Keach on Pain and Suffering

On October 9, 1664, Benjamin Keach appeared before Lord Chief Justice Hyde. As a dissenting minister, Keach’s crime was found to be his teaching -via publication- which was contrary to the Church of England. In his recently published book, one meant for the instruction of children; Keach revealed several points of doctrine which did not conform to the teachings of the Church of England. Unfortunately, no copies of this work exist; however, due to the nature of his other works around this time, it is safe to conjecture that he disagreed with the established church over infant baptism. He believed that only adults who could properly profess faith should be baptized. On this day, Judge Hyde sought grounds to impose a sentence of death on Keach. To his dismay he could not find any and the jury found Keach guilty only of misquoting a single verse of Scripture. Hyde then persuaded the jurors into finding the defendant guilty of other charges.

As soon as the guilty verdict was reached, the judge declared, “Benjamin Keach, you are here convicted for writing, printing, and publishing a seditious and schismatical book, for which the court’s judgment is that you go to jail for a fortnight without bail, and the next Saturday stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury in the open market for the space of two hours, 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 Primer,’ and the next Thursday to stand in the same manner and for the same time in the market of 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 jail until you find sureties for your good behavior and appearance at the next assizes, there to renounce your doctrines and make such public submission as shall be enjoined upon you.”

Two questions arise out of this verdict. (1) What was Keach’s response to this guilty verdict? And (2) How did the people respond to this overtly unjust sentencing? James Hamilton in his, Our Christian Classics: Readings from the Best Divines, provides a narrative of what occurred next. He said, ““On the pillory at Aylesbury Mr. Keach defended himself and the truth with great boldness. The jailer frequently interrupted him, and finally the sheriff himself threatened to have him gagged. The people, contrary to custom, had no words of mockery for the good, persecuted minister, and no offensive missile was hurled at him. An Episcopal minister who ventured to assail Mr. Keach in the pillory was immediately reproached by the people with the ungodliness of his own life, and his voice was drowned in laughter…When the minister cried aloud ‘You see what your errors have brought you to’ someone in the crowd shouted back, ‘Do you remember when you were pulled drunk out of the ditch?’ to which another in the crowd yelled, ‘or that time that you were found under the haycock?’ The crowds then burst into laughter and the minister retreated amongst them. Again at Winslow, where Keach was then living, he suffered the same shameful penalty, and a copy of his little book was burned.”[1]

Keach stood in the pillory in both towns. Usually a person in his position could expect to be jeered at and pelted with stones. But this was not the case with Keach. The crowd actually listened to this minister as he began to preach from the stocks. He was so affluent in his delivery that the sheriff threatened to gag him. At times his wife stood by him holding a copy of the Scriptures which he could see and thus preach. Pain and punishment did not stop Keach from public preaching. Neither did other arrests. He was fined several times. Once a troop of horsemen seized him and bound him. They were about to trample him to death under their horses when an officer stepped in and saved his life. Instead he was taken to prison where he was to suffer his punishment for preaching.

Keach on Suffering:

Several of Keach’s works will be used below in an effort to understand how Keach and these other ministers approached and dealt with their suffering. Keach, in one of his tracts, admitted that being opposed to God was the greatest suffering one could experience; a suffering for worse than any physical pain. To that end he asked, “What can render the state of a person worse than to be an enemy of God, Jesus Christ, and the power of godliness; and yet to think he is holy and a good Christian?” He went on to explain the difference between reformation (outward change) and regeneration (heart change). One of the proofs of regeneration that he listed is was for one to hate sin so much that one would be willing to lose everything or undergo the greatest possible suffering rather than sin against God. This was the ethos which led Keach into suffering and the ethos which many other dissenting ministers following into persecution and suffering.

