committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER VI.

PASTORAL WORK.

 

     In 1848 he accepted the pastorate of the Bairdstown church located in Greene county, Georgia; and in 1852 he was also elected to take charge of the church at Antioch, in Oglethorpe county. Finding that these two churches would occupy all of his time he was compelled to resign his pastorate at Greensboro, where he had served continuously for ten years. The brethren at Greensboro, after accepting P. H. Mell’s resignation passed the following resolution:

 

"GREENSBORO, GA., June 12th, 1852.

     Whereas our beloved pastor, P. H. Mell, has given us notice that at the end of the present year his pastoral care of this church would cease.

     Resolved 1—That as a church we deeply regret Brother Mell should have considered it his duty to dissolve the connection so harmoniously existing for the past ten years as pastor and people. We unanimously express to our brother undiminished confidence in his ability, piety and discretion as a faithful minister of the gospel. In these relations he has discharged his various duties to the entire satisfaction of the church. His pious and exemplary walk has endeared him to us; and we assure him lie has our full confidence and Christian affection.

     Resolved 2—That we cheerfully recommend our brother as an able evangelical minister of the gospel, where his lot may be cast.

     And be it further resolved that these resolutions be recorded in the church book and a copy furnished Brother Mell.

THOMAS STOCKS, Church Clerk."

 

     Mr. C. J. Landrum, a member of the Antioch church, in a letter in the hands of the writer, speaking of Rev. P. H. Mell and his call to the pastorate at this church, gives the following incidents, that are interesting in this connection:

     "My first acquaintance with Dr. Mell was when he accepted the pastorate of Antioch Church, in January, 1852, and which was continued until 1878—twenty-six years. The church, for months before he was called, had been disturbed by a very serious difficulty, which, from poor management, had grown from bad to worse. In a very short time it was settled and peace was restored. 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. This he did in the case to which I have referred, and in a few months thereafter we had one of the best meetings I have ever witnessed. It certainly was a revival among God’s people. It continued for two weeks or longer. Almost every day there were persons to he baptized. On such occasions Dr. Mell would read some appropriate Scripture touching upon the ordinance and lecture from it. This was very entertaining and instructive to the large concourse of people. It stirred up the Pedobaptists, however, and as a result he was called on to meet Rev. Win. Parks at Centre Church (Methodist) in a discussion on Scriptural baptism."

     When this discussion was completed the two churches at Antioch and Bairdstown requested Mr. Mell to publish the sermons in book form for permanent preservation. He consented, and "Mell on Baptism" was the result. This book had a wide circulation, and it was claimed by some to have been instrumental in changing several Pedobaptists to the faith and belief of the Baptists. Mr. Landrum says still further in reference to this period:

     "He was, when called to the pastorate of the Antioch church, a stranger to nearly all his charge and the people generally. His genial manners, however, made the esteem and confidence of every one with whom he met an easy conquest, and very soon he was an ideal Christian gentleman in this community. His ever bright and cheerful manner was almost an antidote for the darkest sentiments of gloom and despondency. His tender words of sympathy have thrilled many sorrowing and bereaved hearts, and really comforted them in the midst of their sorrows. 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 judgement, 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 services 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."

     Among Dr. Mell’s admirers and friends who were members of Antioch church none loved him more than Mrs. D. B. Fitzgerald, nee Miss Mary E. Crowley. This attachment was sincerely returned by Dr. Mell, and for a number of years Miss Crowley was an occupant of his home, while pursuing a course of study under him, and he called her his adopted daughter. Being thus thrown in daily communion with him she had a most excellent opportunity of studying his character. This lady has kindly furnished the following reminiscences of Dr. Mell’s life while pastor of Antioch church. "As far back in the dim recollections of an early childhood as I can go, I recall old Antioch church in Oglethorpe county, Georgia. Memory paints the scene in warm, soft colors, and tender associations weave a magic spell, as I recall the old-fashioned house with its elevated pulpit, and the long rows of high benches where a restless little girl sat swinging her feet and listening in a vague way to the words that fell from the lips of the preacher. The old church was modernized long years ago; many comforts and graces have been added to its interior, and the white walls glisten outside as it stands embowered in the grove of giant oaks that have overshadowed it for more than three score years. There I first attended divine services under the preaching of Rev. P. H. Mell. Permitted under a kind Providence to grow up under his pastoral hand, receiving first a child’s share of his ministrations and comprehending little of what was said, then as I grew up learning more and more of his marvelous power, I was led to the Saviour by his faithful guidance. Baptized by him, and afterwards sitting at his feet as a pupil; occupying a chair by his fireside; sharing in the love he bestowed on his children; receiving often from his fatherly lips the tender epithet, ‘my daughter,’ it is with both pleasure and pain I bring a tribute of affection to place in this memorial volume.

