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In Memoriam
The Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons
Rector of Grace Church, Memphis, Tennesee

A Sermon
Preached before the Nashville Convocation, in Grace Chapel, Spring Hill, Tennessee

By the Right Rev. Charles Todd Quintard, D.D.
Bishop of Tennessee.

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1879. 30 pp.



I AM sure, dear brethren, that all your hearts have been overwhelmed by sorrow for days and weeks past, and that you have not ceased to pray that this sore visitation wherewith we have been visited may indeed be sanctified to us all. It has been a time of great darkness and horror. Those with whom we have taken sweet counsel, with whom we have walked in the House of God as friends, have been taken away in the midst of a chaos of calamity, and we all must feel that God has come near to us. I think I have never had such a burden of anxiety and grief. I think of those who have laid down their lives for the brethren as at rest in God's everlasting peace. I think of my dear friends and faithful priests, Charles Carroll Parsons and John M. Schwrar, of saintly Louis Schuyler, of Sisters Constance, Thecla, Frances, and Ruth, as numbered with God's Saints in glory everlasting. They are at rest in the Paradise of God, waiting the consummation. They shall "hunger no more, neither thirst any more, for the Lamb feeds them, and leads them unto living fountains of waters." He only Who has taken them can know how great the loss is, and how to raise up others to take their places. They are at rest; their work on earth is done; and if our faith were not quickened so as to pierce beyond the grave and realize the future, we might feel overwhelmed at what seems like a failure of great things. But we lay hold of God's most sure word of promise, and we know that His sainted ones shall one day "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." And though He has smitten us down to the dust, and has afflicted us very sorely, so that our hearts faint within us, yet it becomes us in this exceeding bitter day, to learn the "patience of Jesus Christ." that so we may bear this weight of trial. He only Who has afflicted can comfort us, and bring light and renewed strength out of the darkness and desolation that surround us.

We know that our beloved ones are among the Jewels of Paradise. They live on; for death is not the passing of the spirit into a long sleep in an unknown abode; it is its blissful passage into the land of light and rest, where is the fellowship of the Angels and the Saints of God. We have fellowship with them; they are ours still, and we give God thanks for their "good examples;" and even amidst the joys of Paradise our beloved ones cling to us in love, and their hearts are beating high with that love for us wherewith they beat on earth. The ties of earth live on in the eternal world, for these ties are the creation of God. They are one with us in the fellowship of Christ; one with us in the fellowship of His sufferings; one with us in the communion of Saints:

"Angels and living saints and dead
But one communion make."

And so we cheer our hearts with that wonderful hymn, which Cyprian sung to animate his flock to face with courage the pestilence that desolated Carthage and North Africa, and join with Angels and all the Powers of Heaven, the Cherubim and Seraphim, the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, and the noble army of Martyrs, in the worship of the Triune God, Who gives us the blessed hope of everlasting life.

I should like to dwell upon the life and character of all those who have been taken from us. I should like to tell you of the heroic self-sacrifice of the gentle Louis Schuyler, who counted his life as nothing in the presence of suffering and death, and paid with his life for his noble act of Christian heroism. I should like to dwell upon the work of the Sisters of St. Mary, and tell you of the beautiful saintliness of Sister Constance, of the active and constant devotion of Sister Thecla, and of the sanctified life and holy death of Sisters Frances and Ruth. At present my purpose is to set before you somewhat of the history of one "lovely and pleasant" in his life, and of whom I may take up the words of David in his lamentation over Jonathan, and say, "I am distressed for thee, my brother, very pleasant hast thou been unto me." [1]

