THE FIRST TWO PASTORS.
FROM some one of the many Baptist assemblies which met in the borough of Southwark our church took its rise. Crosby says: “This people had formerly belonged to one of the roost ancient congregations of the Baptists in London, but separated from them in the year 1652, for some practices which they judged disorderly, and kept, together from that time as a distinct body.” They appear to have met in private houses, or in such other buildings as were open to them. Their first pastor was WILLIAM RIDER, whom Crosby mentions as a sufferer for conscience sake, but he is altogether unable to give any further particulars of his life, except that he published a small tract in vindication of the practice of laying on of hands on the baptized believers. The people were few in number, but had the reputation of being men of solid judgment, deep knowledge, and religious stability, and many of them were also in easy circumstances as to worldly goods. Oliver Cromwell was just at that time in the ascendant, and Blake’s cannon were sweeping the Dutch from the seas, but the Presbyterian establishment ruled with a heavy hand, and Baptists were under a cloud. In the following year Cromwell was made Protector, the old parliament was sent about its business, and England enjoyed a large measure of liberty of conscience. Mr. Henry Jessey was at that time minister of St. George’s Church, Southwark, and being a man of great weight, both as to character and learning, and also a Baptist. there is no doubt that Baptist views had a marvelous sway throughout the borough of Southwark and adjacent places. If it be asked how a parish minister became a Baptist, we reply, Jessey first preached against immersion, and by his own arguments converted himself to the views which he had opposed, practicing for some time the dipping of children. Finding that many of his people repaired to Baptist conventicles, he studied the subject still further in order to be prepared to face these robbers of churches, and the result was that he was convinced of the Scriptural nature of their opinions and was immersed by Mr. Hanserd Knollys. This circumstance tended greatly to strengthen the hands of the many Baptist churches on the south side of the river, and, no doubt, Mr. Rider’s people were partakers of the benefit. This would seem to have been a period of much religious heart searching in which the ordinances of churches were tried by the word of God, and men were determined to retain nothing which was not sanctioned by divine authority; hence there were many public disputes upon Baptism, and, in consequence, many became adherents of believers’ immersion, and Baptist churches sprung up on all sides. Truth suffers nothing from free discussion, it is indeed the element in which it most freely exerts its power. We have personally known several instances in which sermons in defense of Infant Baptism have driven numbers to more Scriptural views, and we have felt that if Paedo-baptists will only preach upon the subject we shall have little to do but to remain quiet and reap the sure results. It is a dangerous subject for any to handle who wish their people to abide by the popular opinion on this matter.
How long William Rider exercised the ministerial office we are unable to tell, but our next record bears date 1668, when we are informed that, “the pastor having been dead for some time, they unanimously chose MR. BENJAMIN KEACH to be their elder or pastor.” Accordingly he was solemnly ordained with prayer and the laying on of hands in the year 1668, being in the 28th year of his age. As Keach was one of the most notable of the pastors of our church, we must diverge awhile from the beaten track to describe his sufferings for the truth’s sake previous to his coming to London. He was continually engaged in preaching in the towns of Buckinghamshire, making Winslow his head quarters; and so well did the good cause flourish under his zealous labors, and those of others, that the government quartered dragoons in the district in order to put down unlawful meetings, and stamp out dissent. The amount of suffering which this involved the readers of the story of the Covenanting times in Scotland can readily imagine. A rough soldiery handle with little tenderness those whom they consider to be miserable fanatics. When the favorite court poet was lampooning these poor people, and ridiculing their claims to be guided by the Spirit of God, common soldiers of the cavalier order were not likely to be much under restraint in their behavior to them. Thus sang Butler concerning the divine light, in lines which the court gallants loved to repeat, but which we cannot quote entire, for they verge on blasphemy — “For as of vagabonds we say, That they are ne’er beside the way; Whate’er men speak by this new light, Still they are sure to be i’ th’ right.
A light that falls down from on high, For spiritual trades to cozen by.
An ignis fatuus that bewitches And leads men into pools and ditches, To make them dip themselves, and sound For Christendom in dirty pond; To dive, like wildfowl, for salvation; And fish to catch regeneration.” Keach was often in prison, and his meetings were frequently disturbed. On one occasion the troopers swore that they would kill the preacher, and having bound him, threw him on the ground, with the determination to trample him to death with their horses. Their design was frustrated by the interposition of the commanding officer, and Keach was tied across a horse, and taken off to gaol. His little meeting-house in Winslow still stands, and we have obtained a drawing of it. It is down a tortuous, narrow lane, behind the houses, quite out of sight, and can only be discovered by making special inquiries.