     "Those people who decry long pastorates would find stout opposition in the communities where he preached. So strongly were the people attached to him that it was not unusual to hear the name of ‘Mell’s Kingdom’ applied to this territory. The bond between pastor and people was so strong that though a temporary supply had to be put in during a long illness, late in life, yet the church would never relinquish her claims on him until the summons to come up higher was spoken by the Master.

     "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. But while he never swerved an inch from the defence of truth as he believed it, he was most courteous to those who differed with him. Among those who sat under his ministry for ten, twenty and twenty-five years were people of other denominations who were as warm friends 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 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.

     "He was in the midst of the trouble at Penfield when he took charge of the churches at Antioch and Bairdstown, and espousing his cause with that enthusiasm that always characterized his followers, they pledged themselves to his support, and stood squarely beside him in all that painful period. This loyal affection was always a source of infinite gratification to him, and he often alluded to the fact. ‘I know my people love me,’ he was wont to say, ‘they have shown it unmistakably.’

     "Soon after his connection with Antioch church a circumstance arose to which he often recurred in after years, and it did much to strengthen his reliance on the guiding hand of an over-ruling Providence. A young lady of most beautiful Christian character, one greatly beloved by all who knew her, met a most tragic fate, being burned to death. The death caused a great gloom to fall over the community. It was the custom in those days to have a funeral sermon preached months after the subject of the discourse had been buried. Her family, complying with the common practice, had arranged to have a discourse preached commemorative of her, and so requested Mr. Mell, mentioning the time they had selected. It always pained Mr. Mell to disappoint any one, and on such an occasion, when his sympathies were so aroused, and when he knew that none of the young lady’s family, except one, were professors of religion, it grieved him to refuse such a request, but to acquiesce was to overthrow all his plans. It was at the beginning of one of his annual meetings and there was a deep anxiety on his part to have nothing disturb the minds of his people. He had even prepared a sermon for that very day, and to preach a funeral instead seemed to be unwise, and in as gentle terms as possible he attempted to dissuade the lady’s father from such a step; but the old gentleman insisted, and gave such good reasons for so doing, that Mr. Mell at last, though with a sad heart, consented to lay aside the sermon that he thought really suited the needs of the people, and instead, to preach the memorial discourse. The more he inquired into the character of the young lady, and of the awful circumstances of her death, and of her hope in the Saviour, the more he began to realize how it might bb that God could make this an occasion to forward His work in the hearts of the  people. The outcome of it was wonderful, for during the two weeks’ meeting that followed more than sixty people dated conviction from that sermon. Mr. Mell often referred to this as one of the best meetings he was ever in, for he baptized fifty into the church, five of whom were of the immediate family of the deceased lady, and some connected themselves with other churches.

     “Very much of his power as a preacher lay in the way he had of getting close to his people. His custom was to visit all of them, and so anxious were they not to miss the expected pleasure that he made engagements ahead often as far as three months. The humblest householder was glad to entertain ‘Brother Mell,’ and the same ease of manner characterized him whether he sat at the bountiful board of the rich, or broke the plain bread and partook of the cup of milk from the pine table of the poorest. There was never any stooping to be on an equality with any man, or woman, or little child; he regarded all as good and worthy until they had proven themselves to be otherwise. His own purity of motive won the confidence and esteem of others; and he never judged a man by the coat he wore, or measured his worth by any uncouthness of manner or speech. The roughness might be only a lack of education and training—the coarse shell enclosing a good and wholesome fruit. And so he won first the admiration and then the love of all who came near him. He was the confidant of his people, they told him all their personal experiences, and he listened with tender sympathy. If a poor man was harassed with debt, broken hearted over a wilful child, or bowed down with bereavement, he never felt his load to be quite so heavy after he had talked it over with ‘Brother Mell.’ Many a poor wife grieving over a wicked husband or son, who could not bear to mention her sorrow and shame to any one else, told him all her heart-break. He was no less a welcome addition to the merry groups of young folks, his keen appreciation of humor, his love of a good joke, his inimitable way of relating an anecdote, all made him an acquisition to any crowd, or a pleasant companion at any fireside. To them all he was a warm friend, the kind, sympathetic, wise counselor and faithful pastor.

