WISDOM, STRENGTH AND BEAUTY

The Voice of Masonry - 1880

By FRANK CHURCH


FROM time immemorial and in almost every land there has
existed an institution, strange and mysterious to the outer
world, but plain and simple to those who have passed its
tyled portals, and rejoiced in its moral and intellectual
treasures. We wonder not that in the early age of man these
associations were formed, for by the wisdom of the Divine
Intelligence, man was made dependent upon his fellow man;
he was endowed with a nature which emphatically
demanded the joys and pleasures of social life. The law of
development and growth depends upon this principle.
Neither do we wonder that men in those most ancient of
days entered into covenants, for the Creator himself set the
example. Neither do we wonder that fraternal relations were
cultivated, for the moral and intellectual natures
predominated, and, like the physical, must have food. either
do we wonder that these organizations were exclusive in
their natures, and that barriers were erected to stay the rush
of the multitude, for then as now in this enlightened age of
the 19th century, all were not worthy of esteem and
fellowship. But when we come to consider only in part the
wonders of man's growth and progress, from the early
infancy of the race to the present age; when we consider
how vast the changes which have transpired; how wonderful
the growth of his moral and intellectual nature; when we
come to reflect how empires have risen, flourished and
decayed; how nations have been swept away from the face
of the earth; how all things else have been marked by the
finger of decay and ruin; how sects and systems of religion
have been dissolved; how dispensation followed
dispensation in quick succession to the grave; when we look
around upon the world of to-day and study its institutions,
and the existing relations of our race, and find in them
scarcely a fact or principle which we seem to hold in
common with those of most ancient times; when we come to
consider how often society has been revolutionized and its
foundations broken up and destroyed, we may well wonder
that an institution thus founded should have withstood the
changes and mutations, and come down to us with the
material features as they were when the "morning stars sang
together" - with even its forms and ceremonies substantially
unaltered since the time when the first civilization and the
Lost Arts reared those stupendous monuments which are
the wonder and admiration even of this enlightened age. But
if we wonder that the institution itself has been preserved,
how much more should we wonder when we consider that
through every age of the world's development; in peace and
in war; in light and in darkness; in freedom and in bondage;
in every condition of the race, it has administered to the
wants of all those who could claim its patronage.

Not only in every age and land, but to every age and class
has it been available and useful. To the untutored child of
the forest, who sees God only in the works of nature - the
Hindoo, cultivated in the subtle though sophistical lore of the
Brahmin - the followers of Mahomet kneeling to the East in
morning prayer - the sons of Judea on the sacred Mount -
the Christian, the Catholic and Protestant alike; the
Northman and the Druid - the Arab that roams the desert
free as the wind - the wanderer among the ruing of the dead
past - all, all save the fool who hath said in his heart, there is
no GOD, have knelt at the sacred altar of the lodge, shared
its glories, learned its mystic language, submitted to its
influence, which has turned them toward the truth and GOD.

Prince and peasant, priest and layman, the ruler and the
ruled, prophet and philosopher, have met upon the level and
gazed upon the hieroglyphic light, and worn the same
symbols of the Craft with the same degree of satisfaction.

Universal as the universe, and as widespread as humanity
itself, its temples are the symbols of the world we inhabit,
and represent to us that a Mason's duty is equally extensive,
embracing every conceivable relation of humanity. And now,
my brethren, what shall be said of the wisdom which could
contrive so far back in the world's history such an institution,
which, unchanging in itself, is still found adapted to the
wants of all ages, of every people and every class of society,
however differently constituted? Is there a problem more
difficult for the philosopher to solve? What else beside the
creations of the human intellect and genius has survived? If
this be the work of man simply, how has it escaped the tide
of destruction which has swallowed up all else? What power
has stayed the ruthless hand of time? The material
structures, reared with all the skill and ingenuity of the
wisest, and which hoped to be perpetual, the monuments of
brick and stone, iron and brass, even the Temple of
Solomon, all have perished, and now mingle with the
common clay.

