Men of GodThe Life and Death of Christopher Love by Christopher Fales
The Life and Death of Christopher Love
A brief history of the ol’ Welsh Preacher
A Brief Sketch of the Life of Christopher Love
by Christopher Fales
The age of the Puritans is littered with many shining lights who suffered much or accomplished much for the sake of Christ. Among the role call of Puritan giants one would no doubt run across the names of men such as Jeremiah Burroughs, Richard Baxter, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Watson, Thomas Vincent, and William Ames. Yet, there is one name that is often left absent from this list altogether or little spoken of: Christopher Love. Love’s life was cut short at the age of thirty three and perhaps that is a reason we know little of him. Despite his short life, his written works far surpass the amount written by many other Puritan Divines whose names are familiar to most. It may be the case that his life was not as significant in history as was his death. The purpose of this paper is to take a glance at the life and death of this young Puritan of whom J. I. Packer said, “Christopher Love was a brilliant young Welsh preacher and a rising star in the world of Puritan ministry”
II. The Life of Christopher Love
A. His Early Life
The year was 1618 and Christopher Love was born into the world in Cardiff, an ancient city in Wales. He was the youngest of his parent’s brood but he was the child of their old age and the bearer of his father’s name. Little did they know that his life would span only a mere thirty-three years and end abruptly at the scaffold of Tower Hill.
His parents were neither rich nor poor and were thus able to provide for him a good education, although they never intended him to enter the ministry. In his childhood Love developed a passion for books and for learning, devoting “much of his time, both night and day, to his beloved studies.”
Before the age of fifteen Christopher Love had never heard a sermon. One day, for the entertaining novelty of it, he went to a service with some others to see a man in the pulpit, a Mr. William Erbery. Yet, through the sermon God gave Love such a view to his sinfulness that he went home that night in deep sorrow and fear of hell. By the time he reached his home the Lord had saved Love through His love. The change that took place during the walk home was so apparent that his father immediately took notice of it. Seeing his son in such a state of melancholy Mr. Love, Sr. advised his son to join his comrades at a gentleman’s club for their usual game. But Christopher Love would have no part in his former sinful ways.
Upon the next day Love begged leave of his father that he might attend the lecture that evening at the church. His father adamantly refused him and locked him in the high chamber of the house. Love escaped out the window by means of a makeshift rope and made his way to the church. He though it better to displease his earthly father that to offend his new heavenly Father. Such was the courage for God’s word that would lead him to his eventual death eighteen years later.
Love found fellowship with Mr. Erbery and poured forth his heart to him. Many of his friends with whom he used to enjoy vices had also come to faith in Christ and now they often gathered together in the late hours of the night for prayer and fasting, setting apart two nights a week for their devotional exercise. Once called a gambler, he was now called a “little puritan.” All of this brought much grief to his father. Seeing the father’s new disdain for his son, Mr. Erbery requested permission to have young Christopher Love live with him that he might further instruct him in his education and take proper care of him. Mr. Love consented.
B. His Studies and Early Ministries
Life with Mr. Erbery worked out nicely. In time he took his leave to attend studies at Oxford in preparation for a life in the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His father consented, but with much displeasure. The only support his father gave was a horse on which he could ride to Oxford. However, his mother secretly supplied him with a little financial assistance. Mr. Erbery also endeavored to assist the lad. Upon his arrival at Oxford on July 29, 1635  he choose Mr. Christopher Rogers as his tutor. Rogers had been described to Love as the “arch-puritan” and thus was the reason for his selection. Love threw himself full force into his studies, often depriving himself of sleep and recreation. Yet, there remained for some time during this period in his life a sorrow for the years he had spent in sin. His heart was greatly burdened and with few friends to turn to for comfort he learned to turn to the grace of God. Through it all Love developed a zeal for God’s word and church. He spent hours at Saint Peter’s Church listening to sermon and many more so preaching them as well, honing his gift.
Christopher Love excelled in his studies to the degree that Rogers, his tutor, invited him to live in his own home. In May of 1639 Love graduated with his B.A. and stayed on to pursue his M.A. but was expelled before he reached this level. His expulsion was due to his refusal to sign Archbishop Laud’s mandates during convocation. He was later readmitted in 1645 and went on to receive his M.A. Love was the first to refuse to sign Laud’s new canons.
