The Life and Labors of Patrick Hues Mell
Like the men and women of Hebrews eleven, there have been Southern Baptists, little known to our generation, "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38). Such a man was Patrick Hues Mell.
Birth and Early Years
Born July 19, 1814, Patrick was the son of Major Benjamin Mell of Laurel Hill, Georgia, and Cynthia Sumner Mell of South Carolina. We know little of Patrick's earliest years except that he was the second of eight children. Young Patrick's father was a very wealthy man, "sympathetic by nature, and generous to a fault." So generous was he that he gave away most of his fortune, leaving his family very little after his death in 1828. Three years later Mrs. Mell died, leaving seventeen-year-old Pat responsibile for the entire family.
A mere youth without experience, he was forced to rely solely upon his native genius to provide a means of support for himself and dependent brothers and sisters. He gave up the small remnant of his share of the property … to the support of his brothers and sisters, and started out with the determination to obtain an education, and as far as possible recover the social position and property that had been lost by his father's misfortune.
At this point Mell began his lifelong career of teaching. At age seventeen he taught primary school in a log hut with a dirt floor in his birthplace of Walthourville, Georgia, (approximately 50 miles southwest of Savannah).
Though Patrick's father never professed Christianity, Mell's early years were not without spiritual impressions. Dr. John Jones, a classmate and later a Presbyterian minister, said of Mell's upbringing,
His mother was a woman of marked individuality of character, intellectual, and truly a Godly woman, brought up in the strictest mode of old Congregationalism, and, no doubt, perfectly familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
An exerpt from a letter from Mrs. Mell to her son demonstrates her great concern for her son's soul (one should note that by this time Mell evidently had aspirations toward the Gospel ministry):
My Dear Boy:
It is high time that you and I should communicate frequently and intimately and confidentially. If this is not to be expected by the time you have arrived at fifteen when is it to be looked for? On one account I have more anxiety, even dread on your behalf than for any of my children. Earnestly as I wish a son of mine to be a minister yet I tremble at the idea of educating and devoting a son to the sacred profession without previously satisfactory evidence that his own soul was right with God… My heart burns to see you in every sense of the word a true Christian… You should exercise a jealousy over yourself lest the trifles of this world should deaden your feelings about the grand questions: what are the chances of my salvation--what have I done--what must I do to be saved? … remember they that are Christ's have crucified their affections and lusts--crucify yours.
Mrs. Mell's heart so yearned for her son's salvation that she also wrote him the very next day:
I say this with anxiety, and write with fear, but I say it with earnest prayers for the real conversion of your soul to God, and with some hope that he will hear the petition that I have endeavoured to offer up for you for many years back. I will repeat. I can never consent for you to study for the ministry until I have some satisfactory proof of your heart being turned to God in holy consistency and permanency of character.
Mrs. Mell never lived to see her son converted for in 1831, the Lord took her; however, the seed of her prayers was not sown in vain. In the summer of 1832, Mell was baptized at North Newport Baptist Church, Liberty County, Georgia, by the pastor, Josiah Samuel Law. The following year, due to the beneficence of a wealthy gentleman, George W. Walthour, Mell was able to enter the freshman class of Amherst College in Massachusetts. Several events at Amherst testify that, though baptized, Mell was not converted.
At Amherst things didn't go well between the Southern boy and his Northern mentors. One of them especially distasteful to Pat Mell was a Professor Fiske. Pat's Southern Blood boiled hot one Sunday when Professor Fiske was preaching. He made some derogatory remarks about Southerners. Pat walked out of the sanctuary and was condemned for disorderly conduct. Trouble arose again when Pat refused to divulge to the faculty the names of some of his fellow students accused of violating rules of the college. Threatened with expulsion, he was determined not to be intimidated and stood his ground to the last. Although he would not yield, the faculty decided not to expel him.
But unknown to Mell, Dr. Fiske wrote to Pat's benefactor accusing the young Mell of wasting money, causing Mr. Walthour to withdraw his support from the young scholar. Hence, Mell could no longer afford to stay at Amherst. With little more than five dollars in his pocket, in 1835, Mell walked twenty-five miles to Springfield where he as able to secure a teaching position.
The next four years were filled with unrest for Pat Mell. Even so, his buoyant spirit and sense of humor kept him from utter despair. From Springfield he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he became associate principal at the East Hartford High School. A year later, in 1837, Mell returned to his Southern home and in a short time secured a principalship at Perry's Mill School in Tatnall County, Georgia. The following year he moved to Montgomery County where he taught at Ryal's school until, in February of 1839, he was offered the position of principal of the Oxford Classical and English School (which was a preparatory school for Emory College).