In Keach’s A Golden Mine Opened (1694), he outlined his beliefs as to what hell would be like. He said:

“Fire is a most cruel and dreadful tormentor; if a man be cast into a fire, what intollerable pain and anguish doth it put him to! but alas, alas, that’s nothing to the Wrath of God, when God kindles it in the Consciences of men, nor to Hell fire. You will say, O ’tis a fearful thing to fall into a furious fire, into a burning Furnace, but O Sirs, how much more dreadful is it to fall under the Wrath of God! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 2. 12.) If it be terrible to have a finger, a foot, or a hand to be burned off, or to have the whole body cast into a Furnace of boyling Oil, (as some of the holy Martyrs were) how then can sinners, who are as chaff, bear the Thoughts of Gods wrath and vindictive Vengance, which is far more intollerable than any fire into which any Mortal was ever cast?”.[2]

In this section of the work he says that he is endeavoring to prove the point that the wrath of God in hell is intolerable, and far greater than any wrath let out on earth, either on the body or on the soul. “The extremity of their Torment will appear, upon the Consideration that it is inconceivable, beyond all mens understanding….Psa. 90:11 says, ‘who knoweth the power of thy Anger? who can apprehend’… we can conceive of all bodily pain, or external Torment, but cannot comprehend the Nature of infinite Wrath, no more than we can conceive or apprehend the Nature of infinite Love and Goodness.”[3] Keach’s approach to pain was twofold. First, there was to be considered earthly (physical pain). This pain was realised in the moment of its affliction yet could cease in time. Secondly, there was pain which was eternal. It was this pain that Keach focused his efforts on. Whilst he recognised the peril of early pain, as will be shown below, his focus was altogether on this infinite pain to come for those who were ‘enemies of God’. A survey of Keach’s hymns shed light on how Keach dealt with pain and suffering.

One such hymn is found in Keach’s The Banquetting-House (1692). This work, a collection of hymns, was a reprint of his Spiritual Melody (1691) which was a collection of three hundred hymns. The Banquetting-House, as it was republished, contained a new introduction that defended congregational singing. The exact date of this publication in 1692 is not known; however, it most likely came out after the General Assembly of the Particular Baptists of that years as the Assembly is not mentioned in the text. In Hymn 8 (Job 16:14) Keach talks about the relationship between these two pains: earthly and eternal. We will focus briefly on stanzas seven through nine. They read:

 

7 “And Satan might be silenced,

Who does Gods Jobs accuse,

Whom hence, as you have heard and read,

God thus his Saints does use.

 

8 And that Examples God might have

Of patience, to sustain

Some others of his Children, who

May meet with such like pain.

 

9 Then do not mourn, ye godly ones,

When on you God does run,

Single illegible letters pities you, and hears your moans,

In mercy will return.”[4]

 

This hymn is talking about God’s saints which Keach considered to be believers like himself. He says that these saints ‘may meet with such like pain’ referencing the earthly pain believers may experience but the pain which God will sustain them through. His call then is for the saints to mourn no more as they experience pain because God’s mercy will return to them. Keach wrote extensively on this idea of hope to come in several ways throughout the corpus of his works. One such way, as will be shown next, was that believers could take hope through their suffering because they were not alone in this earthly pain. Keach held that Christians had something of a legacy of pain. Later in this work he wrote in the sixth part a hymn based on Psalm 117. It reads:

3 “God’s Saints did suffer grievous pain,

Great tortures did endure

Before they would part with the Truth,

Such peace it did procure

 

4 Unto their Souls who faithful were

Unto the Truth alway;

O it will make you holy, bold

In the great Judgment-day.”[5]

 

The narrative that Keach puts forward, by way of giving hope, is one of lasting endurance. He calls upon those who went before him and ‘suffered grievous pain’. These ‘role models’ of the faith are meant to show a proper approach to suffering by their actions of enduring. By their faithfulness to the truth and despite their circumstances they were made holy unto the day of judgment. Keach had put forward a similar idea earlier on in his writings. In his work Distressed Sion Relieved (1689) Keach wrote that these persecuted Christians even had cheerful looks as pain was inflicted upon them. He said:

“What chearful [sic] looks this excellent Christian had,

Single illegible letters through the Streets he his last Journey made?

