Posted by: stpowen | July 15, 2013

Benjamin Keach against the Federal Vision

I have previously commended the Particular Voices blog. Today I came across this excellent post from the pen of Benjamin Keach.
Keach (1640-1704) was one of the most important of the early particular Baptists. In this extract, he attacks the doctrine, advanced by Richard Baxter, that Justification, rather than being the sovereign declaration of God that true Christians are righteous solely through the merits and suffering of Christ, is in some way a work that Christians must accomplish. This view of Baxter is remarkably similar to the doctrines being promulgated by the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul. Although it can be a bit of a struggle to decipher the olde type and spelling used in the 17th Century, it is well worth persevering.

May I also commend Keach’s book, The True Marrow of Justification (SGCB, ISBN 1-59925-144-0)? It is not only one of the best short books of Justification, but also one of the simplest. The spelling and type-face have been modernized.


  1. I don’t even think one can view Baxter as evangelical. He has more leanings toward the Roman Catholic Church’s view of Justification than most Christians know…. Praise God for raising men like Keach to correct a counterfeit gospel Baxter was teaching.

  2. I quite agree with you Jade. Baxter is one who has been highly praised by quite opposite sections of the Christian public who have not read him at length because, instead of learning to sail forward into the wind (true sailers know how), he set his sails to have the wind always behind him, running before the wind. He thus cuts quite a figure with theological landlubbers but his trying to move forwards by sailing swiftly, but in the opposite direction to the Christian shore, brought him nowhere. Anyone can thus dip into Baxter somewhere and say ‘I agree’ before finding themselves in a maelstrom. Sadly, our Reformed establishment seeks to separate Keach from his successor’s, John Gill’s, just summary of Justification and ally him with the leaky, lopsided catamaran of Richartd Baxter and Andrew Fuller. Keach writes of the virtuality of justification from eternity. Sadly, modern cyberspace evangelicals are now arguing that ‘virtual’ means ‘unreal’ and that Keach believed in the ‘actual’ justification of Baxter and Fuller through human activation. It is the old story of Humpty-dumpty making words mean what he will. I had an 18th century collection of Keach’s works and, in a perios of great poverty, I sent them to an American ‘Christian who bid me seventy dollars. That was the last I heard of the books and the American and never saw the money. Happily, the Lord has put me in a state of not having to sell books now but such a collection of Keach is now priceless and I shall never have him back.


  3. You arre quite right about Baxter, Jade. He is certainly heterodox on the sbject of Justification and, as I pointed out in my article on the ‘Salters’ Hall Synod,’ his views contributed to the terrible downgrade in Christian doctrine that occurred in the early 18th Century. It is surprising that he gets a free pass on this from many Reformed writers. I think it is because his works on Pastoral care are so well thought of that his failings are overlooked.

  4. Hello George,
    I agree with your thoughts upon Baxter (though he suffered for his faith towards the end of his life). However, I am not sure what you mean by ‘virtual’ Justification from eternity. Surely either one is or one isn’t?

    I have Keach’s ‘Marrow of True Justification’ in its new edition by SGCB; it is one of the finest short books on the subject. I quote from Page 27: ‘Every Man is ungodly before he is acquitted and justified, having until that moment a great Mountain of guilt and filth lying upon him.’

  5. Dear Martin,

    Thank you for your comment. I was not pointing out what I meant by ‘virtual justification’, I would never use the term. I was pointing out what Keach means as it is his term. When Keach used the term, he meant ‘real’, whereas modern critics interpret ‘virtual’ as not real but just a representative or imitation of it, hence my Cyberspace illustration. I am thinking mostly of Keach’s ‘A Child’s Delight’ in which he speaks of ‘fundamental and virtual justification in Christ as our Head and Representative’ on the one hand, and ‘our actual and personal justification when we are united to Him’ on the other. This is the actus immanens and actus transiense of our Reformers and Gill. Gill sometimes called it the active act of God and the passive or receptive act of man. On justification, see also Keach’s ‘A Medium Betwixt and Between two Extremes’ where he defends this teaching against the charge of Antinomianism. Keach argues clearly that his theology of justification is neither Antinomianism nor Arminianism but a balanced picture of what God does and how man is enabled to apprehend and activate the gift as an instrument of faith. To Keach as to Gill and me, justification is before faith but faith is the hand which receives and apprehends Christ and the justification Christ’s brings. Christ is the Giver of both justification and the wherewithall to appropriate it.