Conversion and Call to the Ministry
Though troubled, unsettled, and under the strain of several years of toil and struggle, a wise Providence was watching over the young man. A merciful God held him in the hollow of His sovereign hand. A letter written on the twenty-fifty of February, 1939, to Josiah Samuel Law, who had baptized him eight years earlier, reveals that while at Oxford the prayers of his mother bore fruit in the life of her son.
Rev. and Dear Sir:
You have no doubt been aware from your own observations, and from the testimony of others, notwithstanding you have received no confession from me of the fact, that I have been for some years past careless in regard to the interests of eternity, and a backslider from the faith I professed. When I gave up my hope I was absent from the state and did not inform you of it, as I thought (erroneously I have since been informed), there were but two ways, according to the rules of the church, by which my connection with it could be dissolved--one, by a dismission in regular standing, should I wish to connect myself with another body--and another by ex-communication. And I suppose the latter to be administered only when the member violated any of the obvious rules of morality--or at least as the church has instituted to regulate his outward conduct. My object in writing you at present is to ascertain whether my name is still on the church books so that I may be able to discover what my duty may be under the circumstances....
The Lord has dealt mercifully with me and has been pleased to bring me from the most awful lengths of unbelief and to humiliate me at the foot of the Cross. And I think I can say that I have the firmest belief relying humbly upon his promises that he has for Christ's sake pardoned all my sins. It is almost more than I can realize, and when I consider who I am and what I have been and how I have trifled with this subject I am filled with astonishment that I can by possibility arrive at such a state of mind as to believe that I have passed from death unto life …
When I connected myself with the church I was entirely ignorant of the religion I was professing. This I say not to clear myself from the imputation of instability nor in any measure as an apology, but as an awful fact that I professed to believe in a God of whom I knew nothing....
Living by faith in Christ, laying hold of his promises and trusting him for their fulfillment, though read often and heard oftener--astonishing as it may seem to you--and it cannot surprise you more than it does me now, I never attached any idea to as a part of the gospel plan and instead of seeking the witness of the Spirit of God which might bear witness with my spirit that I was born again, I looked to my own animal feelings for the proof of my acceptability with God--feelings which a pathetic story, theatrical representations, and harmony of sound have often since produced. And I was assured that all was right if I could succeed in exciting those feelings on rising from my bed in the morning and on retiring at night, especially if I could have them accompanied by a few tears. This, Sir, was my religion. This was the sandy foundation on which I built, and it was not to be wondered at that the waves of the world, beating on my house should overthrow it. The comforts of religion were to me but a name. I sought God's face, not because I loved him but because I feared him. I looked upon him not as one who could smile upon me and bless me too, but as an angry God who would punish me for my sins. I renounced the world not because I saw its vanity compared with the things of eternity, but because I felt myself compelled to from motives of safety; and I am bound to believe--though it was what I could not consent to confess to myself at the time--that if I had only been assured that I had nothing to fear from God's righteous indignation I should never have renounced them and connected myself with his people. Such was my religious state when I left home for college. And now I was placed in the midst of new scenes and new associates--my attention and interest became absorbed by other subjects. God and the things of eternity became less and less interesting to me--my efforts to create a good state of feeling became less and less strenuous with frequent intermissions. From indifference for my soul's salvation, I glided by an imperceptible current to a distaste for the subject--to a downright dislike for it and finally openly and joyfully threw off the restraints that my religion has imposed upon me and buried myself in the world. The failure to obtain that change of heart which the Bible spoke of induced me to question its reality and to believe at first that it had its existence only in the heated imagination of enthusiasts, and then that it was a cunningly devised fable invented by priest-craft to gull the simple and perpetuate its power. And thus the Bible came to be viewed as an imposture and God's people as deluders and deluded, and it only remained for me to consummate my unbelief by doubting the existence of a God--Yes, with my eyes upturned to the heavens, which declare his glory, and open upon the beautiful material world around me, which showeth his handywork, I said in my heart, and rejoiced that I could say it: There is no God. But my merciful Heavenly Father has forgiven me that sin.
When I think of the awful depths of unbelief to which I had struggled, I am filled with amazement at the long suffering and mercy of God in that he did not suddenly cut me off or give me over to hardness of heart and blindness of mind to believe a lie. And now my whole heart became absorbed in the things of this world. God and religion were not thought of except to be blasphemed and sneered at--not openly; for motives of prudence induced me to conceal my state that I might not shock the minds of men and thus throw a barrier in the way of my temporal prospects. Ambition now took entire possession of my soul, a desire to rise above my fellows in mental state--not so much that I might be able to do more good, as that I might be a mark for all to gaze at. This, a desire to become great in the world, had been a principle with me from my earliest recollection, though I had the good sense to conceal it from my acquaintances generally, and often when I was a poor boy destitute of even the necessaries of life would I delight myself picturing in my imagination scenes of future grandeur and triumph in which I would be the actor. These were but dreams it is true, but dreams that expelled from my thoughts every thing that did not administor to them. And at the time I am speaking of my mind had become so spiritually darkened that could I have accomplished fame by it I verily believe I would have been willing to renounce without the slightest sinking of the heart thenceforth and forever all interest in the atonement of Christ whose very existence I doubted. Such was my state when a little more that a year ago I returned home.
