With the combined energies and resources of a deacon belonging to Tilden Chapel in Smarden, and a farmer residing in Lashenden, a Strict and Particular Chapel was built in Biddenden, Kent, 1880. Two years after the chapel opened, a church was organized and John Kemp was appointed the first pastor. He served the fellowship until his death in 1932, a total of 52 years.
In 1873, John was married to Mary Baldock, 13 years his senior. Their union ended 26 years later, with Mary entering the presence of the Lord.
In John’s Autobiography, he gives the following account of his courtship and marriage:
From the age of about sixteen to twenty I walked with a young woman who was three months my senior; but after being called by grace, I soon came to a fixed mind before the Lord to have a godly partner or none. This, with other things, caused me to give her up, sorrow on that account being felt by us both, our friendship having been sweet and long. After a time my affections settled on Mary Baldock, one of the members of Shovers Green Church, and thirteen years my senior. She was maintaining herself, and keeping a home over her aged parents by dressmaking. There seemed at that time an insurmountable difficulty in the way of my having her, but,
Thither my warm affections moved,
Nor could I call them thence,
and it became a matter of wrestling prayer before the Lord, who alone could manage all hearts and all circumstances. This went on for a long while, till one day when cutting wood in what is called “Dens Wood,” I felt such an earnest wrestling with the Lord, and so embraced the desired object by the prayer of faith as from His hand, that I was sure of having her though a mountain still existed, the removal of which I dare not ask the Lord for, as it would have affected my pastor whom I sincerely loved. Therefore I waited and watched His providential working, not having given her the least hint of my desires and exercises about her either by word or act.
I afterwards found that Mr Jones had, at that very time, promised her marriage, which greatly tried my faith, but I felt the Lord would grant my request in His own time and way without putting my hand to it. As time rolled on, the Lord made the way clear and brought the thing about without me pushing the matter forward in the least degree. Mr Jones afterwards broke off the engagement, which caused a great stir among some of the people, and it greatly troubled her that he should act so fickle after she had cautioned him not to be hasty in such an important matter. We could all see afterwards that this was permitted for wise ends, and I have had the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord brought about the whole thing for me in answer to prayer. In June 1873, in her simplicity, without the least intention of seeking my love, or suspicion that I had any such thoughts, she asked me a question about another party, which compelled me to open my heart to her, and so the engagement began quite unexpectedly to both at that time. He will put honour upon the prayer of faith.
We were married at Shovers Green Chapel on November 9th, 1873. It was on Sunday morning before the service commenced that we made our solemn vows. We had been to the morning prayer meeting, and after our marriage stayed to the morning service, and then went again in the evening. But as some of my relatives were there who cared not for chapel, we stayed at home during the afternoon service. This we afterwards regretted, and also that we married on Sunday. Instead of trying to please my relatives, we ought to have gone to chapel, where our hearts were, and thus set them an example.
In the June 1900 edition of the Gospel Standard Magazine, John submitted a biographical sketch of his late wife, having put her body to rest six months earlier:
A Brief Account Of The Life And Experience Of Mary, The Beloved Wife Of John Kemp, Minister Of The Gospel At Biddenden, Who Died December 26th, 1899, Aged 62 Years.
In writing a little of the experience of my late dear wife, with whom I have lived in spiritual union and communion for more than twenty-six years, it will be difficult for me to avoid some reference to my own experience respecting her, and in connection with her joys and sorrows.
She was born in the parish of Wadhurst, Sussex, on February 28th, 1837. Her father and mother, Edward and Hannah Baldock, where both members of the Strict Baptist Church at Shovers Green. She was carefully watched over by her godly parents, and was not allowed to run into those various amusements and evils which, alas, too many run into, unrestrained by those who profess godliness. She being of a retiring disposition, had but little inclination for such worldly pastimes, although she was then “dead in trespasses and sins,” as all Adam’s race are by nature. I believe the Lord began a work of grace in her heart when she was very young in years. The work begun was so gradual that she often feared she had no right beginning. Being brought up under the sound of the truth, and being kept from outward sins in a great measure, there was not that outward change that some of the Lord’s people experience. She has told me that she could not remember the time when she had not some liking for the house of God, and some regard for those she believed to be godly people. Though her inward convictions at first were not deep, yet she felt a daily sense of her sinnership, and her need of a Saviour, and a desire to know him for herself, “whom to know is life eternal.” She was much troubled when hearing others speak of their beginning because she feared that she had no beginning.