    What you quote from the ‘Marrow’ is quite in keeping with what Keach says in his other works. God justifies the ungodly

    Those who argue against this usually accuse us of teaching that God justifies in ‘past eternity’ but has to wait until present time to carry it out. Of course, there is no such thing as ‘past eternity’ and God is present in all His creations of Heaven and Earth. When He says ‘Let there be light, there is light. God does not go to sleep like Rip van Winkle for a hundred years before it happens. When he decrees His children’s justification in Christ, they are justified immediately and do not have to take a number in the queue and wait until time calls them.

    I am all in favour of dropping the term ‘vertual’ for clarity’s sake but it is sad that we must drop good words like this and ‘gay’, ‘fairy’, ‘welkin’ etc. only because they are misused or thrown out of the language. When I was a child, I lived in a community which still used thee and thou. We learnt it was good manners when proposing to a young lady to say ‘May I, when thy folks are nigh, call thee ‘thou’. This was then a sign that love was springing up in the hearts of the couple. Just fancy saying, ‘May I, when we are with your parents, call you ‘you’. There is no romantic left in our language since we banned all the nice words. Everything seems to have been dumbed down.

    God bless,


  6. Dear Martin,

    The term ‘Federal Vision’ occasionally crops up in American Presbyterian discussion and it has become a terminus technicus amonst a number of Brits who appear to have extended its meaning. I have not come across the debate in Germany yet. I must confess definitions I have seen rest more on what various writers have said or even not said rather than what the Bible says. I can make neither rhyme nor reason of it. As the term cropped up recently in your pages in conjunct with Keach, could you or one of your correspondents on this blog site give a brief outline of what is meant? Or is this just another American idea designed to plague our churches and ought not to be taken seriously?


  7. Hi George,
    I think when you wrote “Keach’s ‘A Child’s Delight’”, you mean “A Child’s Instructor”, no? Where exactly in Keach’s ‘A Medium Betwixt and Between two Extremes’ does he speak about this “virtual justification”, because I don’t recall reading it that from Keach?

    There’s a difference between the actions of when the Lord chosing us as His remnant from eternities past, to when one is justified before God — they are not one and the same. As the Scriptures notes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Another where Col 1:21-23 states, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

    Before any one of His remnant came to faith in Christ, they were NOT justified before God, though He appointed a time and place by which The Holy Spirit would regenerate us, to begin Ordo Salutis.

  8. Dear Jade,

    Concerning the name ‘The Child’s Delight, it is as I gave it, as found in most catalogues. The full title is: The Child’s Delight Or Instruction for Children and Youth’. Concerning Keach’s words, I copied them from the work mentioned, Betwixt and Between. I recommend that you read the 1698 edition and you will find the passage I refer to. However, as I said, my Keach left for America when I was broke and I remained broke as the bro did not pay for it.

    As I totally agree with your Scripture quotes, I realize that you have put me in the wrong compartment. This seems to be because you have split up justification into multiple compartments for analysis’ sake which, however must be synergized, not divided. As I stated very recently on this site, I find the idea of God acting in ‘past eternity’ un-Biblical, besides being impossible to comprehend. This was the reason for my exchanges with Curt Daniel, Foundation Journal, BOT etc. some years ago. They played around with past present and future eternity as if eternity were a synonym for time. One cannot dissect eternity time-wise. Eternity rules time not time eternity. God is never subject to time. God dwells in eternity which is free from time’s fetters and He always acts from there. He does not act from anywhere else as His eternity embraces His total nature which fills His dwelling-place. There thus can be no time lag between God’s justification and the reception of it. As the Scriptures point out, when God says ‘Let there be light’, there is light as He wills it and what He wills He does. God’s will is the activation of it. Thus, there is no difference in either time or eternity between God appointing you to salvation and your reception of it. Happily both Keach and Gill taught this.

