Christopher and Mary Love: Like Name, Like Nature
A true love story
George M. Ella | Added: Feb 18, 2006 | Category: Biography
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Christian writers usually stay clear of human love stories, perhaps thinking that narratives of marital fidelity and devoted loyalty, at their best, are but weak reflections of spiritual love devoted to Christ. However, the one in no way negates the other and the history of the Church presents us with some of the most beautiful love stories on record which have sadly not been given the pastoral and edifying role they deserve. One of the greatest love stories this writer has ever read is that of Christopher and Mary Love. Their deep fondness and loyalty to each other prove both a romantic and spiritual inspiration for both Christian and non-Christian alike. Furthermore, in stories of great men of God, wives are often given a subordinate role. This is certainly not the case with Mary Love. Because of Christopher’s imprisonment and sufferings, his lot was to watch and pray whilst Mary was free to be up and doing, spending all her energies in petitioning for her husband’s freedom and campaigning for a fair trial.
Escape to conversion
Love was born in Cardiff, Glamorganshire in 1618, the youngest of several children. His mother was fifty years old at his birth. Christopher’s parents were unbelievers and their son was fifteen years of age before he heard his first sermon. Christopher wanted to see ‘a man in a pulpit’ but Mr Erbery whom he saw and heard, preached such a clear message that the boy went home, to use his own description, “with a hell in his conscience.” When Christopher told his father what was happening, the poor man was baffled as he had never felt either the work of the law or of the Spirit in his own life. He advised his son to run out and play and never hear Mr Erbery again, then he would become more cheerful. When the next church service came round, Mr Love locked his son in an upstairs room. Christopher so longed to hear Mr Erbery again that he escaped through a window by means of a rope. He then dashed off to church where he was soundly converted. Mr Love was angry at his son’s disobedience so that, though Christopher knew that the Lord had reformed his heart, he was cast down because of his family situation.
Happily several youngsters came to experience saving mercies through the witness of Erbery who had a great gift with young people. Not wishing to openly displease their parents, they met in secret to pray nightly when their parents thought they were in bed. Mr Love, seeing how religious his son had become, would have nothing more to do with him. Kind Mr Erbery begged the Loves to allow him to care for their son and tutor him, to which they at first agreed. However, shortly afterwards, Mr Love paid a London craftsman to take Christopher on as an apprentice. Hearing of this, Christopher begged his father not to send him to London but rather to Oxford where he could study for the ministry. Eventually Mr Love consented but refused to contribute a penny towards Christopher’s keep. Mrs Love, however, had a little capital of her own and she and Mr Erbery promised Christopher financial support.
Student days of melancholy
At Oxford, Love became a most melancholy person, making few friends and appearing in public only at meal and church times when he spoke to no one. Like many young Christians who first become aware of the problems of the world, he made them all his own and was weighed down by them. This time of anxiety passed after a few years and Love began to preach with great passion and equally great success. His methods were most unorthodox and untraditional, so many of the clergy turned against him and had him expelled from his college soon after ordination. After serving as domestic chaplain to the Sheriff of London, during which time several family members were brought to saving faith, Love decided to seek an ordination more after his heart in Scotland. However, as he wished to serve God in England, the Scottish Presbyterians refused to ordain him on the grounds that those who received a Scottish Presbyterian ordination must serve in Scotland. On returning south to Newcastle, Love, instead of preaching up the Lord, preached down both the Book of Common Prayer and the national church. In his mercy, God had Love cast into prison where he returned to preaching salvation in Christ and drew crowds of people to the prison to hear God’s Word. Love was now taken to London, put on trial for treason but acquitted by the king’s bench. He then became chaplain to Colonel John Venn at Windsor Castle. The plague struck the garrison and though most of the healthy fled, Love stopped and cared for the sick though the death-rate was very high. He was preserved from contamination, which fact, together with his growing success as a preacher made him a well-known figure.
Love is re-ordained
In 1644, when the Presbyterian and Independent Revolution began to consolidate its new powers, re-ordination was offered to Church of England clergy and Love gladly accepted. During the ceremony, he was asked if he were prepared to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. Love answered truthfully:
I tremble to think 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 they 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.
The year after, Love, whilst preaching, protested at the Treaty of Uxbridge between the king’s commissioners and the rebels, and complained about set forms of worship. Now Love, who had stood trial before a pro-Anglican party, was brought before the Presbyterian commons, who merely warned Love to keep the peace and keep to his house until the treaty transactions were concluded. Of Love at this time, Thomas Fuller, wrote that though many condemned his want of charity, more condemned his want of discretion.
