A SPECTACLE UNTO GOD – The Life and Death of Christopher Love, by Don Kistler
Published by Soli Deo Gloria Publications, USA. Hardback, 193 pages, £13.95, but available at £11.50 from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE.
CHRISTOPHER LOVE (1618-51), a Presbyterian minister in London and a leading Puritan, was eminent for both his godliness and his gifts. He was most faithful in preaching the truth, and did not refrain from denouncing the sins of those in high places, whether they were Stuart Cavaliers or Cromwellian republicans. His deep interest in the affairs of state led to his death by execution at the early age of 33.
Don Kistler is to be commended for gathering together in this volume so much material about Love, considering that there is little on record about his life. The book covers Love’s life in eight chapters, one of which consists of some of his letters. Another eight chapters, some of them very short, consist of letters written to Love by his wife and friends, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Some of these are deeply moving. Also included is “the funeral address” – a sermon preached by Love’s close friend, Thomas Manton, on the words, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
Christopher Love died, as Thomas McCrie says in his Annals of English Presbytery, “no doubt, a victim to the Royal cause; but no Scottish Covenanter who sang his last Psalm at the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, or was shot down on his native moors by the dragoons of Claverhouse, with his good sword in his hand and his Bible in his heart, ever shed his blood for Christ’s crown and covenant more truly or more nobly than did Christopher Love on the Tower Hill of London. The execution of Mr Love was no doubt intended as an example to overawe the Presbyterians. The policy of Cromwell was throughout inimical to Presbyterianism.”
In his address to the people gathered to witness his death on the scaffold, Love referred to the execution of Charles I, and declared, “I am not against, but for, a regulated monarchy. A mixed monarchy, such as ours is, I judge to be the best government in the world. I did, it’s true, in my own place and calling, oppose the forces of the late King, but I was never against the office. . . I was never for putting the King to death, whose person I promised in my covenant to preserve. . . I die cleaving to all those oaths, vows, covenants, and protestations that were imposed by the two houses of Parliament. . . And this I tell you: I would rather die a covenant keeper than live a covenant breaker.”
The charge against him was that he had been in correspondence with the Scottish supporters of Charles II when Cromwell was engaged in suppressing the rising in Scotland in favour of the King. He solemnly denied the charges, declaring to the assembled people, “What I said at the bar when I received my sentence I shall say upon the scaffold, that for those things for which I am condemned, neither God nor my own conscience condemns me.”
Christopher Love shone as a pastor, and was deeply respected and much loved by both his flock and his ministerial brethren. Kistler observes: “Love was truly a pastor. One can see from the titles of his sermons that he aimed at making theology useful for his parishioners. . . While his works attest to his grasp of deep theological truths, the application reveals the pastor’s heart.”
Kistler adds, “Christopher Love was also a pastor to his family. His wife states in her memoirs of him that he was very strict not only in his observance of the Sabbath, but in his preparation for the Sabbath on Saturday evening. . . His wife remembered him this way: Now, after he had a family of his own, he made it a little nursery for God, resolving that whatever others did, yet that he and his house would serve the Lord, and that his family should be among the number of those that know God and call upon His name’.”
To Christopher Love, preaching was “the main task to which a minister was called,” says Kistler. “His wife wrote, It is hard to say whether his studying or preaching did most waste his strength, for he never thought that he had time enough for his studies, and diversions from them were very troublesome to him.”
The book shows that Christopher Love was indeed, as Kistler says, “a burning and shining light,” and one “of whom the world was not worthy.” It also shows that truly godly men can be, as the author notes, “on both sides of a political issue, both absolutely convinced they are guided by Scripture,” a fact that was evidenced also by the sad divisions among the Resolutioners and the Protesters in Scotland in the same period. Kistler concludes: “Christopher Love was a man of honour, a hero, not just because he was a faithful covenanter, but because he was a faithful minister of the gospel in an age of compromise.”
We commend this volume as a useful addition to the annals of those who were faithful in proclaiming the truth, who “loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11), and who “shall shine . . . as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). We wish it a wide circulation.