CALLED TO PREACH THE GOSPEL.
While living in Oxford, and on the 25th of February, 1839, he wrote to Rev. Josiah Samuel Law, pastor of the North Newport Baptist Church, in Liberty County, Ga., who baptized him before he left for Amherst. The letter shows how unsettled his mind had become under the strain of those years of toil and struggle against almost insurmountable obstacles. In reading the accounts of his early life it seems remarkable that his integrity and strength of character were able to withstand the great strain. Cast adrift among strangers, far from kindred and friends, with no money to meet the necessities of life, and with brothers and sisters in the far Southern home dependent on him alone for support, these experiences might have crushed natures even stronger than his. But a wise Providence was watching over his destiny and a merciful God had him in the hollow of his hand. Although he tumbled now and then and the waves swept over his head, still this letter shows that he was brought through in safety, and the prayers of his mother were answered: “My heart burns to see you in every sense of the word a Christian.” Parts of the epistle show a very desperate condition of mind at the time, but they represent a portion of the struggle through which Mr. Mell had to pass, and they make the after years of his life appear more glorious in comparison. As has been already stated, this letter is to me, a remarkable portrayal of character, and of Gods dealings with one of whom much was required. I earnestly hope that its perusal, when taken in connection with the long and useful life of Dr. Mell may be the means of helping some who may pass through a similar experience, and enable them to force their way over opposing difficulties.
“REV. AND DEAR SIR:
You have no doubt been aware from your own observations, and from the testimony of others, notwithstanding you have received no confession from me of the fact, that I have been for some years past careless in regard to the interests of eternity, and a backslider from the faith I professed. When I gave up my hope I was absent from the state and did not inform you of it, as I thought (erroneously I have since been informed,) there were but two ways, according to the rules of the church, by which my connection with it could be dissolvedone, by a dismission in regular standing, should I wish to connect myself with another bodyand another by excommunication. And I supposed the latter to be administered only when the member violated any of the obvious rules of moralityor at least such as the church has instituted to regulate his outward conduct. My object in writing to you at present is to ascertain whether my name is still on the church books so that I may be able to discover what my duty may be under the circumstances. Augustus Bacon, in a conversation I had with him some time since, remarked that you had informed him it had been taken off by my request; but I think it must be a mistake, as I made but one application and that was for permission to connect myself with the Amherst Baptist church, and as I heard nothing from you I concluded you had not received it. I shall be very much indebted to you for an immediate answer to this, and for instructions as to what course to pursue in order to renew my connection with the church.
The Lord has dealt mercifully with me and has been pleased to bring me from the most awful lengths of unbelief and to humiliate me at the foot of the cross. And I flunk I can say that I have the firmest belief relying humbly upon his promises that he has for Christs sake pardoned all my sins. It is almost more than I can realize, and when I consider who I am and what I have been and how I have trifled with this subject I am filled with astonishment that I can by possibility arrive at such a state of mind as to believe that I have passed from death unto life. Perhaps it is my duty to narrate to you the history of my heart and the dealings of the Lord with me. And I hope you will look upon the following as proceeding from that feeling and not view it in the light of obtrusive egotism.