In the moral world decay and desolation have been equally
as triumphant, judging from a human standpoint. Every form
of government, every social, political and religious
association of every hue and complexion, all systems, sects,
and philosophies, have come forth like leaves in the spring,
and like them, have perished.

Among the material structures of man there is but one
parallel in time and duration the Pyramids of Egypt stand
alone marking the rust of centuries. Man's works in the moral
world have no parallel. And as  the Pyramids have stood for
ages, so must they continue to stand for ages yet to come
baffling the efforts of science and the mechanic arts to
discover the secret of their construction and their exemption
from decay. So in the moral world, this institution, which has
transmitted through a succession of ages unimpaired the
valuable tenets of our profession, shall endure forever,
baffling every effort to find in the wisdom of man the capacity
to project and complete its organization. Again I say the
wisdom which contrived the Masonic art is far beyond the
depth and range of poor humanity. Where, then, shall we
look for its origin but to His wisdom who created all things
and who is the Giver of all good?

As the design of its first material temple was first given by
GOD to its founder, so the wisdom which designed that
moral and spiritual edifice which has outlasted the sanctuary
at Jerusalem and blesses mankind to-day, could be no less
than the Supreme Architect Himself. It has endured because
it is the work of Him whose work cannot be destroyed. It is
unchanging and eternal, because these are attributes of its
author.

Its fortunes have been as varied as the things which it
existed. In every age and in almost every land, it has been
persecuted. In the Dark Ages, when its sublime truths were
unappreciated, its enemies rose on every side, numberless
as the leaves of the forest - kings and princes arrayed
armies against it - its temples were destroyed, its children
robbed and hunted like wild beasts; still they refused to lay
down their faith or abandon their vows, and thus the
institution of Patriarchal Age has still survived; the attentive
ear still receives the sound from the instructive tongue; and
the mysteries of the Royal Art are safely lodged in the
repository of faithful breasts. What then shall be said of the
strength which has supported it through all ages of trial and
persecution? Has the power of man alone, think you, been
adequate to support that which it had not the wisdom to
contrive? Can it be less than, the power of the Infinite which'
has preserved and sustained it? And have we not the right to
claim a divine origin for than which divinity seems to have so
cherished and protected?

Let us now, for a moment, turn from the wisdom which
contrived, and the strength which supported, to the
contemplation of the beauty which adorns the mystic edifice,
and behold how apt and beautiful the analogy; how perfect
the harmony and correspondence between the spiritual and
material structures. Study the beauty of the first temple,
erected on the sacred mountain where the fidelity of the
stricken Patriarch had been so severely tested, to
commemorate the virtue he displayed, and to commend its
practice to after ages.

Contemplate the grandeur of the stately edifice, its gorgeous
finish, its costly appointments, its perfect harmony of parts -
the grandest triumph of human art - the theme of song and
inspiration, and fitly hallowed by the presence of the Deity
Himself; the most worthy to be his dwelling-place on earth;
though our Ancient Grand Master, at its solemn dedication,
exclaimed: "Lo, the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain
Thee, how much less this house which I have made!" So the
Spiritual Temple, there organized and perfected, stands
without precedent in the moral world.

As to its moral beauty, it is unapproached by any association
which the skill of man has contrived wince first the "Morning
stars sang together." The relation of the first temple to our
Institution - of the material to the moral structure - is the
relation of the mortal body to the immortal soul. As the
mortal body is the most wonderful of all the material works of
the Creator, so was the Temple the grandest achievement of
human skill. As the body grows in silence, so in silent
grandeur rose the Temple. "No ringing sound was heard of
axe or other tool, nor one discordant word. In perfect peace
and harmony they plied their cunning art. The secret tie of
brotherhood had bound them heart to heart. And lo! the
toiling legions from the quarry to the hills, were moved by its
mysterious power, and felt its quickening thrills. And when
their work was done, the Temple with its golden spires stood
glistening in the sun. Its splendor and magnificence
enraptured every gaze, and filled the thronging multitude
with wonder and amaze." Seven years the patient toilers
worked, and the Temple stood complete, the mystic creation
of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Seven years the body
grows - renews itself and grows again - nine times seven the
sands of life do run until the grand climacteric is reached,
which is the beginning and the end.

