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.

Riches, Self-Love and Sir Worldy-Wisdom

Travels of True Godliness

If I called you a liberal, would you take it as an insult? This question is not about your politics but Christianity. In his classic ‘Christianity and Liberalism’, J. Gresham Machen proved that the two words represent two different religions, which merely use some of the same terminologies to mean different things. What if I called you an evangelical? This may be a label that you would be willing to wear. Yet there is a rapidly-increasing use to the term in describing a form of Christianity that is so worldly that it has more in common with liberalism than with Reformed thinking and living.

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.
About Travels of True Godliness

Though nearly forgotten today, Benjamin Keach’s ‘The Travels of True Godliness’ was in the eighteenth century nearly as popular as Bunyan’s great work.” Jim Renihan

In his book, The Travels of True Godliness, Benjamin Keach promoted the Biblical, not the new, form of evangelicalism. However, on his travels, the eponymous hero calls at the house of a man named ‘Riches’. Their dialogue has lessons for all whom we would call ‘comfortably off’ and certainly for middle class so-called man-centred evangelicals.

Keach describes four ways the ‘religious’ think:

Firstly, ‘Riches’ has a companion called ‘Self-Love’ who says to him:

‘You must not give way to conscience. Sir, if you follow his dictates, and embrace this godliness, you will be undone, and your wife and children will be brought to a piece of bread, notwithstanding your great estate. Sir, your great fault hath been this, (I perceive it clearly,) you have read too much of late; why should you concern yourself with the Bible? I think it had been well if it had never been translated into our mother tongue; this hath given Godliness opportunity to disturb your mind. Come, give over this in the first place.’

Sadly many have the Bible read and talked about in their churches, but as for obeying its commands, these might as well have not been translated.

Secondly, Self-love continues: 

‘The cause, you know, of a distemper must be first removed, or no radical cure can be effected; it is enough for you to mind your secular affairs; things of religion belong to religious men; and when Conscience distresses you for any sin, divert yourself amongst your accustomed society of good fellows; go to the tavern, or to the theatre; but at no time read any book besides your books of accounts, newspapers, and romances. What this traveller saith, is but mysterious nonsense, enough to make men mad.’

The modern-day equivalent for the pseudo-evangelical is: ‘Are you bothered that the claims of godliness might in any way challenge your self-centred lifestyle? First, confine your Christianity to Sunday – to attending one service – then go shopping/or watch football, and forget all you have heard.’

Thirdly, Self-love further counsels, 

‘I do not say, you should not be religious at all: no, God forbid I should give you such counsel; but let it be liberal religion. If we try to do as we would be done by, we shall fare well enough. There is no need to entertain strict Godliness, because you may be saved without it; else, what will become of the greatest part of the world! Go to church and hear prayers, but carefully avoid churches where preachers endeavour to set on against you, that unruly steward Conscience….’

This point demonstrates why much so-called evangelicalism is, in fact, liberalism: it hates to receive teaching that the conscience must be captive to the Word of God so that the is life ruled by it.

Fourthly, Sir Wordly-Wisdom then advises Riches. He says, 

‘You have a great estate, pray get another member into your family – keep a chaplain; and attend strictly to all the duties of rational religion. This done, you will find all will be well, and you will hear no more complaints from within or without; for you will be taken by all your servants, and others too, for what you really are, a very godly man…. 
I exhort you, neither to believe nor regard what those babblers say, who talk of things that lie above all human reason, as Mr. Self-Love noted. Can three be one, or one be three? or, can a man be that God who made the world? or, can his righteousness be yours? or, can God give men a religion to guide them, and yet have mysteries in it? No, no, your own deeds must justify you: this Godliness is foolish; regard him not.’

Which has its equivalent now as, ‘Well, maybe the pastor may need to go a bit deeper in his study than I do into the Bible; but he shouldn’t spend too much time there. We want easy, man-centred, how-to sermons.‘ Such a person may not start with denying the great truths of the Trinity, the incarnation or justification by faith. However, those who don’t want to hear of them will quickly ignore them; then, they will drift away from the church and any profession of Christianity, ending up on the ex-evangelical scrapheap. Tragically, many have done so.

Keach makes clear in this book that it is only the Holy Spirit who converts the soul. Yet he challenges us to believe and present a full-orbed gospel which includes being a disciple of Christ as an integral part of it. Never settle for less!

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.