In October, 1862, I stood on a little eminence, and witnessed the fierce play of artillery with which the battle of Perryville, Kentucky, was begun. The embattled host paused to witness the waving tempest of fire. Hour after hour the very earth shook beneath the thunder of the guns. The Confederate artillery was commanded by the gallant Capt. Wm. W. Carnes; the Federal, by Col. Charles Carroll Parsons; the former was the first man I confirmed after my consecration as Bishop of Tennessee, the latter I ordained to the Diaconate and the Priesthood. In 1866 I preached in the Church of the Holy Trinity, in Brooklyn, Long Island, a sermon on Repentance and the Divine Life. Col. Parsons, then an Assistant Professor in the Military Academy at West Point, was in the congregation. God the Holy Ghost took of the things of Christ and showed them unto him. He gave himself to God, and at an early day ratified and renewed the vows of Holy Baptism, and bowed himself at the Altar of God for the strengthening and refreshing of his soul. At the General Convention of 1868, I met him at the hospitable mansion of the faithful churchman and late Secretary of State, the Hon. Hamilton Fish. He told me of his confirmation, and expressed great happiness at meeting me. He insisted on my visiting him at the Military Academy. Our acquaintance soon grew into a friendship of a most cordial and lasting character. It ripened for eternity. I visited him again; and we continued a correspondence on religious matters. I directed his attention to the claims of the ministry. He had the most earnest desire to know God's will, and by fasting and prayer he sought Divine direction. Finally, he resolved to resign his commission in the army, and devote his powers of soul and body to the service of the Altar. In January, 1870, he wrote me as follows: "It gives me sincere satisfaction to tell you first that I believe God has blessed your good counsel, and my own prayerful meditation upon it; for the result has led me to a conclusion that, I trust, meets a Divine approval. It is my desire to become a candidate for Holy Orders in your diocese, and under your instruction. ... I have not hastened to this conclusion; for a solemn sense of responsibility weighed upon me, and gave cause for serious deliberation. So far as personal sacrifice is concerned, I have not had, since I saw you last, a moment's doubt; but the question of my fitness for the duties and privileges of Christ's Ministry has been a far different one. I do pray, earnestly pray, that I may receive from on high strength for my weakness, and wisdom for my foolishness; that this resolution, to which, I trust, the Holy Spirit has led me, may not have been taken in vain. Some difficulties are doubtless still in my way, and many are, perhaps, before me; but I am contented to meet them all, and, God helping me, to overcome them, if I can only feel always, as I now do, that I am not mistaken in the sense of duty that directs me. And now, my dear Bishop, I place myself, so far as every earthly interest is concerned, in your hands."

The testimonials, which he laid before the Standing Committee, were accompanied by letters from the general commanding at West Point and the late Rev. Dr. French, the chaplain, expressing in the warmest terms their high appreciation of Col. Parsons' character and attainments.

In enclosing these papers, he wrote me: "Every one has been very kind and cordial, and I feel obliged to those whose statements I am enabled to present. I shall now await with interest your instructions in regard to my studies, my daily walk and conversation, and indeed every particular that occurs to you. I shall be obedient to your advice and monition regarding the slightest detail. I cannot tell you, my dear Bishop, what a quiet, serene, and profound happiness I have realized during the past three days. I am not borne away by enthusiasm, or emboldened to feel too great a degree of confidence in myself. I am sensible of my responsibility and of the privilege I am seeking. But I feel as if this were a new life which I have commenced to lead and a new world in which I am placed. The sun has a new light to me, and every smile and word a new significance. From my inmost heart I thank you for having pointed out my path of duty, and for having gently entreated me, without ceasing, to walk in it."

Then came the time when he must resign his commission in the army, and separate himself from all his old associates, and from the purpose of life for which he had been trained, and the vocation of which he was so bright an ornament. It was my privilege to spend some time with him just prior to this event; and I knew how entirely the mind of Jesus ruled him and how complete was his self-dedication. He wrote me in reference to the resignation of his commission as follows:

"The last six months have crowded upon me many events that I know to be of greatest moment; but not one was so trying as that of sending in my resignation as an officer of the army, and thus of severing myself from all the associations of the past, and the purposes which they once prompted for the future. It was not that I felt undecided or reluctant; but, indeed, I could not help asking many times, 'Is this God's will?' The last night of doubt was that which we passed together in New York; and, although I knew it was not right to talk with you too late on the eve of what was to be a day of labor for you, it was a consolation to feel that you were near me.

