committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER IX.

CONTROVERSIES.

 

    In 1859 and 1860 Dr. Mell issued a series of articles on the subject of "Corrective Church Discipline" that aroused serious opposition from a number of writers. About this time the Baptist Denomination as passing through a critical period when a split in the ranks seemed imminent. The newspapers were full of articles on church polity and two opposing sides were formed; and bitterness and hard feeling were rapidly assuming prominent places in the argument. This state of affairs was brought about by the action of the Nashville church in withdrawing fellowship from Rev. J. R Graves and a number of others for conduct tending to disrupt the church and destroy its independence and usefulness. There was much doubt in the minds of many over the South concerning the wisdom of this church in adopting such severe measures. Mr. Graves’ friends were, of course, arrayed on one side and a number of writers were on the other. The question of the jurisdiction of the church was sprung in the Associations and also in the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. R. B. C. Howell, pastor of the Nashville church, and who had been for a term of years President of the Southern Baptist Convention, was antagonized by Graves’ friends at the session in 1859 and his re-election contested on the grounds of his unbaptistic and partisan position in heading the move in the Nashville affair. He was, however, re-elected by a large majority, but resigned immediately after the ballot was announced so that there should be no disturbing elements in the deliberations of the Convention. Matters had become so serious because of the agitation of these questions relating to church government, and there seemed to be so many varied opinions concerning the fundamental doctrines of church polity as taught by the fathers, that a number of leading Baptists urged Dr. Mell to prepare a work on the subject that would give a clear conception of the relationship existing between the churches, and the status of the members in the church. "Corrective Church Discipline" was written in response to this request. It was first published in the shape of a series of articles in nearly all the Baptist papers in the South, and was afterwards republished in book form by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, and passed through several editions.

    Although there was no reference in this work to any thing of a personal nature, still, coming as it did so soon after the Nashville trouble, and touching, as it necessarily must, on all questions bearing on that affair, Mr. Graves and his friends assumed that the work was written to sustain this church at Nashville, and they soon filled the papers with severe criticisms antagonistic to Dr. Mell’s position, and they secured the sympathy of nearly all the advocates of so-called "Landmarkism." One or two extracts are given below, taken from the papers of that date to show how bitter was some of this criticism, and how the work of "Corrective Church Discipline" was misconstrued and misapplied. In the "Banner and Baptist" of May 3rd, 1860, appeared the following signed by "Correspondent"

 

PROF. MELL’S DESIGN.

    It has occurred to one of your correspondents, Bro. Editor, that a deep design, hidden from all his readers, or nearly all, has stimulated Professor Mall to set before the world his extraordinary views of "Corrective Church Discipline."

    What is the design? It seems to be this, in part: (one half of it need not be mentioned.) To produce on the minds of Southern Baptists a profound conviction that Dr. Howell and party did RIGHT in excluding from the Nashville church, J. R. Graves, and his brethren. No one can read the articles of the Professor without seeing that from first to last he aims a covert attack upon Graves. Now if he had come out and said what was his aim, many of his readers would more have appreciated his opinions. His attack seems to have been made from an ambush, and with design.

    As to the fallacies of his doctrine, Prof. Worrell is revealing them step by step. But unfortunately the review by Worrell began rather too late. It is devoutly to be wished that this had been otherwise. But then Bro. Mell forestalled him. How? By requesting as a special favor that no one should answer him till he was done! When would be get done? Just before the Georgia Baptist Convention should meet! and consequently, when the whole force of his views, without one pen-stroke of opposition, must have decided all his readers in his behalf.

    Well enough did the Professor know the power of exparte testimony. If he could only be heard, and no answer made, then the Convention—all Georgia Baptists, or a majority at least—would take refuge under his colors; so that should anything adverse, in any way relating to the "Nashville difficulty" occur, Dr. Mell, at the head of a vast majority, could triumphantly sustain Howell and his party.

    It is not positively asserted that the above view is correct, but to the writer it seems so.

    Prof. Mell is confessedly one of Georgia’s greatest men. He has written much that will live long after he is in the house of silence. His views on many subjects would be acceptable to all his brethren. But when he takes the wrong side, in a matter of such grave importance, and attempts to ruin, or rather, to seal the ruin of a man whom Southern Baptists believe to be doing more for the cause of truth than any other man living, we can but tell our brother Mell that his efforts are vain.

CORRESPONDENT.

