Rev. Benjamin Keach was born in Stokehaman, England, February 29, 1640. He found peace through Christ in his fifteenth year; and being unable to discover infant baptism or baptism by sprinkling in the Bible, and being fully satisfied that every believer should be immersed, he was baptized after the Saviour’s example by John Russel, and united with a neighboring Baptist church. This community, perceiving his remarkable talents, encouraged him, when he was eighteen years old, to exercise his gifts as a minister.
At first he was an Arminian about the extent of the atonement and free-will, but the reading of the Scriptures and the conversation of those who knew thewill of God more perfectly relieved him from both errors. In 1668, in the twenty-eighth year of his age, he was ordained pastor of the church of Horsleydown, Southwark, London. The congregation increased so rapidly after Mr. Keach became pastor, that they had repeatedly to enlarge their house of worship.
Mr. Keach soon became a famous disputant on the Baptist side; he had taken Richard Baxter in hand, to the serious injury of the bishop of Kidderminster, and others had felt his heavy blows.
The Rev. John Tredwell, of Lavingham, a friend of Mr. Keach, was blessed in his ministry by the conversion of several vicious persons, who united with his church; this stirred up the indignation of the Rev. Wm. Burkitt, the commentator, a neighbor of Mr. Tredwell, who cast many unjust reflections upon the Baptists and their doctrines. Mr. Tredwell wrote Mr. Burkitt giving some reasons why he should abandon the unchristian course he was pursuing. Mr. Burkitt, at a time when Mr. Tredwell and his people were gathered in the sanctuary for public worship, with a number of his parishioners, entered the meeting-house, and demanded that Mr. Tredwell and his church should hear his view of the points in dispute. Mr. Tredwell, taken aback somewhat by "such a riotous and tumultuous challenge," agreed to let him speak against Baptist beliefs and usages, provided that he should have an opportunity to reply. For nearly two hours Mr. Burkitt sustained infant baptism, and then he and his "riotous company departed without giving Mr. Tredwell an opportunity of making any return, except to a few of his own persuasion that were left behind." Mr. Burkitt speedily published the substance of the address so rudely intruded upon the Baptist minister and his people. Mr. Keach, as a valiant defender of the faith, was invited to reply to Mr. Burkitt's arguments, which he did effectively in "The Rector Rectified and Corrected." Mr. Burkitt was rector of Dedham.
He was challenged by some Episcopal ministers to discuss baptism at Gravesend, near London. As he went to that place in a boat with some friends, he incidentally alluded to the proposed meeting in a way that permitted a stranger, an Episcopal minister, to know that he was Mr. Keach. This person attacked him about infant baptism, and received such a complete drubbing that as soon as the boat
touched land he started for his Episcopal brethren and informed them of the arguments which Mr. Keach would use and of his method of putting them. The result of the interview between Mr. Keach's fellow-traveler in the Gravesend boat and his brethren was that they went away as quickly as possible, leaving Mr. Keach without an antagonist.
Mr. Keach was often in prison for preaching, and his life was frequently in danger. Some cavalry sent down to Buckinghamshire to suppress the religious meetings of Dissenters found Mr. Keach preaching, and swore that they would kill him. He was seized and bound and laid on the earth, and four of the troopers were ready to trample him to death with their horses; but just as they were going to put spurs to their horses an officer who perceived their object rode up and stopped them. He was taken to prison, from which he obtained a release after suffering great hardships.
In 1664 he wrote "The Child's Instructor." For the heresies against the Episcopal Church in the little work he was arrested and bound over under heavy penalties to appear at court. The assizes began at Aylesbury October 8, 1664. The judge was Lord Chief Justice Hyde, afterwards Lord Clarendon, who acted like Jeffreys at the "Bloody Assizes." He abused Mr. Keach outrageously, he threatened the jury, and he evidently wanted to have Mr. Keach executed if he could terrify him into making some unwise statements. The jury brought in a verdict that Mr. Keach was guilty in part. And when asked to explain their verdict the foreman said, “In the indictment he is charged with these words, 'When the thousand years shall be expired, then shall all the rest of the devils be raised'; but in the book it is, 'Then shall the rest of the dead be raised.'" The judge informed the jury that they could bring him in guilty of all. the indictments but that sentence. They brought in the prompted verdict. And immediately the judge said: "Benjamin Keach, you are here convicted for writing, printing, and publishing a seditious and schismatical book, for which the court's judgment is that you go to jail for a fortnight without bail, and the next Saturday stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury in the open market for the space of two hours, with a paper upon your head with this inscription, 'For writing, printing, and publishing a schismatical book entitled "The Child's Instructor, or a New and Easy Primer,"' and the next Thursday to stand in the same manner and for the same time in the market of Winslow; and then your book shall be openly burnt before your face by the common hangman in disgrace of you and your doctrine. And you shall forfeit to the king’s majesty the sum of twenty pounds; and shall remain in jail until you find sureties for your good behavior and appearance at the next assizes, there to renounce your doctrines and make such public submission as shall be enjoined upon you." The sheriff was as rigorous in executing this infamous sentence as the judge was insolent in pronouncing it.
On the pillory at Aylesbury Mr. Keach defended himself and the truth with great boldness. The jailer frequently interrupted him, and finally the sheriff himself threatened to have him gagged. The people, contrary to custom, had no words of mockery for the good, persecuted minister, and no offensive missile was hurled at him. An Episcopal minister who ventured to assail Mr. Keach in the pillory was immediately reproached by the people with the ungodliness of his own life, and his voice was drowned in laughter. At Winslow, where helived, he suffered the same shameful penalty, and a copy of his little book was burned.
Mr. Keach was a zealous Baptist; he aided ministers who came to him from all parts of his country, he had many meeting-houses built, and his works in defense of Baptist principles were read all over the kingdom. Before his death men spoke of him as the "famous" Mr. Keach, and he is still described by writers as a man of great celebrity. His two most popular works are "Tropologia, or a Key to open Scripture Metaphors," and "Gospel Mysteries Unveiled, or an Exposition of all the Parables." The latter work is more frequently offered for sale in the catalogues of the great London second-hand bookstores than any production of Richard Baxter, John Howe, or Jeremy Taylor. Mr. Keach was the author of forty-three works. He died July 18, 1704, in his sixty-fourth year. He was a devout Christian who led a blameless life and died in the triumphs of faith.
[From The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint 1988, pp. 637-638. — Jim Duvall]
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