Love arrested and sentenced to death
The Presbyterians became alarmed at the way Cromwell was handling the Revolution and many protested against the planned execution of Charles I. Now Cromwell and the Independents began to persecute the Presbyterians. After the king’s murder, a number of ministers and military men met at Love’s house and plotted to recall Charles II to England who, they hoped, would help them re-establish Presbyterianism. The plot was soon found out. Love was arrested for the second time for high treason, this time against the Commonwealth. The trumped up charges against him had little to do with the fact that he preferred a King and active Parliament to a Dictator and mock-Parliament. The most serious indictment was that nigh pauper Love had helped to finance a Scottish army to invade England. Love pleaded ‘not guilty’.
Cromwell’s method of gaining the cooperation of witnesses by threatening them with death, did not ensure a fair trial. A Mr Jackson was fined five hundred pounds for refusing to testify against Love. Furthermore, in 1648-49, laws were passed which prescribed the death penalty for anyone uttering even privately, as Love, a wish for a restored monarchy. As Charles II was ready to invade England at the head of 16,000 Scots, an example had to be found and Love was sentenced to be beheaded.
Mary Love campaigns for her husband
Here, history introduces us to Mary Love who received the news of her husband’s sentence shortly before the birth of her fifth child. Mary, like her husband, was a person of ‘sorrowful spirits’ but was not crushed by the news and sent letters of great courage and hope to her husband. Her one wish was to forget herself and support her husband in his afflictions. Mary thus wrote to Christopher:
My Dear Heart,—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 that 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 freely to 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 honour to me, that I should have an 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 upon 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 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! And 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 saidst to me) it is but thy fiery chariot, to carry thee up to thy Father’s house. And when thou layest down thy precious head to receive thy father’s stroke, remember what thou saidst to me, though thy head were 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, 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, though thou mayst 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 that God with whom, ere long, thou 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 the great day.
Mary Love, July 14, 1651.
Any woman of the world would have rebuked her husband for getting himself into such a mess and complained of the loss she would sustain but Mary’s heart was set on God and helping her husband through the portals of heaven. Her encouragement was used of the Lord to keep Christopher in assurance and trust in God and he was able to reply:
More Dear To Me Than Ever,—It adds to my rejoicing that I have so good and gracious a wife to part with for the Lord Jesus. In thy grief I have been grieved, but in thy joy I have been comforted. Surely nature could never help thee to bear so heavy a stroke with so much silence and submission to the hand of God! Oh dearest! every line thou writest gladdeth my heart. I dare not think that there is such a creature as Mary Love in the world; for Kit and Hall, I can think of them without trouble, leaving them to so good a God, and so good a mother. Be comforted concerning thy husband, who may more honour God in his death than in his life: the will of the Lord be done; he is fully satisfied with the hand of God. Though there [be] but little between him and death, he knows there is but little between him and heaven, and that ravisheth his heart. The Lord bless and requite thee for thy Wise and good counsel! Thou hast prevented me; the very things I thought to have written to thee thou hast written to me. I have had more comfort from thy gracious letter than from all the counsel I have had from any else in the world: well, be assured, we shall meet in heaven. I rest, till I rest in heaven, thy dying but comforted friend, Christopher Love. From the Tower, the Lords Day.
Though strong and sturdy in her letters to her husband, Mary laid her tragic case fully open to Parliament, pleading in conclusion:
Therefore your distressed handmaid, throwing herself in all humility at your feet, beseecheth you, by the wombs that bare you, and the breasts that gave you suck, in the bowels of the Lord Jesus Christ, mercifully to interpose, that this fatal blow may be prevented: which act of compassion in you, will be to your poor handmaid as resurrection from the dead; and not only all the tender-hearted mothers of England, but even the babe yet unborn, shall rise up and call you blessed: and this will be to you a glory, and crown of rejoicing in the sight of the nation, when the blessing of them that are ready to perish shall come upon you. And your poor handmaid humbly conceives, that your mercy herein will be no danger to the state, for that your poor petitioner’s friends are willing to give all-sufficient security that her husband shall live peaceably and quietly for the time to come, and never act anything to the prejudice of this Commonwealth and present government. Now the God of heaven bow your hearts to show mercy. And your petitioner shall pray, &c. Mary Love.
This moving petition was read before Parliament on 9 July with one from Christopher Love but the members adjourned until the 15 July. They then postponed Love’s execution by a month. Meanwhile, some fifty ministers also sent in petitions, pleading for mercy. As Parliament was busy at this time ejecting thousands of Anglicans, banning many to the new colonies and even, it was rumoured, selling them as slaves to the Arabs, Mary sent in another petition, writing, “though he may not be thought worthy to breathe in English air (which God forbid), yet give him, O give him leave to sigh out his sorrows under your displeasure in the utmost parts of the earth, wheresoever you shall think fit to banish him! which, although it be a very great punishment in itself, yet your handmaid and her dying husband shall acknowledge even this to be a great mercy, and shall thankfully receive it at your hands.”
