The Interceders Encourager No. 49
The Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh Revival 1905-1907
An astounding local church revival occurred at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh,
from 1905 to 1907, which had far reaching effects, not only in Britain, but
internationally. This revival is unusual in so far that, as far as I know, it is
the only revival where the person responsible for it coming into being,was
also the leader in it, and the person responsible for overseeing it right through
from its beginning to its end. That person was Joseph Kemp, the pastor
of the chapel.
God had been working in Joseph's life for many years. After becoming a Christian at the age of thirteen, he yielded himself to the Lord in entire consecration when he was sixteen, and straightaway, started preaching the gospel, including preaching in the open air. He then trained at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, where he heard Andrew Murray from South Africa, and was challenged to live a life of prayer. He started to give himself to prayer as never before. After pastorates in Kelso and Hawick, he was invited, in 1902 to Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, which, at the time, was in a very poor state, both materially and spiritually, with an attendance of only thirty five persons.
Not only was the congregation small and the finances limited, (they could only pay him less that he had been receiving at Hawick), he also knew that the climate of Edinburgh did not agree with his health. He had already suffered from asthma and nasal catarrh, so these ailments would trouble him even more.
But the secretary of the chapel, Andrew Urquhart, was sure that Joseph Kemp was God's instrument for their church. Andrew was a man of prayer and vision. By the eyes of faith, he foresaw the coming revival as a secret entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit. When the previous pastor had left, Andrew called on all the members to meet with him in prayer on the following Wednesday. Twelve people attended, and the meeting went on increasing in numbers and in power every week. They then invited Joseph Kemp to the pastorate, and even though he was aware of the problems there, and knew it would involve sacrifice, he accepted, for he saw the kind of man that the church secretary was, and could also see the possibilities there.
Consequently, the problems that faced the new pastor did not deter him in any way. He centred his ministry on evangelism and prayer right from the start. He took away the doors to the pews, cleaned and redecorated the building, improving the lighting inside and outside the chapel, to make it more inviting to outsiders. The chapel was centrally situated in the city, in Rose Street next to Charlotte Square, which was near Princes Street. The pastor took advantage of this, and held open air meetings at the end of Rose Street, where it joined Princes Street.
Everything was undergirded by prayer and more prayer, for he was convinced that without the power of the Holy Spirit, all human methods and plans are, as A.T. Pierson said, "like trying to propel a boat by puffing at the sails with our own breath." When he started, only seven people attended the one prayer meeting, but he started two more prayer meetings on Sunday, one at 7 am and one at 10 am. Later, he started another prayer meeting after the evening service, which went from 9 pm to 11pm.
Joseph sought the power of God more and more. "He nourished his soul and warmed his heart by continually reading everything he could on revival. Whitefield's life had a great influence on him; as also did Finney's 'Lectures on Revival.' It was with great joy that he would sit down with those who had passed through the 1859 revival, and listen to their recollections of those wonderful days. Revival was his passion and he had a vision of what God could do.
The attendances at the prayer meetings and at the services gradually increased. He was absolutely convinced of the truths he was preaching, and that, together with his passion for souls, soon had its effects. Every time he preached, he prayed for and expected results. The attendances and the membership both increased. In the first three years of his ministry in Edinburgh, from early 1902, to the end of 1904, 347 people joined the church.
People were being converted, but the praying believers were not satisfied. "They longed for a letting loose of the heavenly flood tides," (Edwin and Lilian Harvey). It was right to talk of flood tides, for the tide came in twice, firstly in 1905 and then in 1906.
All the effort involved in the work took its toll on Joseph's health, so that at the beginning of 1905 the church advised their pastor to take a holiday. He went to Bournemouth, but he was there for only two days. Before leaving Edinburgh he had heard of the revival in Wales, so he hurried there like the hart panting for the waters. During the fortnight that he spent there, Joseph Kemp noted a number of things that became very significant to him. He realized the utter need to depend on the Holy Spirit and not to be man centred in Christian work. He noted that the dominating note of the revival was redemption through the blood of Jesus. There had to be the honest recognition of sin, and the wonderful truth that all sin can be blotted out by the Blood of the Lamb, and a blood washed soul can be kept and sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ.
He also realized that the Spirit is able to transform congregational singing as well as preaching. Never before had he heard such singing. "In Wales," he wrote, "I saw the people had learned to sing in a way which to me was new. I never heard such singing as theirs. They sang such old familiar hymns as 'When I survey the wondrous Cross', 'There is a fountain filled with blood' and 'I need Thee, oh, I need Thee'. They needed no organist or choir or leader. The Holy Ghost was in their singing as much as in any other exercise." He was delighted to share in the joy of the meetings and was never tired of hearing of Calvary. Joseph Kemp made many friends in Wales. One of them was J. J. Thomas of Maesteg, South Wales and J.J. went with Joseph Kemp when he returned to Edinburgh.