 

     An Alabama correspondent wrote as follows in the "Landmark Banner & Cherokee Baptist," June 21st, 1860:

 

AN EASY WAY TO DO WHAT CANNOT OTHERWISE BE DONE.

    When a thing needs to be done, and there is but one way to do it, and that way is to let it alone; of course it ought to be let alone. This is easy.

    Prof. Mell wrote a "Corrective Church Discipline," which was published by all the papers of a certain type in the land, aud by some others, too, and finally by the Southern Baptist Publication Society. This newfangled discipline has been sawed, and split, skinned and dissected and "driv up" by the logic and analysis of Prof. Worrell. "There it stands all naked and bare with its deformity exposed to the gaze of the passer-by." Cruel fellow, Worrell, you are!

    But will not Prof. Mall come to the relief of his discipline? Will none of his publishers speak? Why certainly, we intend to reply to this young reviser. How? Why we are just going to reply by letting him alone. We are going to "ignore’ his review, and by this trick we will try to make the people believe that it is not worthy a notice. What! condescend to write a rejoinder to A. S. Worrell? No ye credulous people don’t you believe it, we want you to believe us when we tell you it is not fit to be read by you.

    To be serious, why does Prof. Mell (and his publishing papers, most of them) so studiously avoid any allusion to Bro. Worrell’s review? I see in a late number of the Banner, a notice by Prof. Mall of what Graves, Pendleton and Dayton, have written; I notice once in a while other references by friends of Mall’s discipline to things said by writers who criticise Mell’s views. But I observe nothing from Mell or any of his publishers concerning what Worrell has written. Prof. Mell says he is now willing for the case to go to the Jury, (the jury are deciding against him down here) therefore he suppose he does not expect to say more. Will they pretend that Worrell’s review is not worth notice—that it would be a condescension to reply to him?

    Now brethren, you can’t stave Prof. W’s review off this way! It has made its mark, and I doubt not you have all felt it. Is Prof. W. too young? Is his review too weak? But then remember that not a few of the strongest men in the denomination have pronounced it a triumphant expose of the fallacies of Mall. The people have eyes as well as you. They can see. They can read—they, however, never would see but one side of the matter, were it left to those who endorse Mall’s discipline. Another thought. Prof. Mell says he wrote his discipline with reference to no ease, etc. I wish he had not said this. I have heard many others say that they wish he had not said this. We know a case or two and we have read his discipline. And we have heard something of the exigencies of the times.

    I have a word to say about the Southern Bap. Pub. Society. Do they expect coolly to thus become partisans—the propagators of the interests of a party, and claim the support of the denominational? I recently had a conversation with a brother who has given that society seven hundred and fifty dollars. I judge he will never give them more. He regards this as a perversion—a prostitution of his money.

J. J. D. R.

 

    Some of these articles were full of personalities that exhibited deep feeling, verging at times almost on the domain of hostility. Through all these attacks Dr. Mell preserved an unruffled temper, and throughout the entire series of articles avoided any reference to the unkind attacks made upon him. These criticisms following so closely also on the trouble with the authorities of Mercer University, some of his opponents in that fight arrayed themselves against him in this contest. In most instances names were signed to these articles but in some cases the attacks were made over anonymous signatures. In one case the attack was so stinging, persistent and unwarranted, that a reply was deemed necessary.

    This party in order to sustain himself in the position assumed against that given in one of the articles on Corrective Church Discipline, quoted passages of Scripture in a manner quite reckless and marvelous to behold. He would take a certain verse or sentence from the Bible, isolate it from its connection, join it to another verse or sentence from some other part of the Bible isolated from its connection, and then draw his inferences. He seemed to be one of those men who did not appreciate the force of an argument when it was given. So Dr. Mell concluded to silence him with his own ammunition; and he therefore published in one of the papers the following reply.

    "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 go and hang himself. Does not the Bible say ‘Judas Iscariot went and hanged himself’? (Matthew 27:5.) and does it not also say: ‘Go, and do thou likewise’? (Luke 10:37). ‘That thou doest, do quickly’? (John 13:27.) With the exception of the following short note nothing more was heard from that brother.

    "I am ever willing to discuss principles with Christian courtesy, but since brother Mell is at his old game of dodging—at which he excels—I need not pursue the subject further, as I have shown where he is. He also excels in drawing analogies: ‘Judas went out and hanged himself’ By the way, if my good brother Mell thinks that the public cannot see that he is dodging, he greatly mistakes the public."