     “He was so evenly balanced iii his judgments that it was almost unheard of for any one to object to his rulings in conference. If a member of the church was charged with un-Christian conduct the greatest care was exercised to prevent any false accusations and the case conducted with the greatest regard for the feelings of the offender. Dr. Mell always visited the one arraigned and listened to his side of the story and showed him his error in such a gentle, loving way that he almost always reclaimed the wanderer. In one instance a brother was contrary and cold; his brethren could not get on peaceably with him; there was constant cause of complaint; at last Dr. Mell said, ‘Let him alone.’ He was quietly ignored and justify to himself; he began to reflect, since it takes two to quarrel, and the end of it was that at a subsequent meeting he came with contrition and confession of fault and begged the brethren to forgive him, and lived and died a useful member of the church.

     “Dr. Mell’s character was too positive not to find opponents in the world, and there were among outsiders some who said he was simply a strong doctrinal preacher, not an eloquent man, but one who fed his people on ‘hard corn. If, as Webster says, ‘eloquence is the power of expressing strong emotions, in an effective, impassioned and elevated manner,’ then truly was Dr. Mell an eloquent man. No one who sat under his ministry at those two churches could make such an adverse criticism of him. He always prepared a skeleton of each discourse, which he fixed well in his mind before going into the pulpit, and after reading the text, he closed the Bible, and preached without any notes before him. The little thirty-minute sermons that some preachers offer to an already over-fed congregation pale beside the matchless discourses he used to give the crowds at Antioch and Bairdstown. His slender, lithe figure rose in its strength; his piercing eyes glowed or melted in tender pathos as his mind grasped the glorious truths of the Gospel; he held his hearers spellbound many times a full hour, and, if the theme was unusually grand, and far-reaching in its fuller development, he stood for an hour and a half, and yet his people never thought he preached long. He started out by stating his propositions clearly and distinctly, and then proceeded to bring forward and support them with such an array of argument and of Scriptural authority, and clothed his ideas in language so plain, so simple, so strong, so beautiful, that the truth was fixed in the minds of his listeners.  lie used to say. laughingly, and yet with a degree of pride, that he could never ‘warm over an old broth’ with his people, for many of them were accustomed to mark and date the texts he preached from, so forcibly did the sermons impress their minds.

     ‘As the natural result of his long pastorate he had a most intimate acquaintance with his flock, and knew just their needs; if there was one bowed down in sorrow, fitting into the sermon would be words of truest comfort; if a sinner was smarting under  the lash of a guilty conscience, or mournfully seeking relief from sin, some words suited to his individual needs were sure to come from the lips of the good pastor, and so of all. Did evil creep in, he knew just where and when to strike most effectively to arrest it. Once he saw that intemperance was gaining the mastery over some of the weaker ones of his charge; some had been intoxicated, and others more covert in sin drank enough to keep the blood at fever heat, and yet were never so fully under the influence of whisky as to be called drunk; and so, while not amenable to arraignment before the church, were losing their own usefulness, and crippling the cause of Christ. In a sermon he rebuked the sin in stinging terms. Leaning over his pulpit, and casting an eagle glance over the congregation, which caused the guilty ones to quail, he said: ‘You thought nobody saw you when you went into your house, and in that private closet, with door closed, you drank till your brain was fixed with the fearful draught; hiding your demijohn and your jug, thinking to conceal your sin and shame. Be sure your sin will find you out.’ So closely did he draw the portrait, so accurately did he read men’s faces, that he pursued this line of thought till one of the tipplers became so angry that he would not speak to his pastor. Dr. Mell never permitted such conduct to go unnoticed, so inquired of the brother what did he mean by such coldness and aversion. ‘Who has been talking to you about me?’ inquired the man in angry impatience, ‘I know though, I did ask one man to drink with me, he told you, I know’ he did.’