"The evening he returned from Wales was memorable," wrote his wife. "A large meeting was in full swing when he walked down the aisle of the chapel. The people listened eagerly as he told of his visit, and its effect upon his own soul. After telling the story, he asked if there was anyone who wanted to give his life to Christ. A man stood up and said, 'I want you to pray for me.' This man was the first of hundreds who were converted during the revival in Charlotte Chapel."
Immediately, arrangements were made to hear all the reports of those who had been to Wales, including J.J. Thomas, and to discuss the way to promote revival. Three conferences were held at the chapel. The first took place on 22 January 1905, and the other speakers, apart from Joseph Kemp and J. J. Thomas, were John Anderson from Glasgow, Robertson from Carrubber's Mission, Edinburgh and Peter Fleming from Duncan Street, Edinburgh. The meeting lasted from 3.30pm until after midnight.
This was the beginning of the first stage of the revival. "From that day, wrote Mrs Kemp, "it was felt that the fire of God had fallen, and that, as far as Charlotte Chapel was concerned, God had answered prayer and His Spirit had truly come." Previous to that, there had been not only three or four prayer meetings every Sunday, plus the midweek prayer meeting, but also prayer meetings held every evening. It was not surprising, therefore, that with such a barrage of prayer going up, that "the fire of God fell."
In the conference on 25 February 1905, Joseph Kemp concentrated on the characteristics of the revival in Wales, elaborating on what he had said before. He drew attention to the reality of God's presence, the spontaneous prayer and singing, the sincerity of the confessions, especially those that mentioned reconciliation between estranged people. The conferences were held in Charlotte Chapel, but were open to those from other churches, and many did come, especially a group from Ebenezer Chapel in Leith, whose minister, J.D. Roberts, had also attended revival meetings in Wales.
"Night after night, week after week, month after month, the prayer meetings went on increasing in numbers and intensity," wrote Mrs Kemp. "It is impossible to convey any adequate idea of the prayer passion that characterized those meetings." Joseph said of those meetings, "The people poured out their hearts in importunate prayer. I have yet to witness a movement that has produced more permanent results in the lives of men, women and children. There were irregularities, no doubt; some commotion, yes, but under these influences, the crowds thronged the chapel, which only three years before had been almost empty. The meetings on the Lord's Day were marked by earnest pleadings with the Lord, and passionately expressed desires for the salvation of all men. After the first year of this work we had personally dealt with no fewer than one thousand souls, who had been brought to God during the prayer meetings."
The congregation was now too large for the building, and people had to sit wherever they could, even on the pulpit steps. Conversions took place at every meeting, and on Sundays as many as thirty or forty gave their lives to Christ. In the Sunday School, many children were converted, and so keen were the children that they started their own prayer meetings. A notable service was held on 16 March 1905 when ten candidates were baptized. The minister made an appeal for others to confess Christ as Saviour and Lord, and fifty persons responded immediately.
"It is impossible to record in detail all the incidents of the revival movement of 1905," Mr Kemp wrote. "If its genuineness is to be attested by its results, then we need to have no doubt about it. Not only has it given us a full church every Sunday evening and morning; it has given us a most loyal band of workers, whose aim is the salvation of sinners and the glory of God, it has taught us to pray in a way that few of us knew of
before; and it has given to both young and old a new love of the Bible. Time would fail to tell of purified lives, changed homes and the brightened outlook of hundreds."
Towards the end of 1906, there were indications that the Lord was about to move again. The attendances at the 7 am prayer meetings on Sundays increased, and the meetings were marked by a deepening spirit of prayer. This was followed by the same prayer spirit in the week night meetings. The meetings on Sunday December 21st, were marked by earnest prayers and passionately expressed desires for the salvation of all men. It was at a late prayer meeting, held at 9.30 pm, that the fire of the Lord fell again. "Quite suddenly, upon one and another, came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of His presence, and of eternal things. Life, death, and eternity seemed suddenly laid bare. Prayer and weeping began, and gained in intensity every moment. Soon separate sounds were indistinguishable; and as on the day of the laying of the foundation of the second temple, 'the people could not discern the noise of the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people' (Ezra 3:15). Then the praying began again, waves and waves of prayer, and the midnight hour was reached. The hours had passed like minutes."