    Some leading Baptists did not agree in all respects with the principles enunciated in these articles on church government and were candid enough to publish their views on the subject, but their arguments were free from all personalities and were dignified and courteous.

    When a number of the articles from Dr. Mell's pen had made their appearance in the papers, Prof. A. S. Worrell of Talladega, Alabama, began to write a "Review of Corrective Church Discipline" which was published in the "Tennessee Baptist," "Landmark Banner," and some other papers. This "Review" was intended to be a conclusive answer to all the points educated by Dr. Mell. A demand was made on the part of Prof. Worrell and his friends that this "Review" be published under the same cover with "Corrective Church Discipline." (The article already given, signed by "J. J. D. R.," is a specimen of these demands.) The Board of Managers of the Southern Publication Society, however, refused to comply with this request.

    Rev. B. F. Tharpe of Georgia became quite indignant at this refusal on the part of the Publication Society and published the following article. This production from Mr. Tharpe will indicate how high the excitement ran in those days when leading men of the denomination all over the South arrayed themselves under the names of "Graves’ Men" and "Anti-Graves’ men."

    "If a plain sense of justice would not compel the brethren at Charleston to publish both sides of a matter involving so much consequence, the errors in the first work" (Corrective Church Discipline) "presented should not have escaped their notice, but should have met their prompt condemnation. They greatly mistake the Baptists if they suppose that, after this temporary excitement passes away, they will receive such works as standard. Such works will die with the excitement which produced them. But there is another thing which will not die in the memory of those who should have been the friends of the Society. They will ever remember that a society which should have promoted the interests of truth has been prostituted to partisan, if not to personal ends . . . . I ask you, what can men, holding to my views, do as to the rottenness of all taught by the work in question which could have called it forth, do relative to this Society? For my own part, I am disappointed, mortified at the party which the brethren in Charleston have thought proper to pursue. And I am sorry that I have even one dollar in the Society which is perverted to partisan ends, and is daily used in reproducing and circulating error, both radical and subversive of the great interests of the church."

    As a matter of interest in this connection, and probably explaining in some degree the animus of the above production, I will state that Mr. B. F. Tharpe was a member of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University, and was present at the meeting in 1855 when Professor Mell’s connection with the University was severed. Mr. Tharpe voted in the affirmative. The publication of Professor Mell’s "An Exposition of Recent Events," that fully exposed the exparte action of this Board, and the after development of the case before the Baptist State Convention, were not conducive to cordiality from most of the members of this Board; and throughout the remaining lives of the movers of this great injustice at Penfield there continued a feeling of unfriendliness towards Professor Mell. Mr. Tharpe was not an exception to the rule. In reply to the strictures of Mr. Tharpe, as above quoted, the Southern Baptist Publication Society responded:

    "The Committee on Publication with one accord say.. that they accepted Professor Mell's work because they thought it an able treatise, and in the main correct, and declined Professor Worrell’s because they considered it unworthy of publication, and that their decisions were wholly uninfluenced by partisan feeling.... The truth is, if Professor Melt has ever written or spoken one word in relation to the Nashville affairs, we have not seen or heard of it.. . There is then nothing, either in the book or in his course before or since writing it, to support the charge that it was written for a partisan purpose." (See Southern Baptist published at Charleston on October 6th. 1860.)

    In the Christian Index of October 17th, 1860, appeared the following, written, no doubt, by some member of the publication committee of the Southern Baptist Publication Society, although not signed by the writer’s name.

    "Brother Tharpe is amazed that the Board ever consented to publish Professor Mell's treatise—that they did not detect the "rottenness" of its teachings—and that they should have ventured to send it forth with their approbation and endorsement. I am not going to discuss the ripeness or "rottenness" of this book. I only wish to say here, in response, that the Society does not pretend to endorse all the minute views of the works which it issues, and which, upon the whole, it may regard as sale and useful for the denomination. Very likely there may be opinions enunciated in Dr. Dagg’s Theology and in Dr. Mallary’s books, which would not accord with the views of the publication committee The truth about "Corrective Church Discipline" is, I suppose, something like this: Professor Mell is an author of established reputation, and, until recently, of unassailed orthodoxy. Our Society had published several of his books, and was always glad to obtain a work from his pen. It was sure to be well received in the powerful State of Georgia, and not to be suspected of "rottenness." This last work of his was offered us for publication. Its publication was earnestly called for by warm and judicious friends of the Society. Perhaps not a very severe inquisition was given to it by the committee. It was promptly accepted, and I have yet to discover any just grounds of complaint against this action."