In 1664, Mr. Keach published a little book for the use of children, entitled, “The Child’s Instructor; or, a New and Easy Primmer.” This one would think must have been a harmless work enough, but his enemies did not think so. A weak cause is afraid of even the feeblest adversary. His little books were seized, and he himself was summoned to appear at the assizes at Aylesbury, October 8, 1664. The indictment against him will not, we trust, distress the reader: he need not dread the pollution of his mind or the depraving of his morals. Police reports are not nowadays quite so theological. Serious as the charges are, there are few men of our times who would think it any dishonor to be found guilty of them. “Mr. Keach being brought to the bar, the clerk said, Benjamin Keach, hear your charge. Thou art here indicted by the name of Benjamin Keach, of Winslow, in the county of Bucks, for that thou being a seditious, schismatic person, evilly and maliciously disposed and disaffected to his Majesty’s government, and the government of the Church of England, didst maliciously and wickedly on the fifth 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 Primmer;’ 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; that is to say, in one place you have thus written : — ‘ Q. Who are the right subjects for baptism? ‘ A. Believers, or godly men. and women, who, make profession of their faith and repentance. “In another place you have maliciously and wickedly written these words : — ‘ Q. How shall it go with the saints when Christ cometh? A. Very well; it is the day they have longed for. Then shall they hear the sentence, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you ;” and so shall they reign with Christ on the earth a thousand years, even on Mount Sion in the New Jerusalem.’ “In another place you have wickedly and maliciously written these plain English words : — ‘ Q. Why may not infants be received into the Church now as they were under the law? A. Because the fleshly seed is cast out.
Though God under that dispensation did receive infants in a lineal way by generation; yet he that hath the key of David, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, hath shut up this way into the Church, and opened the door of regeneration, receiving in none now but true believers. Q. What is the case of infants;? A. Infants that die are members of the kingdom of glory, though they be not members of the visible church. Q. Do they, then, that bring in infants in a lineal way by generation, err from the way of truth? A. Yea, they do; for they make not God’s holy word their rule, but do presume to open a door that Christ hath shut, and none ought to open.’” The indictment appears to have contained an amusing clerical error, which charged Keach with writing, that the rest of the devils would be raised when the thousand years were ended. Many an indictment has been quashed for a far less serious mistake, but the judge would not listen to the objections of the jury, whom he bullied somewhat after the manner of Jeffries. He bade them bring him in guilty with that exception, and when this was done he pronounced the following sentence: Judge. “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 gaol for a fortnight without bail or mainprise; and the next Saturday to stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury in the open market, from eleven o’clock till 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 Primmer. And the next Thursday to stand, in the same manner and for the same time, in the market at 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 gaol until you find sureties for your good behavior, and for your appearance at the next assizes; then to renounce your doctrines, and make such public submission as shall be enjoined you. Take him away, keeper!”
Keach simply replied, “I hope I shall never renounce the truths which I have written in that book.”
The attempts made to obtain a pardon or a relaxation of this severe sentence were ineffectual; and the sheriff took care that everything should be punctually performed.
When he was brought to the pillory at Aylesbury, several of his religions friends and acquaintances accompanied him: and when they bemoaned his hard case and the injustice of his sufferings, he said with a cheerful countenance, “The cross is the way to the crown.” His head and hands were no sooner placed in the pillory, but he began to address himself to the spectators, to this effect: — ‘Good people, 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 gazingstock.
Take notice, it is not for any wickedness that I stand here; but for writing and publishing those truths which the Spirit of the Lord hath revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”
A clergyman that stood by could not forbear interrupting him, and said, “It is for writing and publishing errors; and you may now see what, your errors have brought you to.”
Mr. Keach replied, “Sir, can you prove them errors?” but before the clergyman could return an answer he was attacked by some from among the people. 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 derision from the sufferer in the pillory to the drunken priest! insomuch that he hastened away with the utmost disgrace and shame. After the noise of this was over, the prisoner began to speak again, saying, “It is no new thing for servants of the Lord to suffer, and be made a gazing-stock; and you that are acquainted with the Scriptures know, that the way to the crown is by the cross. The apostle saith, that ‘through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of heaven’; and Christ saith, ‘He that is ashamed of me and my words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, before my Father, and before his holy angels.’” He was frequently interrupted by the jailer, who told him that he must not speak, and that if he would not be silent, he must force him to it.