Early on the last night of the year, people gathered for prayer, and continued until the watch-night service began at 10.30 pm, when the power of the Lord was again shown. As midnight was approaching, crushed, broken, and penitent on account of a defeated past, many people again knelt at the Cross; and as the bells rang in the New Year, they vowed by God's grace to press into their lives more service for Him, to be more like Him in spirit, and walk, and win to Him our fellow-men.
The chapel was opened all day on the 1st of January 1907, and meetings were held at 11am, 3pm and 6.30 pm. At every meeting, God revealed Himself and led the meetings without the guidance of any human hand. The people were bowed in prayer, contrition and heart searching. The Holy Spirit brought to light the hidden things of darkness, compelling separation from sin and dedication to God. During the meetings, some unconverted people were brought to the Lord, but the main work was the judgment that must begin at the house of God.
Similar meetings went on for many weeks, with the Holy Spirit directing them. Believers were awakened to acknowledge that they had lived defeated lives, their progress retarded and spiritual growth stunted by various habits. Victory over all these things was claimed and received. Differences between Christians were confessed, and reconciliations made. Many testified to victory over worldliness, including dancing, theatre going and novel reading.
While the work was chiefly confined to the believers, humbling, cleansing, purging and purifying, there were also many conversions. But these all took place during times of prayer, when one hundred to two hundred people were praying simultaneously.
The Lord worked deeply in many lives, creating a new sensitivity to sin, a new desire to have victory in the inner life, a new intensity of love for Jesus, a new passion in prayer and a new expectancy to see God work in power. It did not pass away in mere sentiment, nor like waves of emotion, prove to be transient, but proved to be, not just long lasting but of a deepening and expanding nature.
A second half night of prayer was held on January 13th, where many souls were brought out of bondage to liberty. Then on February 16th, an all night prayer meeting was held, which lasted from 10 o'clock at night until 8 o'clock in the morning. At least one hundred and fifty people stayed for the whole time. "From the beginning to the close," wrote Joseph, "the prayers ascended in one unbroken continuity. At times, the prayers rose and fell like the waves of the sea. At half past three in the morning, the scene was bewildering to behold. It seemed as though everybody in the building was praying at once. Yet there was no confusion and nothing unseemly. The people had caught the passion of prayer, and we felt we must pray."
Prayer meetings continued nightly for many weeks, and in March, the pastor was able to report: "The gracious visitation has deepened as the weeks have gone past. The marked features of the movement have been:
1. A deep conviction of sin, even when the outward life appeared blameless. "Nothing has been so remarkable as the searching of heart and the revealing of the 'hidden things'. Many things thought to be right have been seen to be wrong and sinful. Many were convicted of seeking to be yoked with unbelievers, while others were convicted of prayerlessness, laziness, worldliness, bad temper, bitterness, and so on. Other things which may have been in themselves perfectly lawful, have been abandoned because they stood in the way of full surrender and wholehearted consecration.
2. Another feature was the prolonged intercession, sometimes for hours. "Our usual seven o'clock prayer meeting, held every Lord's Day morning, has for several weeks commenced at six o'clock and continued until eight o'clock. The 5.45 p.m. meeting starts at 5.30 pm, and such has been the power of God in the meetings that it has been impossible to get to the open air at the usual hour. The Upper Vestry, the Pastor's Vestry and the Library were all crowded with praying people. Then again at 9.30 p.m. after the Lord's Day work is over, about sixty have met for prayer, and continued until after midnight. Here we have learned something of what Wales experienced of prolonged prayer meetings. Not only have lengthened prayer meetings been a feature of the work, but the gift of prolonged intercession has been given to several brethren. When this is given, the soul of the brother has poured itself out, often for over an hour, losing all consciousness of the presence of others.
3. The third marked feature was the new spontaneity and power of the Prayer Meetings. There is no necessity to ask any one to 'improve the time'. The stream of prayer flows on unhindered. Many who never prayed in public before have found it easy to speak to God in the presence of others. To be in such prayer meetings is the privilege of a lifetime. Prayer at such meetings is a living, vital reality."
Mr Robert Craig, also wrote about the prayer meetings. "It has been the privilege of the writer to be present at some of the wonderful early and late prayer meetings, which have been such a marked feature of the work in Charlotte Chapel. I have attended many half nights and whole nights of prayer in other years, but in no case have I ever seen anything like what I have seen these past few weeks. Here were men and women denying ease, on their knees; many filled with an intense passionate longing, with strong crying to God.
Others were in bondage, yet longing to be free. Some were melted by Love Divine, whose eyes overflowed with tears. At times, the spirit of prayer increased till it seemed as if all were praying. When those who had been bound, claimed and entered into victory by the way of the Cross and the outpoured Spirit, who can describe the scene? The sense of God's Spirit and His nearness was at times overwhelming.
