This was the most considerable writer among the baptists during the first period of our history. He was born in Buckinghamshire, in the year one thousand six hundred and forty. His parents were pious, but too poor to give him a liberal education. He was designed for trade, but aspired after literary attainments. He early devoted himself to the study of the sacred Scriptures, and was baptized on a profession of
faith at fifteen years of age. In his eighteenth year, the society of Christians, to which he had united himself, invited him to preach the Gospel among them.
When the restoration had introduced a new order of things, he began to feel the iron rod of persecution. Like the dragoons in France, after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, the troopers in England were employed in wreaking the vengeance of the government upon dissenters from the established faith : and some of them having seized Mr. Keach while he was preaching, bound him, and laying him on the ground, mounted their horses with the design of trampling him to death, which would have been his fate, had not their officer arrived at the moment, and prevented the execution of their inhuman purpose.
Some time afterwards this active young man having printed a catechism, entitled "the Child's Instructor, or a new and easy Primer," into which he had naturally introduced the peculiar sentiments of his denomination, he was indicted at the assizes at Aylesbury, in October, in the year one thousand six hundred and sixty-four, "for publishing certain damnable positions contrary to the book of common prayer, and the liturgy of the church of England." The trial, which is recorded by Crosby, vol. II. p. 186, &c. was managed by the prosecutors with a degree of violence, which reflects great dishonour on the spirit of the times, and the character of the lord chief justice Hyde, who then sat on the bench. The jury was almost compelled to find him guilty; and he was sentenced to stand in the pillory at Aylesbury and at Winslow, to have his book burnt by the hands of the hangman, and to pay a fine of twenty pounds. So formidable in those days, was a little baptist catechism!
Having endured the punishment of the law, or rather of the court, he continued for four years to preach in those parts; but finding no rest from informers, he determined to seek refuge in London. On his way he was robbed, and, with his wife and family, entered the metropolis pennyless, and almost unknown. But he was soon taken notice of, and in a few months invited and ordained to be pastor of a small congregation which met in a private house in Tooly-street, and afterwards removed to a commodious meeting-house which they built in Horsley-down.
In the earlier part of life, Mr. Keach was an arminian (a creed very prevalent at that time among this sect), but after his arrival in London, he began to examine the sentiments of the general and particular baptists. The result was a renunciation of his former opinions, and the embracing of the calvinistic system, for which, as he advanced in years, he became peculiarly strenuous, and as peculiarly severe against those whom he conceived to believe his own former creed. Had he shewn less of this severity, it would have been as honourable to himself, and no less beneficial to the cause of Christ.
He continued with his flock during the remainder of his life. Like his brethren he had his share of sufferings; and with those who survived the revolution, had the consolation to spend his old age in peace, and in the quiet exercise of his ministry among his people. The congregation gradually increased, so that they were under the necessity of repeatedly enlarging the place, till at last it would contain, Crosby says, a thousand people.
His qualifications for the ministry were considerable; and his temper and conduct adorned the doctrine
of God his Saviour. He generally used notes in the pulpit, especially in the latter part of his life. After a long season of labour, he was seized with a violent illness, which disabled him from conversing with his friends; but he bore it with resignation to the divine will, and what little he could say was suitable to the character of a man of God. He died on the eighteenth of July, in the year one thousand seven hundred and four, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.
Benjamin Keach was a busy man, both in the pulpit and in the press. He published eighteen practical books, sixteen controversial, and nine which he calls poetical. There are six on baptism: so important did their distinguishing tenet appear, that during the whole of the seventeenth century, there is scarcely a writer of that denomination who did not publish something on the subject.
His two most celebrated pieces are his "Tropologia, or a Key to open the Scripture Metaphors," in two volumes folio, published in the year one thousand six hundred and eighty-two: and his "Gospel Mysteries unveiled, or an Exposition of all the Parables," in folio, in the year one thousand seven hundred and four. Both are books for which the Christian world is under great obligations to the author. He has, indeed, heaped together every thing which he could collect; and it requires judgment in the reader to separate what is good, from what is fanciful and strained, and not to the purpose. But still we are very much indebted to Mr. Keach for doing so fully and so well, on both topics, what no Englishman had done before. On the continent tropology had been studied with the most assiduous attention ; and some valuable treatises had been written on the subject,
but none had so successfully cultivated it at home. To the honour of Mr. Keach, and as the strongest proof of their value, both these performances are still in request, and continue to be sold at a high price to the present day.
[From David Bogue & James Bennett, History of Dissenters, from the Revolution in 1688, to the year 1809, Volume 2, 1809, pp. 263-267. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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