dr. Rowland Taylor. Bradford said he was overjoyed to be with Taylor and called him “an angel of God.”
On January 31, 1555, Bradford was condemned as a heretic. He was given an opportunity to recant, and he refused. Unlike some of the other martyrs, he was held there for many months. In fact, it was not until July that Chaplain Bradford was executed. The idea was again to give him time, in the hope that he would rethink his position, see all of the other martyrdoms, and recant. The hope was that recantations would then help to sink the Reformation among the common people.
But Chaplain Bradford would not recant. So, on July 1, 1555, he was led to his martyrdom. He was burned at the stake, and John Foxe records for us that he cried out, “O England, England, repent you of your sins, repent you of your sins! Beware of idolatry, beware of false antichrists: take heed that they do not deceive you.” One of Bradford’s biographers has a great line; he says of Bradford that “he lived a long life in a short period of time.”
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