The Excellent Benjamin Keach
At the Westminster Conference in London December 2004 Austin Walker, co-pastor alongside his son of the Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, Sussex, gave a paper on Benjamin Keach. He is the most qualified man in the world to deliver such a paper as he has written the first full length book of 423 pages on this minister (“The Excellent Benjamin Keach”, Joshua Press, Canada, 2004, preface by Michael Haykin). None needs to be written again.
Is Keach the mysterious ‘K’ who wrote “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord”? Many think that this is the lasting popular legacy he left to the church (though his “Tropologia” was in print through much of the 20th century). Born in 1640 he was for over thirty years the minister in that London Baptist Church which was to become the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon described this predecessor of his as “one of the most useful preachers of his time.” He died in 1704. Keach seems to have been converted as a teenager through the ministry of the Independent Matthew Mead the preacher made famous by his book “The Almost Christian Discovered.”
What a ministry he had in London. One of his publishers, the eccentric John Dunton, spoke about his preaching in this delightful way: “Here comes Mr Keach, mounted upon some Apocalyptic Beast or other, with Babylon before him, and Zion behind him and a hundred thousand bulls and bears and furious beasts of prey roaring, ramping and bellowing at him so hideously that unless some kind angel drops from the clouds, and hacks and hews very plentifully among them, he must certainly be torn as small as a love-letter.”
He possessed that strange combination of a fiery spirit alongside much humility. In the hymn-singing controversy he was far too unrestrained, but when he quotes biblical Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German and Dutch he quickly adds, “I would not have you think I understand all these languages, but I’ve had the assistance of a learned friend and acquaintance.” It is a nice flash of modesty.
Keach knew the first necessity of an effective ministry to be a preacher’s own experience of the grace of God in Christ: “He that ministers the Word ought principally to experience the grace of God in his own heart and the power of it – in that grand and evangelical work of regeneration. Then he can understand those blessed mysteries of the sacred Scriptures so that he may unfold them to others, and have a lawful call which altogether constitutes, though he never saw a university.”
He urged men and women to believe in Christ: “Receive the Saviour; believe in him and you shall be saved whosoever you are. It is not the greatness of your sins that can hinder you or obstruct you from saving your souls. Though your sins be as red as scarlet, or as red as crimson he will wash them all away and shall make you as white as wool, as white as snow.”
Keach was a splendid exhorter of men, a feature so lacking in the pulpit these days. He stirs us thus: “Let Christians show themselves bold and courageous in the cause and interest of God, and their souls. A fearful timorous spirit becomes not a Christian. Have you a good cause? have you a good call? Have you a good conscience? Have you a good Captain? What then do you fear? In the strength of the Lord, be bold as a lion, and in order thereunto, get the truth into your affections, see that you have received the truth in the love of it, and be sure you approve yourselves to be sincere, for it is sincerity that emboldens a Christian and makes him valiant.”
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