Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eulogy: Frank Nelson

Frank Nelson by Rev. Jesse Halsey

Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And like the little boy in John Bunyan's Dream Story, when Mr. Greatheart, the guide, is called away, I feel like saying, "You have been so faithful and kind, how can we go on without you?"

Frank Nelson was a friend to all sorts and conditions of men and women high and low, rich and poor--to each he gave of the rich treasure of his soul. His counsel was sought by a multitude of persons but each to him was an individual, not a "case." Time, money, thought, himself he gave. During the last five years his body sometimes rebelled, but to no purpose; straight and unbent in body and mind and spirit, straight on he went with his appointed task and with His Master we can say "It is finished."

As one who has watched hi for a quarter of a century with growing admiration and pride in his friendship, there are certain great qualities that impress me as the undergirding of his life. Among them are these: patience with people, courage of utterance (and performance) on questions of public policy, sanity of judgment, burning religious passion, and enthusiasm unquenchable in all that he said and did.

He was modest in the face of a crescendo of accomplishment. He took a downtown Church in its decadence and raised it in membership and power of influence to a cathedral quality. He was the unmitered bishop of his city--men of all religions and of no (vocal) religion turned to him as spokesman and guide. All that he did for humanity, in and through his church, or in himself, had a supernal quality that reminded us constantly that man doth not live by bread alone. The word of God, richly in true wisdom, was on his tongue--in rebuke of unrighteousness (scathing and prophetic words), in encouragement of goodness (heartening words), in consoling tenderness and understanding for the sorrowing.

He walked with God, sane and orderly in his thinking; his utterance was always warmed with enthusiasm--enthusiasm for goodness and all lovely things.

He believed in God with all his mind and strength and he believed in his fellow man--not abstractly but in person and in deed and in truth. Rich in good works going to an abundant entrance he leaves behind many a pilgrim who will continue the steep climb because he set our feet on the climbing way. Like Chaucer's parson: "first he wroughte and afterward he taughte."

Once, years ago, in a great convention of social workers, Mr. Nelson was scheduled to speak. He affronted his audience with a sermon on "Immortality"! And he made the unseen so real that resentment melted into reverence and men and women came away believing (some for the moment and some for life): believing in God as the only sure foundation for human thought--and action; believing in a God who is able in time and in eternity to carry His children. In that kind of a God, incarnate in Christ, Frank Nelson believed; that God he trusted and served. And he preached that Gospel. (He preached entirely naturally, homiletically untrammelled--utter contagion, Christ revealing.)

His greatest feat professionally (how he would despise my description) was undoubtedly the Three Hour Service on Good Friday. Year after year (nigh on to two score) his exposition of the Seven Words was freighted with human sympathy and Divine Grace. "He knew what was in man." He saw God. A deep-dyed (incarnadine) mystic (in spite of all his disclaimer) he reached beyond things seen to the Eternal. No crucifix was needed in his Church on Those Days (or any other)--the Crucified was there.

He carried our city on his heart and shoulders, just as Isaiah loved Jerusalem, and as Sir Walter loved Edinburgh. He fought her battles, unafraid.

He served Christ's church and God's kingdom in ecumenical breadth and with Apostolic fervor. His Church (Christ Church) was a house of prayer for all peoples more than any church I have ever known. He adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour  in all things. Many of us will miss him as an elder brother; heaven seems more real--and more desirable--since he went there.

We sang it as his funeral--or tried to. It was his favorite, announced non all appropriate occasions--John Bunyan's pilgrims' song:
"He who would be faithful be 'gainst all disaster
Let him with constancy follow the Master."
"You have been so faithful and kind, how can we go on without you?" That is my feeling but it must not be my last word; it is unlike our Mr. Greatheart for me to be saying it. But I have the fitting word--again it is not mine but Bunyan's:
"After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other, and had this for a token that the summons was true, that his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, 'I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that an get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles Who now will be my rewarder.' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

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