committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

ELECTION AS PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY IN MERCER UNIVERSITY.

 

On the 30th of June, 1882, Dr. Mell received notice from a committee of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University that he had been elected Professor of Theology in that Institution. This information was conveyed in the following letter.

 

"DR. P. H. MELL.

DEAR BROTHER:

                            The undersigned committee were appointed by the Board of Trustees of Mercer University to communicate to you your election by them to a Theological Professorship, and to urge your acceptance of it. For the better understanding of the action taken, we transmit you a copy of the resolutions adopted.

    Resolved. 1. That a chair of Systematic Theology be at once reorganized, and that Dr. P. H. MeIl be elected to the chair, with a salary of two thousand dollars, provided that the amount shall be paid without using the endowment or funds hereafter appropriated to other objects.

    Resolved. 2. That the salary of the said Professor, till otherwise provided for, be raised by securing contributions from churches and individuals, and by such pledges as will guarantee the certainty of its payment.

    Resolved. 3. That an agent be immediately put into the field to raise, in addition to the annual requirement of said Professor, an endowment of $35,000, the income of which to be exclusively applied to the support of said chair. The said agent shall also be charged with the duty of canvassing for students, and receiving contributions to any other object connected with the University.

    Pledges were immediately made by individuals securing for five years the annual payment of about $700; a new fund of $4,000 was appropriated to the chair to serve as a nucleus of the future endowment, the income of Which when invested, will make the amount already Secured for salary about $1,000. It is confidently hoped that in that in this way the payment of salary is placed beyond contingency.

    The committee indulge the earnest hope that you will accept the position tendered, and thus gratify the wish of the great body of Baptists in the State to have you identified with them in their educational enterprise.

                                                              Fraternally yours,

JAMES C. RYALS,
J. H. DEVOTIE,
H. C. HORNADY,
J. G. GIBSON,
E. W. WARREN,

                                                                                                                    Committee."

 

    The following is also of interest in this connection, because Rev. J. H. Campbell, the father of the author of this letter was a member of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University that expelled Dr. Mell from position in the Institution in 1855, and took a very active part in accomplishing this most unfortunate object. For many years thereafter the old gentleman had earnestly opposed Dr. Mell in his efforts to establish himself with the Baptists of the State.

                                   "COLUMBUS, GA., June 29th, 1882.

DEAR BROTHER MELL:

                            In spite of the opposition of some of us, on grounds of present expediency, the Trustees of Mercer resolved yesterday by a large majority, to reestablish the theological Chair at once. To the Professor elect to that position I am so far to being opposed, that this writing is to express my earnest desire that he will accept the office, and to assure him of my cordial support of the professorship and the Professor. My father also, on account of whose sickness I was summoned home by telegraph tonight, requests me to say that if he were on the Board he would have voted for you, and now joins me in the above request for your most favorable consideration of the matter.

    The financial condition and outlook of Mercer are decidedly encouraging as compared with latter years. Most of the Trustees seem confident there will be no lack of funds for the payment of your salary in the position tendered you.

                                                    Very respectfully and truly

                                                                                Your brother,

                                                                                                    A. B. CAMPBELL.’

 

    The action of the Board of Trustees of Mercer and the above letter from Rev. A. B. Campbell were very gratifying to Dr. Mell because he felt that the injustice of 1855 was partially rectified even after long years of waiting. He deemed it best however, to decline the call to the Theological Chair in Mercer for the reasons assigned in the following reply to the committee of the Board of Trustees:

 

                                                                        "ATHENS, GA., July 6th, 1882.

DEAR BRETHREN:

                            Your letter of the 30th ultimo informing me that the Trustees of Mercer University had elected me to the reorganized Chair of Theology in that Institution, Profoundly touched my feelings. As an original proposition, no work would be more congenial to me than that pertaining to a Theological Chair; and this expression of confidence and appreciation by my own people excites lively feelings of satisfaction. But previous engagements not uncongenial, and, in a measure, binding, and the fact that the salary offered even guaranteed by endowment would not be sufficient to support my large and expensive family, require me to respectfully decline the position so flatteringly tendered me.

    It will give me the greatest pleasure by word and deed to assist you so far as I can, towards the adequate endowment of the proposed reorganized Chair of Theology.

