Those familiar with the Puritans may have heard the posthumous praise given of Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) by Izaak Walton (1594-1683) who claimed, “Of this blest man, let this just praise be given, Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.” This encomium could be restated to say that the “heavenly Doctor” (called such for his preaching and life) Sibbes’ heart resided in heaven before he entered its presence at death. A Puritan with a similar spirit was Christopher Love (1618-1651), who was known for his heavenly contemplation, especially through his collection of 17 sermons (published after his death), Heaven’s Glory, Hell’s Terror (1653). At his execution (1651; more on this later!), one of the officers at the Tower of London, exclaimed, “The Lord strengthen you in this your hour of temptation!” To this Love replied, “Sir, I bless God, my heart is in heaven. I am well.” With his heart already in heaven, Love could face death with courage knowing that soon enough he would reside there fully.
In my next two posts, I will focus on this work related to the themes of heaven and hell. For now, I want to focus on the life of Christopher Love, who truly was (like Sibbes) a “heavenly man.” In the preface to Love’s sermon treatise, his friends challenge us to meditate on heaven and hell, a discipline that he knew well as seen in his writings and life. Not only did he preach and write on heaven and hell, he suffered and died as a Puritan fully convinced of their reality. However, his execution occurred at the hands of other Puritans. He was accused of treason under the rule of Oliver Cromwell and related to his attempt (the so-called “Love’s Plot”) to restore the exiled Charles II to the throne. This was not a good time for a Presbyterian to claim the divine right of kings and decry the injustice of dethroning and executing Charles I (d. 1649). Love admitted involvement along with others such as Thomas Watson and Thomas Case, but he was accused of being the mastermind behind the plot, which included financing and conspiring with the Scots to use force for the restoration of Charles.
Love’s involvement on such a level, remains questionable due to insufficient evidence and unconvincing witnesses. Still, he was convicted and beheaded on London’s Tower Hill as a traitor. On some level he was guilty, but some have called the execution unjust and tyrannical. For example, Richard Baxter complained how cruelly Love’s executioners removed such a worthy man and “cut off so much excellency at a blow.” Love’s final letters to his wife Mary, who unsuccessfully sought his release, reveal his conviction in the covenant mercies of God. Love died with the firm assurance of the glory of heaven, of which he so fervently wrote.
In my next post, I will focus on the theme of heaven as set forth by Love. For now, I want to challenge us as Christians to consider how little we tend to think upon heaven and hell. This remains amazing given that these eternal destinations make anything we could enjoy or suffer in this life nothing. To focus more on them will lead us increasingly to seek and rest in Christ alone as the only one who can give us life in heaven later and a heavenly life now. We do well to start with the simple prescription of Puritan John Dod (1549-1645). He exhorts us to consider daily: “1. I must dye. 2. I may die ere night. 3. Whither will my Soul go, to Heaven or to Hell?” When is the last time you even considered the real possibility that, before this day ends, you could be dead and in the place of eternal bliss or torment?