    I am not too happy with their nomenclature of active and passive justification as, of course, this is also dissecting the indivisible. Man is not really passive in justification as he is activated by God and Christ dwells in the Christian with the Spirit instructing him. As Wycliffe taught and few even today follow him, justification is not a limb of salvation to be separated from other limbs such as predestination, atonement, the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation etc.. This is the Systematic Theology Calvin borrowed from the Aristotelians. Justification embraces the whole of Chist’s Covenant duties on behalf of His Bride. Our Reformers rejected Roman Catholic Aristotelian thinking but partly-Reformed Calvin never dropped it.

    Concerning the timing of justification, you are making, if I may suggest, the mistake of Fuller who also believed, ‘Before any one of His remnant came to faith in Christ, they were NOT justified before God’. This is why he could not believe that God justifies the ungodly. God’s action of Justification is not based on the godliness of the recipient but has to do with his ungodliness, otherwise it would not be needed.. Justification means the pardoning, reconciling, making righteous of the elect, whilst they had no faith. God’s saving work in eternity is projected sublapsarianly in time. Faith is justification’s gift of God in Christ.

    Concerning the idea of a rigid ordo salutis, there is no such schedule in Scripture. If you list what appears to be such in Scripture, none of the examples agree as there is no such fixed time-bound structure. Gill makes this very clear, too. Many make different theologies out of the different orders they find represented by different NT writers. This has even formed newe denominations. However, the whole idea is wrong and those brethren were better off together.

    Yours in the joy of believing,


  9. Hi George,
    I totally agree with you that God is infinite and is not confined to time, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t carry out His decrees at specific times. His decrees involves finite beings that’s subject to time and space. It was God himself who appointed a time by which His Son (who himself is eternal) would be born, taking on human flesh and dying on a cross. And yes, that in itself is mind boggling that an eternal being would come down as man, subject to time, space and all the failings of human flesh. While all of this is incomprehensible in our limited mind, doesn’t negate that God so choose to carry out His decree by this manner. This is why we call it the “grace of God” upon us and why David wonders, “what is man that thou is mindful of him”, that an eternal God would send his equally eternal Son in that manner. So the argument that something might be incomprehensible, doesn’t negate the reality of what God has done and what Scripture has reveal to us limited beings. In the same way, Christ’s 2nd coming will be a designated time in the future. So should our Ordo Salutis be subjected to time and space because we are subject to time and space, not because God is.

    From my quotes of Scriptures, I wasn’t imply the dividing of justification, but rather those Scriptures note that at some point in time among the lives of the elect, they were once unjustified before God. Until the work of the Holy Spirit “began the good work” among the individual elect, by which He enabled us/them, with the grace of faith to believe, we were sinners and unjustified before God. Even Paul states in 1 Tim 1:12-16:
    “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.  And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”

    What meaning would “long-suffering” have if we have already been justified in eternity past? It wouldn’t make sense. And when Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, acting out in his unbelief, do you honestly think he was justified before God? No. He was an enemy of God, the same way we all were before we came to faith in Christ. Paul noted in Romans that Abraham wasn’t justified before God, before he believed, but rather after. Christ’s long suffering is waiting upon those who were destined to be regenerated, so that they can repent and believe. And in consequences of their belief in Christ, they are then justified before God the Father, through the blood of the Lamb. But until then, He waits patiently, in long-suffering, until the fullness of God’s decree is carried out in time, for everyone of His elect, and this includes justification for each of the designated individuals.

    I’m still curious on where you thought Keach mentions on this “virtual” justification in his book, A Medium Betwixt Two Extremes, because if I recall from Keach’s writings that he thought it rather absurb to say that the elect are justified from eternity past and I’d have to agree with him on that.

