James Nayler opens his 1655 tract, Salutation to the Seed of God, with this perplexing decree:
Arise, shine forth, thou seed of the covenant, to which the promise is, for thy glory to come; and with judgment is the Lord arisen to redeem his chosen, and all that turn to him shall be covered with righteousness, even that which before the world was, and above all the world is, which is perfect for evermore.
The dense sentence, overlapping itself with metaphor, has more in common with contemporary poetry than it does with analytic exposition. At the outset of the 38-page tract (as it appears in the Collected Works), this galvanizing invocation addresses a puzzling first-person singular “Seed of the Covenant.”
Covenant, of course, was a widespread theological concept of the time, often as the binding agreement between God and a community of faith, beginning with those exhibited in covenants made over the course of the Hebrew Bible; for early Friends, it could also be salvation itself. Here, though, the Seed may be taken to be a result or even a cause of that covenant, something advanced in the next phrase, “the Lord arisen” just as the Seed is urged to “arise” and “shine forth.” The hint in “shine forth” would link this Seed and Lord to the Light as Quakers understood it, but for now, the argument pushes along other lines. Nayler chooses instead to confront the widespread Calvinist doctrine of the elect – the select few who God knew were predestined from the beginning to be saved for eternity, while the rest of sinful humanity would remain damned.
Nayler, in contrast, proclaims that this arisen Seed, the Lord, comes “to redeem all … that turn to him.” This arisen Seed or Lord judges “his chosen,” and Nayler turns the concept from those who are chosen by the Lord to those who themselves choose to respond to God. Nayler insists, once again hinting at Light metaphor, that those who turn to the Seed or Lord “shall be covered with righteousness, even that which before the world was, and above all the world is, which is perfect for evermore.” Covered, as in bathed with Light.
How I wish Nayler had drafted this preamble as a clearer presentation of the response to Light, rather than as a retort to Calvinist doctrine. Even so, what I emphasize here is the emotional richness of the statement, and its sense of an intense personal experience bursting across Nayler’s awareness.
Elsewhere, Nayler perceives this as active:
And this seed … strives not by violence but entreats … And this is the seed of eternal peace, and the eternal peace-maker … where the hardness of heart is broken.
Perhaps even as something planted within one, rather than innate:
And as He grows in you, and you in Him, you will feel that power arising which will make you able to answer a good conscience, and give lasting peace, and so by His resurrection shall be saved from condemnation … following the Lamb in all his leadings … as you become faithful thereto, you will feel the fruit of that Holy One springing in you … and to the comfort of His own Seed, and cross to the world … yield to the Lord of the vineyard His fruit in due season.
It is even spiritual nourishment:
So that nothing shall hinder your prayers from coming to the throne of God, nor the dew and blessing of heaven from falling upon the seed. … And as you come to feed on the Plant of life, you will come to know the work of the Father in His vineyard, and who the faithful laborer is, and what must be his work … the vine may grow alone in the clean affections, and holy mind, and honest chaste heart, which is the good ground, and where the pure Plant will bring forth of itself in all, where it is not encumbered with that which is contrary to it; which contrary fruits all that mind the light may see.