But I have extended this already to an unbecoming length. It only remains for me to relate as briefly as possible the means by which my thoughts were again diverted to the things of eternity. -- And here I have no signal interposition to relate, no occurrence to point out as having been instrumental in rousing me to a sense of my awful condition. But it pleased God that I should be placed in a situation where I could be frequently alone; where, by influences of his Holy Spirit he might turn my thoughts inward and the still small voice of conscience might be heard. The world, too, previous to this, had begun to assume rather a different aspect in my eye. Circumstances had happened which affected me, alone it is true, and which had made a deep impression on me. Experience had shown me that the affections of friends even who wished me well, could easily be alienated, and that from the world I was just as likely to receive censure for that which deserved commendation as the contrary. During my absence from Georgia, all the time not devoted to the discharge of my duties had been spent in amusements or in company of which I possessed an unlimited command, and thus thoughts on religion had no opportunity of intruding themselves upon me. But after my return I engaged in business very much at the time against my own consent, in a part of the country that is very thinly settled, where there was not a single young person of my own age with whom I could associate; added to this was the fact that I was not in a situation to occupy my vacation time with books. So that certain hours every day I was left alone with myself. During these periods God was pleased to be near me and to induce such a train of thought as to show me the vanity of earthly things, and the weighty importance of things of etermity. The objections I had cherished against the existence of a God and the authenticity of the Scriptures, now that I had an opportunity of thinking calmly and without interruption, lost their weight. The more particularly so as I had no opportunity of noting the inconsistencies of professing Christians, and seldom heard the gospel preached. In this part of my experience there is nothing standing out distinct to which I can refer as the cause of any result which followed. I commenced teaching school in that place confessedly with the belief that the Bible was all a fable and even if true that it was never more to receive attention from me. And my steps that were imperceptible to me at the time and cannot be traced now I was brought to relinquish all my doubts and to feel that even from me the subject has an interest. But notwithstanding, for more than a year did I trifle with this subject. There was this doubt I had to solve, this mystery I had to look into, and I tried to satisfy myself with saying that Religion was a subject I could not understand. Then perhaps yielding to the influence of the moment I would retire to a private place and try to pray, an because I did not receie a miraculous manifestation of God's presence in my heart I would give up in despair and perhaps the next moment with a zest which would astonish myself, would join with the thoughtless in throwing ridicule on the Bible and Religion.
But not to multiply words. In this awful state did I continue until about three weeks ago when God was pleased to bring me like a little child to the foot of the cross, and I was led to pray him to save me in his own way. I know I am weak and unable to persevere if I depend upon myself; but Christ is strong and he has told me in his word, his grace will be sufficient for me. Let me beg an interest in your prayers, as I have no doubt I have already had. Pray for me that I may not again deceive myself but that I may build on the rock Christ Jesus.
And thus we learn from his own pen how redeeming grace laid hold on Pat Mell. Evidence that this change of heart was real came in Pat's desire to give his entire energies to the service of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Surely his dear mother's words echoed in his mind: "I can never consent for you to study for the ministry until I have some satisfactory proof of your heart being turned to God in holy consistency and permanency of character." The remainder of Mell's life was a living illustration of the constancy and diligence that attends a genuine call to the ministry. In writing to Pastor Law of his aspirations to the ministry of the Word Mell acknowledged, "I know I am not fit for the office; but the preparation of the heart is with God and he can qualify me for it." This belief that only God can qualify and equip a man for the Gospel ministry was etched deeply into Mell's heart. In his first address to a graduating class (1843) at Mercer University, Mell said,
Your hearts must be deeply imbued with the spirit of the Gospel. You must not only understand but feel those truths; not only recommend them to others but love them yourselves, and what is more, you must preach and strive in humble dependence upon Almighty aid.
Mell also believed that for some men, himself in particular, formal theological training was part of God's means used to prepare His ministers. Though more education was Mell's aim, God was already guiding him toward a ministry and providing him with the requisite spiritual and intellectual materials that make for a godly man and a preacher of great power.
In the late spring of 1840, less than a year after his call, Mell began preaching in the Oxford community under the license of the North Newport Church of Liberty County. During the week days Mell would teach at the prep school and on the Sabbaths he would preach in the destitute places in and around Oxford.
Pastorates and Career at Mercer
In 1840, Mell married Lurene Howard Cooper--one of his former students at Ryal's Academy in Montgomery County, Georgia. Their union of twenty years was blessed with eight children and a love that saw them through both adversity and success.