Love remained calmly trusting God
Meanwhile, Love was bearing up marvellously under the strain. He had no hope of reprieve but was calm and cheerful in the knowledge that the Judge of all the world does well. He replied to a further letter from Mary, now lost:
Most Dearest Delight On Earth,—I was fast asleep when thy note came. I bless God I break not an hour’s sleep for all my sufferings; I know they work for me a more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. I slept this night from ten at night, till seven in the morning, and never waked. My dear, I am so comforted in the gracious Supports God gives thee, that my burdens are the lighter on my shoulders, because they are not so heavy on thine; or if they be heavy, yet that God helps thee to bear them. The Lord keep it in the purpose of our hearts for ever, to submit to the good pleasure of God! I bless God I do find my heart in as quiet and composed a temper as ever I did in all my life. I am, till I die, thy tender-hearted husband, Christopher Love. From the Tower, 18 August, 1651.
Though the sympathy of Parliament was with Love, they had a mere puppet function, fully dependant on the army and Oliver Cromwell. Lieutenant-General Robert Hammond now took Love’s side, pleading with Cromwell for mercy, claiming, “The hearts of many, if not the most of the good men here of all parties are exceedingly set to save his life from this ground, that it may be a means to unite the hearts of all good men, the bent of whose spirits is set to walk in the ways of the Lord.” Cromwell remained silent. An example had to be made, and made it would be. On 16 August, the Journal of the House of Commons recorded that a negative vote of twenty-seven to sixteen had sealed Love’s fate. His execution was set for 22 August.
Christopher and Mary’s last correspondence
The day before his beheading, Mary wrote to her husband:
My Heavenly Dear,—I call thee so, because God hath put heaven into thee, before he hath taken thee to heaven. Thou now beholdest God, Christ, and glory as in a glass, but tomorrow heaven’s gates will be opened, and thou shalt be in the full enjoyment of all those glories which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither can the heart of man understand. God hath now swallowed up thy heart in the thoughts of heaven, but ere long thou shalt be swallowed up in the enjoyment of heaven .... O lift up thy heart with joy when thou layest thy dear head on the block, in the thought of this that thou art laying thy head to rest in thy Father’s bosom, which, when thou dost awake, shall be crowned, not with an earthly fading crown, but with an heavenly, eternal crown of glory! And be not discouraged when thou shalt see a guard of soldiers triumphing with their trumpets about thee, but lift up thy head, and thou shalt behold God with a guard of his holy angels, triumphing to receive thee to glory. Be not dismayed at the scoffs and reproaches that thou mayest meet with in thy short way to heaven, for, be assured, God will not only glorify thy body and soul in heaven, but he will also make the memory of thee to be glorious on the earth ....
Now, my dear, I desire willingly and cheerfully to resign my right in thee to thy Father and my Father, who hath the greatest interest in thee; and confident I am, though men have separated us for a time, yet our God will ere long bring us together again, where we shall eternally enjoy one another, never to part more.
O let me hear how God bears up thy heart, and let me taste of those comforts that support thee, that they may be as pillars of marble to bear up my sinking spirit! I can write no more. Farewell, farewell, my dear, till we meet there where we shall never bid farewell more; till which time, I leave thee in the bosom of a loving tender-hearted Father, and so I rest, till I shall for ever rest in heaven, Mary Love, 21 August, 1651.
The day of glory
On the day of Love’s glorification (his words), he wrote to Mary saying that he was exchanging his prison for a palace and gave his wife lengthy instruction concerning how to keep in close union with the Lord. Love’s nearest friends Simon Ashe, Edmund Calamy and Thomas Manton came to accompany him to the executioner’s block. Receiving permission from the officials to speak, Love addressed the crowd bravely, claiming that he died with his judgment against the Cromwellian regime who had brought in anarchy. He explained that it would have been easy for him to have given up all that he believed was holy to save his skin but, “Had I renounced my covenant, debauched my conscience, and endangered my soul, I might have escaped this place; but, blessed be God, I have made the best choice: I have chosen affliction rather than sin. And therefore, welcome scaffold, welcome axe, welcome block, welcome death, welcome all, because they will send me to my Father’s house.” Then Love prayed at length that God would make Scotland and England as one staff in His hand and that blood spilling amongst Protestants might cease and godly ministers might be preserved and a godly magistracy be restored. Before the executioner did his bloody work, Love cried out, “Blessed be God, 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. I shall rest in Abraham’s bosom, and in the embraces of the Lord Jesus.” The axe fell and Christopher Love’s head was severed in one blow.
That blow, said Richard Baxter, made Cromwell a vile and detestable creature and after that “most of the ministers and good people of the land, did look upon the new Commonwealth as tyranny, and were more alienated than ever before.” When Manton preached Christopher Love’s funeral sermon, the soldiers threatened to shoot him, but he continued nothing daunting on the grand subject ‘The Saint’s Triumph over Death’. How would we fare in such circumstances?
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