After he had stood some time silent, getting one of his hands at liberty, he pulled his Bible out of his pocket, and held it up to the people; saying, “Take notice, the things which 1 have written and published, and for which I stand here this day, a spectacle to men and angels, are all contained in this book, as I could prove out of the same, if I had an opportunity.”
At this the jailor interrupted him again, and with great anger inquired, who gave him the book; some said, his wife, who was near unto him, and frequently spake in vindication of her husband and the principles for which he suffered: but Mr. Keach replied, and said that he took it out of his pocket. Upon this the jailor took it away from him, and fastened up his hand again. But it was almost impossible to keep him from speaking; for he soon began again, saying to this effect: “It seems I cannot be suffered to speak to the cause for which I stand here; neither could I be suffered the other day (on his trial, I suppose he meant), but it will plead its own innocency, when the strongest of its opposers shall be ashamed. I do not speak this out of prejudice to any person, but do sincerely desire that the Lord would convert them, and convince them of their errors, that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Good people, the concernment of souls is very great! so great that Christ died for them: and truly a 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.” Here he was interrupted again, and forced to be silent for some time. But at length he ventured to speak again: saying, “I hope the Lord’s people will not be discouraged at my suffering. Oh! did you but experience,” says he, “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 honor that ever the Lord was pleased to confer upon me.”
After this, he was not suffered to speak much more; for the sheriff came in a great rage, and said, if he would not be silent he should be gagged; and the officers were ordered to keep the people at a greater distance from him, though they declared they could not do it. At the end of a long silence he ventured again: “This,” says he, “is one yoke of Christ, which I find by experience is easy to me, and a burthen which he doth make light.” But finding that he could not be suffered to speak, he kept silence till the whole two hours were expired; only uttering this sentence, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.” When the full time according to his sentence was expired, the under-keeper lifted up the board, and as soon as his head and hands were at liberty he blessed God with a loud voice for his great goodness unto him.
On the Saturday following, he stood in the same manner, and for the like time, at Winslow, the town where he had lived; and had his book burnt before him, according to the sentence. We cannot obtain any particulars of his behavior there; and therefore thereon must be silent, not doubting but that it was with the same Christian spirit and courage as before.
The person who preserved this relation, being present, wrote down all he heard and saw, at the very instant; and makes this observation of his suffering, namely, That he stood in the pillory full two hours to a minute, which was a more strict execution than ever he saw in town or country; that others always had their hands at liberty, but this godly man had his hands carefully kept in the holes, almost all the time, which must have rendered his punishment so much the more painful.
Mr. Keach, after these afflictions, continued about four years in the country, preaching from place to place, both publicly and privately, as opportunities presented, being continually harassed and followed by his persecutors. His public trial and suffering rendered him more acceptable to the informers than other preachers, so that it was not likely he could enjoy any quiet settlement in those parts for the service of the church of Christ; and he, having not then taken upon him the charge of any special congregation, thought of removing to London, where he might have an opportunity of doing more good. Herein obeying his Lord’s counsel to flee to another city when persecuted where he was. Accordingly, he turned his effects into money, and set out with his wife and children for London, in the year 1668. In his journey up to town the coach was beset with highwaymen, who compelled all the passengers to come out of the vehicle, and then took from them all they could find of any value. Law-makers and law-breakers were very much alike in those days, so far as honest Christian men were concerned. This was no small trial, to be bereft of all that he had, and left to shift with a wife and three children in a strange place. Thus he came to London, without any money, and almost without acquaintance.
However, a man of such a public character, and spotless conversation, was soon taken notice of; and the Baptists, who are as ready to acts of charity as any others, took care to supply his present necessities. He also joined with the rest of the passengers in suing the county, and so recovered the whole of his loss again in due time.
No doubt the fame of Keach’s sufferings gave him the readier welcome in London among the Baptists, and he seems to have become the pastor of the late Mr. Rider’s congregation very speedily after his arrival. His persecutions were not at an end, but among a more populous community there were more means of escape than in the hamlets of Buckinghamshire.