Our bodies perish; so did the Temple. Before the Chaldee's
vengeful ire the Temple was overthrown. The gorgeous
fabric sank to earth, a shapeless mass of stone." But the
soul is the nobler and better part within us. So does the
spiritual edifice which dwelt within the Temple on the sacred
Mount far exceed the cradle in which it was nursed. And, as
the soul shall live forever, so shall the spiritual edifice live
until all things else shall have perished.

We have spoken of the wisdom which contrived this
institution - the strength which bas supported it through all its
trials and vicissitudes of fortune - the beauty which adorned
and still adorns it, and we would now ask, What is
Freemasonry? A learned author says: "Freemasonry is a
moral institution, founded on liberality, brotherly love and
charity. Truth is its centre, the point whence its radii diverge,
directing its disciples to a correct knowledge of the Great
Architect of the Universe, and the moral laws which he has
ordained for their government." Another has said:
"Freemasonry is an institution founded on eternal reason
and truth, whose deep basis is the civilization of mankind,
and whose everlasting glory is supported by those two
mighty pillars - Science and Morality." "A beautiful system of
morality, veiled to allegory and illustrated by symbols." But,
my brethren, is it not something more; is it not, in the true
and comprehensive sense of the term, a religious institution,
resting upon the Holy Writings and the Divine Order of
things? Before proceeding any farther let us see whether
there is any foundation for the statement that it is a religious
institution. Roll back the wheels of time to a period long
anterior to the building of the Temple; stand upon the very
spot where the foundations were afterwards laid, and what
do you behold? An altar - and upon that altar a sacrifice -
beside the altar and sacrifice a father about to offer up his
only and well-beloved son in obedience to command; but the
final blow does not fall; the test is complete and a. substitute
is furnished; the hand of death is stayed and the destroyer is
vanquished. So the mysteries of the Temple and its moral
counterpart, so cherished now, teach as they should, and
teach with more power and emphasis than all the eloquence
of press and pulpit combined, the lessons of a resurrection
and a second life. Is it not, then, a religious association? Not
religious in any narrow or restricted sense: not Christian or
Jewish; not Pagan or Mahometan; Catholic or Protestant;
but only simply and purely religious. Religion is of GOD.
Sects, forms, creeds, and dogmas, are of men. It is universal
religion, which it inculcates; that. religion which is essential
everywhere to the true character of man; that sense of
obligation and final responsibility which affords the only
security for the faithful observance of its own pure principles,
and its solemn and sacred vows; a belief in the existence of
a Supreme Being, His justice and goodness, and the
immortality of the soul are the elements of religion which it
requires of its votaries, while it heeds not the dogmas and
specific articles of faith which men have set up and called
the only true religion. Masonry from its first beginning has,
indeed, been the sanctuary of this universal religion. To
preserve the knowledge of the true GOD from the assaults of
paganism, when idolatry possessed the whole world, save
the little land of Judea and the chosen people, was one of
the objects of its organization.

It has preserved that knowledge through all these periods,
and but for it it must have been lost. The high and holy
mission has been performed faithfully. It has come down to
us with this religious element in its character unimpaired,
and it will cease to be the institution which has come down to
us when it ceases to inculcate religion. Not the religious
system of Paul or Moses, Calvin or Luther, but that religion
which requires us to recognize a "First Great Cause;" that
religion which requires us to invoke the aid of Deity in all our
laudable undertakings; that religion which commands and
requires us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the
widow and fatherless, and to keep ourselves unspotted from
the world, and leaves us within the range of these duties and
landmarks to adopt our own form of worship, to approach the
throne of the Almighty in our own way, and adore him under
whatever name we choose. Such is the broad and
comprehensive religion which Masonry inculcates. It
embraces all other religions; it includes the whole duty of
man revealed by nature or revelation; it comprehends
everything which we have received from GOD, and whatever
has been added is the work of man himself. It is a religion by
which he may grandly and nobly live, and by which he need
not fear to die.