When I connected myself with the church I was entirely ignorant of the religion I was professing. This I say not to clear myself from the imputation of instability nor in any measure as an apology, but as an awful fact that I professed to believe in a God of whom I knew nothing. Living by faith in Christ, laying hold of his promises and trusting him for their fulfillment, though read often and heard oftenerastonishing as it may seem to youand it cannot surprise you more than it does me now, I never attached any idea to as a part of the Gospel plan and instead of seeking the witness of the Spirit of God which might bear witness with my spirit that I was born again, I looked to my own animal feelings for the proof of my acceptability with Godfeelings which a pathetic story, theatrical representations, and harmony of sound have often since produced. And I was assured that all was right if I could succeed in exciting those feelings on rising from my bed in the morning and on retiring at night, especially if I could have them accompanied by a few tears. This, Sir, was my religion. This was the sandy foundation on which I built, and it was not to be wondered at that the waves of the world, beating on my house should overthrow it. The comforts of religion were to me but a name. I sought Gods face, not because I loved him but because I feared him. I looked upon him not as one who could smile upon me and bless me too, but as an angry God who would punish me for my sins. I renounced the world not because I saw its vanity compared with the things of eternity, but because I felt myself compelled to from motives of safety; and I am bound to believethough it was what I could not consent to confess to myself at the timethat if I had only been assured that I had nothing to fear from Gods righteous indignation I should never have renounced them and connected myself with his people. Such was my religious state when I left home for college. And now I was placed in the midst of new scenes and new associatesmy attention and interest became absorbed by other subjects. God and the things. of eternity became less and less interesting to memy efforts to create a good state of feeling became less and less strenuous with frequent intermissions. From indifference for my souls salvation, I glided by an imperceptible current to a distaste for the subjectto a downright dislike for it and finally openly and joyfully threw off the restraints that my religion had imposed upon me and buried myself in the world. The failure to obtain that change of heart which the Bible spoke of induced me to question its reality and to believe at first that it had its existence only in the heated imagination of enthusiasts, and then that it was a cunningly devised fable invented by priest-craft to gull the simple and perpetuate its power. And thus the Bible came to be viewed as an imposture and Gods people as deluders and deluded, and it only remained for me to consummate my unbelief by doubting the existence of a GodYes, with my eyes upturned to the heavens, which declare his glory, and open upon the beautiful material world around me, which showeth his handy work, I said in my heart, and rejoiced that I could say it: There is no God. But my merciful Heavenly Father has forgiven me that sin. When I think of the awful depths of unbelief to which I had struggled, I am filled with amazement at the long suffering and mercy of God in that he did not suddenly cut me off or give me over to hardness of heart and blindness of mind to believe a lie. And now my whole heart became absorbed in the things of this world. God and religion were not thought of except to be blasphemed and sneered atnot openly; for motives of prudence induced me to conceal my state that I might not shock the minds of men and thus throw a barrier in the way of my temporal prospects. Ambition now took entire possession of my soul, a desire to rise above my fellows in mental staturenot so much that I might be able to do more good, as that I might be a mark for all to gaze at. This, a desire to become great in the world, had been a principle with me from my earliest recollection, though I had the good sense to conceal it from my acquaintances generally, and often when I was a poor boy destitute of even the necessaries of life would I delight myself picturing in my imagination scenes of future grandeur and triumph in which I would be the actor. These were but dreams it is true, but dreams that expelled from my thoughts every thing that did not administer to them. And at the time I am speaking of my mind had become so spiritually darkened that could I have accomplished fame by it I verily believe I would have been willing to renounce without the slightest sinking of the heart thenceforth and forever all interest in the atonement of Christ whose very existence I doubted. Such was my state when a little more than a year ago I returned home.