During the time of his expulsion, Love was invited into the home of Sheriff Warner to serve as a domestic chaplain. The family grew to love him deeply and he was use of God to bring several members of the household to faith in Christ. It was in that home that Love found his beloved Mary Stone, the ward of the Sheriff. Six years latter (April 9, 1645) they married. Love was also invited to fill the position as lecturer at Saint Anne’s but the bishop of London so vehemently opposed him because he was not ordained that for three years that he “was refused his allowance”. Refusing to be ordained by the Anglican Church, he journeyed into Scotland to seek the rite from the Presbyterians. Unfortunately, the Scots had determined not to ordain anyone to the ministry unless they were going to remain in the north to carry out the work of the Lord. Mr. Love was made great offers to settle among them but instead he went home disappointed.
Upon his return he was invited to the pulpit at Newcastle on a Lord’s Day. In his sermon he attacked the Book of Common Prayer and the rituals of the Church of England. For this he was imprisoned with thieves and murderers. While jailed many folks flocked to see him but were not admitted to visit him; therefore, he began to preach to the crowds outside through the bars of prison gate. After some time in incarceration he was taken to London, was tried, and acquitted of all charges.
Some time later, he was accused of treason and rebellion for preaching the justification of a defensive war. Again he was found innocent. Shortly after this incident he was made the chaplain to the garrison of Windsor, which was under the command of Colonel John Veen. He was greatly loved by those to whom he ministered, even by those who disagreed with him on the matters of the church. While ministering at this post a plague struck the town and castle. As many died around him, Love courageously stayed on to minister. Though he exposed himself to infections and the dying, the Lord preserved him.
C. His Ordination and Latter Ministry
In time the Presbyterians came into power of the government. This gave Love the opportunity for ordination which he had so heartily longed. “At the instigation of Edmund Calamy,” Christopher Love was ordained on January 23, 1644 in the Aldermanbury Church by Mr. Horton, Mr. Bellers and Mr. Roberts. During his ordination examination he was asked the question as to whether he could suffer for the truths of Christ. He answered, ” I tremble to think of what I should do in such a case, especially when I consider how many have boasted what they could suffer for Christ; and yet, when have come to it, they have denied Christ and his truths, rather than suffer for them. Therefore, I dare not boast what I shall do, but if this power be given me of God, then I shall not only be willing to be bound, but to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” Reverend Christopher Love went on to fulfill these words at Tower Hill.
During the next few years Love preached sternly against the episcopacy and the Common Prayer Book which he referred to as “the two plague-sores”. For three years he lectured at St. Ann’s, Aldergate, which was about two hundred yards from Saint Lawrence Jewry, where Love went on to minister for the remaining years of his life (1649-1651). He had many of his works published; many of which found there way into the library of such great men of God as Jonathan Edwards. Most of his writings where sermons taken from his notes and printed posthumourously by Edmond Calamy. Although chosen as a member of the Westminster Divines he was for the most part inactive in that arena. Twice he had the opportunity to preach at an assembly of Parliament.
D. His Family Life
Mary Love proved to be a wife worthy of such a godly man. For someone to read her memoirs and letters to her husband while he was imprisoned one could not help but to be inspired by her holiness and nearness to God. Together they had five children in all. Their first, a daughter named Mary, died only a few days after her birth. A second girl was born to them on July 27, 1647, who also bore the name Mary. Like the first, she lived a short life, dying on May 14, 1650. On December 15, 1648, Christopher Love was born as to them, their first son. In a prison letter to his wife, Rev. Love mentioned two other boys, Mall and James. James, who was born just thirteen days after his father’s execution, lived less than seven months. Mrs. Love lived to see many of her beloved family members perish before her, yet her faith was unswerving. She recounted her husband as being a family man. He once told his wife that “now that he had a family of his own, he made a little nursery for God, resolving that . . . his family should be among the number of those who know God and call upon His name.” Recalling her husband’s study life she explained that he never thought he had enough time for his studies and he disliked “diversions from them.” She believed these rigorous studies took their toll on his health.