"I am now altogether joyous and confident. Having put my hand to the plough, I shall neither turn back nor look back. And I only wish that I could, to-morrow, lay aside the duties that detain me here, and enter upon those which I hope to undertake under your supervision."

Then a little later, at an Ember-tide: "I have never before, my dear Bishop, been conscious of such happiness and hope as are granted me at this present; and I feel that under God they are due to you. I wish I could be with you all this week, so large a portion of which the Church has set apart that the prayers of Her faithful ones may be offered up for those who seek Her Ministry. Some of the blessings of a new life, I believe, are coming upon me. I pray for more and more of them, and that my heart may be made pure and warm to receive them."

And again he writes:

"I have not wavered, my dear friend and father, nor looked back; but nevertheless I feel myself made stronger against a lapse in either respect by the good words that you have written me. I do not exult in a spirit of self-confidence, that may bring me to shame; but I feel an earnest, tranquil trust in God, that I pray may support me through every trial that may be before me.

"Night after night, and day after day, I have gathered, I believe, more of this earnestness and tranquillity. And although I do not know how weak the flesh may be, I commit the issue to the dear Master Whose cause I seek to serve. Do not forget me for a moment; and believe that I will try to respond to all your expectations of me by the best efforts that I can give."

There were not wanting those who tried to divert him from his purpose of consecrating his life to the Priesthood of the Church. He overcame all obstacles by the genuine ascendancy of his own character, combined with indefatigable devotion. He had, indeed, measured the world by the Cross; he measured his own life by the Cross; and with an eye single to God's glory, he pressed on in the path of duty. Duty had always been his watchword. Duty first, duty last, and duty all the time. It cleared away for our dear brother, as it clears away for us all, all questioning and perplexity. With a consecrated will he went forward on the highway of the Cross, with a faith so sure, and a love so earnest, and a step so firm, that all cavilling was silenced, and all obstacles were removed.

"I have received a letter from a clergyman," he says, "which is, what he styles it, 'a most extraordinary one.' I will not repeat its contents; but if I were to do so, it would give you some idea of the numerous obstacles that have been interposed, in kindness, no doubt, but in a spirit of distrust which I cannot share, upon the path which I have selected. If they are to be believed who advise me, I am breaking off from a position of safety, to one of doubt; from friends who have confidence in me, to those who will receive me with distrust; from a sphere of fixed usefulness, to one of barren promise; and from much joy and gladness, to much sorrow and disappointment. To all this, and more, I can only answer, as I have already answered, 'Here am I; for Thou didst call me.' If I am mistaken, it is well; for the mistake is rightly ordered, since it must be then that I have not sought the Lord aright, and am justly punished for my folly. But if, as I hope and pray, and as you, my dear Father in God, I am sure, will also pray, I have heard my Master's voice calling me to this work, then I am prepared to say, welcome disappointment, welcome toil and sorrow, for these are Thy appointed portions, and I am Thine to bear them."

I have felt obliged to unveil, to a certain extent, the very intimate and sacred relations that existed between Mr. Parsons and myself. In no other way could I so well give you an insight into his character, and convey the sense of my own personal loss.

You, dear brethren, will not misunderstand me, in speaking as I have done. Nay, rather you will delight to recall every act and incident of your own intercourse with him; and your hearts will burn within you as you think of him now as numbered with God's Saints in God's everlasting peace.

" ---- Our souls grow fine
With keen vibrations from the touch divine,
Of noble natures gone." (Lowell)

You, his co-workers, know the constancy, steadiness, and uniformity of his life, his singular devotion to duty, his unflagging labors, his courtesy, that while it matched the loftiest, was ever ready to the lowliest.

