There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford. ~ John Bradford
The exact origin of the saying: There, but for the grace of God, go I is unclear. Most attribute it to a derivation of something John Bradford said during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. Bradford is thought to have said There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford as he witnessed a group of prisoners being led to their execution. Bradford, who was later martyred himself, was known as a kind and gentle man.
There, but for the grace of God, go I is something I’ve heard a lot. It sounds good on the surface, but it’s always bothered me.
On the one hand, I do think there are a few, like John Bradford, who are truly compassionate. They step down from the judgement seat and say Given the right combination of events, that could be me.
But more often there seems to be an underlying tone… Thank God, at least I didn’t do that. At least I didn’t go there!
Jesus told a story about it in Luke 18:
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
So the question is where is my there? Where but for the grace of God haven’t I been? And what about those who are there? When I can identify that place I need to tread very carefully in my heart, lest I, like the Pharisee, become a stone collector.