May God give us many ripples for justice in the world through the God wrought holiness He produces in our hearts.
John Bradford’s Restitution
Sitting at the king’s court under the proclamation of God’s Word in autumn 1547, John Bradford felt decidedly uncomfortable. The preacher’s words on integrity and the need for personal and national financial probity stirred up his conscience. He left court that day knowing that change was required, change that would be both public and costly.
Bradford was born c.1510 in Manchester. As a young man he worked as paymaster for Sir John Harrington, the commander of Henry VIII’s army in Boulogne during the 1544 French campaign. In this period, Bradford was implicated in a transaction in which the king was defrauded. It appears that public money, intended for the army, found its way into Harrington’s pocket. No one is clear quite how involved Bradford was. It is possible that he was simply an observer, although given his position he may well have been personally active in the affair. Whichever is the case, Bradford certainly kept quiet about what had happened. The incident appeared to be forgotten, until, in 1547, shortly after the accession of Edward VI, he entered London’s Inner Temple as a student of Law.
At about this time, Bradford was converted and came under the preaching of Hugh Latimer. Latimer was embarked on a series of sermons at court and in London churches; these contained a strong emphasis on social criticism, and particularly on financial abuses that were rife in the nation. Few of Latimer’s
sermons from this time survive, and we cannot be sure which it was that had such a marked impact on Bradford. Nevertheless, one of his friends, a certain Sampson, describes the effect of Latimer’s preaching on the young convert:Master Latimer . . . did earnestly speak of restitution to be made of things falsely gotten. This did so strike him to the heart [as a result of his part in Harrington’s crime] that he could never be quiet till by the advice of the same Master Latimer a restitution was made.1
Such was Bradford’s zeal to make restitution for his crime that he pleaded with Harrington to repay the money, sacrificed some property he had inherited from his father, and even offered himself as a bondservant so that he could make restitution himself. Under this pressure from Bradford, Harrington was finally forced to make restitution to the king in two payments in the years 1549 and 1550.
Thanks to Latimer’s faithful exposition of God’s Word, Bradford recognized that Christian duty goes far wider than mere personal religious beliefs. True repentance involves concern for public justice and the reversal, wherever possible, of previous wrongs. Taking a stand as salt and light may lead to suffering, as the lives of unbelievers are impacted by God’s demands, but the ripple effect of personal righteousness may also lead to social transformation, as biblical injunctions are worked out in public life.
1 Cited in J.C. Ryle, Five English Reformers (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 122.