  10. Dear All,

    There is a downloadable copy of Keach’s ‘Betwixed’ on Early English Books Online, but I have lost my college access through retirement. Has anyone a legally gained copy from which we all might benefit. Giving the online connection will suffice.

    I am enclosing remarks on Keach taken from my review of Michael Haykin’s work on the three Ks. Haykin’s work was very badly researched and the author lost his candidates in his overall rhetoric concerning controversies which had nothing to do with them.

    In Chapter Eight, Benjamin Keach: Baptist Divine, Haykin succeeds convincingly, though very briefly, in depicting the importance and value of Keach’s life and ministry. Haykin obviously sees Keach’s role in the same light that many regard John Gill, namely as one who established, consolidated and equipped the Particular, pardon, Calvinistic Baptists for their entrance into the future. As Haykin is so very critical of John Gill elsewhere, yet full of praise for Andrew Fuller, one presumes Haykin looks upon the latter as the perpetuator of Keach’s orthodoxy. Traditionally, however, it is Kiffin, not Keach who is looked upon as the ‘Father of Particular Baptists’ because Keach never managed to fully distance himself from General Baptist thinking, except on hymn-singing.
    Keach’s story is full of adventure, controversy, set-backs and triumphs; enough to fill any biographer with great enthusiasm. Some of this does come through but W. E. Spear’s well-known Edinburgh University, Ph.D. thesis (1953) entitled The Baptist Movement in England in the Late Seventeenth Century as reflected in the work and thoughts of Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), which Haykin does not seem to have consulted, would have provided him with more detail. Haykin does allow the sunshine of Keach’s bright, well-illustrated, sermons to shine through and the examples of Keach’s doctrinal preaching help greatly to form an overall picture of the saint. Haykin strangely labours the point that Keach blurs the distinctions between regeneration and conversion and his efforts to clarify the matter are confusing in comparison with Keach’s clear exposition of the passive and active sides of God’s works of grace. One senses that Haykin is preparing us for another anti-Hyper-Calvinistic ‘aside’ as modern ‘Moderate Calvinists’ mistrust this distinction.
    Calvin, Bunyan, Witsius, Hoornbek, Goodwin, Gill, Brine and many other Christian notables, believed that election, redemption and justification were actively settled and outworked in the mind of God in eternity and thus also Christ is said to have been slain for us before the foundation of the world. Faith then is acquired passively as God’s active gift, bringing with it perception, appropriation and evidence of justification. This sublapsarian view is usually known as ‘justification from eternity’. This is what has come to be called Calvinism. For Haykin, it is rank ‘Hyper-Calvinism.’ Taking the example of John Brine, who lived in the next century to Keach and thus has nothing to do with his story, Haykin argues that if justification from eternity were true, saving faith, for Brine, would be a mere ‘realisation of what God has already done,’ i.e. Brine’s saving faith is but a ‘notion’. Over and against this is put the Fullerite belief that our justification was not ‘in the mind of God’ before all time, in regards to which we are passive, but active faith, expressed in believing is the sine que non of justification. I hope to show the absolute fallacy of this argument, which ignores the Atonement, in a subsequent essay on justification. Haykin ought to have at least looked Brine up on the subject.
    I missed a comment or two on Keach’s high church views of the ministry as also his intricate dealings with the General Baptists. Keach’s singing controversy with Marlow takes up a disproportionate third of the ‘biography.’ He is given the victory, despite Marlow’s showing more knowledge of prosody and Bible-based worship than Keach displays in his liturgical experiments. It was no wonder that 92-year-old (wrong age!) Kiffin entered the fray from the pulpit and in writing against what he thought was Keach’s musical madness. Keach was under the wrong impression that the Hebrew Psalms were written in rhyming verse and so rhyme must be used in church worship as a sign of true spiritual faith. Yet Haykin calls Keach’s apology for rhyming worship ‘brilliant.’ Marlow’s pointing out the inconsistency of Keach’s rejection of set spoken prayers but acceptation of sung prayers, even a sung Eucharist, cannot be gainsaid. Nor can we deny the validity of Marlow’s argument against Keach’s insistence that all that is natural to man must become a church ordinance. Then, argued Marlow, we will soon see our worship composed of laughing, shouting, whistling and dancing and ‘confused singing’ will become the be-all and end-all of church life. Toronto Blessing, here we come!’


