Benjamin Keach was born February 29, 1640, in Stokehaman, England. His parents were unable to afford the high cost putting him in school, and so he was given a trade to learn. It was soon realized that with his love of books and the study of the Scriptures, the work at a trade was not the best thing for him to do. He remained faithful to the process and continued for three years in it. During these years, he realized the Scriptures were silent about infant baptism, and also silent about sprinkling. He realized he must find a church that followed the Scriptures and when he was fifteen, found and joined a Baptist church where he was saved and baptized scripturally. The church recognized his real abilities and encouraged him to learn to preach, and so at the age of 18, he began preaching.
Before he was 20 he had been imprisoned for preaching! He lived at the same time as John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, and they both published works aimed at reaching and warning the young people of the day with the Gospel. They both suffered similar persecution and imprisonment from the government.
Keach loved children, and when only 24 years old, was asked to write something to describe Baptist teaching to the young. He did so, publishing a small work that did not carry his name, entitled: The Child’s Instructor; or, A New and Easy Primer. Children loved it, but the government church leaders did not! No sooner had it been published when he was arrested and the copies of his book seized.
Then, on October 9, 1664, Keach was indicted and brought before no one less than the Chief Justice Hyde. The judge was openly and unreasonably hostile toward the preacher. Because the indictment was very long, Keach asked for a copy of it (a right of every Englshman), so he could seek counsel. He was denied, and in full fury the judge demanded he state whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty, and silence would be considered a pleading of guilty. Keach pleaded “Not guilty,” and was then offered an hour and a copy of the indictment. Keach declined the offer as insufficient to formulate proper objections, and seek counsel. The trial proceeded, and when the defence was called, the judge stated that Keach was not allowed to say anything except whether he wrote the book or not. The judge clearly wanted Keach executed. The jury found errors in the indictment, but the judge declared Keach “Guilty.” Keach was sentenced to prison for two weeks, was to stand in the stocks in the market place in two separate towns, was to pay a fine of 20 pounds (around $4,000 U.S. dollars today), was to recant his doctrines or remain in prison until he did, and was to watch the hangman burn his books while he was in the stocks. The public however, when he served his time in the stocks, treated him with respect and did not hoot and pelt him with eggs as was normal. Instead they listened to him preach! The jailer kept interrupting him, and the sheriff, enraged at the outcome, threatened to gag him, but he continued to teach the Scriptures. There was only one, an Episcopal minister, who tried to verbally assault Keach, but the people began to reproach the man with his own sinfulness, and drowned out his statements with laughter.
He soon became known as one who was very able to defend Baptist beliefs against even the most famous preachers of the day. His blows were heavy against men like Richard Baxter, and many others. On one occasion, a rector and his angry followers, visited a Baptist church during the worship services and demanded that they be given a chance to proclaim their views. The pastor, not knowing what to do, relented, and for two hours this rector berated the Baptists and presented his arguments against Baptist immersion. Then, the group walked out, not letting the pastor respond, rudely publishing the story and the message. Benjamin Keach was called to reply, which he ably did, and also published a popular reply entitled The Rector Rectified and Corrected.
On another occasion, on a boat ride to defend Baptist principles of baptism, he was confronted by a passenger about the subject, and as soon as the boat landed, the passenger went and told the area Episcopal ministers the arguments Keach was going to use. The result was that all the scheduled antagonists left before the meeting, leaving Keach no one to challenge!
At age 28, in 1668, he became a pastor. A dear old Baptist minister in London had started a small church, and after 15 years had died. He took over the work, and remained pastor until the day of his own death.
Keach was frequently imprisoned for preaching, and his church had to meet in private homes. In 1672, the Declaration of Indulgence was passed, and they were finally able to build their first church building. It was regularly enlarged till it held a thousand. Later it was the pulpit of John Gill, John Rippon, and then Charles Spurgeon.
