Christopher Love (1618-1651)

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson

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Christopher Love was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1618. At the age of fourteen, he went to hear William Erbury, vicar of St. Mary’s in Cardiff, who would later stray into mysticism. His wife later wrote how Love reacted to that sermon: “God met with him and gave him such a sight of his sins and his undone condition that he returned home with a hell in his conscience.” His father noticed his son’s depression and locked him in a room on the second floor of the house to prevent him from attending church the next Sabbath. Love tied a cord to the window, slid down it, and went to church. His earlier convictions deepened and he was soon converted. Against the wishes of his father but with the encouragement of Erbury, Love was admitted to New Inn Hall, Oxford, in 1635, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1639. Love then moved to London and became chaplain to Sheriff Warner. He met the sheriff’s ward, Mary Stone, the daughter of a London merchant; he married her, and the Loves had five children: two girls who died early in life, and three boys. The last son was born thirteen days after Love’s death. Love was the first clergyman to refuse subscription to the canons of Archbishop Laud (1640). That action resulted in his suspension, but just prior to the suspension going into effect, Love received the call of the parish of St. Anne and St. Agnes within Aldersgate, London. The bishop of London, however, would not allow Love to accept this call because Love had not been ordained. A staunch Presbyterian, Love declined Episcopal ordination. He went to Scotland to seek Presbyterian ordination, but was refused because he had no call to a church there. Returning from Scotland in 1641, Love was put in prison because of the sermon he preached at Newcastle denouncing the errors of The Book of Common Prayer and superstitious ceremonies in the Church of England. For some months, Love preached to large crowds through his prison bars. Eventually, he was moved to London, tried in the king’s court, and acquitted. Love then returned to Oxford in 1642 to acquire a Master of Arts degree, but was expelled from the university for his Nonconformity. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was made chaplain to Colonel John Venn’s regiment. He became preacher to the garrison of Windsor Castle, ministering to many people during the plague. Some political leaders were offended by Love’s sermons, though those of Puritan persuasion were usually impressed. William Twisse, later prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly was so moved by Love’s preaching that he invited Love to live in his home and use his library, although that never materialized. Love was finally ordained as a Presbyterian in 1645, at St. Mary’s Aldermanbury, London, which enabled him to work as a pastor at St. Ann and St. Agnes, Aldersgate. After preaching there for three years, Love became minister of St. Lawrence Jewry (about 600 feet from St. Ann’s). He earned a great reputation for his eloquence and vigor in preaching, though he continued to offend Independents. Love was one of the youngest members of the Westminster Assembly, but he was not very active in the proceedings. His attendance there was sporadic. Love was arrested on May 14, 1652, by Oliver Cromwell’s forces for alleged involvement with the Presbyterians of Scotland who were raising money for the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. Love denied the charge, but he was tried and convicted of treason for what has become known as “Love’s plot.” Love’s wife and numerous friends, including several prominent ministers in London, interceded on his behalf, but to no avail. Ardent republican Independents were determined to destroy him. Love was beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on August 22, 1651, at the age of thirtythree. Presbyterians were divided on the issue. Some were incensed, and regarded Love as a heroic martyr. Others were less sympathetic to Love’s cause. In the end, the Scots and some English, like Love, were badly deceived by Charles II’s supposed adherence to the “Covenant.” Even Thomas Watson, who was involved with Love in the plot to some degree, later had second thoughts about the affair. In a moving address from the scaffold, Love answered the charges made against him and urged citizens of London to heed and love their godly ministers. Sheriff Tichburn granted him permission to pray. He prayed: Most Glorious and eternal Majesty, Thou art righteous and holy in all Thou dost to the sons of men, though Thou hast suffered men to condemn Thy servant, Thy servant will not condemn Thee. He justifies Thee though Thou cuttest him off in the midst of his days and in the midst of his ministry, blessing Thy glorious name, that though he be taken away from the land of the living, yet he is not blotted out of the Book of the Living.... O Thou blessed God, whom Thy creature hath served, who hath made Thee his hope and his confidence from his youth, forsake him not now while he is drawing near to Thee. Now he is in the valley of the shadow of death; Lord, be Thou life to him. Smile Thou upon him while men frown upon him. Lord, Thou hast settled this persuasion in his heart that as soon as ever the blow is given to divide his head from his body he shall be united to his Head in heaven. Blessed be God that Thy servant dies in these hopes. We entreat Thee, O Lord, think upon Thy poor churches. O that England might live in Thy sight! And O that London might be a faithful city to Thee! That righteousness might be among them, that peace and plenty might be within her walls and prosperity within their habitations. Lord, heal the breaches of these nations; make England and Scotland as one staff in the Lord’s hand, that Ephraim may not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim, but that both may fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines. O that men of the Protestant religion, engaged in the same cause and covenant, might not delight to spill each other’s blood, but might engage against the common adversaries of our religion and liberty! God, show mercy to all that fear Thee. The Lord think upon our covenant-keeping brethren of the Kingdom of Scotland; keep them faithful to Thee, and let not them that have invaded them overspread their whole land. Prevent the shedding of more Christian blood if it seems good in Thine eyes.... After the public prayer, Love thanked the sheriff, and said, “I go from a block to the bosom of my Savior.” Love called for the executioner and tipped him to encourage a beheading with one blow. He fell on his knees and said, “I lie down with a world of comfort as if I were to lie down in my bed. My bed is but a short sleep, and this death is a long sleep where I shall rest in Abraham’s bosom and in the embraces of the Lord Jesus.” His last words, just before he put his head on the block, were, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.” Thomas Manton, a fellow Presbyterian and Love’s good friend, preached at Love’s funeral to a huge audience. Love’s wife wrote 140 pages of memoirs about her husband. “His family looked upon him as a Moses for meekness and a Job for patience,” she wrote. “He lived too much in heaven to live long out of heaven.” Fifteen volumes of Love’s sermons were published by Edmund Calamy, Matthew Poole, and others shortly after Love’s death. For a detailed account of his life, see Don Kistler’s A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love. The title is drawn from Love’s response to the clerk’s charges at his trial: “I am this day made a spectacle to God, angels, and men, and singled out from among my brethren to be the object of some men’s indignation and insultation.”