E. “Love’s Plot”
Christopher Love had often been involved in politics. He was once put under house arrest for a short period because he preached a sermon against a peace treaty agreement that was in the works. He accused the sides of wanting peace for wicked reasons. Love stated that he would rather have a just war than a wicked peace. This sermon was preached before the delegates of the peace treaty. Rev. Love had offended them all.
Shortly after this King Charles was beheaded by order of the Parliament for the crime of treason against the nation. Oliver Cromwell took the office of Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Cromwell was a Presbyterian turned Independent. Love, along with a great multitude of others, were outraged at this execution because they believed that God established kings on the throne and no one was to take them off of that throne. On New Year’s Day of 1651, the Scots held the coronation of Charles II, son of the executed king. Their plan was to reestablish the monarchy through force. During the coronation Charles II made a vow that when enthroned he would set up the Presbyterian Church in England and confessed the sins of his forefathers. While Scotland endeavored to raise their forces, secret correspondence was conducted with a group of English Presbyterians. The English Presbyterians assured Charles II that they would side with him when he made an attempt at the crown. An effort was made by many gentlemen (disbanded officers who had served Parliament during the war) and ministers to raise funds to finance Charles II’s campaign. Thomas Coke, the son of the late King’s secretary, was captured by Parliament and yielded information concerning the English Presbyterian’s support of Charles II in exchange for his life. The plan was found out and on May 2, 1651 the men involved were arrested. Among the ministers incarcerated were: Dr. Roger Drake, William Jenkyn, Arthur Jackson, Ralph Robinson, Thomas Watson, William Blackmore, Matthew Haviland, Thomas Case, and Christopher Love. Six of these men petitioned for mercy and vowed to refrain from opposing the government. Love was retained to be an example. He was charged with high treason and the conspiracy he was accused of partaking in came to be known as “Love’s Plot.” For the next few weeks he was kept locked in the London Tower. At first he wrote two sermons a week in preparation to preach once again upon release. Despite his desperate situation his spirits remained high. A depth of joy that had been previously unknown filled him as he communed with God, Whom he would soon see face to face.
F. His Trial
On June 20, 1651, Love was brought before the High Court of Justice and was read his charges. When asked what his plea would be, Love embarked on a lengthy disputation seeking the prayers of the godly and announcing that “I am this day made a spectacle unto God, angels, and men.” Interrupted by the Attorney General, Love was asked to give a brief “guilty” or “not guilty” plea. Love stated that he desired to speak first before giving his plea but was informed that the law required a plea before one was permitted to speak. He refused then to enter a plea until he was permitted to speak and, although he claimed legal ignorance, he cited many other court hearings that contradicted the assertions of the high court, even appealing to a well known and used law text of the time. Love went on to even question the legality of his trial based upon the omission of Scotland in the Act of 1650 and on the fact that he was being charged for crimes against that act that were said to have been committed in 1648 and 1649. Legally he could not be charged retroactively. Eventually Love declared that if he were to make a plea before the court, which he deemed an illegal one, he would, in effect, be admitting some guilt. Finally, Love gave up his plea once he was threatened to be judged despite the lack of a plea from the defendant. “Not guilty.”
Witnesses were then called to testify. They consisted of the men arrested with Love. Arthur Jackson, when called to testify, refused to swear a statement against his friend because Love was “a man very precious in the sight of God.” He said, “I fear I should have a hell in my conscience to my dying day, if I should speak any thing circumstantially prejudicial to his life.” Jackson was fined five hundred pounds and imprisoned indefinitely. On the second day of the trial John Jacquel took the stand and implicated the above mentioned Puritan ministers. Later Jacquel wrote Love a letter of repentance before he was executed. When the third day of the trail arrived Love made his defense. He denied the testimony of the witnesses because they contradicted themselves continuously, and that they had been threatened with their lives into testifying. Jacqul’s testimony was inadmissible, he said, because he had not taken an oath before giving it. No letters of correspondence to the Prince or to the Scots had been produced and hence, no evidence. Finally, Love admitted to being present at the reading of some letters but not to sending them or to any treacherous intentions. After five days of deliberations, the court went into recess for a day. On the sixth day the court came back with the verdict of guilty as charged. Christopher Love was sentenced “to suffer the pains of death by having his head severed from his body.” Love replied back to his judge, “I have received the sentence of death in myself, that I should not trust in myself, but in God which raiseth the dead. And, my lord, though you have condemned me, yet this I can say, that neither God, nor my own conscience, doth condemn me.” He was then taken back to the Tower to await his day of execution.
