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17th-Century New England Layman on Justification

the testimony of robert keayne

The following is an excerpt from the extended (50,000 word!) last will and testament of Robert Keayne, a leading but controversial businessmen of early Boston, written in 1653.*


First and before all things, I commend and commit my precious soul into the hands of Almighty God, who not only as a loving creator hath given it unto me when he might have made me a brute beast, but also as a most loving father and merciful saviour hath redeemed it with the precious blood of his own dear son and my sweet Jesus from that gulf of misery and ruin that I by original sin and actual transgressions had plunged it into. Therefore, I renounce all manner of known errors,…I do further desire from my heart to renounce all confidence or expectation of merit or desert in any of the best duties or services that ever I have, shall, or can be able to perform, acknowledging that all my righteousness, sanctification, and close walking with God, if it were or had been a thousand times more exact than ever I attained to, is all polluted and corrupt and falls short of commending me to God in point of my justification or helping forward my redemption or salvation. They deserve nothing at God's hand but hell and condemnation if he should enter into judgment with me for them. And though I believe that all my ways of holiness are of no use to me in point of justification, yet I believe they may not be neglected by me without great sin, but are ordained of God for me to walk in them carefully, in love to him, in obedience to his commandments, as well as for many other good ends. They are good fruits and evidences of justification. Therefore, renouncing though not the acts but the confidence in those acts of holiness and works of sanctification performed by me, I look for my acceptance with God and the salvation of my soul only from the merits or righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and from the free, bountiful, and undeserved grace and love of God in Him. And though this faith in me in respect of application for my own comfort is very weak and feeble, yet I look up to my God in Jesus Christ to strengthen it. And though the sinful failings and weaknesses of my own life have been great and many, and neither myself nor family in respect of close walking with him hath been so with God as it ought to be..., yet I look up to his throne of grace and mercy in the blood of Jesus Christ with some hope and confidence that He will both pardon and subdue them. In this faith alone I desire both to live and die and to continue therein to my life's end…This faith in the Lord Jesus Christ hath been most plainly and sweetly taught in these churches of New England…

The Apologia of Robert Keayne: The Self-Portrait of a Puritan Merchant ed. Bernard Bailyn (San Francisco: Harper Torchbooks 1964).

* Thanks to Mr. Hefin Jones, a student in Moore Theological College, Sydney Australia for supplying this material from Bernard Bailyn, ed., The Apologia of Robert Keayne: The Self-Portrait of a Puritan Merchant (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).

Keayne's life and social relations with other New England Puritans were complicated. See

John Winthrop inveighs against Keayne's "wicked capitalism."