John Crook (1617-91) was an early Quaker minister, Justice of the Peace and writer. He was born into the gentry, probably in Lancashire, England. In 1654 he heard William Dewsbury, a Friends preacher, and was converted to Quakerism. He went on to become a noted Quaker minister, mostly active in Bedfordshire, and published a brief account of his life and numerous pamphlets. In 1658 one of the first sessions of Britain Yearly Meeting was held at Beckerings Park, his estate. Crook was also gagged, beaten, stoned and arrested several times for preaching Quakerism. In 1660, after one trial, he forfeited all of his property and money, though this was later rescinded by King Charles II. Based on his extensive legal knowledge and asserting his rights as an Englishman, he disputed all of his arrests. He was greatly loved by Friends.
“A Short History of the Life of John Crook” was his autobiography. His pamphlets included “Unrighteousness no Plea for Truth, nor Ignorance a Lover of it”; “The Case of Swearing (at all) Discussed”; “An Epistle for Unity, to prevent the Wiles of the Enemy”; “An Apology for the Quakers….”; “The Cry of the Innocent for Justice….”; and “Truth’s Principles….among the People of God called Quakers”. They offer explanations of Friends beliefs. His writings were widely popular with Friends in the 18th century.
“A Short History of the Life of John Crook” recounts the story of his experience with silent prayer. As an adolescent, he began a spiritual struggle to lead what he saw as a Godly life. He found nothing –not the Bible, sacraments, ministers, etc. -spoke to him spiritually, however. In despair, searching for a direct connection with the Spirit, he ended up finding a quiet place and praying silently. This then became his practice. On one occasion he heard an inner voice that said, “(I) will never leave thee nor forsake thee, saith I, the Lord, the mighty God”, and that gave him great peace. Years later, after his conversion to Quakerism, he noted that his early experiences with silent prayer suddenly made sense: “I came to see what it was that so long cried in me, upon every occasion, of serious inward retiring of my own spirit”.
The origins of Friends worship are unknown. One probable source was individuals like Crook with their experience of silent prayer. (George Fox was another example of this). Another possible source was people inspired by the ministry of the brothers Walter, Thomas and Bartholemew Legate, who preached about silent prayer. Those people gathered together in loose associations and called themselves the Seekers. Groups of them existed throughout England but especially in the cities of Bristol and London and the counties of Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmoreland and Yorkshire. They created a religious service of silent worship with spoken prayer. In 1652 the Sedburgh Seekers became the first group to join with George Fox.
John Crook was a remarkable individual. He was one of the early Quakers overshadowed by better known Friends, like George Fox and James Nayler. His “A Short History of the Life of John Crook” is a lively, well-written piece. It also offers a rare glimpse into what may have been one source of the Quaker Meeting for Worship.