When about twenty years of age a close friend of hers (Emily Boorman) fell sick, and appeared to be near death, which caused much concern in her mind for the welfare of her friend. But on hearing of the hope there was in her end (for she died) it caused a deep concern about herself, lest she should die without a real hope in the mercy of God. A vehement desire was now felt to be prepared for death. Often her heart would go out to the Lord in prayer when about her daily duties, and she would often retire into her room for private prayer, but not being able to pray there like she did when going about her work she was greatly tried about the genuineness of her prayers. Her daily cry now was, “O that thou wouldst bless me indeed!” This being nearly all she could say when upon her knees in her room. She knew not then that it was the prayer of good Jabez of old, nor that it was to be found in the Bible. But one day, to her great astonishment, Mr. Jones read that verse (1 Chron 4:10) as his text. It came so powerfully to her mind as Mr. Jones went on preaching that it was with difficulty she could keep her seat, nor could she get up and go out. That sermon “came where she was,” and gave her great encouragement; raising her soul to a hope in the mercy of God through Christ Jesus, that she felt almost sure the blessing she needed would be granted in due season. She could now pray and wait for it with expectation, as one who had “tasted that the Lord was gracious.” This set her soul longing for a fuller manifestation of the Lord Jesus to her heart.
At another time Mr. Jones preached from these words, “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5), which was a very special time to her, for she had “joy and peace in believing,” so that she “wept to the praise of the mercy she found.” She now desired to be alone in order to escape the notice of those that were about her, for the goodness of the Lord to her soul made her eyes overflow with tears of penitential gratitude. She was at that time employed by her sister in the dressmaking business, and when in the workroom was surrounded by some young and giddy people whose conversation was very distasteful to her, so that she was glad to be sent out on an errand in order to meditate on the way. Her love for God’s house was very strong, and if prevented from getting there through pressure of business she was very dejected, and her sister would sometimes say, “Mary had better go to chapel, for she will be of no service here.” She would often run to get there in time, and would travel for miles to attend the week evening prayer meetings, which were conducted at various friends houses, each in their turn. She would be present at the three services on the Lord’s day, besides attending the early prayer meeting. This love to God’s house abode with her through life, and often when very poorly in body she would be there, showing that she loved to breathe the sweet atmosphere of divine worship.
On a Good Friday (so-called), in the year 1865, a prayer meeting was held at the house of her parents, which was a very special time to her, and to which she often referred in after life with a grateful heart. It was a time when she could rejoice in God her Saviour, and soon after this she was baptized by Mr. Jones at Shovers Green Chapel, where she stood a member of the church until we removed to Biddenden in 1880.
About the year 1868 she took a step in providence, much to the grief of her pastor and friends, but the Lord very mercifully broke the snare in which she was held, and delivered her out of it; but it caused her deep sorrow of heart that she had been thus entangled, and she sank very low, until the Lord’s pity, and his pardoning love and mercy, were brought afresh to her soul. But she never forgave herself. This painful trial taught her a lesson which was profitable to her all the rest of her days, and gave her most humbling views of the creature.
On September 19th, 1871, she wrote thus to a friend, one to whom she often wrote: “I felt much disappointed at not seeing you on the evening of the anniversary. I have thought of you very much since; and cannot but feel a hope that the Lord is leading you in the way that good man (Mr. Milner) described that night. No doubt you still remember the text, i.e., “And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation” (Ps 107:7). What an unspeakable blessing it is my dear S. To be led in the right way! For although it is a rough way and a thorny path, yet it is nevertheless a safe way; and though it begins in sorrow it will surely end in joy. The first lessons are very trying to learn. Yes, my dear girl, I do humbly hope the unworthy writer can say from heart-felt experience that she knows they are indeed painful and trying lessons to learn; for when the Lord first opens the eyes of a poor sinner, and shows him the state he is in by nature, and making him to feel that his “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and brings his past sins to remembrance, the sight of them is enough to frighten him! Yes, dear S., when some of these things were opened up to me it did indeed bring trouble into my heart, and then the spirituality of God’s holy law was opened up to my view, and then I could see that it reached to the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart, so that I knew not what to do; for at that time I knew nothing about the dear Surety who undertakes for his dear people. At any rate, I did not think that he would take my case in hand. But, blessings on his dear name, he so highly favoured me to hear the gospel so clearly and so truthfully set forth by his dear servant, whom we are privileged to hear, that I at times felt a little hope of interest in the things therein contained; but could no more receive it for myself than that I believed I could make a world, until it was brought home with a divine power to my heart, which I trust was the case in the Lord’s time. He has a “set time to favour Zion.” But I must soon leave off scribbling, as the clock has just struck one (midnight). I should like to know how you are getting on, if it is not troubling you too much. There are many things I should like to say to you, but I must close. With kind love, and wishing you many blessings both spiritual and temporal, believe me to be one who wishes you well. Mary Baldock.”