     “Dr. Mell fixed his penetrating eyes on the man in grieved surprise. ‘Have you been drinking? My dear brother, you have betrayed yourself. No one ever told me you kept your jug. Self-condemned, there was nothing for the weak brother to do but to acknowledge his sin. No doubt he felt like ‘kicking’ himself, as he caught the gleam of an amused twinkle in the good Doctor’s eye, at the ludicrous position in which he had placed himself. The keenness of perception, the wonderful power to read people, made Dr. Mell a master among men. And yet he was so gentle, so courteous, so considerate of the feelings of others, even when administering severe rebuke of sin, that he drew the transgressor to him instead of driving him away.

     He would never serve city churches, though many very fine positions were offered him. He always said he wanted to preach to a hungry congregation. He often remarked: People in cities hear so much, so many sermons, lectures, exhortations, their ears are heavy with hearing. They listen more critically, are more easily fatigued, but not. so with my country people. When I go to them once or, at most, twice in the month and stand up before an intelligent audience, who have been busy with other than mental work, I know from the attentive attitude, the earnest expression, the profound silence, that I have hearers indeed. Their minds arc like well-prepared soil.’ And to these it was his joy to preach. Never had a preacher more respectful attention, never prevailed better order than in his churches when he spoke. He believed that country churches cannot prosper without protracted meetings. lie made this statement in a letter written just before his retirement from the pastorate, and it was the result of a long experience. No sketch of his life work can be complete without some more than passing mention of his manner of conducting these annual meetings. As he was a member of the faculty of Mercer University, and afterwards of the University of Georgia, the only time for such meetings was during the summer vacation. The meeting always began on Friday and continued three days, and was protracted one week, ten days, or two weeks, as the Lord seemed to direct. There were two services each day, and a basket dinner. He did not believe in night meetings for country churches, but by spending the day it was possible for several churches to be largely represented at these meetings. Old and young were there. It was an interesting occasion. Alas! that it is so rarely seen now. The present generation laughs at such gatherings and calls them picnic frolics and courting schools, but it has given us no more satisfactory substitute. Dr. Mell said he would not give the one hour of intermission, after the dinner was over, for any sermon, for when the people were all together, he could go amongst them and find out their needs. Many a poor despairing soul has been pointed to the Saviour by the beloved pastor or by those of his people who labored with him, in this interval at noon. What crowds attended! Early in the mornings of the long summer days they began to assemble, and it was no unusual sight to see handsome carriages, and many lighter vehicles, and many on horse-back approaching the church from every direction. The colored servants were there to wait upon the crowds at dinner, or to take charge of the horses; and seats were always provided for these people, and numbers of them were baptized into the fellowship of the church. Cultured and refined gentlewomen and gentlemen were there, for Mell’s Kingdom’ contained a rural population second to none in the State. At ten o’clock there was a prayer meeting, and at eleven o’clock a sermon; after this an invitation was extended to those desiring prayer, and some sweet old hymn was sung. One that he loved, was:

           ‘Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?’

     “Often his eyes overflowed at the closing lines:

            ‘Here, Lord, I give myself to thee,
            ’Tis all that I can do.’

     “Or perhaps that other old favorite:

            ‘Come humble sinner in whose breast
            A thousand thoughts revolve
            Come with your guilt and sins oppressed
            And make this last resolve.’

     “With an earnestness and pathos that few could resist he would plead with the ungodly that they might make the words of the poet their Own:

            I’ll go to Jesus though my sins
            Have like a mountain rose,
            I know his courts I’ll enter in,
            Whatever may oppose.’