III. The Death of Love
A. His Final Days
While awaiting the day he was to stand upon the scaffold, many attempts were made to free him through letters written by a multitude of ministers, Mary Love, and even Christopher Love that were sent to Parliament. His execution date was moved back a month from the original date of July 16th and then again held off for another week. This was done in order to allow Parliament to read all of the petitions sent to them for Love’s freedom. By this time Charles II had entered into English land at the head of a mighty Scottish army. An example to the English Presbyterians was needed to warn them of what would happen to all who might oppose Parliament in favor of Charles II. One of their own and most beloved clergy must die; Love was to be the example. Letters were sent to Cromwell to see if he would enact a stay of execution. Historians Kennet and Echard reported that Cromwell sent a letter stating that if Love would resign himself to good behavior in the future then he was to be pardoned and set free. The letter never made it to London. Two cavaliers who had belonged to the late king’s army detained the courier. The two had such a hatred for Love (due to a sermon he preached some years before) that when they found the letter of reprieval, they tore it to pieces. When the letter did not arrive, it was understood to mean that there would be no pardon.
Many are the beautiful and deeply spiritual letters that were sent to Love and by Love. Puritan ministers wrote to encourage him in his final hours and to beseech his prayers. Mary Love’s letters are almost impossible to read without shedding a tear. Her love for Christopher was true and deep. Yet, her love for God was greater. She stands as an example to all minister’s wives. She encourages and commends her husband into the hands of God.
B. Christopher and Mary Bid Farewell for the Last Time
On the eve of his execution Mary Love was at the Tower prison to say good-bye for the last time to her beloved husband. With these words he comforted her:
Be not troubled to think what shall become of thee and thine after my death, for be assured that my God, and the God of the widows and the fatherless, will not forsake thee, but will wonderfully provide for those and be comforted in this, that tho’ men take thy husband from thee, they cannot take thy God from thee; and so, do not think that thou hast lost thy husband, but only parted with him for awhile, and in the meantime thy Savour will be a husband unto thee and a father unto thy children.
Then they prayed together for the last time. He asked her not to be dismayed when she did not hear him mention her in his final prayer in this world while he stood on the scaffold the next day. “I cannot do it,” he said, “but natural affections do arise that will not be suitable for the place, but be assured that the last words that I shall speak in this room shall be to God for those and thine.” When she insisted on sending him a supper the next day he accepted for her sake, though he did not wish to trouble her, and added that he would not need it “for within a few hours I shall have a blessed supper, the supper of the Bridegroom, where I shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and know hunger and thirst and sorrow no more.” Love was ready to see his Lord and confident that he would. “As soon as my head is severed from my body, it shall be united with Christ my Head in heaven.”
C. His Execution Day, His Glorification Day
At two o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, August 22, 1651, Christopher Love ascended the steps to the platform of the scaffold at Tower Hill. Accompanying him were some of his fellow ministers, Edmund Calamy, Simeon Ashe, and Thomas Watson, who were there to stand with him before he stepped into Paradise. The scaffold was surrounded by a huge crowd that had shown up either to see one last time the face of this beloved saint of God, or to watch this thorn in the side have his blood spilt. One report said that a particular man in the crowd who had come for the second reason, upon hearing the final words and prayer of Love he bewailed his sins and was converted there that day as Love died.
