|  July 1, 2024

The following article is part of a series of articles that will traverse church history to examine the preaching of great preachers.

English Calvinistic Baptist preacher Benjamin Keach declares, “…preaching the Gospel, is the feeding of the Soul.”[1] Keach was a local church pastor, Baptist theologian, and above all a gospel preacher.[2] Yet, he (as well as most 17th century Baptists) is not well known among us contemporary Baptists, even though he has been considered “the most significant Baptist theologian of the late seventeenth century…”[3] On the Mount Rushmore of Baptist preachers, Keach usually isn’t acknowledged.[4] This article serves a dual purpose. First, I want to introduce you to Keach and his preaching. Second, I’d like to retrieve specific elements from Keach for our contemporary preaching.

Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)

Although baptized as an infant in the Church of England, Keach dissented and rejected infant baptism at the age of 15. He was converted and baptized by immersion. Upon his baptism, he began attending and ministering among the General Baptists in Winslow, Buckinghamshire England. Early in his ministerial career, he was sentenced to the pillory for publishing a children’s catechism. Most likely, due to the persecution, he and his family moved to Southwark in 1668 (the south side of London). It was there he would serve as the pastor of the Horsleydown congregation for 36 years.[5] At some point during this period Keach embraced Calvinism. He was a signer of the Second London Confession and published 43 works.

Ecclesial Preaching

Most importantly, Benjamin Keach adamantly believes that preaching the Bible was foundational to pastoral ministry. The Scripture, in Keach’s view, is the Word of Christ to his church. He states, “The Holy Scripture is Christ’s Word, and therefore the Voice of Christ, and this Voice, his Sheep hear: They give full credit to the Truth of the Sacred Scriptures, they believe they are of Divine Authority: All Scripture is given by Inspiration of God, and is profitable for Doctrine, for Reproof, for Correction, for Instruction in Righteousness.”[6] For Keach, the preached Word is a means of grace whereby Christ communicates the benefits of redemption.[7] Additionally, he understood that only the Spirit can make preaching effectual.[8]

Expositional Preaching

In terms of his method, Keach follows the plain “puritan” style of preaching. Keach claims, “I am not for airy and florid orations in the ministration of the Word of God but for the plain way of preaching used by the Holy Apostles and our worthy modern Divines.”[9] This doesn’t mean that Keach’s preaching is void of illustrative material. He is a master of metaphor. His words are packed with pastoral sensitivity and urgency. Nevertheless, Keach’s preaching sought to be “expository” in the same manner as other Puritan preaching.

Evangelical Preaching

Benjamin Keach represents the warmth of evangelical Calvinism. Listen to his free offer invitation,

Will you not open the door, nor cry to him to help you to open to him, to enable you to believe in him? What do you say, shall the Son of God stand at your doors, and you not so much as ask, who is there? Who is at my door? Shall Christ be kept out of your hearts and stand at your doors…he comes through a sea of blood to offer his love to you…this great Savior is offered to you. The Lord help every one of you to consider of this, and to lay it to heart.[10]

Contrary to the Puritan doctrine of preparation, Keach calls for an immediate response to believe in Christ. He says again, “O look to Christ, come to Christ, hear what he says to such that are lost, that are under the burden of their Sins, and wounded ones; Come to me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[11]

Experiential Preaching

One of Keach’s favorite metaphors for the minister is that of the ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). As a result, Keach believes that the role of the minister possesses authoritative significance. The preacher is functioning by the authority of Christ. He says, “…know Christ’s faithful Ministers personate him, they are his ambassadors, they represent the very Person of Christ…”[12] The minister is preaching “in the stead of Christ.”[13] The risen Christ, who is ascended in the heavens, is presently working by means of the minister. This leads Keach to claim that Christ himself spoke through the preached Word.[14]

Contemporary Implications for Preaching

Benjamin Keach provides contemporary preachers a wealth of material on preaching.[15] His preaching was ecclesial, expositional, evangelical, and experiential. These characteristics can be retrieved from one of our earliest Baptist forebearers. Our own preaching must benefit the church. The Scriptures are the “voice of Christ” for the sheep. Our preaching should expose the meaning of the biblical text. Granted, Keach’s preaching was not “Text-Driven” according to our contemporary definition. Nevertheless, he inherited a preaching tradition that aimed at exposing Scriptural doctrine and applying its implications. Additionally, our preaching must be evangelical. Whether one is Calvinistic or Non-Calvinistic, a clear free offer of the gospel is central to proclamation. Lastly, our preaching must be experiential. This means we need to be transformed by the spiritual truth we proclaim. We must stand in that truth by virtue of Christ’s authority. If preaching is a means of grace and if Christ communicates in preaching, then we must be stand as ambassadors of the King and faithfully deliver His message.

[1] Benjamin Keach, “The Blessedness of Christ’s Sheep: Sermon V,” in 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 for the author, 1694), 131–132.

[2] For a biography on Keach see Austin Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach (Ontario: Canada, Joshua Press, 2015). For a shorter introduction on the theology and controversies in Keach’s ministry see Thomas J. Nettles, “Benjamin Keach 1640-1704,” The British Particular Baptists, Vol. I, Edited by Michael A. G. Haykin and Terry Wolever (Springfield Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2019), 257-295.

[3] Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin. The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 52.

[4] I took an unscientific survey of my congregation of the most popular Baptist preachers. The names mentioned consisted of Charles Spurgeon, Adrian Rogers, W.A. Criswell, and Billy Graham.

[5] In the 19th century Charles Spurgeon would serve the same church which met at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

[6] Keach, “The Blessedness of Christ’s Sheep: Sermon I,” in A Golden Mine Opened, 80.

[7] Benjamin Keach, “Of the Means of Grace,” A short confession of faith containing the substance of all the fundamental articles in the larger confession put forth by the elders of the Baptist churches, owning personal election and final perseverance (London: 1697), 19-20.

[8] Keach, “The Blessedness of Christ’s Sheep: Sermon I,” in A Golden Mine Opened, 81.

[9] Benjamin Keach, Display of Glorious Grace or, The Covenant of Peace Opened in Fourteen Sermons (London: S. Bridge, 1698), iii-iv.

[10] Keach, “The Great Salvation: Sermon II,” in A Golden Mine Opened, 386-387.

[11] Keach, “The Great Salvation: Sermon II,” in The Golden Mine Open’d, 385.

[12] Keach, “The Great Salvation: Sermon VII,” in A Golden Mine Opened, 431.

[13] Benjamin Keach, Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture Metaphors, 851.

[14] Keach, “The Great Salvation: Sermon VII,” in A Golden Mine Opened, 431.

[15] I acknowledge my bias toward Keach as I am writing my dissertation on Keach’s theology of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Michael Cooper serves as Pastor of Grace Community Church in Mabank, Texas, and is a Preaching PhD student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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