But I have extended this already to an unbecoming length. It only remains for me to relate as briefly as possible the means by which my thoughts were again diverted to the things of eternity.And here I have no signal interposition to relate, no occurrence to point out as having been instrumental in rousing me to a sense of my awful condition. But it pleased God that I should be placed in a situation where I could be frequently alone; where, by influences of his Holy Spirit he might turn my thoughts inward and the still small voice of conscience might be heard. The world, too, previous to this, had begun to assume rather a different aspect in my eye. Circumstances had happened which affected me, alone it is true, and which had made a deep impression on me. Experience had shown me that the affections of friends even who wished me well, could easily be alienated, and that from the world I was just as likely to receive censure for that which deserved commendation as the contrary. During my absence from Georgia, all the time not devoted to the discharge of my duties had been spent in amusements or in company of which I possessed an unlimited command, and thus thoughts on religion had no opportunity of intruding themselves upon me. But after my return I engaged in business very much at the time against my own consent, in a part of the country that is very thinly settled, where there was not a single young person of my own age with whom I could associate; added to this was the fact that I was not in a situation to occupy my vacation time with books. So that certain hours every day I was left alone with myself. During these periods God was pleased to be near me and to induce such a train of thought as to show me the vanity of earthly things, and the weighty importance of things of eternity. The objections I had cherished against the existence of a God and the authenticity of the Scriptures, now that I had an opportunity of thinking calmly and without interruption, lost their weight. The more particularly so as I had no opportunity of noting the inconsistencies of professing Christians, and seldom heard the gospel reached. In this part of my experience there is nothing standing out distinct to which I can refer as the cause of any result which followed. I commenced teaching school in that place confessedly with the belief that the Bible was all a fable and even if true that it was never more to receive attention from me. And by steps that were imperceptible to me at the time and cannot be traced now I was brought to relinquish all my doubts and to fed that even for me the subject had an interest. But notwithstanding, for more than a year did I trifle with this subject. There was this doubt I had to solve, this mystery I had to look into, and I tried to satisfy myself with saying that Religion was a subject I could not understand. Then perhaps yielding to the influence of the moment I would retire to a private place and try to pray, and because I did not receive a miraculous manifestation of Gods presence in my heart I would give up in despair and perhaps the next moment with a zest which would astonish myself, would join with the thoughtless in throwing ridicule on the Bible and Religion.
But not to multiply words. In this awful state did I continue until about three weeks ago when God was pleased to bring me like a little child to the foot of the cross, and I was led to pray him to save me in his own way. I know I am weak and unable to persevere if I depend upon myself; but Christ is strong and he has told me in his word, his grace will be sufficient for inc. Let me beg an interest in your prayers, as I have no doubt I have already had. Pray for me that I may not again deceive myself but that I may build on the rock Christ Jesus, Excuse the length of this communication, I could not well have written shorter. I hope you will not view it as gratuitous. I have written it because I was not sure that it was not my duty, and I did not know but that the church would require some such statement before they would consent to readmit me into fellowship with them.
With sentiments of respect,
I remain yours respectfully,
P. H. MELL.”
The portions of the above letter that refer to his ambitious aspirations are most pathetic. He had a great fondness for the profession of law and was struggling between his preference for the law and the impression that he was called to the ministry. A few years ago, while commenting on this period of his life, he informed the writer that he felt convinced the peculiar condition of his mind portrayed in the above letter could be attributed to nothing more evident than his effort to overcome the strong inclination to preach the gospel.
The Rev. Josiah Law replied as follows to the letter from young Mell:
“SUNBURY, GA., March 27th, 1839.
My DEAR BROTHER:
It is with joy that I address you by the above endearing appellation which bespeaks relationship more sacred and binding than any other. Your interesting and heart gladdening letter should have been answered before this but I wished to present it to the church before replying to it. I accordingly, at the first meeting after its reception read it to the church and I assure you there was not one whose heart was not filled with joy and thanksgiving to God at your return to the fold of Christ. It was unanimously voted that you be restored to full fellowship of the church. You are now one of usonce more in the bosom of the churchonce more known as a professed follower of the meek and lowly Jesus. May your motto from hence forth to the end of your days be: For me to live is Christs. From the sketch you have given of your religious experience I must say you are a monument of Gods mercy and forbearance, one among the many trophies of His rich abounding grace. How should the remembrance of the horrible pit and miry clay, from which your feet have been taken, fill your heart with gratitude to God and stimulate you to faithful and untiring perseverance in the divine life….