Upon receiving leave to speak to the crowd and to pray, Love opened his moth and poured out his final words spoken on earth. With eloquent words he expressed his longing for the eternity that was to greet him shortly. “There is but two steps between me and glory. It is but lying down upon the block that I shall ascend upon a throne. I am exchanging a pulpit for a scaffold and a scaffold for a throne. I am exchanging a guard of soldiers for a guard of angels, to carry me to Abraham’s bosom.” He then went on to briefly answer the charges for which he was now being executed and explained his position. Love stated that he bore no ill toward any. With his last word he desired to speak of the glory of God rather than himself. Expressing his pastoral heart even at this point of death, he warned the peoples of the evils of the time and in London. To the city he urged them on to love their ministers, to submit to their church leadership, to keep faithful to the Scriptures and be weary of strange doctrines, to bewail the loss of the godly ministers who have recently been martyred, and to seek peace (particularly with the brothers of Scotland). Next, he expressed his love toward and gratitude for his congregation. Believing that his death would glorify God he said, “I do more good by my death that by my life, and glorify God more in my dying upon a scaffold than if I had died of a disease upon my bed.” Giving glory to God, he recounted his conversion ant the age of fifteen and praised Him for the grace extended to him that he should be chosen to be His.
Concluding his sermon he then requested and gained permission to pray. Love prayed for his accusers, for England and Scotland to be one, and for the future King Charles II. Also, he prayed for a friend who was to be executed after him. He closed by begging God for strength to complete his task in these final moments and by committing his spirit into the hands of God.
Love thanked the sheriff for his kindness and said, “Well, I go from a block to the bosom of my Savior.” Turning to another man on the scaffold he asked, “Art thou the officer?” “Yes,” replied back the executioner. Love then tipped him three pence wrapped in paper, which was the custom to encourage the man to do a clean job with one blow. Blessing the name of Jesus, he then took leave of his fellow ministers on the scaffold with him after praying with them. “I am full of joy and peace in believing. I lie down with a world of comfort as if I were to lie down in my bed.” As he prepared to lay his head upon the block Mr. Ashe called out to him, “Dear brother, how dost thou find thy heart?” Love replied, “I bless God, sir, I am full of joy and comfort as ever my heart can hold.”
Then Christopher Love uttered his final words, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ” and knelt down and laid his head upon the block. He stretched forth his hands. The blade was raised and lowered. Christopher Love entered into Paradise and saw his Lord Jesus face to face. His head and his body, quickly put back together by the attending doctor, were put into a coffin and taken to his home, where he remained for three days.
D. Aftermath and Praises
Upon learning that a solemn funeral was to be held for Love the Council of the State wrote to the Mayor of London commanding that the plans for the procession and burial be thwarted. Love was buried privately in the cemetery of his church. Thomas Manton preached his funeral sermon, “even though soldiers threatened to shoot him.” The soldiers showed up and “clashed their arms and scowled, and muttered, but did not proceed in further violence.” Manton was determined to make the matter known, so he published his sermon under the title “The Saint’s Triumph Over Death.” “Thus in the very heart of London,” writes Marsden, “was Love’s memory avenged in the most solemn manner, and the commonwealth as openly defied. In the message Love is never mentioned by name and is not even alluded to until the last paragraph where Manton praises Love for his ministry and sound doctrine. He encourages Love’s congregation not to let their pastor down.
Speaking of her late husband, Mary Love said, “He lived too much in heaven to live too long out of heaven; and sure I am that he live a life of heaven on earth. His fellowship was with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
In the letter to the reader that introduces Love’s book of sermons entitled The Mortified Christian, Calamy states that the author “is sufficiently known and approved; his works praise him in the gates. He was indeed a workman who needed not to be ashamed. He was not a blazing comet to show his own parts, but a genuine star to lead men to Christ.” Later he went on to say, “We who had the happiness to be better aquatinted with him can truly say that he did not preach himself, but Jesus Christ his Lord, and himself the church’s servant for Jesus’ sake.”
Although his life was short, its impact was felt in many ways and for some time to come. Most of Christopher Love’s writings have now been reprinted through Soli Deo Gloria Ministries and is today encouraging and instructing a new generation of Puritans that are looking back to the old wells of the faith. All of the current reprints now sit on this author’s shelf as a part of his personal library. It has been often that the life and sermons of Love have been used of the Lord to motivate, teach, and comfort this writer’s soul. This writer is greatly thankful to the Lord for raising up such men as Christopher Love as and example to all Christians, of all ages.