  11. George,
    I don’t have the book you mention, but as I have said, I do have Keach’s book on Justification, and I have saerched in vain for any mention of ‘Justification from Eternity.’ It would seem strange, if he believed in it, that he would not mention it on his book on that very subject and indeed make the coment that I quoted earlier.

    May I refer you to the 2nd London Baptist Confession (‘1689’), to which Keach was a signatory? Section XI:IV states: ‘God did from all eternity ecree to justifyall the elect, and Christ did in the fulness of time die for their sins, and rise again for their justification; nevertheless, they are not justified personally, until the Holy Spirit doth in time due actually apply Christ unto them.’ The Scripture Proof Texts given are Col. 1:21-22; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:4-7; Eph. 2:1-3. Gill, as you know very well having written an excellent biography of the man, did not subscribe to the 1689 Confession, but wrote his own for the Goat Yard Church.

    I agree with you that God is not subject to time, but that does not prevent Him from acting in time (Gal. 1:15-16). As I think I said to you before, I think Isaiah 12:1-3 refutes the whole idea of Justification from eternity. If you mean by that phrase that God has elected certain people to justification from eternity, I cannot disagree, but I think the Scriptures are clear that before men believe, they stand under God’s righteous anger, though of course, the very faith with which they believe is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

    I may have purchased a gift for my child with the firm and unalterable intention to present it to him when he arrives home; I may send a chauffeur to collect him fom school or wherever and to deliver him to my house, but the gift will not be his until he walks through the door.

  12. George,
    You asked for some information on the ‘Federal Vision.’
    Here is a link to a reasonably brief critique. An internet search will reveal a whole lot more.

  13. Dear Brother Martin,

    Thank you so much for this very helpful online analysis, though it does seem a case of the kettle calling the pot ‚black‘.

    Sadly, it appears that the whole debate centres around various interpretations of the WS, a debate which quite clouds the Scriptural issue. It is the WS which helped to cause all these different interpretations in the first place through the very mixed array of its authors, and it furthered the Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholics by splitting up the Protestants. Indeed, the dying-out Reformers called the Presbyterian thrust ‘Rome under a new name.’ This chaos was further aided by the Savoy Conference and the London Baptist Confessions. It is thus impossible to take sides on the issue as it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. It is a discussion quite irrelevant to Biblical Christianity or an exercise in behaving unchristianly.

    Thus, to use the WS as an orthodox standard – though it was originally designed as a break with orthodoxy – either way is merely to found just another sect and not a church, visible or invisible.

    Thus also, it is futile to criticize anyone for his low regard for systematic theology as it is just this restoration of RC thinking within so-called Protestantism which has sparked off these controversies and split the churches in their attempts to split the one Church. Since their break from orthodoxy in the 17th century, the Presbyterians have led Dissent into analyzing individual tea-leaves instead of enjoying a delicious ‘cuppa’.What the BOT is doing here is causing artificial problems and blaming others for not solving them.

    One clear, positive warning in this article is the statement:

    ‘In reading paper after paper in this colloquium, the reader is left with the conviction that the Federalists impute the efficacy of the thing signified to the sign itself, whether in regard to baptism or the Lord’s Supper.’

    This has been the bane of both the Established Church and Dissent since time immemorial. If the Church of England, Presbyterianism, the Congregationalist and Baptist churches and the BOT churches could stop equating signs with salvation itself and cease to argue over their different interpretations, we might have insight and time to get back together again. A recent visit to the BOT Conference indicated that this warning is being heeded.

