“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
A 16th-century English church Reformer named John Bradford allegedly said, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford,” as he watched executioners lead his fellow prisoners to their deaths. Bradford, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his Protestant faith by Queen Mary I of England, was later burned at the stake, dying a martyr’s death.
It is said that, “Before the fire was lit, [Bradford] begged forgiveness of any he had wronged, and offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him. He subsequently turned to his fellow and said, ‘Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!'” (Wikipedia).
What an amazing man of God!
Forgiveness was the last sentiment Bradford felt, not judgement. How easy it would have been for him to judge those who harmed him, but instead, as he stood chained to a stake facing his accusers, this man echoed the words his Lord had spoken a century and a half before. Just as when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) as He hung on that cross, Bradford spoke words of love in the face of hate. Words of mercy and grace in the face of great darkness. And words of forgiveness in the face of unimaginable persecution.
From Bradford’s quote, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford,” came the well-known statement, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Bradford didn’t look upon the offenses of his fellow prisoners with condemnation, though he had every opportunity to do so. He—being a righteous man, imprisoned for his faith in Christ—didn’t judge those around him for their sins. He didn’t compare his sins to others, considering himself greater than the other inmates, but instead, he knew his place. He knew he was no better than any other. He knew that apart from God’s grace, we are all capable of doing the unthinkable.
And I think that just may be the key. Perhaps humbly accepting our propensity to sin is the very thing that protects us from sin. Maybe recognizing our proclivity toward sin is what enables us to keep a humble heart. To judge ourselves with sober judgment. To not think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3). All of which should drive us to God. When we rightfully believe we’re capable of doing things we never thought we could, we begin to understand what I believe Bradford understood—our incredible need for God’s amazing grace. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10), and he was right. It is by grace alone that we stand … that I stand.
We are all prone to folly; we are all prone to sin. And so, it is not our place to judge.
Laurie Coombs is a passionate writer and speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption and the hope found in Jesus. She is the author of Letters From My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness, an incredible true story of grace, mercy and the redemptive power of God. Her story was featured in Billy Graham’s film, Heaven, as well as on many other national and regional radio and television programs. She is a contributor to Zondervan’s NIV Bible for Women and writes at lauriecoombs.org, ibelieve.com, and crosswalk.com. Laurie and her husband, Travis, make their home in Nevada along with their two daughters. To connect with Laurie, please visit lauriecoombs.org or find her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.