To that in triumph he did seem to go

To death, as if he certainly did know

That Angels thence would carry him to bliss,

And place him where no pain nor sorrow is,

To be a Courtier to the King of Kings,

Single illegible letters seeding on joy that from Christ Jesus springs.”[6]

 

Keach, being a minister of reformed theology, believed that death was not the end.[7] Therefore, earthly pain was not the end. Finally, a brief look will be made at two of Keach’s works done for funerals which he preached at. These instances are telling as to his thoughts on death and pain. The first comes from his A feast of fat things full of marrow containing several Scripture songs (1692). His Hymn #66 is aptly titled “Saints Happy at Death”. It was sung at the funeral of Mr. John Lyons on June 26th, 1692 who drowned in the River Thames. Stanzas six through eight read:

6 “But blest are they, who die in Christ,

their Death to them is Gain;

Their Souls do go to Paradice;

the Wicked go to Pain.

 

7 Praised be God for Jesus Christ,

who gives such Victory

Unto thy Saints, o’er Sin and Death;

sing Praise continually.

 

8 The Godly ly in a sweet Sleep,

they sleep in Jesus do;

And no more Pain, nor Sorrow shall

for ever undergo.”[8]

 

The great hope believers had in earthly pain was eternal peace. In conclusion, Keach knew this hope to be evangelical in nature for if there was rest from such pain than all should be made aware. To that end his wrote in his funeral sermon which he preached for a Mrs. Elizabeth Westen on March 20, 1699 entitled: A call to weeping: or A warning touching approaching miseries (1699).

“God is the object of Fear in his Vindictive Justice, his Wrath is terrible, and from hence he might cry out and speak these words, that we may know the evil of sin, and the greatness of that Wrath which he bore that was due to us; and also to deter all wicked men from their sins, and to make them sensible of that pain and anguish they are like for ever to undergo, that so they may fly to Jesus; and that Believers may prize and love their Saviour with the greater affection.”[9]

Keach believed that all should be made aware of this promise of eternal peace. Until that sweet peace would come God would keep them. As Isaac Watts said in his hymn #280 in The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts‎:

“When pain and anguish seize me, Lord,
All my support is from thy word:
My soul dissolves for heaviness;
Uphold me with thy strength’ning grace”.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] James Hamilton, Our Christian Classics: Readings from the Best Divines, (London: James Nisbet and Co.), pp. 264-267.

[2] Benjamin Keach, A Golden Mine Opened, or, The glory of God’s rich grace displayed in the mediator to believers, and his direful wrath against impenitent sinners containing the substance of near forty sermons upon several subjects, (London : Printed and sold for the author by William Marshall, 1694), p. 33.

[3] Ibid, p. 53.

[4] Benjamin Keach, The banquetting-house, or, A feast of fat things a divine poem, opening many sacred Scripture mysteries, (London : Printed by J.A. for H. Barnard, 1692), p. 20.

[5] Ibid, p. 247.

[6] Benjamin Keach, Distressed Sion relieved, or, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness wherein are discovered the grand causes of the churches trouble and misery under the late dismal dispensation : with a compleat history of, and lamentation for those renowned worthies that fell in England by popish rage and cruelty, from the year 1680 to 1688, (London : Printed for Nath. Crouch, 1689), p. 39.

[7] For more on Keach’s reformed theology see: Jonathan Arnold (2013) The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), (University of Oxford : Regent Park College’s Centre for Baptist History and Heritage).

[8] Benjamin Keach, A feast of fat things full of marrow containing several Scripture songs taken out of the Old and New Testaments, with others composed by t[he author] : together [with o]ne hundred of divine hymns, being the first century, (London : Printed by B.H., 1696), p. 91.

[9] Benjamin Keach, A call to weeping: or A warning touching approaching miseries In a sermon preached on the 20th of March, 1699. At the funeral of Mrs. Elizabeth Westen, late wife of Mr. John Westen, who departed this life on the 17th of the said month, in the 38th year of her age, (London : printed for, and sold by John Marshal at the Bible in Grace-Church-street, 1699), p. 17.

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