Meetings were held, though the numbers were limited, and the places kept as a secret among the members. Even then with all their care the church did not always meet in peace, and the brethren were seldom able to enjoy the singing of God’s praises for fear of interruption from the authorities. Many such invasions of their peaceful gatherings did occur, and both the pastor and the leading members of his flock were made to suffer for the crime of worshipping God as their consciences dictated. We read that “being met together for religious worship in Jacob-street, in a private house down an alley, the churchwardens, with Mr. Cook, a constable, came in and seized six persons, and had them before Justice Reading, who bound them over to appear at the quarter sessions. At another time they met together at the widow Colfe’s house at Kennington, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. At the conclusion they sang a hymn, which soon brought the officers of the parish to them; but from the conveniency of a back door they all escaped except one, who, turning back again for something he had left behind, was apprehended and taken. He was carried before a justice of the peace, who committed him to prison, where he continued till some of his friends obtained bail for him. At the next quarter sessions he was fined, and the fine paid. The widow Colfe, at whose house they met, had a king’s messenger sent to apprehend her; but being informed that she was nurse to one who lay sick of the small-pox, he departed with an oath, and sought no more after her. Mr. Keach after this was sought for, by one of the king’s messengers of the press, for printing a little book called The Child’s Instructor. This book, as near as he could make it, was the same for which he was imprisoned and put into the pillory; the other being then not to be obtained, though he sought greatly after it. He was at this time tenant to that noted informer Cook, but not known to him by his name. The which, when he came to know, he told him that one of the king’s messengers was in quest of him, and for his sake, as a tenant, he screened him. But at length he was taken up by a warrant, left by the said messenger with another man in their neighborhood, and was carried before Justice Glover. The Justice being informed of an ancient gentleman of worth and credit (who was one of the members of Mr. Keach’s church, viz., John Roberts, doctor of physic), sent for him; and when he came, asked him if he knew that man, pointing to Mr. Keach. The doctor answered, Yes, very well. Then said the Justice, Will you be bound for him? Yes, replied the doctor, body for body.
The doctor’s bail was taken, Mr. Keach was discharged; but in the issue, he was fined twenty pounds; the which he was obliged to pay, when others, under the like circumstances, escaped through the insufficiency of the bail that was generally taken in those times.” The pastor evidently had a warm place in the hearts of his people, and they were willing to back him up when called before the great ones of the earth for Christ’s sake. He must have endured much labor in those perilous times, for the church met in several sections at different houses, and the pastor hastened from one house to another, having thus to preach several times on each Sabbath, evading the watchful eyes of churchwardens, constables, and informers as best he could.
Benjamin Keach was one of the most useful preachers of his time, and built up the church of God with sound doctrine for thirty-six years. Having been in his very earliest days an Arminian, and having soon advanced to Calvinistic views, he preserved the balance in his preaching, and was never a member of that exclusive school which deems it to be unsound to persuade men to repent, and believe. He was by no means so highly Calvinistic as his great successor, Dr. Gill; but evidently held much the same views as are now advocated from the pulpit of the Tabernacle. Nor must it be supposed that he was incessantly preaching upon believers’ Baptism, and other points of denominational peculiarity — his teaching was sweetly spiritual, intensely scriptural and full of Christ. Whoever else kept back the fundamental truths of our holy gospel, Benjamin Keach did not so.
During the time of an indulgence issued by Charles II. the congregation erected a large meeting-house, capable of holding “near a thousand hearers,” in Goat’s Yard Passage, Fair Street, Horse-lie-down, Southwark, and this is the first meeting-house actually set apart for divine worship of which we find our church possessed. The joy of being able to meet in quiet to worship God, the delight of all assembling as one church, must have been great indeed. One tries to imagine the cheerful salutations with which the brethren greeted each other when they all gathered in their meetinghouse of timber, and worshipped without fear of molestation. The architecture was not gorgeous, nor were the fittings luxurious; but the Lord was there, and this made amends for all. In all probability there were no seats, for in those days most congregations stood, and pews are mentioned as extras which persons erected for themselves in after days, and looked upon as their own property. Mr. Pike, in his excellent “Sketches of Non-conforming in Southwark,” thus speaks of this ancient house of prayer : — -”The chapel in Southwark in Keach’s time presented to the casual passenger anything but an unpicturesque appearance. Only little traffic in those days disturbed the surrounding quietness. In front of the meeting-house was a court, bounded by a brick wall; and a peep through the iron gates would have shown a pretty avenue of limes, leading to the principal entrance. In the earlier years of the present century an ancient Baptist was occasionally met with who remembered the spot as it originally existed.” The chapel ultimately became metamorphosed into a cooperage, and part of the ground on which it stood was occupied by a blacksmith’s forge. We attach no sacredness to places, and therefore do not regret that sites which became unsuitable through the advance of the population or the changes of trade have been abandoned for more suitable localities; yet we must confess we have looked for the spot in Fair Street with something of veneration, not for holy ground, but for holy memories which linger around it.