To many, these meetings have meant more than can be told; a deeper sense of the awfulness of sin, and a new revelation of the self life. To others, it has meant separation from doubtful associations, deliverance from sins over which they had wept, the casting out of dumb spirits, and a new power to testify; new conceptions of prayer, and a deeper understanding of the sufferings of Christ in His agony and longing for the souls of men. If ever God was in anything, He is in this, we are convinced, and we are humbled at His grace in so visiting us, as He has done."
Joseph Kemp could also point to the growth of the Bible School. When it started, just before the revival, only seven people attended, but by the middle of 1906 the attendance was two hundred and twenty two. We have also noted the number of new church members that were added. By the end of 1902, 117 had been added: by the end of 1903, 134 more: by the end of 1904, another 175: and by the end of 1905, another 120, so that in February 1906 a total of 609 members was declared; all spiritually alive and active. The Secretary of the chapel, Mr Andrew Urquhart, when he announced the figure, said,"These figures, gratifying and encouraging as they are, mean a thousandfold more than meets the eye. To those of us who know something of what underlies these figures, they spell out in a remarkable way the abiding presence of God among this people, and His blessing on their efforts for the extension of His kingdom. Can we then do otherwise than humbly bow down and worship, and then lay our crowns at the feet of our blessed Lord Jesus, by whose conquering might alone, the work has been done?
What can I report about our prayer meetings," he continued. "Did anyone ever see such meetings? They used to begin at seven o'clock on Sunday mornings, but that was felt to be far too late in the day for the great business that had to be transacted before the throne of the heavenly grace. The meetings now begin at six o'clock, and go on for seven days a week, with occasional intervals to attend to business, household duties and bodily sustenance. It is that continuous, persevering, God honouring campaign of prayer that has moved the mighty hand of God to pour upon this favoured people the blessings of His grace in such rich abundance. If ever you should be asked the secret of this church's great spiritual prosperity, you can tell them of the prayer meetings, and especially of the gatherings of God's people, forty to sixty strong, in the Upper Vestry every Sunday morning, at six or seven o'clock, summer or winter, wet or fine, to pray. Yes, that is the secret."
Even though Joseph was rejoicing at what God was doing at Charlotte Chapel, a great desire possessed him to see the revival extended to other churches, so he invited many ministers from churches near and far to attend a special meeting at the chapel, on March 11th , 1907, not just to hear a report, but basically so that they might unitedly pray for their churches. They gathered together, and after a short talk, the ministers went to prayer, continuing till the evening.
What were the results of the revival? There is the obvious result, that we have already alluded to, a church that was in danger of extinction being reborn and altered beyond recognition, to become the largest Baptist church in Scotland, and even now, after over 100 years, a place that has a world wide reputation as a strong Bible believing church. Then there are the aspects that Joseph Kemp himself refers to, the spiritual transformation of the church, with increased prayerfulness, a deeper interest in Bible Study, an enlarged spirit of giving, and a huge quickening of the spirit of evangelism.
We should also mention the many, many backsliders restored, the believers radically altered, relationships mended, old habits discarded, thousands of unbelievers genuinely and deeply converted; and many young people going into training for full time Christian work, with many being sent out on to the mission fields of the world. We can praise the Lord for His goodness, "and for His wonderful works to the sons of men."
What happened at Charlotte Chapel is the story of the huge difference that just two people, the pastor and the church secretary, among a small group, can make, when they refuse to give in to unbelief and pessimism, but pray and work in faith, pressing on with real determination until God answers.
Let us close with a testimony from Joseph himself. In July and August 1907, he visited the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, USA, and reported on what God had done at Charlotte Chapel. "We touched upon that never to be forgotten night, the last but one Lord's Day evening of the old year, when the fire of God fell. My eyes filled with tears, and a choking sensation came over my throat as I sought to tell of the wonders of that night and many a similar night since."
How we need to pray that in our churches we may have this same experience as they had on the last day of 1906, on the last day of this year; to have such a watchnight service as the people of Charlotte Chapel had then, when the fire of the Lord fell, and upon them came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of His presence, and of eternal things; and life, death, and eternity were suddenly laid bare.
The people there have shown us how they got to that place, as we have noted their dedication; their earnestness; their pleadings with the Lord; their passionately expressed desires for the salvation of all; the pouring out of their hearts, and their persistence in prayer; all brought about by a deepening spirit of prayer. So pray for it. Expect it. We have six months to go before then, for the Holy Spirit to have His way with us.