Revival in Rose Street
Revival in Rose Street is a history of Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh, by Ian L.S. Balfour, published in 2008 to mark the 200th anniversary of the congregation. It is a massive book, extending to 515 pages, and full of fascinating information.
I bought it principally for the history of the revival (1905-1907) from which it takes its title. What follows is largely a series of excerpts from Balfour’s account of that revival.
The Rev. Foster Bardwell was minister of the Chapel from 1896-1901. When he was appointed it was hoped that ‘times of blessing and prosperity’ would be in store for pastor and people. These hopes were sadly disappointed. One Sunday evening there were only 19 present, including the preacher; during the summer months, from 1899, there was no evening service. Shortly before Foster Bardwell left in 1901, the congregational prayer meeting was being held in the vestry instead of the church because only three were attending (p.87).
The lowest ebb
By the summer of 1901, the Chapel had sunk to its lowest ebb. The pastorate was vacant, and although the membership on paper was 108, less than half of them attended. No evening services were held during the summer months of 1901. A spirit of despondency prevailed, and the future was wrapped in uncertainty and gloom. The building was in a poor state, unsanitary and in need of repair. It had a Victorian unattractiveness both inside and out, and did not offer much inducement to the outsider…A handsome financial offer for the building came from a business firm requiring a warehouse. What should the Chapel do? No minister – scarcely a congregation – no vision – should the church close its door? (p.89).
Andrew Urquhart, church secretary, had no hesitation in rejecting the offer: “I, for one, am not going to believe that the light which has burned for so long in this place is going to be put out; that the people who so long laboured for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause are to retire from the work in despair; that the door of this dear old Chapel, hallowed by many blessed and holy memories, is to be closed and the building itself turned into a music hall or a grocery store. No, brethren, I don’t believe it, and in your hearts neither do you. I believe the crisis is of God, and He will bring us through it” (p.90).
Andrew Urquhart was a man of faith, tenacity and vision. His son recalls how he would sometimes say, as the family turned into Rose Street towards the Chapel on Sunday morning: ‘Look at the crowds waiting to get in’, when the street was empty and the church, they knew, would be nearly so. Andrew Urquhart lived to see the crowds queuing in Rose Street to worship God in Charlotte Chapel for the last ten years of his life. His remarks to his family in 1901 were visions of faith from a man of prayer, confident of the future when all around seemed hopeless. He believed that God still had a work to do in the chapel (p.90).
A new ministry
Joseph Kemp, until then a minister in Hawick, was inducted to the pastorate on 2nd February 1902. He was 30 years of age. When he had preached ‘with a view’ only 35 were in attendance (p.91).
Joseph Kemp put three strategies in place. The first was prayer – he impressed on the faithful nucleus of the church how he needed their co-operation in the great work of prayer. In his first sermon, he called his people to prayer, intensive, fervent and continuous prayer. To this end, he started three new prayer meetings on Sunday in the summer of 1903; one was at seven in the morning, which he himself always attended, the next was at 10 a.m., especially to pray for the morning service, and the third was at 5.45 p.m., to pray for the evening service (p.92).
Growth was slow at first, but their fervour inspired and encouraged each other and gradually others joined them. People came in all weathers and from all parts of the city; soon there were between 30 and 40, and sometimes more, at the 7 a.m. meeting. As the prayer meetings became places of power, numbers increased and hope grew (p.92).
The second and third prongs of Kemp’s strategy were open-air preaching and the renovation of the building (p.93).
Joseph Kemp followed the same lines he had in Hawick. He devoted the Sunday morning service to expository Bible teaching; in the evening, he preached the gospel, praying for, and expecting results…During his first three years, 347 joined the church, nearly all on profession of faith in Christ, publicly acknowledged in baptism. In addition many were converted who never joined Charlotte Chapel. This was all before the first revival, which started in January 1905 (p.94).
In early January 1905 Kemp visited Wales and was deeply affected by the revival scenes he witnessed there. The revival itself began on 22nd January 1905 at the Chapel’s monthly conference. Night after night, week after week, month after month, during the year 1905, prayer meetings went on increasing in numbers and intensity – it was almost as if the year was one continuous prayer meeting. Kemp wrote in March 1906: ‘the Chapel has been open every night, for 455 nights [that is since January 1905] without one solitary break, and during that whole period, there have been but few nights when there have not been anxious souls seeking the way of life’ (p.100).
On Sunday morning, which was for the exposition of the Word, the area of the church was filled and the gallery nearly so. In the evening, the Chapel’s 750 seats were always crowded and many were unable to get a seat – the aisles and pulpit steps and every nook and cranny were occupied. The revival not only filled the church, but conversions took place at every meeting…About one thousand were born again in 1905. At one communion service, 66 new Christians were received into membership (p.100).
Remarkably, Kemp would later write, ‘Beyond our ordinary services on the Lord’s Day, there has been little or no preaching’…It was essentially a prayer movement. The clock did not govern the meetings. Although there were half-nights and whole nights of prayer, the meetings were not organized. Prayer was spontaneous, with many praying at one time and sometimes it seemed as if the whole gathering was praying together, but there was no confusion…(p.100-1)
Kemp again: “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; even some commotion…The people poured out their hearts in importunate prayer…Under these influences the crowds thronged the Chapel, which only three years before maintained a ‘sombre vacuum’. After the first year of this work we had personally dealt with no fewer than one thousand souls. Who had brought it? God during the prayer meetings” (p.101).
The church secretary could write in 1907, ‘What am I to report about our wonderful Prayer Meetings? Did ever any one see such meetings? They used to begin at seven o’clock on Sunday mornings, but that was 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 almost seven days a week, with occasional intervals to attend to business, household duties, and bodily sustenance!...It is that continuous, persevering, God-honouring weekly 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; and if ever you should be asked the secret of this church’s great spiritual prosperity, you can tell them of the prayer meetings…Yes, that is the secret – the secret of our church’s success and prosperity (p.106).
There was a further brief period of revival in late 1906 - early 1907, lasting about 8 weeks. It all began at a late evening prayer meeting on Sunday 21st December 1906. There was nothing, humanly speaking, to account for what happened. Quite suddenly, an overwhelming sense of God’s presence came on one and another. Prayer was spontaneous and gained in intensity. People sang on their knees and prayed, oblivious of one another, then sang together, then prayer broke out again, waves and waves of prayer. In no time it was midnight – the hours had passed like minutes (p.108).
After a half-night of prayer held on Sunday 13th January, Kemp wrote, “…to the curious the meetings appear disorderly; but to those who are in them and of them, there is order in the midst of disorder. The confusion never gets confused; the meetings are held by invisible hands. Believers have been awakened to a sense of having lived defeated lives…Brethren have been reconciled to one another; differences which kept sisters apart have been destroyed…While the work has been chiefly confined to the saints of God, purifying, humbling, purging, cleansing, there have been numerous conversions” (p.108).
Joseph Kemp later noted three features of this 1906-07 movement: (1) A deep conviction of sin, even where the outward life seemed blameless. (2) Prolonged intercession. The Sunday prayer meeting started at 6 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. At 9.30 p.m. after the Sunday services were over, about 60 met again for prayer and continued until after midnight. (3) Many who never prayed in public before found it easy to do so (p.109).