On February 28th, 1872 (her birthday), she wrote to the same friend as follows: “My dearest friend, I am truly thankful for your kind remembrance of me. I received your kind and unexpected letter this morning, and it came indeed at an acceptable time. It has quite cheered me in the midst of my sadness and gloomy fears. I felt on Sunday night, after I returned home from chapel, that it must be all a delusion with me, or I never could feel so cold and dead as I often am to everything that is good. But your letter brought many sweet seasons afresh to my mind, and 1 felt from the contents of your letter that the ordinance of Believers’ Baptism is now laid upon your mind. If the dear Lord has blessed you with some tokens of his love and mercy, and has sealed home a full and free pardon to your heart and conscience, which I trust he has done, and is increasing the exercises of your mind about that great and solemn ordinance, I am sure you will not rest until you are enabled to pass through it, in accordance with Christ’s gracious command. May every stumbling-block be removed, and the Lord so bless you with the sweet manifestations of his love that you may exclaim in the language of these lines,
”Tis love that makes our feet,
In swift obedience move.’
Yes, my dear friend, when the Spirit enables you by faith to look upon him whom your sins have pierced, and he says, ‘ All this was done for you, to redeem your soul from death;’ you then feel that you can do anything from love in honour of his dear name and cause. I humbly hope that I know something about such feelings, and wish it were my happy lot to know more, and to live more and more a life of faith upon him. No doubt the enemy plagues you very much, but if he drives you to the strong for strength it will be well. May the Lord strengthen that which he has wrought in your soul, so that you may feel you can do all things through Christ strengthening you is the sincere desire of your unworthy friend, Mary Baldock.”
About this time her pastor promised her marriage (his wife having died in 1870), and the time for her marriage was nearly fixed upon when, much to her grief, he broke off the engage- ment…which disappointment taught her in great measure to “cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils,” but she still clave to his ministry. During that time the writer of this narrative, not knowing how far the matter had gone between her and our pastor, felt much wrestling in prayer with the Lord that if it was his holy will she might become his wife. Often did he lay this matter before the Lord. And on several occasions he felt a full persuasion that his prayer was heard, and that in the Lord’s time it would be answered, but at that time she knew nothing of the exercises of my mind towards her. But as “God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;” so he worked the thing out for us, and she could see how very wisely though painfully (to her) the Lord had brought it about, and which humbled her soul in the dust before God.
Our pastor performed the marriage ceremony for us on November 9th, 1873, on which day we attended two services at the chapel. Previously to his (the writer) being called by grace, he was led to break off a four years’ connection with an ungodly young woman, with the feeling that there could be no union between life and death; and he also had a great desire to marry a godly person, if he married at all. Now the Lord rewarded him with the gift of a godly partner, which abundantly made up for all the trials and sorrows that had been passed through. The Lord says: “Them that honour me, I will honour; but those that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed.” My dear wife, previous to our marriage, had been engaged in dressmaking, by which means she provided a home for her aged parents, and now she felt the Lord had rewarded her for her labour of love bestowed upon them by giving her a partner to provide and care for her, so that she now adored that wonder-working God who works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
On finding that my mind was much exercised about the work of the ministry she was somewhat dejected, not wishing me to preach, because of the sorrows and trials that might attend such a calling both to her and myself. But when she more fully discovered how very deep my exercises were she was willing for me to go forth if so was the will of God. And never after that time did she raise the least objection to it, and though she has, during twenty years of my ministry, felt it much when I have been from home, yet she never would oppose it. She was very devoted, tender, and sympathetic towards me, and she would wish me God-speed, a safe journey, and a profitable time in speaking in the name of the Lord, when many of my friends have considered me unwise in venturing out in such a weak state of body which has often been the case with me. She was one of my best hearers, and has profited much under my poor ministry, never liking to let one opportunity pass by if she could be there. She loved God’s house above many, and his “Word” and other good books were her delight; Mr. Philpot’s writings were very dear to her; and she held God’s servants in very high esteem, especially those whose ministry had been applied with a divine power to her heart. She has often strengthened my weak hands in prayer when at the family altar, and also in my ministry. She was self-denying beyond many, seeking the comfort of others before her own.
