Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverence: Biography.
P. H. Mell — Defender of the Faith Once
Delivered to the Saints
In an age when both polemics and strong doctrine are greeted with less than grateful praise, and those who engage in either are viewed with suspicion, the republication of the present work may appear to be somewhat of an anomaly. However, an age whose ma in symptom is repulsion to such traits needs the strong medicine of both. Furthermore, when such an antidote pours from the pen of one as highly esteemed in his own age as Patrick Hues Mell, a double potency should accompany its internalization.
Mell, born in Liberty County, Georgia, July 19, 1814, held more official positions in Baptist life at every level than any other Southern Baptist in history. The following table demonstrates the universal approval enjoyed by Mell among his contemporaries. [P. H. Mell, Jr., Life of Patrick Hues Mell. (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1895), p. 151.]
ABILITIES AS A PRESIDING OFFICER
TABLE OF RECORD Years Ga. Association Ga. Baptist Con. Sou. Baptist Con.1845-46 Clerk Clerk Dr. Mell was one of the original delegates present at Augusta when the Southern Baptist Convention was first organized.(1845)1847 Clerk Clerk 1847 Clerk Clerk 1848 Clerk Clerk 1849 Clerk Clerk 1850 Clerk Clerk 1851 Clerk Clerk 1852 Clerk 1853 Clerk 1854 Clerk 1855 Moderator Clerk 1856 Moderator 1857 Moderator President 1858 Moderator President 1859 Moderator President 1860 Moderator President 1861 Moderator President 1862 Moderator President 1863 In the army President President1864 Moderator President No Convention1865 Moderator President No Convention1866 Moderator President President1867 Moderator President President1868 Moderator President President1869 Moderator President President1870 Moderator President President1871 Absent by Sickness President President1872 Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness1873 Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness1874 Moderator Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness1875 Moderator Absent by Sickness Absent by Sickness1876 Moderator President Absent by Sickness1877 Moderator President Absent by Sickness1878 Moderator President Absent by Sickness1879 Moderator President Absent by Sickness1880 Moderator President President1881 Moderator President President1882 Moderator President President1883 Moderator President President1884 Moderator President President1885 Moderator President President1886 Moderator President President
Known as the “Prince of Parliamentarians”, Mell’s acceptance among his peers did not arise solely from his great gifts as a moderator. In addition, his firm theological conviction, viewed as Baptist orthodoxy, and his inimitable ability in lucid expressio n of theological themes combined to endear him to Baptists as an able conductor of Baptist meetings.
Not only did Mell’s parliamentary abilities and theological expertise qualify him among Baptists, his long acquaintance with country churches in Georgia kept his sensitivities close to the concerns of the ordinary church people. His pastorates included tenures of ten years at Greensborough Church in Penfield, Georgia, twenty-eight years in Oglethorpe at Antioch Church, and thirty-three years at Bairdstown Church between Green and Oglethorpe counties.
His preaching ministry found more than adequate academic complement as he served in positions of higher education from 1842 until his death in 1888. For approximately thirteen years he was Professor of Ancient Languages at Mercer University. That connection was dissolved somewhat painfully in 1855, but, in 1856, he was elected Professor of Ancient Languages at the State University of Georgia loc ated in Athens. In 1860 he assumed two new positions: one, he taught metaphysics and ethics, and, two, he became vice-chancellor. In 1878 he ascended to the position of chancellor, which he maintained until his death.
Other honorable positions in Baptist life were offered to Mell. He was twice elected president of Mississippi College, once elected secretary of the Southern Baptist Publication Society, once elected president of Wake Forest, once elected president of Geo rgetown, once elected president of Cherokee College at Carsville, Georgia, once elected president of Montgomery Female Institute, and was called to the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. All of these positions he refused.
As a preacher, Mell focused on the doctrines he loved dearly. His method of preaching was designed to give greatest weight to the dignity and wonder of the subject matter. His son P. H. Mell. Jr., described his father’s manner.
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 preac hed long. He started out by stating his propositions clearly and distinctly, arid 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. (Ibid, pp. 64-65)
Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia adds the following evaluation of Mell’s preaching.
The power and penetration of his intellect enable him to grasp a doctrine forcibly and present it clearly; and his skill in the art of thinking and reasoning is so great that he always speaks logically, his conclusions having the force of demo nstrations.
Preaching as Mell practiced it was a tool for correcting error and inculcating truth. Mrs. D. B. Fitzgerald, a member of the Antioch Church and a resident in Mell’s home for a number of years’ recalls Mell’s initial efforts at the church.
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. It was a Baptist church a nd 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. (Ibid., pp. 58-59.)