You know how entirely his whole life was fixed and settled by the supreme love of God, as his life was the daily expression and manifestation of that love.

You know how high his ideal was of the Priestly office and of the Pastor's work; and how beautifully he illustrated the one, and how faithfully he discharged the other. When he received the Holy Ghost for the office of a Priest in the Church of God, he devoted himself heart and mind and body to Christ's service. He felt the greatness of his mission as a shepherd of souls, and his high responsibility as an ambassador for Christ. The personal dignity of his life was the outgrowth of his faith in God. He had temptations--and indeed what man has not?--but he struggled with and overcame them. Very gentle of the faults and failings of the tempted and the, tried, he never broke the bruised reed, nor quenched the smoking flax. In the discharge of his ecclesiastical functions he ever acted as before God, and as under God's immediate inspection.

His effort in the pulpit was solely to preach God's word, as our Lord Jesus Christ would do. Eloquence he had, and studied emphasis of style; but there was such an earnestness and reality in his preaching, that the power of his words was most persuasive. His inner appreciation of the things of God gave that glow and warmth to his manner and his mode which comes from that source alone. He had great vigor of thought, and his extemporary discourses exhibited a mind "blest with the affluent store" of Gospel truth. He led men to the living Saviour; he made them know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a Pastor, there was no labor that wearied him. He was ever seeking for Christ's sheep, and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world. There was no abode of poverty, or misery, or sorrow, to which he did not bend his willing steps. By the bedside of the sick he ministered the effectual consolations of the Gospel; and in the house of mourning his speech did

"distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass."

When I think over my intercourse with him, I find in it all a wonderful and delicate admixture of support and deference. I recall the beautiful story of David and Jonathan, and remember how "Jonathan arose and went to David into the wood; and strengthened his hand in God." So, many a time, in all the trials of an office, whose burden no man can know until it is placed upon him, did my dear friend strengthen my hand in God. I counted it his privilege so to do. Very pleasant has he been unto me, very pleasant.

What a noble example of heroic piety he exhibited in the plague-stricken city, during the last, the closing days of his career! Only the spirit of the Master could have developed in him, and in others who laid down their lives for the brethren, this Christ-like self-abnegation. How cheerful he was through it all to the very last! Each telegram that he sent me, while I was attending the meeting of the House of Bishops in New York, had some word of cheer. On the 1st of September he telegraphed me, "The fever struck Dr. Harris last night; we think a light case. I am strong and well!' On the same date he wrote me: "My dear Bishop, the situation is indescribable. . . . People constantly send to us, saying, 'Telegraph the situation.' It is impossible. Go and turn the destroying Angel loose upon a defenceless city; let him smite where he will, young and old, rich and poor, the feeble and the strong; and as he will, silent, unseen, and unfelt until his deadly blow is struck; give him for his dreadful harvest all the days and nights from the burning midsummer sun until the latest heavy frosts, and then you can form some idea of what Memphis and all this valley is, and what they are going on to be for the next eight weeks. The Sisters are doing a wonderful work. It is a surprise to see how much these quiet, brave, unshrinking daughters of a Divine Love can accomplish in efforts and results."

And then he adds: "I am well and strong and hopeful; and I devoutly thank God that I can say that in every letter."

On the 3d of September he made his last visit to the sick-bed of his dear fellow-laborer, Dr. Harris. He spoke words of encouragement and cheer, and left him, to celebrate in St. Mary's Church the Blessed Sacrament. It was their final parting. They were never to meet again on earth. Even when smitten down he was mindful of my anxiety, and telegraphed me, "Dr. Harris is somewhat better; I am down with light attack. It is madness for Mr. Wilson [2] to come here."

