There Goes John Bradford!

There must be something very heinous in the nature of sin thus to awaken grief and abhorrence in every virtuous mind. To be indifferent to the moral character of those around us, if such a state of mind is possible, is proof of a sad benumbing of all virtuous sensibilities. To take pleasure in those, who make a trade of sin, and do abominable wickedness–is full proof of one’s loving iniquity for its own sake. But why does the Christian weep for the sins of others? He may do it as a man. Some sins bring shame, and poverty, and punishment on those who commit them; and all, who are connected with them, are to some extent involved in suffering. In this way the pious and the ungodly members of a family often weep together over the intemperance, or other ruinous and disgraceful vice of one of their number. But the good man stops not here. He weeps as a Christian. He is greatly grieved that God is dishonored. This is the main cause of all his grief. And as he is benevolent, he is sorry that men will expose themselves to Jehovah’s curse. It makes him tremble to see men pulling down wrath on themselves. He is also grieved at the probable ill effects of a bad example, in seducing others from the right way. He is specially afflicted at the blindness and wantonness of sinners, in despising mercy, rejecting Christ and vexing the Holy Spirit. Self-love commonly steps not in to shut the eyes of a Christian to the hatefulness of sin, when he sees it in others. When others sin, godly men see what they themselves were before conversion, or what they would have been, but for the restraints of God’s grace. Bradford, an eminent servant of Christ, seeing a criminal led to execution said, "There goes John Bradford–but for the grace of God!"

Can any man thus see himself mirrored forth in the life of another, and not be humbled and grieved? Should he, who thus transgresses, be a professor of Christ’s religion, and eminent in gifts or station, the anguish felt is the more keen, because God is thus greatly dishonored, Christ is wounded in the house of his friends, the enemy takes occasion to utter new and bitter reproaches against religion, and the wicked are greatly emboldened in wrong-doing. Such a lapse commonly shakes all those secure thoughts, which men have of their own spiritual state, and awakens jealousies over one’s self, which are like coals of juniper. If David fell, much more may a weak believer. If the tempest tears up cedars by the roots, what shall become of the tender plants? If a giant may be overcome, how much more a child? So that the open sins of professors, in proportion to their eminence, lead God’s people to great heart-searchings and strong fears lest hidden iniquity should at last be their ruin. Let it be so; for "if the sins of others be not our fear, they may be our practice. What the best have done, the weakest may imitate. There is scarcely any notorious sin, into which self-confidence may not plunge us. There is hardly any sin, from which a holy and watchful fear may not happily preserve us." O that men would remember that, "Blessed is he who fears always." Preservation from sin is better than recovery from its snares. A man may escape death by a malignant pestilence, but it will probably leave him weak and liable to other diseases.

How surely will a wise man profit by the errors of others! "In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." When the land is full of enemies, no wise man says, "There is no danger." Of all unamiable and unchristian tempers none is more dangerous to its possessor than harshness to a fallen brother, founded on confidence in our own strength. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such an one, in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." We cannot pity erring men too much, but in the abhorrence of sin there is no danger of excess, nor can we pray too fervently, nor watch too closely against falling into the evil practices, which we lament in others.

– Wm. S. Plumer, The Grace of Christ, or, Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness