John Bradford on the Law and Gospel

Below are excerpts from a Preface by John Bradford, which deals with the distinction between the law and the Gospel. The Preface is entitled Preface to the Places of Artopeus (Note: for those who would like to read the full Preface click here: Preface to the Places of Artopeus).

This Preface, most likely translated by Bradford, is one of his earliest compositions. It was published by Bradford in 1548. From the cover, the editors write, “He died at the stake in Smithfield, London, on July 1, 1555, enduring the flame ‘as a fresh gale of wind in a hot summer’s day, confirming by his death the truth of that doctrine he had so diligently and powerfully preached during his life.'”

Excerpts of the Division of the Places of the Law and of the Gospel:

Here hast thou, good reader, the Division of the Places of the Law and of the Gospel, gathered out of the holy scriptures by the godly learned man master Petrus Artopeus: which (the Places of the Law and Gospel, I mean) whoso truly understandeth, cannot by any man’s doctrine be seduced from the truth, or read the scriptures but to edify both himself and others: whereas he that is ignorant of the same cannot, though he were a great doctor of divinity, and could rehearse every text of the bible without book, but both be deceived, and deceive others; as the experience hereof (the more pity) hath taught, nay, seduced the whole world. For how can it be, that such as find no terror of conscience, and see not their just damnation in the law of God, which commandenth things impossible to man’s nature and power; how can it be, I say, that such should find sweetness in the Gospel of Christ ? How can the benefit of Christ shew itself to him that needeth it not? What needeth the whole man the physician (Matt. ix.)? “The law,” saith St Paul, “was our schoolmaster unto Christ.” But unto such as perceive and feel (Gal. iii.) not the law, how is it a schoolmaster unto Christ? How is the law a schoolmaster unto such as will not learn? How have they learned, which think the law not to be impossible for man to fulfil? Or else, if they had looked on it, which is a spiritual doctrine, with spiritual eyes, would they have stirred any time contentions about the justification of faith? Would they have taught any satisfactions, which man can do, towards God, if they had learned the law?…

Wherefore, I pray you, say you mass? Is not the mass, as you have taught and as you say it, a sacrifice propitiatory to take away sins, both of the quick and dead? Where is this taught you? Doth this law bring to Christ? Yea, you will say, for we offer there Christ. And St Paul saith (Heb. vii.), “Christ offered himself once for all.” (The nature of the law) But, I pray you, look on the nature of the law, which is, by God’s teaching and speaking, to open to man the ‘poison of his own heart: the law will not leave man in arrogancy or presumption, but will rather bring him to desperation. The law pulleth man down, and leadeth him into hell’s mouth, as it is written, “Thou art he that leadest to hell, (Psal. xxx.)” &c. The law filleth man full of grief and heaviness; and, if succour come not from heaven, full of blasphemy even against God and his ordinances, as the history of Job, well weighed of a godly wit, will declare. Thus, you see, the law, where she is schoolmaster, bringeth man into all humbleness of mind at the least

Take heed, good reader (Mark this.), therefore, if thou be sanctified, purged from thy sins, anointed with the Holy Ghost, and made the child of God, it is done all by that one oblation of Christ’s body on the cross, brought in to thee by the faith that thou hast in the same oblation. Or, if that thou be not now sanctified, if ever thou look to be sanctified or saved, it must be only by this work, wrought of Christ in his own person…

For he that feeleth the law working in his heart, can never be satisfied, but despair, except the gospel and joyful tidings of Christ be brought unto him. In this book, therefore, thou hast the places of the Law and the Gospel divided, wherein I exhort thee to prove thyself. For though thou learnest them by heart, yet that is not the thing which maketh happy: for so the other men which make Christ but a party (i.e., in part) saviour, could do. But if thou wilt profit, it behoveth thee to have experience and practice of them. Prove, therefore, thyself in the law: see if the texts and sentences of the law do fear thee, make thee dread, yea, tremble and quake at the justice of God: for God himself hath spoken it, and his word must needs be true, “Heaven and earth shall pass, afore one tittle or iota of the law unperformed,” (Matt. v.). For in whose heart the law worketh no fear, yea, horrible fear of God’s wrath, surely they are in an evil case. Unto such the doctrine is no law, nor God is no God: their hearts be hardened, God unto them seemeth false: for if they knew, that God would damn all such as walk not in his ways, they would not do as they do; they would not only leave off their wickedness, but also in looking in the law they would horribly fear the vengeance of God for transgressing the law. But, alas! it is to be pitied, it is to be lamented: we ought to fear the plagues of God hanging over our heads. For notwithstanding God’s most abundant mercy upon us, which should provoke us to repentance, when or where was there more security, and less fear of God, than is even in this realm of England at this day?…

Therefore, I say, take to thee the glass of God’s law; look therein, and thou shalt see thy just damnation, and God’s wrath for sin, which, if thou dreadest, will drive thee not only to an amendment, but also to a sorrow and hatred of thy wickedness, and even to the brim of despair, out of which nothing can bring thee but the glad tidings of Christ, that is, the gospel: for as God’s word doth bind thee, so can nothing but God’s word unbind thee; and until thou comest to this point, thou knowest nothing of Christ. Therefore, exercise thyself in this book. Make unto thee a sure foundation; begin at the Law: and if it fear thee, and bring thee to hell’s mouth in consideration of thy sin and sinful nature, then come to Christ, come to the gospel: then shalt thou be a good scholar, and praise thy schoolmaster: then shalt thou feel the benefit of Christ; then shalt thou love him, and thy neighbour for his sake. Then will it make thine ears to glow, and thy heart to bleed, to hear or see any thing set in Christ’s place. Then shalt thou look for the coming of thy Lord, and weep to hear his name evil spoken of. The which thing he grant for his mercy’s sake. AMEN.

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