LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH.
Immediately after the troubles and vexations of this Commencement, the last one of his life, some of the enemies of the University began violent attacks on the Institution through the religious and secular press, that were calculated to do great damage unless refuted. Chancellor Mell felt these thrusts most keenly, because he recognized how unjust they were and the great harm that would result to his administration. At the solicitations of friends of the University, therefore, he consented to reply to the charges in a series of articles for the papers. He spent almost the entire vacation in writing these articles, when his health demanded recreation and rest. This occurred during the summer months of 1887. These articles were followed by a pamphlet, entitled, “Statements and discussions elicited by attacks and criticisms on the University of Georgia.” This work, undertaken at the close of an exhaustive college session, prostrated him, and his physician advised him to leave Athens for a season of rest and quiet. But he declined to leave his post just as the new session was about to open.
He insisted upon attending to all of his duties in spite of his failing strength. In October he was present at the meeting of the Georgia Baptist Association and was chosen Moderator as usual. A notice of this session says:
“The Doctors head is almost snowy white, and his cheeks are sunken, but his form is erect, his step firm and elastic, and he still retains that intellectual vigor which has made him a marked figure in the Baptist history of Georgia. No man is more universally loved by his church (denomination) than Dr. Mell.” (Greensboro Herald.)
December 12th, 1887, he preached the last sermon of his life, in the Presbyterian Church, on the subject of Election. His text was:
“We are bound to give thanks always 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 obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II. Thess. 2:13,14.)
In the review of the sermon, written by Dr. E. W. Speer, he comments upon the clear and lucid manner with which the preacher, “whose mind had been disciplined by the assiduous study, not only of divinity, but of logic and metaphysics, grappled the problem.” There seemed to be no trace in his mind of the deadly weakness that was attacking his vital forces.
On this same day, December 12th, 1887, little more than one month before he died, Dr. Mell addressed the following letter to a young minister, the last he ever wrote, except to his family. This young man, after preaching several years most successfully, became tainted with infidel views and strayed off into darkest error. He gave up the ministry and, at his own request, was dropped from the roll of the church of which he was a member. After plunging several years in this black darkness of doubt, the Holy Spirit rescued him and brought him back to a full realization of his situation and to repentance for his great sin. He concluded to apply to the church for readmission to membership and reordination to the ministry. Before taking this step, however, he communicated with Dr. Mell and the following letter was the response:
“Yours of the 10th instant has given me exquisite pleasure. I have been long expecting it. I had an abiding faith that the Lord would bring you back. I hope you will as promptly as you can take steps to secure your restoration to the church. Ordination is the joint action of the church and the Presbytery: consequently, if by any means, or for any cause, one loses the right to preach, it would seem that the intervention of the Presbytery would be necessary to restore to him, in full, the ministerial functions. Exclusion from the church carried with it of necessity all rights and privileges pertaining to one as a Baptist minister. I do not mean to be understood as saying that a Presbytery must use again all the detailed forms employed in the original ordination; but merely that they should make such investigation as to be authorized to reinstate and welcome back into the ministry the one deposed. This is preeminently necessary for the deposed one himself; because the endorsement of an able body of ministers would reinstate him into the confidence of the people at once.
The course you propose is eminently wise. I would not permit the authorities to restore my ministerial functions at once. This will not be to consent to keep your mouth closed. Every male member of a Baptist (or gospel) church has a right, and is in duty bound, to tell all he knows of Christ. If, after a modest reserve on your part for a time, the people demand that you reassume the functions of a minister, you can enter upon the work again with all the more confidence, comfort and hope. But by no means consent to it until after a similar advice and consent by a Presbytery of ministers in the vicinity, invited by the church for that purpose. If you consent to anything short of this, you will not only violate gospel principle, but you would commit a huge blunder as against yourself; for you would need the endorsement of such a body to secure at once the confidence of the people. It is greatly in your favor though that your exclusion was demanded by yourself, and that it was based on no charge, or confession, of immoral conduct.
My dear Brother, please let me adapt to you the language of the Savior addressed to Peter, now that you are converted, strengthen your brethren. God bless you, and keep you, and make you eminently useful.