In these days Baptists are received into the family of Christian denominations without needing to defend their existence — at least this is the case where spiritual religion is possessed; but in those days our brethren were despised and sneered at, and had to fight for existence.
Hence, discussions and disputations were forced upon them, and able ministers had to become champions for the weaker brethren. Mr. Keach was often engaged in controversy, and has the repute of having been one of the fairest and most moderate of disputants. He entered the lists with the renowned and holy Richard Baxter, and had the adroitness to turn Mr. Baxter’s writings against himself, showing that many of his reasonings rather supported than overthrew believers’ baptism. Of this Baxter complains in a letter. “As I am writing this,” says he, “the hawkers are crying under my window, Mr. Baxter’s arguments for believers’ baptism.” Keach was also constrained to cross swords with Mr. Burkist, the esteemed author of “The Practical Exposition of the New Testament .”
That gentleman was rector of Milden in Suffolk, and felt himself greatly ruffled by the coming of a Baptist minister to Lavingham, and yet more by the conversion and baptism of some of his flock. To put an end to this business he went down to the Baptist meeting with a company of his parishioners, and actually held the pulpit for two hours, and discoursed upon infant baptism. This unwarrantable intrusion produced a degree of warmth on both sides, but to Mr. Burkitt must be conceded the preeminence in abuse. In a book which he afterwards issued the rector used the following choice language: “Since the late general liberty, the Anabaptists, thinking themselves thereby let loose upon us, have dispersed themselves into several counties, endeavoring to draw away our people from us, by persuading them to renounce their first dedication to God in baptism, and to enter into their communion by way of dipping. One of their teaching disciples has set up in our neighborhood for ranking proselytes, by baptizing them in a nasty horse-pond, into which the filth of the adjacent stable occasionally flows, and out of which his deluded converts come forth with so much mud and filthiness upon them, that they rather resemble creatures arising out of the bottomless pit, than candidates of holy baptism; and all this before a promiscuous multitude, in the face of the sun.” When so respectable a person as Mr. Burkitt could condescend to give currency to such ridiculous falsehoods, it was time that he should be withstood by some one who could teach him better manners. His calumnies were answered by the testimonies of those present at the baptism, and his reasonings were confuted by Mr. Keach in his book entitled “The Rector Rectified.” Christian courtesy would seem to have been at a discount when the titles of controversial pamphlets were of the kind indicated by the following — “The Anabaptists washt and washt, and shrunk in the washing ;” and when texts were explained in violation of all reason, as for instance Leviticus 11:17, “The owl, the cormorant, and the great owl “. — “ the little owl resembles the unbaptized child, the great owl the Anabaptist parent, and the cormorant betwixt them the wide-throated preacher that divides child from parent, dives into them and swallows their souls.” Mr. Keach had his hands full of disputes with Flavel and men of less note, but he deplored rather than delighted in them, and often lamented the unchristian spirit of those who denied that the Baptist churches were churches at all, and otherwise opprobriously assailed brethren with whom they were agreed in all other matters. He had no cause to shrink from combat on his own account, for he was so able a polemic that sometimes the mere outline of his argument sufficed to let his opponents see that they had no very desirable task before them. An amusing instance of this is recorded by Crosby in the following paragraph : — “He was challenged by some ministers of the Church of England, not far from London, to dispute on baptism; and the place appointed was at Gravesend. As he was going thither in a Gravesend boat, in company with others, there happened to be a clergyman in the same boat with him. The conversation Mr. Keach had in the boat, with some of his friends, caused this clergyman to suspect he was the person going to dispute with his brethren, and accordingly he attacked him in the boat, and from hence saw the defense he was able to make, and what little credit would be obtained on their side of the question. As soon as the boat arrived at Gravesend this clergyman hastened to his friends, and let; them know the conversation he had had with Mr. Keach in the boat, and what arguments he intended to urge; which put an entire stop to the disputation, and Mr. Keach returned to London again without seeing any one of them. Though they had rendered the Baptists as contemptible as they could by stating that they had nothing to say for their practice in baptizing adult persons, yet when all came to all, not one of them dared to appear and defend what they had spoken.” Another method of usefulness very largely used by Mr. Keach was the publication of books. He is the author of two well-known folios, “Key to open Scripture Metaphors,” and an “Exposition of the Parables.” These works have long enjoyed a high repute, and though they are now regarded as out of date, the time was when they were so universally used. by ministers, the “Key to the Metaphors” especially, that Dr. Adam Clarke complains of the too great dependence of preachers upon them. Keach wrote in all forty-three works — eighteen practical, sixteen polemical, and nine poetical. These books were mostly embellished with curious wood-engravings and were sold as chap-books by hawkers from town to town. Some of these, such as “War with the Devil” and “Travels of True Godliness” must have been very popular, for we have seen the 22nd editions, and there were probably more. Those issued by Keach himself have most reputable engravings, in the best style of art of those days, of which we have given two specimens from one of his own editions, on this and the preceding page, but editions subsequent to his death are produced in the very worst manner, and like Hodge’s razors, were evidently only meant “to sell.” Our copy of the wood block, of “London in flames,” is rather a favorable specimen of these wretched productions.