     “When the hour for intermission came he talked not only with each one who had asked for prayer, but also with many others whose anxious countenances he had scanned while preaching. He knew his people so well that he could call on just the right ones to help in this outside work. Brethren who were too diffident to lead in prayer, or who had not the gift of speech for a public exhortation, but who loved the Lord Jesus, could in this way lead sinners to the cross. ‘The old, old story, the sweet old story of Jesus and his love’ was spoken in tender accents by those whose voices were heard only by the ones addressed. The fruits of such labor are yet to be seen even after pastor and people are gathered before the Great White Throne. When the congregations reassembled, while some were careless, of course, and had spent the time in frivolity, by far the larger number were deeply serious, prayerful and in earnest, anxiously waiting for the message from the man of God, while the pastor’s heart burned within him with zeal toward God, and love for the people he had taught so long. A clear pool of sparkling water was situated near by, and thither the crowd thronged, and ranged themselves around, the swelling hillsides forming nature’s amphitheater, the green trees spreading out their leafy banners, and over all God’s clear blue sky; there he baptized them; ten, twenty, and twice he baptized fifty happy converts as the fruits of one annual meeting at Antioch. The same may be said in regard to the work at Bairdstown. Dr. Mell loved these meetings! Some of the finest sermons he ever preached were delivered on such occasions. He never seemed to grow weary through days of such labor. He was never so happy as when preaching Jesus.

     “He felt a deep and abiding interest in all young people, and his genial humor, his kind consideration, his ready assistance gave easy access into their hearts, and they were never afraid of the preacher. When he had retired from the pastorate, he still visited his old charges, and on one occasion was present when a timid young girl presented herself as a candidate for baptism. The pastor asked her questions and somehow she became embarrassed and confused; finally he told her that as her statements were so unsatisfactory, he advised her to wait. Instantly Dr. Mell stepped to her side, and in his kind, fatherly way reassured her, drew out from her in faltering but unmistakable words the story of her conviction, and of her hope in a pardoning Saviour. He got her to talk fully, and then he made the statement to the church for her. She was received, and is now a useful and happy Christian, and loves and reveres Dr. Mell as the ‘best man’ she ever knew.

     “On one occasion, when Mr. Overton was pastor at Antioch and had carried on a meeting of several days, he was compelled to close the services; but there was such a deep feeling of earnestness in the congregation, the church members were very sad to see such a meeting closed. They talked the matter over and decided to come again the next day and have a prayer meeting. ‘Oh,’ said one, ‘if only our dear old pastor, Dr. Mell, could come now.’ But they had no hope of such a thing. Dr. Mell passed up the road toward Athens that afternoon, and as the train stopped at Antioch he stepped out to see if any friends were there, and some one begged him to come back to church the next day, even if he could not preach. At the close of the prayer meeting the next morning, in walked Dr. Mell, to the surprise and delight of his friends. Cod had sent him, for he preached with the greatest ease, and joy, and there was a most gracious outpouring of the Spirit, and many were added to the church. This season was a most happy one to him, it was the reaping of what he had sown years before—may we say it was the aftermath?

     ‘How like a panorama these scenes pass! The grey-headed fathers and mothers in Israel have gone the way of all the earth. Those who were then young and blooming are now bending under the weight of years. Snowy locks, wrinkled faces, faltering voices show how we all ‘do fade as a leaf.’

     “A young man in the prime of stalwart manhood occupies the pulpit at old Antioch,* and his congregation look to him for spiritual food; he goes in and out among his flock, and they love him, and thank God that one so worthy has been placed where Dr. Mell stood. Who is he? ‘One of Dr. Mell’s boys.’ A struggling lad, fighting his way through many obstacles. Dr. Mell helped him by word and deed, and he has proven himself worthy the confidence. A slender man, in middle life, preaches at Bairdstown.* During the late war he was wounded by a ball that well-nigh let his soul out through the rent in his side, but the bullet could not harm his manly spirit, and he lives to preach with burning zeal and eloquent tongue to the people among whom he was born and reared—another of ‘Dr. Mell’s boys.’ How many of them there are. What a noble band of brothers. They preach the same gospel he so loved, and thus the glorious work of his life goes on, though his lips have been silenced. How poor and puny seem the struggles for political preferment when contrasted with the life of this noble preacher of the Word. The mind sinks and is lost in the blaze of light that falls on us as we try to picture the scene hereafter when the book shall be opened and all the grand sum total of the results of such long and faithful service to God shall be made manifest. Well might he sing:

        ‘And the Lord haste the day when faith shall be sight,
            The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
        The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
            Even so, it is well with my soul.’’’

* 1890

 
 
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