Early Life: Conversion and Family
Benjamin Keach was born on February 29, 1640 in Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire to John and Fedora Keach. He was raised Anglican and was converted at 15 under the preaching of Matthew Mead, an Independent. Keach came to Baptist convictions through personal Bible study and was baptized by John Russell, a General Baptist pastor. At 18, he was ordained as pastor of the General Baptist congregation in Winslow. In 1660, Keach married Jane Grove, a native of Winslow, who eventually bore Keach 5 children, three of whom survived infancy. Of these three children one daughter (Hannah) is known to have become a Quaker, causing her father great distress to the end of his life, but his son Elias Keach (who fled to America when he was 19 in rebellion against his parents) was converted to Christ and became a faithful gospel preacher, helping to plant many Baptist churches that would come to comprise the Philadelphia [Baptist] Association.Early Persecution for Baptist Teaching
In 1664, Keach was confined and tortured for preaching dissenting positions against the state church. Later that same year, Keach published The Child’s Instructor; or, a new and easie Primmer
. This book was primarily written to instruct children in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it contained Baptist doctrine in the examples. Keach was tried on October 8, 1664, fined £20 (a large sum for a poor Baptist preacher in those days), and sentenced to 2 weeks in prison with 2 periods of 2 hours each day in the pillory
. Keach used his time in the pillory to preach to the crowd that gathered to ridicule him, and he tried to persuade them of the Baptist position; when told that he would be gagged if not silenced, Keach stopped speaking, except to quote Matthew 5:10
.Conversion to Reformed Baptist Convictions and Ministry as a Pastor
In 1668 Keach moved to London, began attending a General Baptist meeting in Southwark– a suburb of London, and was soon ordained an elder in this congregation. Keach met William Kiffin
and Hanserd Knollys
and by the time of his second marriage in 1672 to Susanna Partridge of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire (Jane had died in 1670), Keach had become a Particular Baptist (Knollys officiated the wedding). Also in 1672, Keach and a few like-minded individuals (possibly former members of the Southwark General Baptist church who had also come to Reformed convictions) began a Particular Baptist congregation in Horse-lie-down, Southwark. Of Keach’s preaching, historian Michael A.G. Haykin
Keach’s pulpit ministry was characterized by vigorous evangelism and regular calls to the unconverted to respond to Christ in faith. According to C.H. Spurgeon, in speaking to the lost Keach was “intensely direct, solemn, and impressive, not flinching to declare the terrors of the Lord, nor veiling the freeness of divine grace.”
Geoff Thomas, writing for Banner of Truth, quotes the following appeal from Keach’s preaching:
Receive the Saviour; believe in him and you shall be saved whosoever you are. It is not the greatness of your sins that can hinder you or obstruct you from saving your souls. Though your sins be as red as scarlet, or as red as crimson he will wash them all away and shall make you as white as wool, as white as snow.
Under this evangelistic preaching, Keach’s congregation grew so large that the meeting-house in Horse-lie-down had to be expanded to accommodate about 1000 people. Under Keach’s leadership, the Particular Baptist congregation of Horse-lie-down was also active in planting other new churches in southern England.
Keach was one of the seven men who sent out the invitation
to the 1689 General Assembly.Keach’s Writing Ministry
Keach wrote 43 works. In light of the denial that our justification (right-standing) before God is based on the imputed righteousness of Christ (the idea that Christ’s obedience to God is credited to the account of every believer) put forth by both the Roman Catholic Church and by the Puritan Richard Baxter, Keach wrote a number of works on justification: The Marrow of Justification
(1692), The Everlasting Covenant
(1693, a funeral sermon for Mr. Henry Forty), A Golden Mine opened; or, the Glory of God’s rich Grace displayed
(1694), Jacob’s Ladder Improved (Christ Alone the way to heaven)
(1698), A medium betwixt two Extremes
(1698), and The Display of Glorious Grace; or the Covenant of Peace opened
(1698). Of Keach’s teaching on justification, historian Thomas J. Nettles
It is not, as per Baxter and Rome, that Christ’s death is the meritorious cause of our [opportunity for] justification, but “Christ’s righteousness, i.e., his active and passive obedience, is we affirm, the matter of justification, or the material cause; and as it is imputed to us, also the formal cause thereof.”