As for the poetry of Keach’s works, the less said the better. It is a rigmarole almost equal to John Bunyan’s rhyming, but hardly up even to the mark of honest John. We will inflict; none of it upon our readers, except a few lines from his “War with the Devil” : — “I never read of Peter’s triple crown, Nor that he ever wore a Popish gown; I never learn’d that he did Pope become, Or rul’d o’er kings, like to the beasts of Rome, I never learn’d he granted dispensations, To poison kings or rulers of those nations Who were profane, or turned hereticks, Or did refuse the faith of Catholicks.
I read not that he’s called His Holiness, Yet he’d as much as any Pope, I guess; I never learn’d Peter did magnify Himself above all gods, or God on high!
Or that upon the necks of kings be trod, Or ever he in cloth of gold was clad; I never read that he made laws to burn Such as were hereticks, and would not turn To Jesus Christ, much less to murder those Who did, in truth, idolatry oppose.
I never learn’d, nor could do, to this day, That Pope and Peter walk’d both in one way; Yea, or that they in anything accord, Save only in denying of the Lord:
Peter deny’d him, yet, did love him dear; The Pope denies him, and doth hatred bear To him, and to all those that do him love, Who bear his image, and are from above.
Peter deny’d him, and did weep amain, The Pope denies him but with great disdain.
Peter deny’d him, yet for him did die, The Pope in malice doth him crucify.
Peter deny’d him thrice, and then repented, The Pope a thousand times, but ne’er relented.” Very sweetly did Mr. Keach preach the great fundamental truths of the gospel, and glorify the name and work of Jesus. His “Gospel Mine Opened,” and other works, rich in savor, show that he was no mere stickler for a point of ceremony, but one who loved the whole truth as it is in Jesus, and felt its power. The doctrine of the Second Advent evidently had great charms for him, but not so as to crowd out Christ crucified. He was very solid in his preaching, and his whole conduct and behavior betokened a man deeply in earnest for the cause of God. In addressing the ungodly he was intensely direct, solemn, and impressive, not flinching to declare the terrors of the Lord, nor veiling the freeness of divine grace. We quote a few sentences from one of his sermons, only remarking that such clear evangelical statements are found throughout all his works. “We preach to you, sinners, that Jesus Christ will entertain you, if you come to him, bid you welcome, and not cast you off, because of the greatness of your sins, though you have no qualifications to recommend you to him.
