The Godliness of a Puritan Woman
Mary Stone was the daughter of Matthew Stone, a successful London Merchant. She met her husband Christopher Love, in 1639 and six years later they married. Christopher Love was a Puritan who became the lecturer at St. Ann’s Aldergate for three years before becoming the minister of St. Laurence Jewry, a church in London, in 1650. In May 1651 Christopher Love was arrested with others and charged with complicity in a plot to place Charles II on the English throne. Up to this time Mary Love does not appear on the pages of history and it would seem she would not have done so, if it were not for the situation her husband found himself in. Indeed, most of what we know of Mary Love’s life revolves around the time of her husband’s trial and execution in the summer of 1651. During this period Mary Love not only wrote the most affectionate letters to her husband, she also petitioned Parliament to show mercy to her family, and it is these letters and petitions which display the hallmark of her godliness.
There were four petitions in all. The first pleads for a pardon from ‘your distressed handmaid’, whose spirit ‘is somewhat revived with the thought that there is hope in Israel’ – hope on the basis that her ‘humble petition is presented before so many professing godliness, who have tasted abundantly how gracious the Lord is, and who through mercy are called of God to inherit a blessing, and to be a blessing to the afflicted in the midst of the land’.
In her second petition Mary Love, accepting that her husband may have so provoked Parliament to the extent that he cannot be fully pardoned, requests that he be banished to wherever in the world Parliament deems fit. In doing this Mary Love cites what Solomon said of Abiathar: ‘Thou art worthy of death: but I will not at this time put thee to death’ (1 Kings 2:26).
Mary Love’s third petition begins by thanking Parliament for mercifully extending the life of her husband by one month: ‘B1essed be God, and blessed be you, for your merciful vote of the 15th July… which has opened a door of hope in the midst of the valley of Achor, and made her glad’ (Hosea 2: 15). However, as Mary Love contemplates on the 15th August she ‘is overwhelmed with grief and anguish of soul, and… her heart does almost die within her’, but there is no sense of blame, instead she offers her life and that of her unborn child as a ransom for her husband’s life: ‘Oh that the life of your handmaid and her babe might be a ransom for the life of her condemned husband.’
It was during a second stay of execution that Mary Love submitted her final petition to Parliament. In it she writes as one whose ‘spirit is overwhelmed within her, after sundry applications and grievous disappointments, more bitter than death’. But, as ‘the importunate Canaanite woman did the Lord Jesus’ (Matthew 15:21-28), writes Mary Love, ‘so she must once again implore Parliament to commute the sentence of death on her husband to one of banishment, that he may be sent “as a prophet from the dead”, to labour for the conversion of “the poor Indians” of New England’. There was no reprieve and Christopher Love was put to death on 22nd August 1651.
These petitions convey not only the humanitarian earnestness of Mary Love, they also reveal her true godliness. This latter point may be seen in the use Mary Love makes of Bible cameos, which display hope, compassion, and mercy. But in pleading for these things from Parliament. Mary Love also recognised God’s sovereignty in the matter: ‘Now the God of heaven bow your hearts to show mercy’; ‘Now the good Lord incline your hearts’; ‘O that God would open your hearts’. We should note too that for the first petition being read in Parliament and a stay of execution following the second petition, Mary Love not only thanks Parliament, but, more importantly, gives praise to God for these mercies. Furthermore, Mary Love’s offer to take the place of her husband that he may go and proclaim the Gospel to the Indians of New England is another indication of true Christian character in its concern for others.
Turning to the letters written by Mary Love to her husband in the weeks before his execution, we find the same godliness expressed as she endeavours to prepare her husband with Christian wisdom and comfort for that fateful day. In one letter, dated 14th July, Mary reminds her husband: ‘You leave but a sinful, mortal wife, to be everlastingly married to the Lord of glory: you leave but children, brothers and sisters, to go to the Lord Jesus your eldest brother: you leave friends on earth to go to the enjoyment of just men made perfect.’ But knowing the strength of natural affections, Mary urges: that if these ‘should begin to arise, I hope that spirit of grace that is within you will quell them, knowing that all things here below are but dung and dross in comparison of those things that are above’. ‘O that the Lord would keep you from having one troubled thought for your relations.’ Furthermore, writes Mary, ‘when you go up the scaffold, think (as you said to me) it is but your fiery chariot to carry you up to your Father’s house… Be comforted, my dear heart, it is but a little stroke, and you shall be there where the weary shall be at rest, and where the wicked shall cease from troubling.’
In a second letter, dated 21st August, the day before Christopher Love’s execution, the same sentiments are expressed: ‘You now behold God, Christ, and glory as in a glass; but tomorrow heaven’s gates will be opened. and you shall be in the full enjoyment of all those glories which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither can the heart of man understand’; ‘O let not one troubled thought for your wife and babes arise within you! Your God will be our God and our portion. He will be a husband to your widow, and a father to your children: the grace of your God will be sufficient for us’; ‘O let me hear how God bears up your heart, and let me taste of those comforts that support you, that they may be as pillars of marble to bear up my sinking spirit.’
Mary Love’s letters are very affectionate and poignant. They also exemplify true godliness as is evident by the way Mary Love encourages her husband to maintain his confidence in God and to fix his thoughts on the inexpressible and incomparable glory that awaited him. As one writer put it: ‘How delightful the thoughts she suggests for his reflection! And how well qualified does she prove herself to be for ministering refreshment and support to him from the fountains of Christian consolation!’
Likewise, by not dwelling on the negatives, nor ‘indulging in any outburst of passionate feeling’, Mary Love brings a positive perspective to the terrible situation in which she and her family find themselves. Evident also is Mary Love’s own indefatigable confidence in God: ‘Thy Maker will be my husband and a father to thy children’; ‘O let not one troubled thought for your wife and babes arise within you! Your God will be our God and our portion. He will be a husband to your widow, and a father to your children; the grace of your God will be sufficient for us.’
All the ambitions and endeavours of Mary Love and many like her, were directed to bringing about the God-centred life. In another Mary of those times, Lady Vere, we have a Christian who, out of her high regard for Gospel preaching, was the great instrument in promoting godliness, seeking to use what influence she had to place godly and gifted ministers into many vacant church positions. The same high regard for preaching is found in Christopher Love’s parting counsels to his wife: ‘keep under a sound, orthodox and soul-searching ministry… Attend under that ministry that teaches the way of God in truth.’ Such advice is still very necessary today!
Taken with permission from the Gospel Magazine, May-June 2007
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