In many ways, King Edward VI represented the Protestant hope of reformation in England. Edward was young, he was smart, he was sympathetic to the Protestants, and he put his royal money where his mouth was. But he was human, and a weak one. In the summer of 1553, at the age of 15, King Edward was struck ill and died. And so died much of the Protestant momentum.
Only a few days after his death, Edward’s sister, Mary I, became queen. Known as “Bloody Mary,” her first official acts were to reverse Edward’s pro-Protestant support, and for those laboring towards religious reform in England this meant that all hell was about to break loose.
In the week between the death of Edward VI and the beginning of Mary’s reign, John Bradford edited a sermon for the printer: “A Sermon of Repentance.” The death of Edward was a clear indication, Bradford wrote, that, “great and heavy is God’s anger against us.” If God took the life of their beloved king, what must God think of the sinfulness of the average man and woman? Bradford said, “now I beseech you all, all, all, and every mother’s child, to repent and lament your sin, to trust in God’s mercy, and to amend your lives.”
But that was all just a long intro to get to the sermon excerpt I want to feature today. The language is dated, but it’s worth your time to read it a few times. Toward the end of the sermon, as Bradford is calling sinners to trust in Christ he says the following about the grace and mercy of God in Christ:
O love incomprehensible! Who can otherwise think now but, if the gracious good Lord disdained not to give his own Son, his own heart’s joy, for us his very enemies, before we thought to beg any such thing at his hands, … who, I say, can think otherwise but that with him he will give us all good things? If, when we hated him and fled away from him, he sent his Son to seek us; who can think otherwise than that now we loving him, and lamenting because we love him no more, but that he will forever love us? He that gives the more to his enemies, will not he give the less, to you, to his friends? God hath given his own Son, than which thing nothing is greater, to us his enemies: and, we now being become his friends, will he deny us faith and pardon of our sins, which, though they be great, yet in comparison they are nothing at all? …
Jesus Christ gave his life for our evils, and by his death delivered us. O then, in that he lives now and cannot die, will he forsake us? His heart’s blood was not too dear for us when we asked it not: what can then be now too dear for us asking it? Is he a changeling? Is he mutable as man is? Can he repent him of his gifts? Did he not foresee our falls? Paid not he therefore the price? Because he saw we should fall sore, therefore would he suffer sore.
Yea, if his sufferings had not been enough, he would yet once more come again. God the Father, I am sure, if the death of his Son incarnate would not serve, would himself and the Holy Ghost also become incarnate, and die for us. This death of Christ therefore look on as the very pledge of God’s love towards thee, whosoever thou art, how deep soever thou hast sinned.
See, God’s hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee; his feet also, he cannot run from thee: his arms are wide open to embrace thee; his head hangs down to kiss thee; his very heart is open! So that therein see, search, look, spy; and you shall see nothing therein but love, love, love, love to thee. *
Under Mary’s reign, nearly 300 Protestants would by martyred. Bradford was one of them, burned at the stake in the summer of 1555. But not before Bradford traveled the country, proclaiming repentance and the free grace of our Savior Jesus Christ.
* The Writings of John Bradford (Cambridge 1853), 1:75—76.