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Benjamin Keach
By J. M. Cramp

      Let us now give an instance of interference with the freedom of the press. Benjamin Keach, a Baptist minister, wrote a small book for children, entitled, "The Child's Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primer." In the catechetical portion of the book Baptist sentiments were inculcated. It
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was affirmed that "believers, or godly men and women only, who can make confession of their faith and repentance,”" should be baptized. The personal reign of the Saviour on earth for a thousand years, held at the time by some Bap­tists, was taught. And, which was peculiarly offensive, Mr. Keach said, that "Christ's true ministers have not their learning and wisdom from men, or from universities, or human schools; for human learning, arts and sciences, are not essential to the making of a true minister; but only the gift of God, which cannot be bought with silver or gold. And also, as they have freely received the gift of God, so they do freely administer; they do not preach for hire, for gain or filthy lucre; they are not like false teachers, who look for gain from their quarters, who eat the fat, and clothe themselves with the wool, and kill them that are fed: those that put not into their mouths they prepare war against. Also, they are not lords over God's heritage; they rule them not by force and cruelty, neither have they power to force and compel men to believe and obey their doctrine, but are only to persuade and entreat; thus is the way of the Gospel, as Christ taught them."

      For this he was indicted at the assizes. The language of the indictment may amuse the reader. "Thou art here indicted by the name of Benjamin Keach, of Winslow, in the county of Bucks, for that thou, being a seditious, heretical, and schismatical person, evilly and maliciously disposed, and disaffected to his Majesty's government of the Church of England, didst maliciously and wickedly, on the first day of May, in the sixteenth year of the reign of our sovereign lord the King, write, print, and publish, or cause to be written, printed, and published, one seditious and veno­mous book, entitled, 'The Child's Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primer;' wherein are contained, by way of question and answer, these damnable positions, contrary to the Book of Common Prayer, and the Liturgy of the Church of England."

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      The trial took place October 9, 1664. Chief justice Hyde, afterwards Lord Clarendon, presided, and conducted himself with a malignity wholly unbefitting his office. Under his direction, a verdict of "Guilty" was recorded, and the judge then proceeded to pass sentence, in the following terms: -- "Benjamin Keach, you are here convicted for writing, printing, and publishing a seditious and schismatical book, for which the court's judgment is this, and the court doth award: That you shall go to jail for a fortnight, without bail or mainprise; and the next Saturday to stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury, in the open market, for the space of two hours, from eleven of the clock to one, 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 there 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 you."

Keach in the Pillory
From Armitage, History, Volume 1,

      The punishment of the pillory was abolished by Act of Parliament in the year 1837. The instrument so called was an upright frame placed on a scaffold, upon which the offender stood, his head appearing through one hole of the frame, and his hands fixed in two others. As this punishment was generally reserved for persons guilty of perjury and other infamous crimes, the mob were accustomed to pelt them with rotten eggs or various kinds of filth, and even with stones and brickbats, so that death sometimes ensued. To such an exposure the Lord Chief justice of England delivered up a worthy minister of the Gospel.

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The sentence was duly carried into execution, and the sheriff, who was himself a fierce opposer of the truth, took care that the judge's directions should be obeyed to the very letter. It was market-day at Aylesbury. The town was thronged. People flocked thither from all parts of the country to see the new and strange spectacle. But though many of them were prepared to deride and sneer, the usual expressions of popular indignation were wanting. Hitherto the pillory had been reserved for the vilest criminals. But Mr. Keach was a good man, and a preacher of the Gospel. They could not find it in their hearts to pelt him.

      Precisely at eleven o'clock he was placed in the pillory. Many friends attended him, and stood around the instrument of torture for the purpose of sympathy and encouragement. And there, too, stood his wife, and "frequently spoke in vindication of her husband, and of the principles for which he suffered." A true "helpmeet!"

      "Good people," said he, "I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head; my Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross for me; and it is for His cause that I am made a gazing-stock. It is not for any wickedness that I stand here, but for writing and publishing His truth." "No!" exclaimed an Episcopal clergyman, who was standing by; "it is for writing and publishing errors." "Sir," replied Mr. Keach, "can you prove them errors?" He would have answered, but he was too well known by the multitude. "One told him of his being pulled drunk out of a ditch. Another upbraided him with being lately found drunk under a haycock. At this all the people fell to laughing, and turned their diversion from the sufferer in the pillory to the drunken priest; insomuch that he hastened away with the utmost disgrace and shame."

      When the uproar had subsided, the voice from the pillory

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was heard again. Having somehow slipped one of his hands out of the hole, he took his Bible from his pocket and said, "Take notice, that the things which I have written and published, and for which I stand here this day a spectacle to men and angels, are all contained in this book." The jailer snatched the book from him, and replaced his hand in the hole.

      Still the voice came from the pillory. "A great concernment for souls was that which moved me to write and publish those things for which I now suffer, and for which I could suffer far greater things than these. It concerns you therefore to be very careful, otherwise it will be very sad with you, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven; for we must all appear before His tribunal."

      The officers interposed, and he was compelled to be silent for a time. But again he ventured. "Oh! did you but experience the great love of God, and the excellences that are in Him, it would make you willing to go through any sufferings for His sake. And I do account this the greatest honor that ever the Lord was pleased to confer upon me."

      The sheriff was furious, and declared that he should be gagged if he did not hold his tongue. So he refrained from speaking. Yet he could not forbear uttering these few words: -- "This one 'yoke' of Christ, which I can experience, is 'easy' to me, and a 'burden' which He doth make 'light.'"

      When the two hours had expired, he was released, and "blessed God with a loud voice for His great goodness unto him."

      That day week he was exposed to the same indignity at Winslow, where he lived, and bore it with equal patience and manliness. There also his book was publicly burnt, according to the sentence.1


1 Crosby, ii, 186-208.

[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871; rpt. 1987, pp. 294-298. The footnote was changed to an endnote and the number is changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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