Would you wash yourselves from your sins, and then come to the fountain of his blood to be washed? We hold forth Christ to be your whole Savior, and that he is ‘set forth as the propitiation through faith in his blood;’ whom if you close with, and believe in. you shall be justified: we tell you God justifies the ungodly, i.e., they that are so before being justified…..Therefore, sinners though ‘tis your duty to reform your lives, and leave your abominable sins, which often bring heavy judgments upon you in this world, and expose you to eternal wrath in the world to come; yet know that all that you can do will fail in point of your acceptation and justification in God’s sight, or to save your souls: your present work and business is to believe in Jesus Christ, to look to him, who only can renew his sacred image in your souls, and make you new creatures, which must be done, or you perish. 0 cry that he would help your unbelief. Come, venture your souls on Christ’s righteousness; Christ is able to save you though you are ever so great sinners. Come to him, throw yourselves at the feet of Jesus. Look to Jesus, who came to seek and save them that were lost. ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink,’ John 7:37-38. You may have the water of life freely. Do not say, ‘ I want qualifications or a meetness to come to Christ.’ Sinner, dost thou thirst? Dost thou see a want of righteousness? ‘Tis not a righteousness; but ‘tis a sense of the want of righteousness, which is rather the qualification thou shouldst look at. Christ hath righteousness sufficient to clothe you, bread of life to feed you, grace to adorn you. Whatever you want, it is to be had in him. We tell you there is help in him, salvation in him. “Through the propitiation in has blood’ you must be justified, and that by faith alone.”
For the interests of his denomination Keach was a zealous and judicious worker: he was one of the most earnest in inducing the baptized churches to give a suitable maintenance to their ministers, which partly from poverty and persecution, and partly also from mistaken notions, they had very generally neglected to do. At an assembly of a hundred churches which met in London, his little book, “The Minister’s Maintenance vindicated,” was ordered to be dispersed among the congregations. Mr. Keach was also very greatly the means of leading back the Baptists to the habit of congregational singing. Because from fear of discovery by the magistrates the assemblies of believers had been unable to sing, the habit of songless worship had been acquired in many congregations, and when happier days gave opportunity for praising the Lord with the voice, the older folks looked upon it as an innovation, and would have none of it. “When he was convinced that singing the praises of God was a holy ordinance of Jesus Christ, he labored earnestly and with a great deal of prudence to convince his people thereof; and first obtained their consent to the practice of it at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper, and had but two of the brethren in the church who opposed him therein. (These two seem to have made great complaint of the fact ‘that many of the honest hearers, who stayed to see the supper, sung with them.’ A terrible calamity certainly.) After the church had continued in this practice about six years, they further consented to practice the same on public thanksgiving days, and continued therein about fourteen years. Even this, however, does not seem to have been continuously carried out, and the grumbling few complained that on one occasion, ‘when the minister had ended his exercise, a hymn was given up to him, by whom we know not (except it were by Mr. Keach’s means), which he read and sung and the people with him; but this was not in the least by the appointment of the church, but an imposition on them.’ In due time by a regular act of the church, it was agreed to sing the praises of God on every Lord’s Day. There were only about five or six persons that dissented ‘therefrom, but so far was Mr. Keach, or the church, from imposing on the consciences of those few that dissented (though the church then consisted of some hundreds) that they agreed to sing when prayer was concluded after the sermon, and if those few who were not satisfied could not stay the time of singing, they might freely go out, and the church would not be offended at them. Notwithstanding the care and consideration, however, the malcontents would not yield. They withdrew, and founded another church upon the same principles, singing only excepted, so difficult was it to remove long-standing prejudices.” The secession formed that right worthy and well-beloved church which has for many years continued to meet in the chapel in Maze Pond, until now it seeks another local habitation in the 01d Kent Road. It was some time before the Maze Pond friends learned to sing:, but it is needless to say that all in due time they became as fond of making melody unto the Lord as the brethren from whom they parted. There can be no doubt that the separation strengthened the denomination by giving it two earnest churches instead of one, and therefore we conclude that, however strange the immediate cause, it was of the Lord. The two churches have lived on the happiest terms, and have again and again accommodated each other, when either meeting-house has been under repair. Happily this was the only division which vexed the fellowship under Mr. Keach, though the Quakers at one time, and the seventh-day Baptists at another, caused some trouble and discussion. The pastor was a power in the church, and by the weight of his mind and character directed it aright, so that troublers found it expedient to carry out their mission in some less consolidated community.
