Benjamin Keach was born in Stokehaman, England, February 29th, 1640. He called upon Christ Jesus for salvation when he was fifteen and followed the Lord in believer’s baptism. He began preaching at age eighteen, and at age twenty-eight, he was ordained pastor of the church in Horsleydown, Southwark, London (literally meaning “horse-lie-down”). The church grew rapidly under Keach’s direction, and the meeting-house (the former term for “church building”) was expanded multiple times. Keach was dedicated in his defense of Baptist doctrine, though imprisoned numerous times for his views. On an occasion where he was made to stand in the pillory and watch his writings be burnt, he was found boldly defending the truth instead of ashamedly submitting to the punishment. He died July 18th, 1704, in his sixty-fourth year, and he is credited with writing forty-three works.
Though his name is largely lost to time, his life left an indelible mark upon hymnody as he prepared the way for all who would follow – particularly among the Baptists. The fruit of his life work is still visible in the local church nearly 300 years later. If you enjoy the congregational singing of hymns, your life has been directly touched by Keach’s influence. Had it not been for his courage in a particular conflict, we may never have heard the more familiar names of Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, or P. P. Bliss.
Congregations had fallen silent, the tuneful voices of the redeemed, fallen dumb. The fires of persecution raged in England, till in desperation, the saints ceased to sing for fear of being discovered. Long after persecution waned, churches remained silent. In time, they developed other reasons for their silence. Should some merely respond in form, not in heart, if the congregation lifted their voices in song? Should songs ‘from the heart’ result from melody and rhyme developed on the spot instead of premeditated and prepared lines? Should saints and sinners together raise their voices in song? Many saints in England were distracted by arguing the point.
The story of Benjamin Keach is a lengthy tale. Look out for our next blogpost to learn more about this remarkable man!
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