There was a large controversy among Baptist churches around this time over the question of whether to sing in public worship. The theatrical style of Roman church worship had created a stench toward music, and there was the constant fear of being discovered. As a result singing had been completely cancelled in Baptist churches. Keach determined that it was Biblical and proper to sing during a worship service, and did so in his church, standing in history as the one who introduced singing into Particular Baptist churches. He published over 300 of his own hymns and a hymn book entitled Spiritual Melody. He lost many members from his congregation by doing so who were horrified at how radical he was!
Singing soon became a means of protecting a preacher. In Bristol, women would sit in the stairway leading to the meeting room, and several men would stand around the pastor. When a stranger would try to get into the meeting, the noise created by him scuffling with the women would alert the men, who would immediately begin singing the old hymns. They would continue singing until the magistrate or spy got into the meeting room and would find there was no “leader” to arrest, it was just a group of men singing together.
Anglicans were so afraid of Keach and the effects of his preaching, they would do anything to try to stop him, including attempts a murdering him. One time, while Keach was preaching outdoors, a troop of cavalrymen rode into the meeting of “Dissenters.” They were so enraged at finding Keach, they swore to kill him, and tied him up and laid him on the ground. Four of them got on their horses, intending to have their horses trample him to death. Just in time, a commanding officer came near and realized what was about to happen, and spared Keach from death, and instead delivered him to prison where he was suffered greatly but was finally granted a release.
Before he died, he was known as the “famous Keach.” His writings (43 books) outsold the greats of his day, even in the second hand stores!
At one point, in 1668, he was so very ill, he was abandoned to the doctors to die. A friend and fellow preacher, Rev. Hansard Knollys, heard and came to his bedside, and prayed for his recovery and that the years that Hezekiah had be added. After praying, he told Keach that he would be in heaven before Keach. Keach recovered very soon afterwards to the surprise of all. Knollys died two years later.
Keach lived fifteen years longer, in answer to Knollys’ prayer. Then he was taken suddenly ill, and all who gathered to him knew he was going to die. He called for Mr. Joseph Stennet and could barely get the words out that he wanted him to preach at his funeral from I Timothy 1:12:
2 Timothy 1:12, "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
His family was present when he died, and he had called his oldest daughter, a Quaker (and among whom he had effectively defended the Baptist doctrines), desiring to talk to her, but was too weak to state his message. He died at the age of 64, on July 18, 1704, having pastored the same church for 36 years, and through immense trials. His body was laid to rest in the Baptist cemetery. Mr. Stennet had fallen ill, and was not able to preach the message to the large crowd that gathered. He did finally give the message some time later, and though many desired to have the message published, it did not make it into print.
As a side note, his son, Elias Keach, (born in 1666 in London) came to America in 1686, dressed in black and wearing a clerical collar, hoping to be accepted as a minister. His ploy worked, and many people gathered to hear the son of the famous preacher. He got far into his sermon, when he was seized with horror. When those gathered asked what was wrong, he explained his ruse and asked for a Baptist minster, and immediately went to him. He was saved and baptized at the Pennypack creek along the Delaware River. He was then ordained to the ministry. Elias went on to preach in and around Philadephia and in New Jersey. Baptists in the churches of the area considered themselves a member of his church, and has been considered the apostle to the churches in the whole region.
Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1886; 2003), pp. 547-548.
John Bunyan, The Holy War. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2006), vol. 3, p. 251.
John C. Carlile, The Story of the English Baptists (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1905; 2003), p. 147, 148.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, pp. 637–638.
Christian History: The Baptists. electronic ed. Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today, 1985; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996.
Lewis A. Drummond, The Canvas Cathedral (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2001), p. 479.
George Thomas Kurian, Nelson's New Christian Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs., 2001). Keach, Benjamin
Howard Malcom, “Memoir of Benjamin Keach,” Benjamin Keach, The Travels of True Godliness (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1831; 2003), pp. 5-22.
Morgan, R. J. On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes. electronic ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997. October 9.
Reformation and Revival Ministries. Reformation and Revival Volume 5. Reformation and Revival Ministries, 1996; 2003. vnp.5.3.59.
David Spencer, Early Baptists of Philadelphia (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1877; 2003), pp. 22-25.
C.H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 5, electronic ed. (Escondito, California: Ephesians Four Group, 2000), p. 347.