The Seekers

Mid 17’th Century

English people despaired of finding rest for their souls in the 1640s. “How shall we find our way to heaven,” they asked, “while some say this, others say that, and all seem equally lost?”

For generations the rulers and churchmen of England had struggled to establish its religion. First the Anglican church separated from Rome. Among Anglicans, some fought to keep elaborate rituals. Others, known as “Puritans” pushed for simpler worship and a  moral lifestyle. Some wanted to separate from the state church and became Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Several kinds of Baptists disagreed with one another about God’s election to salvation. Besides them, free thinkers and independents of many descriptions made claims and disputed the claims of others. Some had small followings. Others believed it was wrong to have a following.

All religious people in England disagreed with one another how to baptise, when to baptise, how to hold communion, which commands of God to obey (in the Old and New Testaments) and who had the last word. Scottish Covenanters supported Parliament. Both fought against the King. From Canterbury, Archbishop Laud thundered denunciations in the name of Christ, until thrown into the Tower of London, and beheaded. King Charles also lost his head, after switching sides and joining the Scots against Oliver Cromwell. All felt equally certain of being in the right. All used Scripture to support their positions, and everyone contributed in one way or another to the civil war that drenched England in chaos and blood.

More than a hundred years had passed since Sir Thomas More wrote his book, Utopia, describing the triumph of reason over senseless strife. But Thomas More had lost his head too. Strife had increased, and reason seemed further from triumph than ever. Many English people, in fact, began to doubt whether anyone knew the reason for anything they did.

Then they heard a still, small, voice in the storm.

It was the voice of a few who stopped struggling and disputing to wait, in silence, on God.

Here and there, during the 1640s, men and women discovered that true peace never comes from without. It is not a matter of outward circumstances. It does not come through outer rites, nor through words and actions that one can hear and see. Neither obedience to the laws of God and men, spiritual gifts, personal righteousness, participation in the sacraments, Bible reading, belief in Christ’s atoning work, nor the promises of God, bring true peace.

All these things have their place, but true peace is a treasure one only finds within—when Christ becomes a friend of the soul. 

R. Wilkinson, one of the men who sought true inner peace—“Seekers” as people began to call them—wrote in 1648:

I would not have any think that I deny Scriptures, Ordinances, Christ’s coming in the flesh, or his kingdom after death. . . . What I want is to set all things in their proper place, and bring souls to see their true centre. . . .

The rest of the saints is not in any of these [outward] things. But he who is the sum and substance of all—that is, Christ in the Spirit coming in us, to be life, light, happiness, and our hope of Glory—is the rest of the saints.

In this time God is uncovering what is false and stripping his creatures naked. God is bringing men to see the great mystery of who they really are. He is taking away what is outward and visible and bringing them to spiritual death. He lays the mountains low . . . even to a loss and silence, confusion, and darkness. The life of men becomes darkness, their wisdom folly, their life, death . . . now they are made to wait in silence, as well as the author of this book was made to do.[1]

Instead of accusing God for stripping away their outer securities—all they had known, believed, and depended on—during the English Civil War, the Seekers thanked him for it. They thanked him for letting them come to utter helplessness and silence within, for there one may find God.

Even when they did not find God, the Seekers learned to wait on him. Then he gave them rest.

The Seekers withdrew from religious and political strife. “Dead to self” they stopped grasping for the religious superiority of the Puritans. They stopped trying, with the Baptists and Anglicans, to discern the “correct” way to administer the sacraments. They stopped discussing theology with the Presbyterians. In their meetings they simply waited on the Word of God (Christ) to come to them. A Seeker, Sarah Jones, wrote:

Sink down in the eternal Word and rest there, and not in anything visible the Word has created, for it is the Word of the Lord and shall endure forever. This is the eternal Word that was before the visible, and this Word rejected by the builders is become the head of the corner.

Reason not with flesh and blood, nor with the voice of the serpent, for if you do, you will darken the counsel of God in yourselves. Rather, shut

out in the power of the Lord. If Eve would have done this she would not have been overcome.

Stand still and see the salvation of God which is the light of his covenant. . . . Cease thy mourning, thou weeping babe that mourns in secret for manifestations of thy beloved . . . for I can tesify unto thee by experience whosever thou art in that state, that he is bringing thee nearer him. Those manifestations were but milk which he fed thee whilst thou wert weak. Now he will feed thee with the Word from whence that milk proceedeth.

Live at home with Jacob—that is, retire daily into thy mind—though the gadding, hunting Esau persecutes thee for it. Then thou shallt receive the blessing! The glorious day of the Lord God hasteth to be revealed to those who are kept faithful in his Word.[2]

All over England groups of Seekers began to meet and wait on the Lord together. When inspiration came, they shared it. Congregations formed in London, Bristol, and other cities where men like Richard Farnworth, Thomas Aldam, and William Dewsbury served the Word. In Sedbergh, in northwestern Yorkshire, Francis Howgill led in the affairs of a large group of honest Seekers.

The Seekers did not profess to know all the answers. They did not make the persuading of others their priority. But in their humble emptiness they made room for the Spirit of Christ and his body took shape among them. 

Main source: Gwyn, Douglas, The Covenant Crucified, Pendle Hill, Wallingford PA, 1995

[1] From The Saint’s Travel to Spiritual Canaan

[2] From This is Light’s Appearance in The Truth

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