On February 17, 1841, having been strongly endorsed by former Georgia Governor George M. Troup, P. H. Mell was elected to fill the chair of Ancient Languages at Mercer University, then located at Penfield, some thirty-five miles from Athens. In October of the same year, Mell was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the North Newport Church, under imposition of the hands of B. M. Sanders, W. H. Stokes, and Otis Smith (then president of Mercer University). His ordination was called for by the Greensboro Baptist Church which Mell pastored for ten years following. W. H. Stokes preached the ordination sermon from the text of 2 Timothy 4:2, "Preach the Word." And preach the Word Mell did. One contemporary said of Mell,
As a preacher Dr. Mell is strong, able, argumentative, and sound doctrinally, holding his audiences spell-bound by the clearness of his statements and the strength of his reasoning. His arguments, founded on sound premises, reach inevitable conclusions. On the grand doctrines of Christianity and especially the (so called) "five points" in theology, he is especially able. On the distinguishing doctrines of his denomination he is particularly strong and conclusive, always refuting those who put them selves in opposition to him.
When a year later, he addressed the graduating class at Mercer, Mell expressed his personal evaluation of much of the preaching of his day:
The demand for preaching that will excite, at once, all the faculties of mind and heart, is but limited, and I grieve to confess that the supply falls even short of the demand. The people are easily satisfied, and are patient, when, week after week, they hear the same first principles of the doctrine of Christ vociferated in their ears; and the preacher taking license from this to indulge his indolence, continues to substitute sound for substance, and to ring the same round of changes in their hearing.
But to these young preachers he went on to say,
Penetrate, for yourselves into the inexhaustible mind of Gospel truth. It is necessary to your extensive and permanent usefulness, and, as educated ministers, you are bound to do so.
Professor Mell's years at Mercer were spent, by and large, in usefulness and happiness. Under the eminent President John Leadley Dagg, Mell's "youth, health, and vigorous body enabled him to fill the position of disciplinarian with marked success." It was while serving as Mercer University's disciplinarian that Mell received the nickname "Old Pat" from the students. One might think that the office of disciplinarian at a school for Baptist ministers would be a task of relative ease and complete safety. This was not the case. One evening Professor Mell was called out by the noise of drunken university students on the street of Penfield. These students, armed with weighted sticks, threatened to beat Professor Mell for exposing some previous crime to the college authorities. As soon as Mell was able to see their faces, he announced himself, called them by name, and ordered them to go to their rooms and to report on the following morning to the President's office. When he turned to walk away, one of the students laid his loaded stick to Mell's head. Glancing off the side of his head, the stick landed soundly on his shoulder, temporarily paralyzing Mell's arm. The next day the young boy, sober and realizing what he had done, left the school without waiting to be expelled.
On another occasion, Mell's life was saved by rain-dampened gun powder when a drunken student put a pistol to "Old Pat's" chest and pulled the trigger three times. The task of disciplinarian was not without its dangers. Still, Mell served well in this capacity.
From 1848 until sometime in 1880, Mell, along with his teaching responsibilities, pastored two, sometimes three churches. When in 1857 Mell took the office of Professor of Ancient Languages at the University of Georgia, his contract was made "with the stipulation that his professorial duties were not to interfere with his relationship to the churches of which he pastored." In 1848, while still pastoring the Greensboro Church, Mell also accepted the Bairdstown Church in Green County. In 1852 he was called to take charge of the Antioch Church in Oglethorpe County as well. Realizing that these last two churches would occupy all of his time, he was compelled to dissolve his ten-year pastorate at Greensboro.
Mell was a faithful and able pastor as well as a powerful preacher. One of the members of the Antioch Church writes, after Mell's twenty-six-year pastorate there,
I was impressed at once that he was a peace maker in the fullest and best meaning of that term. He did not seek to harmonize discords by leaving some points of the case unnoticed, others merely smoothed over or covered to ferment and burst forth in all their fury; his plan was the best; every point in dispute met on its own merits and upon principle, by which an adjustment could be made, and peace and harmony secured upon a solid basis.
Another said of his pastoral abilities,
As to his ministerial ability and usefulness, the success with which his efforts were crowned are sufficient answers even to the most fastidious criticisms to which his ministry might be subjected. As a pastor, in my judgment, I have yet to meet his equal. My kind regard and respect for him in the past were occasions for the remark that I worshipped him, and that I thought I would go to him when I died. In our memorial serivces I referred to this statement, and remarked that my attachment for him remained unabated and I was willing for my friends to consider that my desire was to go to him when I died, because I imagined he was very near to the Saviour, nearer in position, perhaps, than I hoped would be accorded me.