In June, 1897, she thus writes to her niece: “Your uncle, with the exception of a cold, is fairly well, but I fear he is rather overtaxed with various things. He is so often out, and a good deal devolves upon him when he is at home. As for myself, I fear I never have been useful, and I appear now to be of very little use at all; but he in whose hands are our life, our health, and our every comfort makes no mistakes, as Mr. Popham said at our anniversary in the morning, speaking from the words, ‘Awake, O north wind, and come thou south; blow upon my garden,’ &c., &c. Oh! how I should like to tell you some of the ways the Lord commands the north wind to blow upon his garden, but perhaps you have heard all about it before now. I hope, however, the discourse took some effect upon me, as it did when I heard dear Mr. Mockford, at Shovers Green, from these word ‘Thou shalt remember all the way the Lord thy God hath led thee,’ &c. After I had heard Mr. P. I felt as though I had not an ache or a pain anywhere about me, and felt so sure just then that the Lord had a favour towards me. O Mary, what a great mercy it is the Lord should take so much trouble with one so wayward as I feel myself to be! In the afternoon Mr. Mockford’s text was, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’ He was helped to go into the leadings of the Holy Spirit, which was a great help to me. The evening sermon did not abide with me as the other two had done. But I have sunk very low in my feelings since. Perhaps you have heard that I went to Canterbury with your uncle, and I believe we had a good day; Mr. Mockford took the morning and evening service, and preached from Malachi 3:1. His discourses were a precious confirmation to my soul. If we ever meet again I will try and give you an outline of his discourses. Your uncle’s text was Psalm 72:6. I should like to tell you a little about the sermons, and the precious gleaning times I had, but I must forbear, as I find my head wont bear much more. But oh! as dear Mr. Philpot says, ‘It is a mercy when we are favoured to glean, and take home a few ears of well-ripened corn, to comfort and support us by the way.'”
In the summer of 1898 she had a second paralytic seizure, which much weakened her frail tabernacle, although it had been in a weak state for many years past. From this time it may be truly said of her that, “as her outward man decayed, her inward man was renewed day by day.” In such a weak state of body life became a burden to her, especially at times when her head was very weak. But spiritual things were almost her constant delight, and I began to perceive that she was ripening for glory. She suffered much from weakness in the head, which was very trying for those about her; but when she was refreshed in her spirits, as was often the case when in the house of God, or when engaged in family prayer, all would then be well with her. She had very strong affections towards her son, and her only chi1d, and her anxious desires for his spiritual and temporal welfare were very great. Her pleasure, therefore, at seeing him we believe called by grace to a saving knowledge of the truth, and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ by a public profession, and prospering in his lawful calling, and settling down in the marriage state, was very great, and which called forth much gratitude to God for such unspeakable favours, and enabled her to leave him in the hands of God’s care and keeping.
On November 17th, 1899, she thus writes: “My dear beloved son and daughter, After a good night’s rest, my mind travailed for you as usual, when a little of the Lord’s goodness, and my own baseness, were presented to my view, which broke me down with the feeling that I should like to die at the dear Redeemer’s feet, and this verse of Hart’s was made solemnly sweet to me—
“The garden is the place,
Where pride durst not intrude;
For should it dare to enter there,
‘Twould soon be drown’d with blood.”
I hope my dear son and his dear wife too know something of the workings of that cruel foe. May you both realize the fulness of Isaiah 59:19. Your loving mother, Mary Kemp.”
On the 26th of the same month she wrote to them again: “Beloved son and daughter, The enemy and my wicked heart tried to draw a dark picture last night over my mind to disturb my peace, but I need not tell you all. However, this verse of one of our hymns greatly helped me—
‘Hear the bless’d Redeemer call you,
Listen to his gracious voice;
Dread no ills that can befall you,
While you make his ways your choice.’
The language of my heart was something like this, ‘Lord, thou knowest that through rich and sovereign grace our dear son has made thy ways his choice.”…. Do then take care of him, and convey him through life honourably, and that for his spiritual good, and to the glory of thy great and holy name.’—From your anxious and loving Mother.”
The last Sabbath but one my dear wife was at chapel, I was led to quote the following lines: “For, Jesus’ blood through earth and skies, Mercy, eternal mercy cries;” which melted her to tears. She felt the power of them in her heart, and a sweet savour rested upon her spirits. When the second stroke of paralysis came upon her in 1898, she believed that her end was very near, and she felt comfortably resigned to it. She said to me, “I am not afraid to die.” It was not like her to speak with such confidence, unless something very special was felt; for being timid, she was careful how she spoke of death.
Her affliction so weakened her bodily powers during the last fortnight, that she could scarcely hear anything, nor was she even able to converse with us, which was exceedingly trying to me. Two days before she died she said to me, “I should like to bow the knee once more with you, I cannot hear what you say, but I should feel it to be a great privilege;” but as she went to sleep as soon as she uttered the words, I did not kneel down with her in prayer, which I have much regretted. Our son came home on that day, December 24th, and it was touching to see how she gathered up all her little strength to embrace him. Not being able to converse with her, but little can be said respecting her state of mind during the last few days; but her life is a living and lasting testimony. As she drew near her end, she placed her hands upon her breast, and tried to look upwards, when she drew her last breath, and peacefully passed away on December 26th, 1899. She desired that I might be with her at the last, which desire was granted her.
She was buried on January 1st, by Mr. Weeks, in our chapel burying ground, and the following Sabbath I preached a sermon from the words, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Mary Kemp (1837-1899) was the faithful wife and loving companion of a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher named John Kemp. Their union continued for twenty-six years, ending with her death in 1899. Together they served the Lord for seventeen years at the Baptist Chapel in Biddenden, Kent.