On the sixth of September he entered his Father's house, which is above, entered it as a little child; and as he caught the vision of the far-off land, he cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

These faithful priests, these devoted sisters,

"Who met the hosts of sorrow with a look
That altered not beneath the frown they wore,"

what have they not wrought by their holy lives and glorious deaths! And they have wrought even more mightily for Christ and the Church by their deaths than by their lives. However they adorned the doctrine of God their Saviour by patience under trial, by the sweetness of pure conversation, or by works actually done, they have wrought more mightily by their deaths.

Chosen of God in the furnace, out of the crucible of their sufferings shall come forth the pure p-old that will enrich the Church--enrich it with other lives, with works more abundant and manifold.

There will be found many faithful souls who will be ready to surrender material comforts, to abandon freedom and ease, and give up all, that they may follow these sainted ones as they followed Christ. And so through all this fear and anguish, through all this shock of pestilence and death, while we watch and work, shuddering, there shall come to the Church a larger liberty, a wider vision, a holier relationship of souls; and from the pressure of imperative necessities, the Church shall learn a fairer order, of which not strength, but sacrifice shall be the centre.

And so we may thank God for all that He has wrought and all that shall yet grow out of our sore visitation.

You ask, what is to grow out of it? And I reply, enlargement of heart and of thought; a better realization of the brotherhood of man, and of that Kingdom with the new commandment--"Love one another;" a rising up to fellowship with the purposes of God, and a thorough belief in the transcendent power of that Love Which redeemed to rule, and bless, and regenerate mankind.

So, then, brethren, it only remains for each one of us to consecrate himself anew, more and more unselfishly, to the cause of the dear Man of Sorrows, the High Priest of our profession.

These dear ones gone before are doubtless now pleading for the Church before His face as once they prayed for It here. Gladdened by the thought, let us dwell lovingly and thankfully on their examples:

"Let us, with zeal like theirs inspired,
Strive in the Christian race;
And, freed from every weight of sin,
Their holy footsteps trace."

[1] "During the epidemic, between twenty and thirty Priests from various Dioceses offered to the Bishop their services to work among the sick at Memphis alone."

[2] The Rev. G. W. Wilson of Michigan, who tendered his services.

Extract from a letter of Major Mickle.


15th Nov., 1878.


My dear Bishop: In the midst of confusion, I sit down to attempt the painfully pleasing task of complying with your request to send you a few incidents of the last days of our dear friend--the Christian hero--Charles Carroll Parsons; painful, as must necessarily be a retrospect shadowed by so many sad memories, and pleasing, because I love to cherish the memory of him whose life so fully exemplified the highest type of manhood, the Christian gentleman, the faithful friend, and the devoted pastor, in all of which characters it was my rare good fortune to know him. But it is needless to tell you, who knew him so well and intimately, of the disinterested love and faith which prompted him to bring the well-earned laurels of the soldier and the comforting assurance of ample means of support for life, and lay all at the Master's feet; of the purity of life and the charity which drew all men unto him, and presaged so bright a future for his beloved parish. But if his life was beautiful, his death was glorious: if, living, he would have built up a splendid parish--dying, he has done more to build up and strengthen the Holy Catholic Church than any other individual of his generation. When I call to mind the calm serenity with which he received the Master's summons, the utter absence of all indications of doubt or fear, aye, the triumphant expression that lit up his countenance when I spoke of the martyr's crown that awaited him, I cannot but believe it was given him in that hour to see the fruits of his life and death.

Some hours before his death, and while his mind was yet clear, he received the announcement of his approaching dissolution without a shock, and with the simple "trust that he had done his duty."

I asked him if he had any request to make. He replied: "Take me away from here." I said, "Where do you wish to go? will you go into the Church?" and, as if the world was fading from his view, and he beheld everything in a spiritual light, he thought of the Church, not as a building made with hands, but as the congregation of Christ's flock, and Baptism as the door of entrance, he signed himself with the sign of the cross and said: "We receive this child into the congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the cross." Like the first Christian martyr, almost his last words were,--"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." . . .

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


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