He could also wax warm, and deliver his mind with vehemence, and then it was somewhat dangerous to be his opponent. Mr. Keach was not, however, apt to spend his time in contention, he was a practical man, and trained his church to labor in the service of the Lord. Several were by his means called into the Christian ministry, his own son, Elias Keach, among them. He was mighty at home and useful abroad. By his means other churches were founded and meeting-houses erected; he was in fact as a pillar and a brazen wall among the Baptist churches of his day, and was in consequence, deservedly had in honor. We find his name among others convening the first assembly of Particular Baptists, and as agreeing to the confession of faith which was issued by that body. His name also appears at the foot of calls to public fasts and thanksgivings, which were held by the denomination. He was a leading spirit in the Baptist body. “Mr. Keach was of a very weak constitution, being often afflicted with illness, and once to such a degree that he was given over by the physicians; and several of the ministers, and his relations, had taken their leave of him as a dying man and past all hope of recovery; but the reverend Mr. Hanserd Knollys, seeing his friend and brother in the gospel so near expiring, betook himself to prayer, and in a very extraordinary manner begged that God would spare him, and add unto his days the time he granted to his servant Hezekiah. As soon as he had ended his prayer, he said, ‘Brother Keach, I shall be in heaven before you,’ and quickly after left him. So remarkable was the answer of God to this good man’s prayer, that we cannot omit it; though it may be discredited by some, there were many who could bear incontestable testimony to the fact. Mr. Keach recovered of that illness, and lived just fifteen years afterwards ; and then it pleased God to visit him with that short sickness which put an end to his days.” He “fell on sleep” July 16th, 1704, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, and was buried at the Baptists’ burying ground in the Park, Southwark. It was not a little singular that in after years the church over which he so ably presided should pitch its tent so near the place where his bones were laid, and New Park-street should appear in her annals as a well-beloved name.
Here perhaps is the fittest place to insert “The Solemn Covenant,” to which all the members of the church subscribed in the days of Mr. Keach. It must commend itself to the judgment of all candid Christians. Would to God that all our churches were mindful of the sacred relationship which exists among Christians, and attended to the duties arising out of it.
THE SOLEMN COVENANT OF THE CHURCH AT ITS CONSTITUTION.
We who desire to walk together in the fear of the Lord, do, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, profess our deep and serious humiliation for all our transgressions. And we do solemnly, in the presence of God, of each other, in the sense of our own unworthiness, give up ourselves to the Lord, in a church state according to the apostolical constitution, that he may be our God, and we may be his people, through the everlasting covenant of his free grace, in which alone we hope to be accepted by him, through his blessed Son Jesus Christ, whom we take to be our High Priest, to justify and sanctify us, and our Prophet to teach us; and to be subject to him as our Law-giver, and the King of Saints; and to conform to all his holy laws and ordinances, for our growth, establishment, and consolation; that we may be as a holy spouse unto him, and serve him in our generation, and wait for his second appearance, as our glorious Bridegroom.
Being fully satisfied in the way of church-communion, and the truth of grace in some good measure upon one another’s spirits, we do solemnly join ourselves together in a holy union and fellowship, humbly submitting to the discipline of the gospel, and all holy duties required of a people in such a spiritual relation. 1. We do promise and engage to walk in all holiness, godliness, humility, and brotherly love, as much as in us lieth to render our communion delightful to God, comfortable to ourselves, and lovely to the rest of the Lord’s people. 2. We do promise to watch over each other’s conversations, and not to suffer sin upon one another, so far as God shall discover it to us, or any of us; and to stir up one-another to love and good works; to warn, rebuke, and admonish one another with meekness, according to the rules left to us of Christ in that behalf. 3. We do promise in an especial manner to pray for one another, and for the glory and increase of this church, and for the presence of God in it, and the pouring forth of his Spirit on it, and his protection over it to his glory. 4. We do promise to bear one another’s burdens, to cleave to one another, and to have a fellow-feeling with one another, in all conditions both outward and inward, as God in his providence shall cast any of us into. 5. We do promise to bear with one another’s weaknesses, failings, and infirmities, with much tenderness, not discovering them to any without the Church, nor any within, unless according to Christ’s rule, and the order of the gospel provided in that case. 6. We do promise to strive together for the truth of the gospel and purity of God’s ways and ordinances, to avoid causes, and causers of division, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3. 7. We do promise to meet together on Lord’s-days, and at other times, as the Lord shall give us opportunities, to serve and glorify God in the way of his worship; to edify one another, and to contrive the good of his church. 8. We do promise according to our ability (or as God shall bless us with the good things of this world) to communicate to our pastor or minister, God having ordained that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel. (And now can anything lay a greater obligation upon the conscience than this covenant, what then is the sin of such who violate it?)
These and all other gospel duties we humbly submit unto, promising and purposing to perform, not in our own strength, being conscious of our own weakness, but in the power and strength of the blessed God, whose we are, and whom we desire to serve. To whom be glory now and for evermore.