Convictions Sealed with Blood

“I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince on a throne”

Christopher Love

Paranoia was the lethal, guiding principle of the seventeeth-century English government. Having beheaded King Charles for treason, Parliament was deeply embroiled in a tug-of-war struggle with Scotland and Ireland for British power. In the absence of a king’s authority, Parliament fingered anyone critical of its rule as traitorous. Suspicion of conspiracy effectively muzzled Puritan preachers (the “Non-Conformists”) from identifying the obvious and public sins of Parliament’s nervous rule. Still, there were courageous exceptions. Among this hallowed list is Christopher Love. This unfamiliar Puritan gave his life for the cause of Christ and gospel fidelity. The martyred blood of Love still calls preachers to sacrificial faithfulness.

Love’s Reputation

Ministerial preparation for Englishmen in the seventeenth century almost ensured matriculating at either Cambridge or Oxford. Love chose Oxford and entered New Inn Hall in 1635. Logic, rhetoric, philosophy, history, and theology comprised his curriculum as a preacher in training.

Alongside these subjects a more subtle course was taught outside the classroom. As penetrating as the summer humidity and winter chill, there was something else in the air at Oxford. Motivated by gospel-rich theology, groups of students were becoming discontent with the relationship between the government and the pulpit. Parliament was bullying English preachers into using their sermons as political commercials. But a new breed of preachers was climbing into English pulpits; the Puritans’ day was dawning.

At Oxford, Love learned to think clearly. He was a “Precisionist” and applied tedious and meticulous scrutiny to Scripture as it related to the issues of his day and to the issues of his day as they related to Scripture. Love was a stellar student. However, he was expelled from his masters program for non-conformity before graduating.

Love had a reputation at Oxford that demonstrated the authenticity of his faith. He was known as one who never missed a chapel service or opportunity to hear a visiting preacher. His later reputation as a great preacher in the pulpit is anchored to his love for hearing the Word of God in the pew.

After his expulsion from Oxford, he was invited to preach at Newcastle by the mayor and aldermen. During an afternoon sermon he identified some doctrinal errors in the Book of Common Prayer relating to the superstitious hangovers from Catholicism. He was immediately arrested and incarcerated with thieves and murderers. Instead of silencing Love this only provided him the opportunity to preach to the inmates and witness many conversions of those on death row. But there were greater persecutions ahead.

Love’s “Plot”

Love was a political activist in the pulpit. This is exactly what the government wanted preachers to be. However, his activism was not the brand Parliament had in mind.

Parliament had convicted King Charles of treason for good reason. He was plotting a peace with Scotland that included political and religious compromise. Parliament opposed him for political reasons; the Puritans opposed him for biblical reasons. Married to a Catholic, Charles tried to undo, or at least minimize, the English Reformation.

Charles was tried, convicted, and executed by Parliament for high treason against the nation. In an unprecedented act of independence, Parliament dissolved the right of kingly succession and established the Commonwealth of England. This gave authority over the nation to Parliament.

Tension climaxed in 1651 when Scotland crowned Charles’ son, Charles II, in an attempt to reestablish the monarchy by force. Charles II promised to establish the Presbyterian Church in England when he returned to London. Fearing their loss of power to Charles II and the Puritans, the members of Parliament threatened with death anyone supporting the Scots’ coronation of King Charles’s son.

Acting on the promise of Charles II, some of the Puritan-Presbyterians conspired with the Scots to take back the throne for the monarchy. (This promise would prove empty a few years later.) Christopher Love was accused of being involved in the conspiracy through correspondence with Scotland. Ironically, Love despised the papist theology of the beheaded King Charles, but held true to his conviction that God alone puts kings on the throne and God alone would bring them down. Love did have correspondence with leaders in Scotland, but denied any part in the conspiracy.

Love on Trial

Parliament was negotiating with Scotland for a peace saturated with political and theological compromise. During the negotiations, Love preached an impassioned sermon stating that he would rather have a just war than a wicked peace. In that sermon his convictions stepped on the toes of everyone possible in the debate. His driving point was that promotion and protection of the gospel truths of the Reformation should be the criteria for governmental rule.

Love was arrested and charged with high treason by the High Court of Justice on June 20, 1651. A five-day trial followed. Witnesses who were called to testify fabricated a complicated and contradictory tale of Love’s supposed conspiracy. Haunted by guilt, several of them confessed to lying after Love’s death. On the sixth day the court came back with the verdict of guilty and sentenced him “to suffer the pains of death by having his head severed from his body.” He was locked up in the London Tower until his scheduled execution.

Love Letters

While Christopher Love awaited execution, he exchanged letters with his Puritan friends and his wife. Many of these letters have been preserved in Don Kistler’s excellent biography of Love—A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love (Soli Deo Gloria, 1994). Impending death reveals the true nature of a man’s soul. And Love’s faith is something to behold through these letters.

The most moving of the letters was written by Christopher’s wife, Mary. On the eve of his scheduled execution, she wrote him a final letter of love and encouragement. She actually wrote two such letters because the execution was postponed six weeks due to a last-minute appeal. This first letter became one of the most inspiring anchors for faithfulness for the Puritans as it was circulated in later years. (The entirety of the letter is provided at the end of this article.)

In it Mary pours out her love for her husband mingled with mortality-proven theology. She comforts him with thoughts of the glories he was about to enjoy and begs him not to have any concerns for her or their children; she was eight months pregnant with their third child. She wrote, “I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed on thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain.”

One of the most remarkable parts of her letter is the almost incidental reference to the executioner’s unjust blow as “thy Father’s stroke.” The letter reads:

And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy Father’s stroke, remember what thou saidest to me: Though thy head was severed from thy body, yet in a moment thy soul should be united to thy Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven. And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.