Mell was not only a pastor, disciplinarian, and college professor, but also an author. He held in his hand a ready pen whose ink flowed from 1851 until near his death. Mell's first written work was his treatise on Predestination and the Saints' Perseverance. As seen earlier, Mell was an able exponent and a fearless defender of "the five-points of theology." Mrs. D. B. Fitzgerlad, a member of the Antioch Church recalls,
When first called to take charge of the church Dr. Mell found it in a sad state of confusion. He said a number of members were drifting off into Arminianism. He loved the truth too well to blow hot and cold with the same breath. If it was a Baptist church it must have doctrines peculiar to that denomination preached to it. And with that boldness, clearness, and vigor of speech that marked him, he preached to them the doctrines of predestination, election, free-grace, etc. He said it was always his business to preach the truth as he found it in God's word, and leave the matter there, feeling that God would take care of the results.
His stated reason for writing Predestination and the Saints' Perseverance (which first appeared as a series of articles in The Christian Index) was to answer two printed sermons by Reverend Russel Reneau, which had been "extensively distributed through parts of Georgia and Tennessee, and [had] been lauded as a complete refutation of Calvinism." Mell engaged in this written debate because he believed that the heart of the gospel was at stake. He did not believe that he was entering an esoteric discussion about some ancient controversy. This was very much a "live" issue.
I have been pained to notice, for some years past, on the part of some of our ministers, in some localities in the South, a disposition to waive the doctrines of Grace, in their public ministrations. While some have been entirely silent about them, and have even preached, though not ostensibly, doctrines not consistent with them, others have given them only a cold and half-hearted assent, and some few have openly derided and denounced them. This, in many cases, has resulted, doubtless, from a lack of information, and from an apprehension, therefore, that the doctrines of Grace are synonymous with Antinomianism.
That Mell was no cold formalist and that his doctrines did not lead him to any kind of fatalism is seen in that the Lord was pleased to send revival to the Antioch Church in 1852-53. From this revival Mell's second treatise flowed, Baptism In Its Mode and Subjects.
This publication owes its existence to the following circumstances: -- During the month of August last, the Lord blessed the church at Antioch, of which I am the pastor, with a season of refreshing from his presence. During its progress, we had, for nearly two weeks, daily occasion to administer the ordinance of baptism. As is my custom, I availed myself of the opportunity afforded, to address the people at the water's side on the subject....
Within a mile of Antioch is situated a Methodist Meeting House called "Centre." The next "Quarterly Conference" appointed the very estimable gentleman, Rev. Wm. J. Parks, the Presiding Elder, to preach a sermon on Baptism.... It was never publicly avowed, I believe, but it was generally understood, that it was to be a reply to my remarks at the water's side.
In addition to preaching on the subject of baptism, Rev. Parks also distributed, in "Mell's Kingdom" (as the community came to be known), a number of works on infant baptism. As a result the Antioch and Bairdstown churches requested, at a regular business conference, that Mell publish his "very instructive discourses… on the subject of baptism." Thus, again we see Mell thrown into controversy. We are told that the book had a wide circulation and that it was instrumental in changing several Pedobaptists to the faith and belief of the Baptist denomination.
While Mell never swerved an inch from the defense of the truth, he was nevertheless very courteous to those who differed with him. The Scripture says,
The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth … (2 Timothy 2:24, 25 NAS).
That this was the case with Pastor Mell is seen from the following description by his son,
Among those who sat under his ministry for ten, twenty and twenty-five years were people of other denominations who were as warm and friendly as any he had. Some Methodist brethren attended every conference meeting as regularly as did those of his own flock, and it was a source of great pleasure to him. They might shake their heads at what they called his "hard doctrine," but they would shake his hand just as cordially at the close of the sermon and they claimed a share of his visits as much as did the members of his own flock.
Paul and Barnabas at Mercer?
The next several years following 1854 were tumultuous for Mell, Mercer University, and Georgia Baptists. In February of 1854, John Leadly Dagg let it be known that he thought the time had come for him to be released from the presidency of Mercer. Opposition to this course arose principally due to the apprehension of difficulty that might arise in the choice of a successor. Almost prophetically the turmoil arose. A statement was proportedly given out that the reason for Dagg's resignation was due to his "failing strength." Dagg immediately registered his protest to this inaccurate statement. Mell, believing that the stated reason for Dagg's resignation would do "great injustice to a capable and faithful officer," drew up a petition signed by all the professors (with the exception of Dr. N. M. Crawford, Professor of Theology) asking that Dagg not be retired on account of "failing strength." Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees received Dr. Dagg's resignation and very soon thereafter elected Professor Crawford to the position of President.
There soon sprang up between Professor Mell and President Crawford a difference of opinion in regard to the duties belonging to each, which resulted in estrangement, and their resignations were offered to the Board.