    Thanking you. brethren, for the kind terms in which you have conveyed to me the action of the Board, I subscribe myself

                                        Yours truly and fraternally,

                                                                                    P. H. MELL."

 

    In writing to Dr. M. B. Wharton in 1881, who had urged him to permit his name to go before the Board, provided this chair was established, he makes the following statement:

    "I have a large and expensive family. In my present position I receive $3,000, payable quarterly, and the stately and convenient house I live in, free of rent. My salary is virtually $3,600 per year. The position I occupy is one of the highest honor, influence and usefulness; and I am most happy in it. I am held in all the consideration I deserve or ask, by Trustees, Faculty, students and people. All parties co-operate with me, and strive to make me happy and successful. Were my people (the Baptists) united on me, and did they have already an endowed Chair of Theology with ample resources, and did they compete with the parties here for my services, offering equivalent pecuniary inducements, my preference to be a teacher of theology and to labor with my own people would soon decide the question. But these are not the facts. The Baptists have no endowed Chair of Theology which they could offer to anybody. Then, again, even if they had, the representatives of my people could not be brought to agree unanimously to offer it to me. Twenty-six years ago they expelled me from such service—i.e., as a Teacher in their Institution, and those who were prominent in that act are still leading spirits in the present management of the Institution. While these are very kind in their personal relations with me, your letter shows you infer that they are not prepared to favor the object you have in view. You see, then the impossibility connected with the attempt to answer your questions.

    1. The proposition implies that I must be virtually a candidate for position in Mercer University, though I had been ignominiously expelled from it.

    2. That I must immediately vacate my position here before another is provided for me at the other Institution; for

    3. It contains the idea that funds are to be solicited on the ground that I agree to accept provided the endowment is raised—and personal dignity and personal safety would require I make my resignation here simultaneous with that announcement. Finally,

    4. Such an implied pledge by me would virtually by me to accept the position whether the endowment was raised or not, or else keep me indefinitely out of employment, and consequently without the means of support for my large and expensive family. The fact is you are not in a condition to put the question to me, and it is evident I am not in a condition to answer it."

    The news that he had been elected to the Chair of Theology in Mercer University had gone over the entire State and letters came from every quarter—some from the friends of Mercer urging Dr. Mell to accept the position, and others from the friends of the State University requesting him to decline the call, for the sake of the welfare of the University.

    He would have been greatly pleased if it had been within his power to accept the Chair of Theology in Mercer University, because he loved to preach to young men the truths of the Bible, and he availed himself of many opportunities to profess before them the great love he bore his Master. During his administration as Chancellor of the University of Georgia he lectured each Sunday afternoon before the young men, and these discourses were marked for their logical force and for language so clear, striking and interesting that they made a deep impression upon the minds of his hearers.

    As the years gathered around him his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ became stronger, and his sermons were remarkable for the clear light they shed upon the subject of the Atonement. His sermons always held the profound attention of his audiences. The deep earnestness of the man as the clear, forcible sentences fell from his lips, always carried conviction and his utterances elicited the highest praise and admiration from those of his brethren who were well qualified to appreciate work of a high order of merit. Many of his discourses have been requested for publication by the Conventions and Associations before which they were delivered.

    The following newspaper extract, describing a sermon preached by him during the session of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1880, is given as an example of the effect his style produced upon his hearers. It is one among many similar articles giving praise to his clear, logical, tender, simple, rich presentation of the gospel.

 

                                                                                                                                        "LEXINGTON, KY., May 7th.

    The old Empire State must have felt, her ears burn tonight, for hundreds of people at Lexington are saying good things about her. The Rev. Dr. P. H. Mell, who we this morning elected President of the Convention, preached tonight the introductory sermon. To the astonishment and delight of the immense audience gathered from seventeen or eighteen States, the text was one of those passages called by Martin Luther little Bibles, ‘God so loved the world that lie gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.’ The grand idea of the sermon is compressed in the single prose quotation taken outside the Bible: ‘The four manifestations of Christ in the New Testament are, Christ manifested for us; Christ manifested in us, Christ manifested by us, and Christ manifested with us.’ The simplicity, the crystal clearness, the tender and indescribable grace of manner, and the unaffected sincerity that must have been marked by all present, made this one of the noblest efforts ever put forth by a son of Georgia.. This is high praise, doubtless, but it is every whit true and needs no abatement.

    There he stood before the great throng, and his tall form seemed clothed about with dignity and majesty, while his silvered beard and hair seemed in the brilliant light, heaven’s glistening token of Christ’s embassador praying men in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God.

    There he stood, telling ‘without money and without price’ and ‘in words as sweet as those that angels use,’ to a vast audience that listened breathless to his every utterance, the answer to the old and tremendous question, ‘What must Ii do to be saved?’

    At the self-same hour in Louisville, and likewise to a crowded house, but to one that had left for him many hundred dollars at the door, ‘the champion plagiarist of the nineteenth century’ was giving a false answer to the same question, such an one as make the perjurer, the blasphemer, the gambler, the adulterer and seducer, bless him from unclean hearts and with polluted lips to which naught is sacred, in the heaven above or in the earth beneath.

    Who can contrast the two scenes without recalling the invitation and the question of Isaiah, spoken thousands of years ago, Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not?’

    After dismission many crowded around the preacher to express their gratitude, and turned from him to clasp the hands of their unknown fellow Christians, waiving for the first time, all necessity for formal introduction. A minister present expressed what all felt: ‘Oh, how this sermon makes us all love one another.’"

 
 
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