Christopher and Mary’s love was humanly tender and theologically sound. Every spiritual leader should read this letter with his wife.

Love on Display

A little before two o’clock in afternoon Love was escorted from his chamber to the scaffold on Tower Hill. Both supporters and jeerers showed up to witness his death. Before kneeling to put his head on the block, he asked if he could address the crowd. What followed was an epic sermon from a faithful man with his hand on Heaven’s doorknob.

With settled calmness, Love said, “This scaffold is the best pulpit that I ever preached in. In my church pulpit, God, through His grace, made me an instrument to bring others to heaven, but in this pulpit He will bring me to heaven.” He went on extolling the glories of Heaven while asserting again his innocence of the charges of treason.

Love announced, “I am accused of being an apostate, of being a turncoat, of being this, of being that, of being anything but what I am. In general, I will tell you, I bless my God, a high court, a long sword, a bloody scaffold have not made me in the least to alter my principles or to wrong my conscience.” He asserted, “It is true, my faithfulness has procured me ill will from men, but it has purchased me peace with God.”

And looking at the crowd he thundered, “I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince upon a throne. I would rather be an instrument to bring souls to heaven than have all the nations bring in tribute to me.”

When Love was walking up the scaffold steps, there were many noisy mockers. It was reported that upon hearing Love’s scaffold sermon and final prayer, one of the loudest mockers bewailed his sins and was converted on the spot.

Just before three o’clock, Christopher Love laid his head on the block and closed his eyes for the last time. With the flash of the axe his faith became sight.

Few of us will be called to exercise such martyred faithfulness. But all who preach can share the wondrous passion of this dying preacher in his last sermon.

“I would rather be a preacher in a pulpit than a prince upon a throne.”

*Here the complete copy of Mary Love’s letter to Christopher the night before his scheduled execution.

July 14, 1651

Before I write a word further, I beseech thee think not that it is thy wife but a friend now that writes to thee. I hope thou hast freely given up thy wife and children to God, who hath said in Jeremiah 49:11, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive, and let thy widow trust in me.” Thy Maker will be my husband, and a Father to thy children. O that the Lord would keep thee from having one troubled thought for thy relations. I desire to freely give thee up into thy Father’s hands, and not only look upon it as a crown of glory for thee to die for Christ, but as an honor to me that I should have a husband to leave for Christ.

I dare not speak to thee, nor have a thought within my own heart of my unspeakable loss, but wholly keep my eye fixed on thy inexpressible and inconceivable gain. Thou leavest but a sinful, mortal wife to be everlastingly married to the Lord of glory. Thou leavest but children, brothers, and sisters to go to the Lord Jesus, thy eldest Brother. Thou leavest friends on earth to go to the enjoyment of saints and angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect in glory. Thou dost but leave earth for heaven and changest a prison for a palace. And if natural affections should begin to arise, I hope that spirit of grace that is within thee will quell them, knowing that all things here below are but dung and dross in comparison of those things that are above. I know thou keepest thine eye fixed on the hope of glory which makes thy feet trample on the loss of earth.

My dear, I know God hath not only prepared glory for thee, and thee for it, but I am persuaded that he will sweeten the way for thee to come to the enjoyment of it. When thou art putting on thy clothes that morning, O think, “I am now putting on my wedding garments to go to be everlastingly married to my Redeemer.”

When the messenger of death comes to thee, let him not seem dreadful to thee, but look on him as a messenger that brings thee tidings of eternal life. When thou goest up the scaffold, think (as thou saidest to me) that it is but thy fiery chariot to take thee up to thy Father’s house.

And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy Father’s stroke, remember what thou saidest to me: Though thy head was severed from thy body, yet in a moment thy soul should be united to thy Head, the Lord Jesus, in heaven. And though it may seem something bitter, that by the hands of men we are parted a little sooner than otherwise we might have been, yet let us consider that it is the decree and will of our Father, and it will not be long ere we shall enjoy one another in heaven again.

Let us comfort one another with these sayings. Be comforted my dear heart.  It is but a little stroke and thou shalt be there where the weary shall be at rest and where the wicked shall cease from troubling. Remember that thou mayest eat thy dinner with bitter herbs, yet thou shalt have a sweet supper with Christ that night. My dear, by what I write unto thee, I do not hereby undertake to teach thee; for these comforts I have received from the Lord by thee. I will write no more, nor trouble thee any further, but commit thee into the arms of God with whom ere long thee and I shall be.

Farewell, my dear. I shall never see thy face more till we both behold the face of the Lord Jesus at that great day.

Mary Love

Cited in Don Kistler, A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 1-3. Because of several appeals to spare his life, four of which were Mary’s, Love was not actually executed until August 22, 1651. Mary wrote a similar letter on the eve of his actual execution.

For further study of Christopher Love:

Brooks, Benjamin. Lives of the Puritans, Vol. III. Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996.

Kisler, Don. A Spectacle unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love. Morgan, Penn.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994.

5 Comments on “Convictions Sealed with Blood

  1. Thanks for this extensive post on one of the (undeservedly) lesser known English Puritans. Love’s works, such as The Mortification of Sin, and The Dejected Soul’s Cure, are classics of Puritan spirituality like those of Owen, Brooks, Goodwin, Manton, etc. Hopefully your post will introduce many Christians to this great servant of Christ.

    • Minor correction to my comment. Love’s work on mortification of sin was actually titled The Mortified Christian when printed by Soli Deo Gloria.

  2. Hey Rick,
    We’d love to send you our latest ministry update but are unsure where to send it?
    Bryan Martin (NZ)

  3. Pingback: From Approaching Damascus.com « Think On These Things (Philippians 4:8)

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