In Keach’s teaching, a sinner’s coming to a right standing before God does not depend on any kind of obedience the sinner can offer to God. Instead, Christ fulfills the obedience that God requires in His active obedience [keeping all of God’s Law perfectly], and in His passive obedience [submitting to death on a Cross], which obedience is credited to the believing sinner’s account.
Several of Keach’s works focused on defending the doctrine of believers’ baptism against the error of infant baptism: Pedo-baptism disproved
(1691), The Rector Rectified and Corrected or Infant Baptist Unlawful
(1692), The Ax Laid to the Root, or One Blow More at the Foundation of Infant Baptism and Church Membership
(1693). Keach believed that those who taught that a person could in any sense come into the Christian community apart from faith were deceiving people with a false hope.
As a pastor, Keach was particularly concerned with a rightly ordered church. To this end, Keach wrote The Gospel Minister’s Maintenance Vindicated
(1691) in favor of the church’s financial support of the pastor so that he might devote time to study and spiritual counsel. Keach also wrote on church discipline in The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d
. In this book, Keach had much to teach about admitting persons to church membership, writing:
[E]very person, before they are admitted Members, in such a Church so constituted, must declare to the Church (or to such with the Pastor,…) what God hath done for their Souls, or their Experiences of a Saving work of Grace upon their Hearts… [also, the] Church should enquire after, and take full satisfaction concerning their Holy Lives, or Good Conversations… [the member must] Covenant, to walk in the Fellowship of that particular Congregation, and submit themselves to the Care and Discipline thereof. Keach and the Hymn-Singing Controversy
The modern Baptist movement (a return to the biblical practice of believers’ baptism) began as churches that had separated from the Church of England sought greater consistency in applying the Regulative Principle– the belief that every element of corporate worship must come from a direct command, example, or necessary inference of Scripture. In their commitment to Scripture, some churches holding to the Regulative Principle came to the position that no man-made songs should be sung in corporate worship. Churches that reached this conclusion either sung only the Psalms (as these were inspired by God), or they did not sing at all. Based on Ephesians 5:18-19
and Colossians 3:16
a few Baptist churches began to advocate singing hymns in worship. Before the time that Keach entered this controversy, Welsh Baptist preacher Vavasor Powell (1617-1670) declared that the “singing of Psalms (particularly Scripture-Psalms), Hymns, and Spiritual songs, is a continued Gospel-ordinance, and duty; and to be performed by all, but especially in the Churches.” By 1675 Keach had introduced singing a hymn at the conclusion of the Lord’s Table to his congregation at Horse-lie-down, based on Matthew 26:30
and Mark 14:26
. In 1680 London Baptist pastor Hercules Collins gave clear support of the practice of congregational singing. In 1691 Keach published The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship; or the Singing of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs proved to be an Ordinance of Jesus Christ
(1691) and on March 1 of that year a large majority of the congregation at Horse-lie-down voted to close every service with a hymn; that same month, a group of dissenters left the church. In favor of congregational hymn-singing Keach went on to write The Banquetting-House, or a Feast of Fat Things
(1692) and Spiritual Songs, Being the Marrow of the Scripture in Songs of Praise to Almighty God; from the Old and New Covenant
(1700). Of Keach’s involvement in the dispute over congregational hymn-singing, Nettles notes:
Though it cost him much controversy and an eventual split in the church, Keach believed that congregational hymn-singing could not be forsaken apart from outright disobedience to a specifically prescribed aspect of worship.Conclusion
When Keach was dying in the summer of 1704, he asked Joseph Stennett, one of his fellow Calvinistic Baptist ministers in London, to preach a sermon on a portion of 2 Timothy 1:12.
This request is significant because Stennett was a Seventh-day Baptist, believing that the fourth commandment still applies to Saturday even in the New Covenant age. Keach published a series of sermons against this seventh-day position in 1700 titled The Jewish Sabbath Abrogated, or The Saturday Sabbatarians Confuted
. Though vigorous in his defense of the truth, Keach would allow no doctrinal dispute to overshadow the chief doctrine of the Christian faith– the Good News of Jesus Christ. By keeping the gospel central, Keach saw no inconsistency in asking a minister with whom he disagreed on a lesser matter to preach his funeral sermon. Keach died on July 18, 1704. He is an excellent example of an evangelistic pastor who did not shrink back from proclaiming and defending the whole counsel of God.
Michael A.G. Haykin. Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach
. Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996.
Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists, Vol. 1
. Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2005.Article
on The Excellent Benjamin Keach
from Banner of TruthBenjamin Keach page
on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library]