Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Keach, Benjamin
KEACH, BENJAMIN (1640–1704), baptist divine, younger son of John and Fedora Keeche, was born of poor parents on 29 Feb. 1640 at Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire, and baptised on 6 March at the parish church. Very early he came under the influence of the general or Arminian baptists, and was baptised in 1655 by John Russel, minister of that body at Chesham, Buckinghamshire. He began to preach in 1659. In 1664 he was seized and imprisoned for preaching at Winslow, Buckinghamshire. He had not long attained his liberty when he was indicted for ‘certain damnable positions’ contained in his ‘Child's Instructor,’ a baptist catechism. Some expressions about the second advent appear to have led to the false conclusion that he was a Fifth-monarchy man. The trial took place at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, on 8 Oct. 1664, before Sir Robert Hyde [q. v.], who sentenced Keach to a fine of 20l. and a fortnight's imprisonment, with the pillory at Aylesbury on 15 Oct., and at Winslow on 20 Oct., when his book was to be burned before his face; he was also to find sureties for future good behaviour. The sentence was rigorously carried out.
He removed to London in 1668, falling into the hands of highwaymen on his journey. Soon afterwards he was chosen and ordained (1668) pastor of a small baptist church in Tooley Street, which had been started in 1652 under William Rider (d. 1667). This church practised imposition of hands at baptism. It was probably Calvinistic in doctrine; at any rate Keach, after his settlement in London, became a particular or Calvinistic baptist. On the indulgence of 1672 his congregation erected a wooden meeting-place in Goat Yard Passage, Horsleydown; the structure, by successive enlargements, became capable of holding nearly a thousand people. It is said to have been the first baptist church which introduced (about 1688) the practice of conjoint singing, which was condemned by the London general baptist association in 1689 as a ‘carnal formality.’ Keach's advocacy of congregational singing, and his issue of a collection of original hymns (1691), caused a rupture in his church.
He had already employed his powers of versification in the service of his theology (‘The Glorious Lover,’ &c., 1672, 8vo), and had turned them against the quakers (‘The Grand Impostor,’ &c., 1675, 8vo). In prose he had criticised Baxter (1674), defended the practice of his church in the imposition of hands (1675), and advocated a paid ministry (1680). Much of his writing was controversial, chiefly of the defensive sort. His latest controversial pieces were against the seventh-day baptist views (1700), some of his younger members having ‘sucked in the notion of the Jewish sabbath;’ and against the idea of the soul put forward by William Coward (1657–1725) [q. v.] Those of his works which have survived are expository, namely, his ‘Tropologia,’ 1682, fol., a key to scripture metaphors, prefaced by Thomas Delaune [q. v.], and his ‘Gospel Mysteries Unveiled,’ 1701, fol., an interpretation of the parables. He was a masculine preacher, not disdaining the use of notes, and, for a self-taught man, who made no pretensions to much learning, he was well read. His constitution was not strong, and his temperament exposed him to sudden gusts of passion, which contrasted with a disposition usually bright and gentle. He died on 18 July 1704, and was buried in the baptist burial-ground in the Park, Southwark. His portrait, drawn and engraved by Jan Drapentier [q. v.], is prefixed to his ‘Trumpet Blown in Zion,’ 1694, 4to; painted by J. Surman and engraved by Vandergucht, it is prefixed to his ‘Gospel Mysteries;’ there are other engravings of him. He was twice married: first, to Jane Grove of Winslow (d. October 1670, aged 30), by whom he had five children; secondly, to Susanna Partridge of Rickmansworth (d. February 1727), by whom he had five daughters. His only son by his first wife, Elias, born about 1665, conducted a baptist mission in Pennsylvania, where he founded two churches. Returning to England, he was pastor of a baptist church at Wapping, afterwards at Goodman's Fields. He died in 1699, or, according to Ivimey, in 1701. Wilson enumerates forty-three of Keach's publications; a list, extended to fifty-four, is given by Joseph Angus, D.D., in his privately printed ‘Baptist Authors, No. IV. Catalogues,’ July 1889. In addition to those noted above may be mentioned the following poetical productions: 1. ‘Distressed Zion Relieved,’ &c., 1688, 4to. 2. ‘Spiritual Melody … Psalms and Hymns from the Old and New Testament,’ &c., 1691, 12mo (nearly three hundred pieces). 3. ‘A Feast of Fat Things … Spiritual Songs,’ &c., 1692, 12mo (one hundred pieces). He wrote also allegories, including: 4. ‘War with the Devil,’ &c., 1676, 16mo. 5. ‘The Travels of True Godliness,’ &c., 1683, 12mo; 1831 (with Memoir). 6. ‘The Progress of Sin; or, the Travels of Ungodliness,’ 1684, 12mo; 1817; and published a collection of forty sermons, 7. ‘A Golden Mine Opened,’ &c., 1694, 4to.[Crosby's Hist. of English Baptists, 1738, ii. 185 sq.; Noble's Continuation of Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 1806, i. 132 sq.; Ivimey's Hist. of Engl. Baptists, 1811 i. 338 sq., 1814 ii. 467 sq.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1805 i. 535, 1814 iv. 241 sq.; Barclay's Inner Life of Religious Societies of the Commonwealth, 1876, pp. 456 sq.; Cox's Literature of the Sabbath Question, 1865, ii. 115; Smith's Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana, 1873, pp. 258 sq.; Urwick's Nonconformity in Herts, 1884, p. 378; Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892, p. 610; extracts from the parish register of Stoke Hammond (where the name is invariably spelled Keeche), per the Rev. E. Pain.]