    Dr. Mell in reply to all these criticisms said:

    "If my little book on Discipline is properly written, it is applicable in principle to any case that has occurred in the past, or that may happen in the future."

    He was open to conviction and was ever ready to acknowledge his error when properly brought before him and proven. The following extracts from an article written for the Christian Index in the issue for September the 6th, 1360, prove this position and at the same time show how firm be was in maintaining what he considered to be truth and principle. As will be noticed in the comments of the editor, this article was an introduction to a series called forth by criticisms made by Dr. J. S. Baker on "Corrective Church Discipline."

 

AMICABLE DISCUSSION.

    Below we present a letter just received from Dr. Mell. From it our readers will perceive that Brother Mell is willing to discuss in the Index, the sentiments advanced in his Church Discipline: and as he and Dr. Baker disagree, we must look for able and absorbingly interesting presentation and support of opposite views.—While it is really to be hoped that, as Brother Mell says, their differences will be narrowed down, on a plain exhibition of them, yet, as Brother Baker absolutely dissents from what Brother Mell sees no reason to "modify in the slightest degree," we are warranted in looking for an exciting and edifying crossing of lances

 

[For the Christian Index.]

    I am gratified to see in the Index of the 29th ult., the Promise of Brother Baker to give in a series of articles, the points of difference, in part, between himself and me on the subject of Church Discipline. From Brother B. ‘s character and professions the public are prepared to expect nothing but candor. It gives me pleasure to know that the opportunity will be afforded me—should I wish to avail myself of it—to discuss the sentiments of my book with one whose antecedents qualify him to view the subjects in a light not partisan, and who is competent not only to furnish but to appreciate an argument. While Brother Baker considers my position, "in the main, correct," he thinks I have ‘‘fallen into a few radical errors."—These, on the principles of fairness and courtesy laid down in his preliminary article, I hope he will faithfully point out, and unsparingly expose. And he need not be afraid of touching my sensibilities by such exposure. If truth be all that I am seeking, whatever of mortification I may feel at the necessity of abandoning a position because it is proved to be wrong, will be more than compensated by the joy I shall experience when I attain, in whatever way, to that which is right. Thus far, I have seen nothing which causes me to modify my views in the slightest degree. After all that has been written against my little book, if I had to furnish it for the press anew, I would not cross a t nor dot an i. But brethren as candid and as competent as I, differ from me on one or two points. Candid and courteous discussion is the way alone, then, in which we can be brought to agree.

    From what Brother B. has already published on the subject, I am inclined to think, that, on comparison of notes, the public will find there is but little that divides us. One point of difference he has indicated in his preliminary article. By his unqualified endorsement of Brother Shaver’s arguments, I understand that he joins issue with me when I say that excluded members must be restored, if at all, by the church excluding. This question ought to be discussed with calmness. There is no reason why "Nashville parties" or partisans, on the one side or the other, should feel any special interest in it. The denomination may decide for or against the views I present, and neither of those parties will be benefited or injured. Mr. Graves and his associates have not been received into the membership of another church, but claim that they have never been excluded, and that they constitute the original "First Church at Nashville." I am happy to know, then, that in discussing THIS question we find it unembarrassed by any complication with existing cases of discipline in this latitude. Brother Baker will, of course, endeavor to show the fallacy of the argument I have already given, and, if I see occasion to reply, he can rejoin, and, if he introduces no new matter, the discussion can close with his rejoinder.

P. H. MELL.

   

    Dr. Mell was a staunch defender of Baptist principles, as he understood them, and all through his life he never let an opportunity pass to speak for truth against error. But in every instance he was courteous and gentle, yet firm and unswerving in maintaining the truth. Although his keen sense of the ludicrous was often given an opportunity for exercise, and his ability to wield the weapon of sarcasm was powerful and effective, still it was seldom the case that he permitted his pen to take such advantage of his opponent. His language, when dealing with theological questions, was always free from personalities, and whenever it became necessary to mention any one’s name in the course of the discussion, it was invariably done in a way so as not to give offense nor wound the most delicate sensibilities. His mind took such vigorous hold of a subject, and his deductions and conclusions were always so clear and logical, that he was constantly called upon to answer questions on church government and Baptist usage, from all portions of the country. Sometimes his answers were gratifying to the questioners, but as often the replies carried with them conclusions that knocked the foundations from under the confident seeker after truth. The following letter is furnished to illustrate this attribute of fearlessness in his character to write the truth, let the consequences be what they may. It will be also noticed how polite and considerate he was even while giving adverse criticism.