Your brother in the bonds of Christ,
J. S. LAW.”
The restoration to full membership in the church at Sunbury produced a wholesome effect on the mind of the young man, and the constantly increasing tendency to preach seems to have taken such firm hold of his inclinations that he sacrificed all ambitious desires to enter the practice of law and at last gave his full consent to submit to the moulding power of his Master and devote himself to the ministry. The following extracts taken from letters written to J. S. Law in 1839 show this decided change in the character and life of P. H. Mell. The struggle had been a long and bitter one but the surrender came at last and it was a complete one because he proposed to enter upon the work with no half-hearted interest, but, as was shown in all his after life, lie intended to give the entire energies of his nature to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“There is a subject which has long occupied my thoughts and I desire to obtain your advice. I have been impressed for some time with the conviction that it is my duty to preach the gospel, though I tremble when I think of it lest my own presumptuous vanity should have suggested it to me. I know the responsibilities are awfully great, and I have been silent until this time because I have been afraid I was too much disposed to run heedlessly and thoughtlessly into them. But my firm conviction is that I must preach the gospel and I can resist it no longer. I know I am not fit for the office; but the preparation of the heart is with God and he can qualify me for it. It remains for you and the church to say what I shall do. I am not unmindful of the fact that my distance from them and the consequent ignorance of the church in reference to my religious state, as indicated by my daily walk, may be an obstruction in the way of their giving me the license. In that case, if they think I am influenced by the Spirit of God in this matter it would be well for them to give me a letter of dismission to the church here; and anyhow I would be glad to get one of recommendation. There are very few Baptist preachers in this part of the country, and there are a great many destitute places in reach of me where I could, by attending on the Sabbath, be instrumental of good, if I he indeed called of God. In writing the above I have done that which I have long been impressed it was my duty to do, and I now leave the matter with you and the church, firmly trusting that the Lord will direct you in the case.”
Mr. Mell felt the importance of a thorough education to every man who expected to sustain a prominent position of usefulness among his fellow-creatures, and he bent every energy to acquire a mind well stored with knowledge. He could not be satisfied with an ordinary education, and, when he became convinced that he was called to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, he felt the more need of profound learning in things relating to religious and secular affairs. He was very much embarrassed the first part of his life for want of the necessary means to meet the absolute demands made upon him. But God was guiding him towards the ministry and He was providing the material for the upbuilding of a great, good man and a preacher of marvelous power.
I fully concur with you in the advantages, indeed the necessity, of an educated ministry. . . . If it were possible I would gladly avail myself of the advantages of a theological course, but providential circumstances oppose insuperable obstacles. The destitute situation of my sisters imperiously demands that I should be engaged in some lucrative business so that I may be enabled to contribute towards the supply of their wants. I can form some idea of the qualifications necessary in a faithful pastor, and if I am called into the work of the ministry I shall leave no means untried which will have a tendency to make me an efficient instrument in the hands of God; but whatever I do I shall have to do unaided. As far as I can now see I shall have to teach for two or three years yet, and my application had this extent. I saw that this part of the country was very deficient in laborers of the Baptist Denomination, though its membership is very numerous, and that if I had the right to do so, I could probably be instrumental of good by attending some of the destitute places on the Sabbath and repeating the story of the cross. I have become firmly established in the belief that I must preach the gospel, and I am compelled to say with the Apostle. Woe is me if I do not. God has shown me how vain are all things here below, and henceforth I glory in nothing save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. And I thank God I can say His will be done. Should He call me to leave kindred and friends and all I hold dear on earth and carry the glad tidings of salvation to the inhabitants of the Polar snows or Torrid regions to the people of the Celestial Empire or the degraded negroes of Caffraria, I would obey with alacrity and thank God that He had counted me worthy.
In response to this letter the following license was issued to him by the North Newport church, Liberty county, Georgia:
SUNBURY, October 23, 1839.
This is to certify that Mr. Patrick Mell, having applied to the North Newport church of the above county, of which he is a member in good standing, for license to preach the gospel, the church, believing that he possesses the moral and intellectual qualifications requisite for so doing, do cheerfully grant to him the liberty of preaching the gospel, and they ask for him the Christian fellowship of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ among whom he may come.
Done by order of the church.
JOSIAH S. LAW, Pastor.
P. H. Mell began preaching in the neighborhood of Oxford, Georgia, in the spring of 1840, under the license given him by the North Newport church. His engagements at the college were met during the week days on the Sabbaths he visited the destitute places and preached to the people the message of salvation. He was not, however, an ordained minister at this time and did not have regular charge of a church.