Historical Fragments

This monthly blog series is a collection of historical extracts taken from confessional Baptists of the past. However, each article aims at showing the ongoing relevance of God’s word due to its eternal nature.

Old-Age, Peevishness & Hard-Heartedness

In ‘The Travels of True Godliness‘, Keach depicts his hero as seeking where he can gain admittance. Sometimes he is found talking to those on whose door he knocks at some length. When he reaches ‘Old-Age’, the discourse is shorter because of his hardened heart.

‘Godliness, being now rejected by Riches, Poverty and Youth, resolved to see whether he might not be entertained by a certain decrepit and feeble person, called Old-Age, concluding with himself that it was very probable his dear friend, Consideration, whom he had a long time sought for, might lodge in his house; for, said he, surely Wisdom, though he dwell not with Riches, Poverty, nor Youth, yet doubtless he will be found with the aged, Job xxxii. 7. Besides these encouragements, he believed him to be the same person who, when he was on a journey many years before, had promised to welcome him at some future time.’

However, his hopes were disappointed, for,

‘Old-Age was settled so on his lees, and had had such rebellious servants and children, that they would not suffer him to show Godliness the least favour, Jer. xlviii. 11. The names of some of them were Weary-Limbs, Dim-Eyes, Peevish, Hard Heart, Impenitency, Self-Conceit, Enmity, Unbelief, and Ignorance; with many more of similar character…’

Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)

Benjamin Keach was a General Baptist pastor who became convinced of the truth of Calvinism. He pastored the church at Horsley-down in Southwark which became eventually the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

It is discerning of Keach, after listing two ways the body declines in old age, next to describe peevishness as the first obstacle in a sinner’s soul to considering the gospel. How true this is! When he has health and strength, a man can be happy in outward things. When physical infirmities prevent him from doing what he wants, he also has more time to sit and be conscious of them, so peevishness easily develops.

It is rare to find the soul of a sinner turning from himself to thoughts of God, growing softer toward God as pains increase. Instead, a grumbling spirit is added to all other reasons in his own mind for rejecting God: ‘If God exists, or is good, why am I in pain? I don’t deserve it’. So he thinks. However, this also needs to be shown to be a sin as the gospel is presented and is often sadly a thankless task.

Keach’s original editor added few notes, but here he says in the margin: Peevishness is a besetting sin of age. Let old persons watch and pray lest they cherish or even allow this sin.”

For the problem is the next ‘servant’ listed by Keach: ‘Hard-Heart.’

‘Hard-Heart had been nourished and fed continually from youth, for Godliness found him at his house when he formerly gave him a visit; but now he was grown very stout, stubborn, and obdurate. This servant induced Old-Age not to regard at all the threats of God. And he was so void of pity, that he stirred Old-Age up to oppress poor Conscience, who kept his accounts, and at every turn to tread him under foot, for telling him so often of his debts, (viz. what abundance of abominable sins he had committed against God); and not only so, but not to regard or pity the sad estate of his own soul. Nor did Old-Age concern himself with the low condition of God’s church, but would curse and swear, and utter falsehoods, and now and then be intoxicated, notwithstanding he was even ready to drop into hell! And all this occurred through the evil nature of this Hard-Heart, and his companions Enmity and Unbelief. These three had also bred up another graceless inmate as bad as themselves, one Impenitency; so that despite all that could be said to him by Godliness, and his servant, Theology, concerning the detestable nature of sin, and his miserable condition, yet he could not be brought to repent, nor to let one tear fall for his sins; so that that word of the blessed apostle was made good in him, “But after thy hard and impenitent heart, thou treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds.” Rom. ii . 5, 6.

"Pray for the old; witness to them; but do not expect the signs of approaching death to soften them; only the Holy Spirit can do this"

What a penetrating account of the perils of the long-impenitent old sinner! Keach has True Godliness leave Old-Age thus: “Much to the same purpose he spake to him, and with deep sorrow left him sinking under the weight of his sins!” How this should move us to seek to present the gospel to those of younger years- not just children, as some seem to over-emphasise, but young singles and married couples.

God can, of course, sovereignly save those of any age. The writer remembers a lady of 80 whom all, including herself, thought was a Christian of many years’ standing, being gloriously saved. Yet we remember this event because it was rare: and she was saved through her regular practise of reading the Scriptures- she was neither peevish nor hard-hearted. So pray for the old; witness to them; but do not expect the signs of approaching death to soften them; only the Holy Spirit can do this, as Keach goes on to teach at the end of his book.

Picture of John Palmer

John Palmer

John was in local church ministry throughout England and Wales for nearly forty years, he is spending his retirement at Aughton Park Baptist Church in Lancashire, England.