Keith, George the noted leader of a faction of the Quakers, was born of Presbyterian parentage, in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1638. He was a man of superior intellect, who had enjoyed the advantages of a splendid training , not only in the schools of the national Church of Scotland, but also at the University of Aberdeen. In the year 1664 he came as a minister from the south of Scotland to his friends in Aberdeen, and, adopting the views of the Quakers, was involved in confiscations and imprisonment, together with others of that persecuted people. He wrote and published several treatises in vindication and explanation of the principles of that respectable body of Christians, and in 1675 was engaged with the celebrated Robert Barclay in a dispute with the students of the University of Aberdeen in defence of the Quaker doctrines. He also, about this time, with William Penn, George Whiting, and Stephen Crisp, engaged in a discussion with the Baptists in London. About the year 1682 he removed to England, and took charge of a school at Edmonton, established by the Society of Friends. He was soon persecuted, however, for preaching and teaching without a license, and, refusing to take the oath, was committed to jail. In 1684 he removed to London, but was imprisoned five months in Newgate for nonconformity. After his liberation he emigrated to New Jersey, and was there appointed surveyor general, and employed in determining the boundary-line between East and West Jersey. In 1689 he removed to Philadelphia, where he took charge of a Friends' school, with a liberal salary, but resigned his position at the end of the school year, and travelled in New England, visiting meetings and holding disputations with the religious professors. He is noted for his .defence at this time of the Quaker tenets against Increase and Cotton Mather. On his return to Philadelphia he became involved in a controversy with his own denomination, on various points of discipline and doctrine. He charged them with doing away, by allegory, with the narrative of the real sufferings of Christ, and consequently the doctrine of a real atonement. He also suspected them of being infected with the spirit of Deism.. Penn, being at this time in London, addressed a letter to Turner, a justice in Philadelphia, in which he defends "honest Geo. Keith and his Platonic studies," but afterwards, becoming acquainted with the merits of the dispute, decided against Keith. Keith returned to London, where he soon came in collision with Penn himself. Penn having spoken from the text," The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin," his exposition being strictly orthodox on their principles, namely, that "the blood is the life, and the life is the light within them," Keith took up the subject, and showed that " sin was cleansed by the blood of the true Christ actually shed on Calvary." Penn is reported to have started from his seat, and, as he himself afterwards stated in the annual meeting, being "so transported by the power of God that he was carried out of himself, and did not know whether he was sitting, or standing, or on his knees," he thundered forth this anathema: "I pronounce thee an apostate, over the head of thee." The great body followed Penn, and Keith was condemned by an. edict of the annual meeting. He was not slow, however, in his own defence, but denounced the society as Deists, and entered into an able and labored argument to prove it (see Keith's Deism of William Penn, and Mosheim, vol. 5:cent. 17:ch. 4:sect. ii, part ii), and formed a society of his own, known as Christian Quakers, Baptist Quakers, or Keithians (q.v.). Still dissatisfied, he finally entered the Church of England, and became a regular priest. In the years 1702,1703,1704, he performed an important and successful mission on the American continent, under the care of the Episcopal Societyfor propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
He was especially successful in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Seven hundred Quakers were through his instrumentality converted from Quakerism and baptized (see Humphry's History of the Quakers, Lond. A.D. 1730; Christian Observer, April, 1816). Returning to England, in 1706 he was appointed rector of Edburton, in Sussex, and there died about 1715. Bishop Burnet, who was educated with Keith at the University of Aberdeen, in his History of his Own Times (1700, ii, 144), says that Keith " was esteemed the most learned man that ever was in that sect; he was well versed both ii the Oriental tongues, in philosophy and mathematics." Keith wrote a great many theological tracts, principally directed against the Quakers, for a list of which see Watts, Bibl. Brit. The most important of all is The Standard of the Quakers examined (Lond. 1702, 8vo), which is a refutation of Barclay's Apology. See Janney, History of the Friends (Philad. 1867, 4 vols. 12mo), 3:71 sq. (E. de P.)