The ultimate end of this sad contention was similar to that in which Paul and Barnabas found themselves, and resulted in their departure from one another. Dr. Crawford was reinstated by the Board; Professors Mell, Dagg, and Hillyer resigned; and not until 1856 did things begin to settle. There is much that can be said about this controversy and much that must be left to conjecture. Suffice it to say that no one's character was maligned during the tempest, especially not that of Mell. In the heat of the battle, Professor Mell was elected Moderator of the Georgia Baptist Association and offered the presidency of Mississippi College, the principalship of the Alabama Female Institute, and called as pastor to the First Baptist Church of Savannah, only the first of which he accepted.
Following his resignation as Professor of Ancient Languages at Mercer, the students of the University offered the following tribute to their beloved professor.
At a meeting of twenty-nine students of Mercer University, in the Cicernian Hall, on Thursday evening, the 29th of November, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:
WHEREAS the pleasant relationship which Rev. P. H. Mell has heretofore sustained towards the Students of Mercer University, as Professor of Ancient Languages, not long exists,
Resolved, That in his retirement he will carry with him our best wishes for his future happiness and the earnest desire that in whatever sphere his lot may be cast, his labors may be rewarded with the same eminent success that has attended them during his connexion with Mercer University.
Resolved, That as a testimonial of the high esteem and admiration which we entertain towards him, both as a man and as a laborious and competent Professor, we tender him a Gold-headed Cane, bearing the inscription: Prof. P. H. Mell, from Students of Mercer University.
Resolved, That the above proceedings be published in the Temperance Banner, Christian Index, and Tennessee Baptist.
A motion was made, and prevailed unanimously, that the meeting, on Saturday night thereafter, resolve itself into a Committee as the whole, and en massa, make the presentation in due form at the private residence of P. H. Mell.
At the University of Georgia
By the time the tumultuous waters had been quieted, a year had passed. Somewhat battle-scarred and most certainly weary, Mell was elected by the Board of Trustees to the chair of Ancient Languages at the University of Georgia on December 11, 1856. He occupied this post until, in 1860, he was elected to the chair of Ethics and Metaphysics and made Vice-Chancellor of the University. In the interim, Mell was elected President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, a position which he held for a total of twenty-four years. Also, Furman University conferred upon him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1858. All seemed quiet for this space of three years, but in 1860 Mell was thrust again into the battle.
The publication of his third major treatise, Corrective Church Discipline, raised the ire of the growing number of Landmarkers in the Southern Baptist Convention. According to his son, Mell was asked by a number of Baptist leaders to "prepare a work on the subject [of church discipline] that would give a clear conception of the relationship existing between churches, and the status of the members of the church." First published as a series of articles in the major Baptist papers of that day, Corrective Church Discipline was published later in book form by the Southern Baptist Publication Society in 1860. Though there is nothing in the superb treatise itself that would lead one to think it was a polemic against Landmarkism and especially against the treatment received by R. B. C. Howell of the First Baptist Church of Nashville, still, being published so soon after the Nashville trouble, everyone knew the target at which Mell had aimed. The publication of Mell's articles set off a journalistic debate in nearly all of the South's denominational papers. Professor A. H. Worrell of Talladega, Alabama, published a series of articles entitled "Review of Corrective Church Discipline" which sought to answer Mell's arguments from a Landmark position and only fanned the flames of controversy. Though some writers, as fallen men are often wont to do, engaged in character assassination, Mell remained courteous and tried always to address the issue, not the personality of the author.
When one writer tried to defend the Landmark position by taking verse after verse out of its Scriptural context, Mell's only reply was,
I see that my brother … has attacked my last position and quoted certain Scripture to sustain his point. Now by my dear brother's course of reasoning I can prove anything from the Bible. I can prove that the brother ought to hang himself. Does not the Bible say "Judas Iscariot went out and hanged himself"? (Matthew 27:5) and does in not also say: "Go, and do thou likewise"? (Luke 10:37); "That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27).
Thus, Mell was a staunch defender of Baptist principles and never let the opportunity pass to speak the truth in love against error. He had a keen sense of the ludicrous and he maintained a powerful ability to wield the weapon of sarcasm to make his point. The sharpening of the weapons of sarcasm and quick retort began even in his early years. As a young boy, he met the neighborhood bully on a narrow path on which the lad would not allow Mell to travel. Straddling the path the bully said, "I never give ground to a fool." Mell simply stepped aside and replied, "I do."
The year following the publication of Corrective Church Discipline, the Civil War broke out. Being a strong sympathizer with the South, Mell was one of the first to offer his services to the defense of his homeland. At the opening of the war a company of fighting men was organized called "Mell's Volunteers" (later "Mell's Riflemen"). While preparations were being made to send the riflemen to the battle front in Virginia, Mell's wife died, forcing him to resign his commission. Not only did Mell lose his wife, but also in 1862 at Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the war, Mell lost his eldest son, Benjamin. The correspondence between Mell and the family who attended his son before his death is very touching.
Mell was married December 24, 1861, to Eliza E. Cooper of Scriven County, Georgia, and fathered six children. In 1862 Keep the Sabbath was published as a tract to be distributed among the soldiers.
