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.”
The Dejected Soul’s Cure (SDG; 306 pages; 2001). True believers struggle with sin and its devastating effects. This can lead to what the Puritans called “the soul’s melancholy,” a deep depression in which the light of God’s countenance has seemingly been removed. In seventeen sermons on Psalm 42:11, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul,” Love examines various reasons for spiritual desertion and provides pastoral solutions. He shows that Satan will do all he can to distance believers from their Savior, even if that means a morbid preoccupation with sin and self.
This book gives scriptural guidelines for recovering a sense of God’s love, convicts those who may be falsely comforted, and provides comfort for the convicted. Also included is Love’s work, “A Treatise of Angels,” based on Hebrews 1:14.
Grace: The Truth, Growth, and Different Degrees (SDG; 173 pages; 1997). This extensive work on grace contains Love’s sermons on the examples of Abijah (sermons 1-5) and Timothy (sermons 6-13). The fourteenth sermon refreshingly shows what Christ is for all believers, and the concluding message exhorts us to glorify God and abase ourselves.
Five sermons show how God notices the least degree of grace in His people, and ten sermons encourage Christians to grow in grace. The following subjects are addressed: the beginnings of grace, the least measure of true grace, God’s notice of grace in His people, laboring in grace, the marks of strong Christians, strong temptations and strong grace, the comforts of grace, and applications. “Nothing is so free as grace,” Love concludes.
Love’s work is practical and encouraging; he applies doctrine with pastoral warmth. As a skilled spiritual physician, he shows how a gracious God loves even the weak but sincere grace of His children. He explains how true grace is not inconsistent with strong temptations and weak affections. This study of God’s grace in the believer deals with issues that lie at the root of every true Christian’s experience.
The Mortified Christian: A Treatise on the Mortification of
Sin (SDG; 148 pages; 1998). This insightful work on mortification contains ten sermons on Romans 8:13, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify
the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Love shows the nature, signs, necessity, and difficulty of true mortification. He explains the Spirit’s work in mortification and deals with several cases of conscience. The last sermon, “Special Helps for Special Corruptions,” reveals some of Love’s personal experience with mortification. As he writes, “These sermons concern mortification, in which the author’s judgment is more to be valued because his heart was a commentary upon his
text, and his own experience was a seal to his doctrine.”
Two appended sermons by Love on how to profit from listening to God’s Word are also noteworthy. They illustrate the Puritan concern for not only preaching well but also listening
The Penitent Pardoned (SDG; 144 pages; 2002). This compelling exposition of Psalm 32:5 urges readers to confess their sins (chapter 1), and describes the faithfulness of God in forgiving them (chapter 2). Love answers objections against forgiveness (chapter 3), presents the riches of God’s pardoning grace (chapter 4), and deals with various cases of conscience (chapter 5).
These cases deal with such questions as: Can God forgive a believer without his being aware of his sin? Can God afflict and punish a believer after forgiving that sin? Does pardon precede or follow repentance? Can those who are pardoned repeatedly commit the same sins? Should the godly who are pardoned pray for pardon? When we come to God for pardon, should we make a distinction between great and small sins?
This book offers much comfort for those struggling with indwelling and repeated sin. Much like Bunyan’s Jerusalem Sinner Saved, it clearly sets forth God’s amazing and inestimable forgiveness upon confession, for Christ’s sake. “Let your sin be ever so great,” Love concludes, “yet the mercies of God are greater.”
Preacher of God’s Word: Sermons by Christopher Love (SDG; 178 pages; 2000). This book contains the following sermons: “Christ’s Prayer the Saint’s Support” ( John 17:15), “A Divine Balance to Weigh all Doctrines By” (1 Thess. 5:21), “Directions Concerning Immoderate Joy for Worldly Comforts,” “Directions Concerning the Nature and Ends of Sorrow and Affliction”
(1 Cor. 7:30), “A Christian’s Great Inquiry” (Acts 16:30-31), “A Description of True Blessedness” (Luke 11:28), and “Wrath and Mercy” (four sermons on 1 Thess. 5:9). They reveal Love’s gift of applying doctrinal truth practically and experientially.
A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election (SDG; 300 pages; 1998). The goal of these sixteen sermons on 2 Peter 1:10 is to awaken people from false security and to stir them to strive to make their calling and election sure. Seeing there is such glory prepared for the elect and such torment for the reprobate, ought not everyone strive to be prepared for glory?
In this book, Love handles many practical cases for the comfort of sincere believers and for the discomfort of those who are not true believers. He excels in showing believers how they may unadmittedly oppose assurance and how they may obtain it. He provides striking illustrations, such as comparing a believer’s refusal to receive God’s free offer of His Son to a sick man throwing a glass of medicine against a wall (p. 215).
The Works of Christopher Love, Volume 1 (SDG; 720 pages; 1995). This volume contains three sets of sermons: “The Combat between the Flesh and the Spirit” (twenty-seven sermons on Gal. 5:17); “Heaven’s Glory” (ten sermons on Col. 3:4); and “Hell’s Terror” (seven sermons on Matt. 10:28). The weighty subject matter is presented in such a lively style and is so carefully applied that readers cannot help but be edified.
Most of the remaining books of Love, originally intended to be collected in a second and third volume of his works, have been published as individual titles by Soli Deo Gloria.
The Zealous Christian (SDG; 137 pages; 2002). Love explains in thirteen sermons how the Christian must wrestle with sin and fight by prayer. The work is divided into two parts: “Taking Heaven by Holy Violence in Wrestling” (five sermons on Matt. 11:12), and “Holding Communion with God in Importunate Prayer” (eight sermons on Luke 11:8).
Like Thomas Watson’s Heaven Taken by Storm, Love insists that the believer must take the kingdom of heaven by a kind of holy violence or persistence. Zealous, fervent prayer and diligent reception of the preached Word are the best weapons for exercising this holy violence. Love writes, “The longer you continue in sin, the longer will God keep you under suspension; and it will be long before he vouchsafes the comforts of His Spirit. He will fill you with indignation and horror. Though great sins cannot lay waste the grace of God, yet they may lay waste the peace of conscience. Though they will not put you into a state of ejection, they will bring you into a state of dejection. If you are not cast off, yet you shall be cast down. Therefore, take heed you do not abuse this precious doctrine.”
Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
Posted with permission on Monergism.com by Reformation Heritage Books