As many other English Protestants during Mary I’s reign, Bradford knew his prospects for martyrdom were high. To prepare himself and others, he wrote A Very Godly Prayer of one Standing at the Stake Ready to be Burnt for Christ’s Gospel’s Sake, where he remembered how Jesus also experienced “fear and need by the reason of death, and found comfort” in calling his Father.
From Treasurer to Preacher
A native of Manchester, John Bradford (c. 1510-1555) started his career as vice-treasurer of the English army in France. An accusation of fraud (which he strongly contested) became the catalyst for a departure from a career for which he already felt unsuited. In 1547, he enrolled at the Inner Temple School of Law in London.
The fraud accusations might have had some merit, because the preaching of Hugh Latimer (c. 1485–1555) persuaded Bradford to make restitution. He also sold some of his goods and gave the proceeds to the poor. After this, he devoted himself completely to the study of Scriptures. In 1548, he was admitted at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he met the Strasbourgh theologian Martin Bucer.
Bucer encouraged Bradford to become a preacher. This judgment was confirmed by the bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley (c. 1502-1555), who had met Bradford at Cambridge. In spite of Bradford’s protest of inadequacy, Ridley ordained him deacon on August 10, licensed him to preach, and appointed him chaplain. Bradford preached both in London and in other English regions, especially in southern Lancashire, where he attracted large crowds.
In 1553, after the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor became queen, he was arrested and imprisoned for his beliefs. He was moved around different cells of the Tower of London, then sent to a prison in Southwark, south London, known as “The King’s Bench.” His meek personality gained him the favor of the jailer, who allowed him to preach twice daily to other prisoners, and even to administer the sacraments.
A Crucial Debate
While all the prisoners at the King’s Bench were charged with heresy, they didn’t all hold the same convictions. The greatest controversy arose around the issue of free will – an age-old question which had intensified with the Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone. If faith and salvation are gifts of God and not a result of works (as Ephesians 8-9states), does man have any part in it? Can anyone choose to be saved, or contribute to his own salvation?