The more we study the Scriptures and the more we reflect
upon the teachings of the Masonic Institution, its scope and
comprehensiveness, the snore we are led to believe that our
commentators and divines are reading the "First Great Light"
as "through a glass darkly," and that the time may come
when Masonry, resting, as it does, upon the Bible, will stand
alone as the exponent of truth and GOD's teaching. Other
associations may have much in them that is in Masonry, but
they have not the Masonic Order - that is the Divine Order,
and without this there is confusion, and confusion is as
foreign to religion as to geometry, for religion is a part of the
Divine Order. There can be no confusion in the Divine Order,
nor was there ever any; and any doctrine which throws
confusion on the Divine Order is, of necessity, false, in part
at least. Masonry has stood the test of ages, because it
rested upon GOD's law, which is harmony.

The degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are three, because
this is in accordance with the order of the universe, and of all
things else in the universe. These degrees are real degrees,
and not mere divisions of the same subject; and there can
be but one Masonry any more than there can be more than
one geometry. The Scriptures are written in degrees;
humanity has its threefold character, and its development is
by degrees; man individually develops in accordance with
this law. The Masonic Lodge works by degrees, and every
member of it, each according to the light he has. The lodge
is typical of the universe, and the Grand Lodge or General
Assembly represents the universe at work, and its work shall
result in wisdom, strength, and harmony, which is beauty,
else the object of creation becomes a failure.

The degrees of Masonry are Secrecy, Science, and
Immortality. To the first degree honor and probity are
recommendations. Here the practice of virtue is enforced
and the duties of morality inculcated, while the mind is being
prepared for progress in the underlying principles of
knowledge and philosophy.

To the Second degree diligence, assiduity, and application,
are qualifications. Here, both in theory and practice, is given
an accurate exemplification of science; here the human
reason is cultivated and made strong and reliant in
accordance with the law of development and growth. Here
new discoveries are made and difficult theories explained,
and those already known beautified and adorned.

And to the Third belong those whom truth and fidelity have
distinguished; whom years and experience have improved
and whose merit and ability have marked and prepared as
master workmen.

Each step taken by the candidate is typical of the
corresponding step in the progress humanity; in the active
life of the individual in his growth and progress. Not only this,
but the work of the lodge represents the creation of nature -
the Grand Architect of the Universe in His creative character,
whose creations are constant and in harmony, proceeding
by regular steps from the lowest to the highest.

Let us look briefly at a few of the infinite symbolisms of this
ancient Order, for only by seeking after the thought that lay
in the mind of those who founded it, and instituted  the
beautiful symbols which distinguish the workings of the Craft,
can we expect to know what they mean. If we find the
"thought" which originated the symbols, we shall see in them
a series of moral and philosophical dramas most eloquent
and instructive; we shall find that our rites embrace all the
possible circumstances of human life, and have a meaning
high as the Heavens, broad as the Universe, and profound
as Eternity. But when we have lost the sense intended to be
conveyed by the symbols, our ceremonies are useless, and
we teach in vain. In the first step or degree, the candidate
closes his eyes on the past, lays aside his vestment of the
outer world - everything that will remind him of the
selfishness and discord of life, and turns his face with
trembling upon the dread unknown - the mysterious future.
In darkness he knocks at the portal of the lodge and
demands admission, instruction, and light.

