JOHN BRADFORD, (c. 1510-1555)
from
A History of Preaching
by
F. R. Webber

John Bradford was born about the year 1510 in Manchester. He received an excellent general education, and secured a position with Sir John Harrington, royal paymaster to the English forces in France. Certain financial irregularities were discovered in which Bradford was not directly implicated, but which led to his resignation. He went to London, where he heard a sermon on restitution, by Hugh Latimer. Although Bradford was not actively involved in the scandal, yet he became convinced that he had acted dishonestly in concealing his master's fraudulent transactions. According to one account, he insisted that Sir John make proper restitution of the funds obtained by fraud. Another account stated that Bradford himself restored the funds to the King's treasury when his master was unable to do so.

In 1547 Bradford was admitted to the Inner Temple for the study of law. A year later he turned to theology, and entered St. Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, from which he was graduated in 1549 by special grace, due to the fact that he was about 39 years of age, and had eight years of previous academic study to his credit. He was elected fellow of Pembroke Hall during the same year. Martin Bucer, who came to Cambridge in 1550, recognized the ability of Bradford, and urged him to preach. With some misgivings the latter consented, and was ordained in 1550, and made chaplain to Bishop Ridley, at Fulham, and in 1551 prebend of Kentish Town. In 1553 he was made one of King Edward VI's six chaplains in ordinary. In preaching before the King, Bradford rebuked the royal courtiers because of their worldliness, and predicted that the judgment of the Lord would overtake them if they refused to repent. John Bradford's duties led him throughout the kingdom, where he preached with great acceptance. . . .

John Bradford was one of the most noted preachers of Edward VI's reign. It has been said that he reproved sin sharply, preached the grace of God sweetly, condemned heresy and error fearlessly and urged all to godly living. Two large volumes of his works have been published. This collection contains two notable sermons, a number of meditations, letters and admonitions to various people and places.

When confined in the Tower, then in King's Bench prison in Southwark and in Comptergate prison, Bradford did not cease to preach. At King's Bench and Comptergate he preached twice every day, and celebrated Holy Communion from time to time. The keepers of both prisons permitted the public to attend his services. Bradford was not an expository preacher, yet his sermons and meditations are thoroughly Scriptural. Some of his meditations and his admonitions contain numerous quotations from the Scriptures. Bradford's sermons are simple in their structural outline, clear and direct in their language, possessed of spiritual warmth to a degree, and in the matter of direct appeal his writings are most noteworthy. Sometimes three or four paragraphs are devoted to urgent appeals to his hearers to put into active practice the truths that he has set before them.

It was said of Bradford that he accounted that time lost which was not spent in doing good, either with his pen, in study or in the exhortation of others. He allowed himself but four or five hours of sleep, and spent the remaining time in reading, writing or preaching. He ate but one meal a day while in prison, so that he might be able to distribute his prison fare to others. Even thieves and pick-pockets confined in the prisons were not overlooked. He shared his food with them, preached to them and conversed with them frequently, encouraging them to repent and to lead useful lives. . . .

Bradford's manner of preaching is well illustrated in his Sermon on the Lord's Supper, which may be found in his published writings. In the introduction he declares that there are two Sacraments: Holy Baptism, by which we are enrolled in the household and family of God, and the Lord's Supper, by which we are conserved, fed, kept and nourished. He divides his sermon into three parts: I. Who did institute this Sacrament? II. What the thing is which was instituted? III. Wherefore, and to what end it was instituted?

His discussion is clear and logical. For example, under the second main head he presents nine reasons why one cannot accept transubstantiation. He declares that the bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine, yet the true Body and Blood are there, in a manner which he says is "not corporal, but spiritual, figurative, sacramental or mystical; for now it is no common bread nor common wine, being ordained to serve for the food of the soul.". . .

John Bradford was "a man of bold and daring energy who had great power of command over an audience. Filled with the spirit of God and with a passionate love for Christ and the souls of men, wherever he was announced to preach the people crowded round him, their beating hearts responding to his burning words."


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