Thomas Dugan started what seemed to be a small insignificant work in Cold Springs, Pennsylvania but proved to be very valuable. One important landmark was the church represents the first missionary work outside of their place of origin in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Cold Springs area was a veritable wilderness but it granted religious freedom to the Baptists that had not known in Massachusetts. For this reason Dugan’s faith in planting a church in Pennsylvania was a significant milestone. It appeared insignificant given the fact that Dugan only lived four years after the church begin.
Dugan did have an influence, however, especially in the life of an interesting young man by the name of Elias Keach. Keach had come to the new world as a rebellious son of his famous father, Benjamin, a Baptist pastor in England who was very influential in the Baptist movement there. Despite this influence Elias escaped from the discipline of his parents and their influence. Instead of staying in England Elias came to the new world landing in Philadelphia. Keach sought to gain acceptance and respectability by dressing like a clergyman. It didn’t hurt either to evoke the name of his famous father in gaining a social standing in the community. When people found out who he was naturally they wanted him to speak for them in their churches. So Keach having enough knowledge of preaching from his father actually preached in a church. He was unregenerate but knew enough to preach as it seemed a decent sermon. The following is an account of what took place:
Keach was elegantly dressed in his ministerial coat and white bands and probably using one of his father’s sermons he began his discourse, but about half way through he suddenly stopped short being seized with the enormity of his hypocrisy and sin. The people assumed he had been seized with a sudden illness. When they gathered around him and asked the cause of his fear, he burst into tears, confessed his fraud and threw himself upon the mercy of God and pleaded for the pardon of all his sins.
Keach holds a unique distinction as one of the few men in history to be converted by his own preaching. This in itself was an interesting and unusual story but God was just beginning to work in Elias Keach. He traveled to Cold Springs and sought out Thomas Dugan there probably because of his father’s association with Baptists. He explained his situation to Dugan who led him to assurance of salvation in Christ as well as baptizing him on his testimony of genuine conversion. It wasn’t long until the church recognized his oratory skills and ordained him into the gospel ministry. He was commissioned to go forth and preach the gospel and preach he did.
Keach went to Pennepek, Pennsylvania where he preached with great anointing. He began to baptize several converts and they helped form the Lower Dublin Church. All Baptists in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were connected thusly to the two mother churches of the area: The Cold Springs Church and the Lower Dublin Church. The church in Lower Dublin was just the beginning of Keach’s ministry. He traveled throughout the Philadelphia area preaching in Trenton, Philadelphia, Middletown, Cohansey and Salem baptizing new believers into the fellowship of the church in Pennepek. The church still exists today as the oldest Baptist church in Pennsylvania established in 1688.
There was a controversy over the laying on of hands and amazingly Keach resigned his Pastoral duties and went back to London being reunited with his family. The younger Keach organized a new church in London at Ayles street named Goodman Fields. He preached to great crowds there of over 1500. He died young however in 1701 at the age of 34.
Keach only stayed a short time in Pennsylvania but it was long enough to establish a strong Baptist presence there through churches that formed the nucleus for the first Baptist Association in America and later leading to the first Baptist Confession in America in 1742. It is amazing the fruit produced by Keach in the short time he was in America. His influence still lives on and the missionary spirit he had in preaching everywhere which led to Baptist churches is almost unbelievable. Truly the scripture of “He that being dead yet speaketh” can apply to Keach in a tremendous way.
The present building of the Pennepek Baptist church was built in 1805. It was built on top of the original building dating back to 1707 which is the same year the first Baptist Association in America was formed. What a tribute it was to the influence of Elias Keach after coming to Christ in such a dramatic fashion.