    Yours in Christ,


  14. Dear Martin, with reference to you comment before the last one, the one trouble is, I no longer have the Keach text as explained but am relying on memory and notes from around 1994. The other is that I seem to have a totally different conception of justification from eternity than you and Jade appear to have. Indeed, it seems that we three have three different views, so it is no wonder that confusion arises. Thus, I can accept Keach’s statement concerning a ‘fundamental and virtual justification in Christ, as our Head and Representative’ as our being placed in Christ in eternity where the Lamb’s Book of Life was authored. This is Keach’s ‘active justification’. Keach also speaks of ‘our actual and Personal justification when we are united to him.’ This is his ‘passive justification.’ Here Keach is very close to Gill who followed him and Witsius (amongst many others). Keach clearly teaches that faith in Christ is not a condition of justification but is a gift of God in Christ to His elect. Where I disagree with many Keach interpreters is with their ‘gap theory’ of thousands of years between what God has activated and when it is passively received. Actually, I believe that my view would be a better basis for discussion than the wrangle over ‘Justification from eternity’, or, worse still. ‘eternal justification’. Gill sometimes used the latter term but gave it a different meaning to that of his critics.

    Concerning the 2nd London Baptist Confession, I am very familiar with it and written on it a number of times. I am known for advising Baptists, however, not to dabble too deeply in it as much is borrowed from the Enlightenment teaching of the Presbyterians with their emphasis on the light of nature and natural law. Much of it is Rex Lex pure. I thus recommend Baptists to stick to the first London Confession which is not as muddled as the Second. The Orthodox Creed is not bad, either. Nevertheless, I would not quarrel with any brother on the quote you give, though it was a compromise and we Christians who see through a glass darkly must compromise or we miss the mirror altogether. Of course, neither Knollys, nor Kiffin nor Keach shared exactly the same theology. Keach, being more a General Baptist, departed from the other two at times but the other too went through quite different theologies throughout their growth in grace and their moving from one degree of faith to another. Furthermore, the 2nd Confession uses the same active-passive system of Keach and Gill which has been open to so many quarrels recently through back-projecting later (most un-Baptist and un-Reformed) ideas onto this distinction. I need not repeat my views on this as they have been clearly stated on this site though possibly overlooked.

    So, too, to your remark ‘Gill, as you know very well having written an excellent biography of the man, did not subscribe to the 1689 Confession, but wrote his own for the Goat Yard Church,’ reveals a historical misunderstanding. The Baptists were at sixes and sevens over their growing number of Confessions at the time and many of the 2nd Confession people were affiliating themselves with the Salter’s Hall lot, etc., etc… The divisions amongst Dissenters caused by the Savoy Conference were still hard at work especially amongst the Dissenting Low Church and High Church enthusiasts. Goat Yard was no longer using the 2nd Confession when Gill arrived.

    Because of his controversies with a number of PBs and the charge of Highchurchmanship and Arminianism, Keach had fitted out Goat Yard with its own Confession which stood mainly until Gill’s time, i.e. through Stinton’s ministry also. Gill altered this further on the demand of the church to exclude what I presume you would call ‘unbaptist thinking’ and to make it more evangelistic and Reformed. Of course, this led Gill to be called ‘an Arminian’, too. Indeed, from Keach’s time on to the mid 19th century, Goat Yard and Carter Lane stuck to the Confession drawn up unanimously by the Goat Yard congregation at the beginning of Gill’s ministry. Read Rippon’s letters in the early 19th century insisting that new members sign the Goat Yard Confession. Many Strict Baptists still stick to it.

    To comment on your illustration: The gift Christ purchased with His blood sealed and secured the salvation of His entire Bride past, present and future when eternity impinged on the fullness of time at the atonement. It was thus the gift Abraham and David received, Peter and Paul received and you and I and those we lead to Christ in future receive. You are God’s chauffer and you are commissioned in Christ’s name as Christ’s ambassador and God is with you every step of the way. We accept by the Grace of God, His salvation which comes directly from His eternal self. The ‘Gap-Theory’ in salvation is worse than the ‘Gap Theory’ in creation and is pure Aristotelian sophism.

    In Christ,

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