In Part One, Dr. Minnick introduces Benjamin Keach and some of the features of his life and times which produced Benjamin Keach, the controversialist.
Tempering the Metal
Although experiencing little trouble initially, the young Baptist preacher drew the government’s ire soon after the restoration of the English monarchy in the person of Charles II. Upon discovering the place where his small assembly gathered, troopers violently broke it up as he preached. Swearing they would kill the minister, four of them bound him on the ground and prepared to trample him to death. Just as they were about to spur their horses to the mad design, an officer appeared to prevent the murder. Keach was still carried off to prison, however, and suffered considerably before obtaining freedom. But these hardships were just the beginning.
Soon after being released, Keach published a little children’s catechism titled The Child’s Instructor; or a New and Easy Primmer. At several points it contradicted official positions of the Church of England, including its doctrines of infant baptism and amillennialism. For instance, to the question, “Who are the right subjects for baptism?” Keach’s primer answered, “Believers, or godly men and women, who make profession of their faith and repentance.” And in answer to the question, “How shall it go with the saints when Christ cometh?” it cheerfully replied, “Very well . . . they shall reign with Christ on the earth a thousand years.”
Almost immediately Keach was imprisoned again and all his books seized. The young pastor (barely 24) was tried and found guilty of writing a “seditious and schismatical book.” His sentence was to stand locked in the pillory for two hours in both Ailsbury and Winslow, the town of his residence. His book was to be burnt openly before his face by the common hangman, and he was to pay a fine of 20 pounds. Thereafter he was to be kept in jail until such time as he renounced his doctrines. Keach replied simply, “I hope I shall never renounce the truths which I have written in that book.”
The severity of the sentence was daunting. Not only did it mean the discontinuance of his ministry for as long as he refused to yield his positions, but it left his young wife, Jane, and their children effectively destitute. But Jane proved to be as resolute as her husband. Instead of tempting him to yield, she actually encouraged his stand, calling it an honor done to them both that they were called to suffer for Christ’s sake.
On the appointed day, the bold preacher’s head and hands were fixed fast in the public pillory at Ailsbury. A writ of his crimes was glued to his head. But no sooner was the humiliating ordeal commenced than Keach began to preach. “Good people,” he said to the curious bystanders, “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.”
Although threatened by the jailer, Keach not only continued to speak but somehow managed to get one hand loose. Pulling a small Bible from his pocket, he insisted that what he had written was contained in this very book and that he could prove it if but given opportunity. The angered sheriff then threatened to gag him. But throughout the entirety of his ordeal Keach continued to break the silence with an occasional testimony or Scripture quotation. The officers found it impossible to keep him from converting his pillory into a pulpit.
“I hope the Lord’s people will not be discouraged at my suffering,” he pled. “Oh!” he continued, “did you but experience the great love of God and the excellencies that are in Him, it would make you willing to go through any sufferings for His sake. And I do account this the greatest honour that ever the Lord was pleased to confer upon me.”
Once the sufferer was freed from jail he commenced a four-year itinerant ministry, preaching both publicly and privately as safe opportunities afforded themselves. The trial and public sentence had made him so notorious, however, that he was night and day a special target to informers hungry for reward. As a result, the hounded preacher determined to move to London.
To be continued…
Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.
(Originally published in FrontLine • May/June 2001. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)