 

                            "ATHENS, GA., Dec. 22d, 1880.

Louis H. EVERTS, E5Q.,
                        PUBLISHER,
                                    PHILADELPHIA, PA.

DEAR SIR:

                            I have examined with some care Part I. Of "The Baptist Encyclopaedia," which you were kind enough to send me. A work of this kind judiciously executed is a desideratum; and I stand ready to give all the aid in my power to making it a complete success. True, there are special difficulties in the way of its satisfactory execution; and one would hazard something to endorse it unreservedly before examining critically every article in the completed work. The Baptists, with great unanimity, hold to the essential articles of their faith and practice; but there are a few deductions drawn from their principles which are warmly advocated by some and as warmly opposed by others, and there are also some exotic usages which a few eccentric people endeavor to engraft upon our practice against which the great body of our people protest. Now how can I know in advance that the Encyclopaedia will be free from these disputed and eccentric things? Unfortunately Part I. furnishes a forcible example to illustrate my meaning. I cannot endorse the article: "Admission of Members into the Church;" for

    1st—I am glad to say, I never heard before of such impossible usage in our churches as that given—viz: that the pastor formally "instructs" an applicant for baptism and church-membership "in the great doctrines of the Trinity, election, the offices of the Three Sacred Persons, depravity, regeneration, atonement, justification, providence, final perseverance and believing prayer"!!! What hope is there here for the young or the uneducated believer in Jesus? Those who enter Baptist churches are not admitted as doctrinal proficients, but as learners in the school of Christ; and the only ground of their baptism and subsequent admission is the evidence they give that they have experienced "repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ."

    2nd—I could not endorse it, again, because of the statement in the last sentence, unnecessarily made, and without words of disapprobation—viz: "In a few churches, the pastor, just before giving the hand of fellowship, places his hands upon the candidate’s head, and tenderly prays for him"! ! This is ritualism, not Baptist usage; and the act itself is a kind of bastard "confirmation." A work of this kind, coming out under such auspices and, in the main, so nobly executed, will be authority of the highest kind. Whatever it gives, without dissent, as Baptist usage, will be considered as legitimate and unobjectionable. Excuse me for saying, the sentence of this article, quoted above, tends to increase the number of these "few churches" and pastors, who are not Baptists in fact, and who ought to be encouraged to leave us as speedily as possible, and go to those to whom they belong.

    I am not asked to give advice. If I had been, my recommendation in this connection would have been as follows: Make no reference to disputed and eccentric things. If though, for any reason, you feel under obligations to include them, assign them to a place by themselves, in an avowedly unendorsed Appendix, as to a denominational pest house, or Botany Bay.

    There is one other blemish, of slight importance though, and not calculated to mislead anybody, but objectionable because offensive to large numbers, and even to some of your co-laborers. Whenever in the work reference made to the unfortunate conflict between the sections, admirable taste, it speaks of it as "the war" or "the late war," etc. In giving the interesting sketch of Dr. M. B. Anderson, though, it violates this good taste by using the phraseology of a party politician and calling it "the war of the Rebellion." Now I honor Dr. Anderson for bravely and nobly sustaining his convictions of right and duty, and I thank the writer of the sketch for emphasizing his course in this connection. But he imposes a hardship and an impossibility upon all like me, when he expects to endorse, or even to receive without protest, a work that unnecessarily insults us.

    Now, in frankly writing as I have, I am afraid I have given offense. My intentions though are of a contrary character. I am trying to aid. I learned with great satisfaction in the beginning that the work was to be undertaken. Dr. Cathcart did me the honor to solicit my services, as his co-laborer for Georgia; and it was on my recommendation that Rev. S. Boykin consented Us give his valuable services in that connection. No one will rejoice more than I at the satisfactory and successful completion of the great work. . . .

    Wishing Dr. Cathcart eminent success in his great enterprise, I subscribe myself

                                    Yours very respectfully.

P. H. MELL."

 
 
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