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Benjamin Keach and Freedom of Printing
By J. M. Cramp, 1871
Benjamin Keach's sufferings have been detailed in a former section [See here]. He was twenty-four years of age when he endured the pillory. Born in 1640, he was converted in his fifteenth year, and commenced preaching, at the invitation of the Church, three years afterwards, though he did not undertake a pastoral charge till 1668, when he was chosen pastor of a church in Southwark. He remained there till his death.

An occurrence during his journey to London illustrates the state of society and the deficiency of the police arrangements at that time. Mr. Keach, his wife, and three children were traveling to London by the stage-coach. On their way they were attacked by a band of highwaymen, who robbed the passengers of all their money and valuables, leaving Mr. Keach, who had just sold his effects for the purpose of settling in London, and had the proceeds of the sale in his pocket, in a state of utter destitution. But friends relieved his immediate necessities, and assisted him in bringing an action against the county for the amount of his loss, in which he succeeded. Such a procedure would be accounted strange in these days.

Mr. Keach's labours were much blessed. For four years the church over which he presided met in private houses, often changing the place of assembly to avoid the pursuit of informers. In 1672, when Charles II issued a "Declaration of Indulgence," a meeting-house was erected for the church. It was enlarged several times, as the congregation increased, and at length was capable of accommodating nearly a thousand persons.

Preaching was not the whole of his work. Mr. Keach was a voluminous writer. Some of his works were "polemical," some "practical," some "poetical." The "polemical" treated of various subjects, then warmly discussed -- including the laying on of hands, the lawfulness of singing in public worship, the authority of the Christian Sabbath, and baptism. On the last-mentioned theme he wrote frequently, and with great earnestness. The "practical" portion of his works comprised, besides minor productions, his Tropologia; or, Key to Open Scripture Metaphors; his Gospel Mysteries Unveiled; or, an Exposition of all the Parables; and his Travels of True Godliness, and Travels of Ungodliness. The first two were bulky books, which were rather distinguished for ingenuity than for just criticism. They have been reprinted several times, but, however valuable in a devotional or experimental point of view, cannot be recommended as models of sound exegesis. The two others are somewhat in Bunyan's style. They are still prized by serious readers. The most important of his "Poetical" compositions was, Zion in Distress; or, the Groans of the Protestant Church, first published in 1666. This was written, as he says in the Preface, because "he perceived Popery was ready to bud, and would, if God prevented not, spring up afresh in the land." After the Revolution, his prolific pen produced another poem, entitled, Distressed Sion Relieved; or, the Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness. He also published a collection, entitled, Spiritual Melody, containing nearly three hundred hymns.

Mr. Keach's constitution was weak, and his illnesses were frequent. In 1689 his life was despaired of; his physicians had exhausted their skill; and his relatives took leave of him, expecting his departure to be near at hand, when, as Crosby relates, "the Reverend Mr. Hanserd Knollys, seeing his friend and brother near to all appearance expiring, betook himself to prayer, and, in an earnest and very extraordinary manner, begged that God would spare him and add unto his days the time granted unto His servant Hezekiah. As soon as he ended his prayer, he said, 'Brother Keach, I shall be in heaven before you,' and quickly after left him. So remarkable was the answer of God to this good man's prayer, that I cannot omit it; though it may be discredited by some, there are yet living incontestable evidences of the fact; -- for Mr. Keach recovered of that illness, and lived just fifteen years afterwards; and then it pleased God to visit him with that short sickness which put an end to his life." He died July 18, 1704, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.

The historian Crosby was a member of the church under Mr. Keach's pastoral care. His delineation of the character of his pastor was the result of personal and close observation. It is manifestly a picture from life, and is worthy of preservation.
"To collect every particular transaction of this worthy minister's life cannot be expected at such a distance of time; nay, even to collect all that was excellent and amiable in him is too great a task to be now undertaken. I shall only observe that he was a person of great integrity of soul; a Nathanael indeed; his conversation not frothy and vain, but serious, without being morose or sullen. He began to be religious early, and continued faithful to the last. He was not shocked by the fury of his persecutors, though he suffered so much from them for the cause of Christ. Preaching the Gospel was the pleasure of his soul, and his heart was so engaged in the work of the ministry, that from the time of his first appearing in public to the end of his days his life was one continued scene of labour and toil. His great study and constant preaching exhausted his animal spirits and enfeebled his strength, yet to the last he discovered a becoming zeal against the errors of the day. His soul was too great to recede from any truth that he owned, either from the powers or flatteries of the most eminent. He discharged the duties of his pastoral office with unwearied diligence, by preaching in season and out of season, visiting those under his charge, encouraging the serious, defending the great truths of the Gospel, and setting them in the clearest light. How low would he stoop for the sake of peace! And how would he bear the infirmities of his weak brethren! that such as would not be wrought upon by the strength of reason might be melted by his condescension and good nature. He was prudent as well as peaceable; would forgive and forget injuries, being charitable as well as cautious. He was not addicted to utter hard censures of such as differed from him in lesser matters, but had a love for all saints, and constantly exercised himself in this, to keep a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. He showed an unwearied endeavor to recover the decayed power of religion, for he lived what he preached, and it pleased God so to succeed his endeavors that I doubt not but some yet living may call him their father whom he hath begotten through the Gospel. He affected no unusual tones nor indecent gestures in his preaching. His style was strong and masculine. He generally used notes, especially in the latter part of his life; and if his sermons had not the embellishments of language which some boast of, they had this peculiar advantage, to be full of solid divinity, which is a much better character for pulpit discourses than to say they are full of pompous eloquence and flights of wit. It was none of the least of his excellent qualifications for the ministerial work, that he 'knew how to behave himself in the house of God,' in regard to the exercise of that discipline which is so necessary to a Christian society. With patience and meekness, with gravity and prudence, with impartiality and faithfulness, did he demean himself in his congregation; and with prudence in conduct did he manage all their affairs upon all occasions."1

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Note

1 Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, ii, pp. 360-368.

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[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871, pp. 387-391. Jim Duvall



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