In 1863 two very important positions were bestowed upon Mell. First, he was elected colonel of a militia by the citizens of Athens, Georgia, for the purpose of defending the northern part of the state from invasion. One party on the committee for the citizens of Athens, upon learning that Mell was being considered for the position said, "Why he knows nothing about military affairs." To which another member replied, "I don't care for that, I am for Mell anyhow. For a man who can manage four hundred Baptists can do anything." The second momentous event Mell's life was his election in 1863 to the presidency of a denomination he helped build, the Southern Baptist Convention. Mell, who met with the others in Augusta in 1845, was to occupy the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention for seventeen years. From 1863 to 1886, except for eight years of absence because of sikness, Mell presided over the convention.
In January of 1866, with the scars of war etched upon his heart, Mell resumed his duties at the University of Georgia. While there is not room here to recall his achievements, to be sure, Mell was convinced that there could be no separation of sacred and secular for the Christian. His labors at the University were performed as diligently unto the Lord as the work he undertook as pastor and Southern Baptist leader.
Prince of Parliamentarians
At the Southern Baptist Convention of 1867, meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, Mell was requested (by a resolution made by J. P. Boyce) to draw up a manual of parliamentary practice for the use of the denomination. A year later A Manual of Parliamentary Practice was published and adopted by the SBC. So wide-spread was the acceptance of this work that many legislative bodies adopted Mell's Manual, including the Georgia legislature. As parliamentarian and presiding officer Mell excelled, so much so that he wore the title "Prince of Parliamentarians." In Parliamentary Law, a text designed for the author's classes at Southern Seminary, F. H. Kerfoot acknowledges,
During the first ten years that the author taught this subject he used as his textbook the manual on Parliamentary Practice, by President P. H. Mell. This is in many respects an excellent book. And it may well be supposed that the use of it for so many years must have left its impress upon the teacher, and hence upon the following pages also.
One visitor at the Southern Baptist Convention of 1866 commented upon Mell's abilities as a parliamentarian:
We think Dr. Mell the best presiding officer we have ever seen; and we heard many present at the Convention express the same opinion. He understands perfectly the duties of the position, and acts with that deliberation, promptness and firmness, yet with kindness, he held in check any who might be unruly, and enabled the humblest and most modest member of the Convention to gain the ear of the body. No press of business, or excitement incident to such meetings, when unexpected questions were sprung, could for a moment disconcert him. He impressed all with his peculiar fitness for the position which he so gracefully filled.
Mell's personal charisma as president and presiding officer was seen when,
At a certain meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Mell called a brother to preside over the body over his temporary absence. Business moved along all right until some one made a motion that called many to their feet, all clamoring for recognition from the chair. The President hopelessly pounded on the desk for order, order, but there was no order. Dr. Mell was sent for by some one who recognized the importance of a cool headed man in the chair. He came back and quietly assumed charge of the chair. The gavel tapped lightly on the table, and instantly, as if by magic, disorder ceased, groups of members that had formed all of the house and were talking excitedly and loudly, dispersed and sat down, and the great body moved smoothly and orderly on with its business as if it had been some vast piece of machinery under the control of its master.
Perhaps it was this great popularity as a parliamentarian that so overshadowed his gifts and abilities as a pastor and theologian, that has prevented more being known about Mell in our own day.
Mell's Nervous Attack
The years between 1871 and 1873 were very troublesome for Mell. The weight of the churches upon him, the duties of the University work, the denominational responsibilities, his prolific pen, all contributed to what became known as Mell's "nervous attack." In August 1871, while preaching at Bairdstown, Mell was seized by an attack that left him prostrate and nearly ended his life. For over a year he was unable to do any active work. Perhaps this was an instance of what we today call ministerial burnout. Often Mell was heard to say, "Let me wear out, not rust out."
Along with all of his responsibilities and duties, was it not also his great burden for the souls of men that led to his attack? Several days before his debilitating seizure, Mell stood in the pulpit of the Antioch Church and pleaded,
"Must I … . leave you, as I found you, out of Christ? Must all my arguments, my entreaties, my prayers, be only so many millstones hanged about your necks to drag you down into perdition? My skirts are clear. I have warned you of God's righteous indignation. I have wooed you by the sweetness of Christ's love." Lifting his eyes, he said solemnly, "God is my witness, I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God, but O how can I leave you. For many of you, I feel it will be only a little while till we shall hold sweet converse in a better world, but for you who have resisted the power of the Gospel so long, must I stand in judgment against you?"
Though impressed that the time of his own death was at hand, Mell was spared for future usefulness. After suffering for nearly a year, Mell's doctor prescribed a cruise. Upon his return, and with another year of rest, in 1874 Mell again took up his labors at the University of Georgia and both churches, with even more vigor than before.