P. H. MELL.”
On the 15th of December, 1887, he was compelled to recognize the fast failing of his strength, and he laid aside his duties to spend two or three weeks in search of rest in the southern part of Georgia. On this day, in a letter to the writer, and just before leaving home, he wrote as follows:
“My health is bad. I have broken myself down by overwork. My doctor orders me off for the recess. Many of the Trustees urge me to take a months 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.”
After remaining in southern Georgia for a week or more, and not recovering as rapidly as he desired, he concluded to return home. On his way back he visited the writer at Auburn, Alabama, with the hope that the change would be beneficial. He reached Auburn on January the 5th, very much exhausted, and was confined to his room most of the time thereafter. Each day becoming weaker, he felt the end was not far off, and he longed to reach his home before dying. At his earnest solicitation, therefore, the writer, on the 15th of January, carried him to Athens. It was necessary to support him almost bodily, although he was able to walk a little. Throughout the entire fatiguing journey he exhibited a remarkable fortitude, patience and strength of character. Very few complaints escaped his ups, and yet, from the conversations held with him before and during the journey he was undoubtedly anticipating the near approach of the end; and his bodily sufferings must have been very great. Every attention was shown him by the railroad officials to make his journey as little fatiguing as possible. He reclined on his berth from Auburn to Atlanta, but refused to use the berth on the Georgia train for fear of displaying too much weakness among his friends and acquaintances, and persisted in sitting up all the way to Athens. This tax upon his little remaining strength so thoroughly exhausted him, that it was necessary, when Athens was reached, for his sons to take him up in their arms and carry him to the carriage, and then from the carriage to his bed, from which he never rose. He lingered until the 26th of January, at times rallying, and then growing worse, when he breathed his last. He retained his faculties with remarkable keenness until within a very short time of his death, and died with perfect resignationwilling to go because his Master had summoned him to come up higher.
His faith and confidence in the righteous cause, in which he had spent his life, were unshaken to the last. Three days before his death lie said: “I have been a wonderful child of Providence, if not a child of grace.” On this same day the Treasurer of the University sent him a check for his quarters salary, and the messenger was instructed to say that, if Dr. Mell was unable to sign the receipt, his sons signature would suffice. But the response came promptly: “No, let me do it, Major Cobb is a punctilious man.” He was lifted up because he was so weak he could not hold up his head. His daughter placed the pen in his hand and guided it to the paper, because his arm was almost paralyzed. His signature on the receipt was made almost as distinctly as ever.
Just after he reached home from Auburn he said to Doctor Pope, his physician, “I am in the hands of a wise God and a skillful physician.” He said repeatedly during the last few days of his illness, “For me to live is Christs, to die is gain. God is good and gracious and mercifulmerciful to sinners.” When his daughter told him good night, on the Sunday night before his death, he said: “Kiss me, and God grant you a good nights rest.” She responded: “I hope you will also have a comfortable nights rest.” And he replied: “God knows, I will scuffle through the best I can.” He was lifted up on Tuesday morning to take his usual nourishment, and he said: “I have lost my dignity; I am a perfect infant in my childrens hands.” When he was given whisky to stimulate him, he said once: “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish.” On Tuesday night he said: “The crisis has come,” although nothing had been said to him, or in his hearing, that would lead him to think his friends were apprehensive. “My life hangs in the balance. Nurse me well tonight, and maybe I will get through safely. If you and the Doctor will do your parts I will do mine. Give me the nourishment, and, if I do not understand, force it on me. But Gods will be done.” During the night he said: “I think we shall pull throughI believe we are winning the fight.” The first time he confidently admitted he was better was on Wednesday morning; but the Doctor found his pulse very weak, and he had lost strength during the night. He endeavored to say something to his wife on Wednesday afternoon, but congestion of the lungs had taken place and he could scarcely speak; he therefore uttered: “I am too weak, it will die with me.” At intervals after this he said: “I commit my soul to God in Christ JesusGlory be to God.” “Once I was dead, but now am alive. In the other world I am thoroughly understood and thoroughly appreciatedthoroughly understood and thoroughly appreciated.” He uttered these words just as writtenrepeating 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 Masters 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 strugglefell asleep in the arms of Jesus, for whom he had fought a valiant fight, and at the end of the many long years of a useful life was taken to his reward.