Updated: Oct 30, 2020
The name of Benjamin Keach is hardly a household name among Baptists, or even among Reformed (or Particular/Calvinistic) Baptists. Yet he deserves to be well-known. He was a second generation Particular Baptist, who was the pastor of a large congregation in outhwark, London from the late 1660s until his death in 1704. In successive years that church enjoyed the ministries of John Gill, John Rippon, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Why should Keach be better known? Why do Reformed Baptists in particular need to know about him and read him? There are several reasons why I believe remembering and reading Keach would be valuable to Christians of the twenty-first century.
Firstly, although he was not one of the compilers of the Second London Confession of Faith (commonly called ‘the 1689’), he was with many others a subscriber to that Confession when it was adopted as a summary of the doctrine, order and discipline of Particular Baptist churches by the 1689 General Assembly. He was one of several London pastors who helped convene that Assembly. By 1689 he was well-established as a recognised leader among the London Particular Baptists. Almost ten years after the Assembly had convened Keach and his son Elias printed identical Articles of Faith for their respective churches. It was a condensed version of ‘the 1689.’ They published this primarily because they wanted something brief and cheap that their congregations could read easily and afford. The full confession was apparently scarce and expensive. Alongside other leaders like William Kiffen and Hansard Knollys, Keach was a faithful Particular Baptist forefather figure.
Secondly, Keach clearly stood within the ranks of Puritan orthodoxy. His theology bears all the hallmarks of Reformation theology. He staunchly defended justification by faith, and made a significant contribution to the heated Neonomian debate in the 1690s. He published The Marrow of True Justification in 1692. He had identified ‘Baxterianism’ several years before, identifying those who continued to follow Baxter’s teaching on justification as “law and works-mongers.” He was an exponent of covenant theology. For example he preached 14 sermons on the covenant of peace Isaiah 54.10 and published it as The Display of Glorious Grace in 1699.
Thirdly, Keach was also an ardent Baptist and wrote several books rejecting infant baptism and defending the baptism of believers. He wrote vigorously and unashamedly on the subject, in a day when Baptists faced hostility and were still identified with the excesses of sixteenth century Anabaptists. One of his earliest publications in 1689 was Gold Refin’d: or Baptism in its Primitive Purity. Others followed, including The Rector Rectified and Corrected: Or, Infant Baptism unlawful.
Fourthly, Keach was a prolific writer with over seventy different publications during his lifetime. Many of his works were the direct result of his preaching. He preached the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. His sermons show him to be a man who was very earnest in the cause of Christ. He was no hyper-Calvinist but was direct and solemn, preaching both the judgment of God against sinners and the freeness of God’s grace in Christ. His was a searching and discriminating ministry. His sole aim was to preach the truth of the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures. His published sermons number over two hundred.
Keach was a sensitive man with sympathies that extended beyond Baptist circles. He also possessed poetic gifts which he used extensively. In particular he was distressed by the opposition which Christians of his own day faced. For most of his life he personally faced varying degrees of persecution. His acute sensitivities led him to chronicle the sorrows and trials of the church in a book entitled Sion in Distress: or, the Groans of the Protestant Church. He also wrote allegories like War with the Devil published in 1673, which for popularity rivalled John Bunyan.
Finally, Keach was a pastor, a faithful shepherd to his congregation. For example, he preached sermons on the parables and the metaphors of the Bible because he was persuaded that the truth would more readily ‘stick’ in the minds of his hearers. Those are still in print. He promoted a well-developed biblical doctrine of the local church. In a book entitled The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d he laid out his understanding of the teaching of the Scriptures on the order and discipline of a church of Christ. As a pastor his greatest trial was not the sufferings he endured at the hands of persecutors but the anguish he felt when his congregation was torn apart by a controversy over whether hymns should be sung as part of public worship. It was a controversy that threatened to destroy the unity of the London Particular Baptists.
Benjamin Keach is a man worth knowing and a man worth reading. He remains a key part of the legacy inherited from our Particular Baptist forefathers. Today’s successors in Reformed Baptist churches are, I believe, the poorer if they do not know about the contribution made by men like Keach.
Sadly, only a few of his writings are currently in print. Some can be found on the Internet. There are plans to publish more of his sermons, his allegories and his poetry. You can read more about Keach and his extensive writing in the author’s The Excellent Benjamin Keach, (The Second Revised Edition), Joshua Press Inc., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, 2015.