Perhaps this experience on the "backside of the desert" provided Mell with more time for prayer and meditation, for in 1876 his Doctrine of Prayer was published. Two years later, Mell was elected Chancellor of the University, a position he occupied until his death in 1888. Under his leadership, the trustees established branch colleges in several Georgia towns, the founding of a school of technology (now Georgia Tech) was approved, and an agricultural experiment station was established. A contemporary said of Mell's work at the University:
Chancellor Mell's administration was a decade of prosperity to the University. He brought to the office long experience as a college professor, strong convictions of duty, and well digested policy, and the confidence of the powerful denomination to which he belonged …
In all, Dr. Mell served the University of Georgia for twenty-two years, the Southern Baptist Convention presidency for seventeen years, and the Georgia Baptist Convention for twenty-four years. His ministry included too many churches and agencies to mention, and his written works were circulated extensively in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Last Illness and Death
On December 12, 1887, Mell preached his last sermon. He spoke on the doctrine of election from 2 Thessalonians 2:13. On the fifteenth of the month he was forced to lay aside all his duties and seek rest in the southern part of Georgia. On this day he wrote to his son:
My health is bad. I have broken myself down by my overwork. My doctor orders me off for the recess. Many of the Trustees urge me to take a month's rest; but I cannot do so, my colleagues are already overworked, and my classes would suffer. There is no rest for me but in the grave.
On the twenty-sixth of January, 1988, Patrick Hues Mell found his eternal rest in the arms of his loving Heavenly Father. Three days before his death he was heard to say, "I have been a wonderful child of Providence, if not of grace." His son recalled Dr. Mell's last hours:
At intervals … he said, "I commit my soul to God in Christ Jesus--Glory be to God." "Once I was dead, but now am alive. In the other world I am thoroughly understood and thoroughly appreciated--thoroughly understood and thoroughly appreciated." He uttered these words just as written--repeating the last part of the sentence. It seemed to those who watched that he was permitted to penetrate the veil which hangs between this and the other world, and that he actually beheld the understanding and approving smile on his beloved Master's face.
Just before breathing his last he said: "Nearly home?" and made an effort to say something more, but failed. He then tried to fold his hands across his breast and died without a struggle--fell asleep in the arms of Jesus, for whom he had fought a valiant fight, and at the end of many long years of useful life was taken to his reward.n
1 P. H. Mell, Jr., Life of Patrick Hues Mell (Louisville, KY: Baptist Book Concern, 1895), 8.
3 Ibid., 12.
4 Ibid., 13.
5 Ibid., 15.
6 Spencer B. King, Jr., "Patrick Hues Mell: Preacher, Pedagogue, and Parliamentarian," Baptist History and Heritage 5 (October 1970): 187.
7 P. H. Mell, Jr., Life of Mell, 33-39.
8 Ibid., 41.
9 P. H. Mell, "Professor Mell's Address, Delivered to the Graduating Class of the late Commencement," The Christian Index, August 18, 1843, 515.
10 Samuel Boykin, History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia (Atlanta: The Christian Index, 1881), 382.
11 "Address to Graduating Class," 516.
13 Life of Mell, 48.
14 Robert Preston Brooks, The University of Georgia (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1956), 69.
15 Life of Mell, 55.
16 Ibid., 56-57.
17 Ibid., 58-59.
18 P. H. Mell, Predestination and the Saints' Perseverance (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1851; reprint ed. Forth Worth, TX: The Wicket Gate, 1983), iii.
19 Ibid., iv.
20 P. H. Mell, Baptism In Its Mode and Subjects (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1853), v.
21 Life of Mell, 56.
22 Ibid., 59.
23 John L. Dagg, "Autobiography" in Manual of Theology and Church Order (Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1982, reprint ed.), 49.
24 B. O. Ragsdale, Story of Georgia Baptists, Volume 1 (Atlanta, GA: The Executive Committee of the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia, 1932), 1:102.
25 Life of Mell, 77.
26 For the complete scenario see Ragsdale, Story of Georgia Baptists, 1:101-117 and Mell, Life of Mell, 76-102.
27 The Christian Index, Vol. 34, Dec. 13, 1855.
28 Life of Mell, 109.
29 Ibid., 114.
30 King, "Preacher, Pedagogue, and Parlimentarian," 191.
31 Life of Mell, 144.
32 It is interesting to note that in the years of Mell's absence as president, J. P. Boyce presided over the denomination, and also, in the year of Mell's death, 1888, Boyce served as president of the SBC.
33 F. H. Kerfoot, Parliamentary Law (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1899), vi.
34 Life of Mell, 153-54.
35 Ibid., 159.
36 Ibid., 179.
37 Robert Preston Brooks, The University of Georgia, 79.
38 Life of Mell, 249.
39 Ibid., 249.
40 Ibid., 251.