As indicated in Mell’s preface to the present work, he lamented the tendency of some Baptist preachers to ignore clear expositions of the Doctrines of Grace in their public ministrations. Others’ to Mell’s sorrow, “have even preached . . . doctrines not consistent with (the Doctrines of Grace), others have given them only a cold and half-hearted assent, and some few have openly derided and denounced them.” This melancholy situation arose from misinformation on the one hand and ignorance on the other. The refore, Mell sought to remedy the ignorance and “to counteract, as far as I was able the tendencies to Arminianism” he observed around him.
In short, though this particular treatise was prompted by the challenge to Calvinism so boldly promulgated by one Russell Reneau, Mell’s real motivation issued from his conviction that Arminianism was really not just a different emphasis, but a different gospel. The difference between traditional Arminianism and traditional Calv inism consists not in the supposition that the former emphasized man’s part and the latter God’s part; in fact, both have much to say about the relative parts played by the sinful creature and the holy creator. A positive difference in substance forms the real impasse between the two. Arminianism assumes an equality of God’s grace toward any number of sinners, some of which will be saved and some of which will remain lost. Wherein lies the difference? Man’s choice becomes the deciding factor between heav en and hell. Therefore, in answer to Paul’s question, “Who makes thee to differ from another?” the Arminian, consistent with his system, must answer “I do.”
The Calvinist, however, states that salvation is truly of the Lord. Only a particular distinguishing grace makes one sinner to differ from another. Grace consists not merely of a provision and offer of eternal life but actually operates to make alive the dead sinner and bring him to repentance and faith. The faith by which righ teousness comes is granted no less than the righteousness itself. Mell’s succinct statement of these truths demonstrates a lucidity of thought and cogency of argument few could parallel in his day, or since. Seeing election and reprobation as only two par ticular manifestations of the comprehensive sovereignty of God, he expressed their essence and relationship in the following way.
In reference to men, predestination is divided into two parts: 1st, as it relates to the elect, and 2nd, as it relates to the non-elect. Having decreed to create a world, and to people it with beings who would voluntarily sin against him, he determined from eternity to save some, and to leave others to perish in their sins. “Wi lling to show his wrath, and to make his power known,” he “endured with much longsuffering” these as “the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on” those as “the vessels of mercy which he had afore pr epared unto glory.” Rom 9:22,23.
To carry out his purpose of grace, he chose some to holiness and eternal life, entered, for their sake, into the Covenant of Redemption with the Son and the Holy Ghost, appointed his Son as their substitute, to suffer in their stead, and, having died to r ise again, and appear as their advocate before his throne, appointed all the intermediate means necessary, and, by an infallible decree, made their salvation sure. Those, “whose names are not written in the book of life” (Rev. 20:15), who are “appointed t o wrath” (1 Thes. 5:9), who were “before of old ordained to condemnation” (Jude 4) who would “stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Peter 2:8), he determined to leave in their sins, and to endure them with much lon gsuffering as vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.
While, by an immutable decree, He has made all things in time fixed and sure, all this occurs in perfect consistency with the free agency of the creature, and God is not the author of sin. –The elect are, by the influence of sovereign grace, made willing in the day of God’s power and those not elected have no active principle of disobedience imparted to them, and feel no restraint upon their will s –they are simply passed by, and permitted to follow the inclinations of their own hearts. (Rev. P H. Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverance Stated and Defended, Charleston Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1851. pp. 26-27.)
His love for and exposition of these truths were not forsaken in later life. The last sermon he ever preached’ December 12, 1887, dealt with Divine election. His text was 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14:
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obt aining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ
Mell died in his home January 26, 1888, after several weeks of increasing weakness. Three days before his death he said, “I have been a wonderful child of providence, if not a child of Grace.” At intermittent times during the last days he said: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. God is good and gracious and merciful — merciful to sinners.” “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.”
At the Southern Baptist Convention session in 1888, the Foreign Mission Board presented a memorial tribute to Mell. The introductory paragraph captured their estimation of his traits and influence.
The late President of the Southern Baptist Convention will be long remembered. His erect figure, angular features, keen eye, concise speech, his incisive thoughts, cogent logic, unyielding orthodoxy, commanding address, all represented a type of manhood which impresses indelibly even as steel makes cuts into granite not to be worn away by the waves of time. (Life of Patrick Hues Mell, p. 255.)
With a prayer that that estimation of Mell’s abiding influence may again have reason to be uttered, the present volume is issued. The hopes for it extend no further than the author’s hopes at its original publication.
Should this publication have the effect to confirm my brethren in the faith once delivered to the Saints, and serve in any degree, to counteract the tendencies, in our midst to Arminianism. I shall have accomplished my main design in writing.