Man in his primitive condition of helplessness, ignorance,
and moral blindness, sought after that mental and moral light
which alone could deliver his mind from slavery, and make
him master of the material world. As individuals, we are born
ignorant, helpless, and blind, yet we feel stirring within us an
insatiable longing for knowledge, and we knock at the door
of the Temple of Science; we question Nature, demand her
secrets, and at last possess her mysteries. Does not,
therefore, the First degree symbolize man's first entrance
into the world in which he is to become a living, thinking
actor. Coming from ignorance and darkness, his first desire
is for light - that light which originates from the source of all
things; hence the primary lesson in all regular degrees is to
symbolize the birth of intellectual light into the soul. Groping
in mental and moral darkness, the unregenerate man seeks
for that light which is to guide him in the path of duty to truth
and to GOD. In this condition he is to be taught to realize the
brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of GOD, the
fundamental principles of character, Temperance, Fortitude,
Prudence, and Justice, and above all secrecy. Among the
ancients, silence and secrecy were considered virtues of the
highest order. The entire fabric of the universe is founded on
secrecy, and the great life force which vivifies, moves and
beautifies the whole, is the deepest of all mysteries. We
cannot fix our eyes on a single point in creation which does
not shade off into mystery and touch the realms of eternal
silence. In this respect, as in all others, we see that our
institution conforms to the Divine Order of things. A modern
writer has said: "Thought will not work except in silence,
neither will virtue work except in secrecy. Like other plants,
virtue will not grow unless its roots be hidden - buried from
the light of the sun. Let the sun shine on it, nay, do but look
at it privily thyself; the root withers, and no flowers will glad
thee." We, therefore, denominate the Entered Apprentice
degree the degree of secrecy.

The object of the First degree is to teach by what means the
human mind, struggling in darkness for intellectual light, may
be prepared properly to advance, that of the second, the true
order of its progress, and the means by, which it may be
conducted to the attainment of the true philosophy of life,
amid the difficulties which encumber every labor. The
Entered Apprentice comes from moral darkness to moral
light. The Fellow Craft from intellectual darkness into
knowledge. The Second degree, therefore, by its lessons,
represents the struggles of the ardent mind in the attainment
of truth - moral and intellectual - and inculcates and teaches
above all that divine truth, the comprehension of which
surpasseth human understanding. Here in this degree we
are taught how man, through science, art, and philosophy,
becomes the sovereign of the material world. The Second
degree we, therefore, call the Degree of Science.

The ceremony of the Third degree is, without doubt, the
most important, impressive and instructive of all the Masonic
rites; it transcends all others in the depth of its philosophy
and the dramatic interest with which it is invested. That
portion which is connected with the legend of the Widow's
Son is worthy the deep and earnest study of thoughtful men.
It draws the attention of the mind to the contemplation of a
subject that extends beyond the grave through the
boundless realms of eternity - to that immortal principle that
makes man the rational, thinking being that he is.

The Master Mason is the type of the upright man on his
journey through life. In the First and Second degrees we
have seen the type of man complete in moral worth and
intellectual culture, and thus completed, in the Third degree,
we see the type of man holding communion with his Maker.
This degree embraces all the possible conditions of
humanity, ranges through all worlds, reveals the law of
eternal justice, announces the omnipotence of truth, and
proclaims the. immortality of man. It pictures to the mind, in
an impressive manner, the conflict of truth with error; light
with darkness; life with death; and the final triumph of the
former and destruction of the latter. It teaches us that the
same power which creates, destroys - destroys and makes
alive again.

And now my brethren, in all these things have we seen only
a series of unmeaning rites and ceremonies; have we
learned our ritual, our mystic words and signs, and there
ended the lesson? If so, then to us Masonry is a failure, a
delusion and a snare. But no intelligent Mason can take such
a view, for in the science of Masonic symbolism the temple
represented the world, purified by the Divine presence; and,
as every Masonic Lodge is a representative of the temple, it
is, therefore, a representative of the world purified. Hence to
enter the lodge, to be made a Mason, is to become good,
pure and noble.

We all of us wandered long in the darkness, asked for light,
sought for wisdom, in the world of the profane. We knocked
at the door of Masonry, and coming in the name of GOD,
and being free born, full grown, and well tried, the door
opened to us, and we stood within the porch of the temple,
and there learned to practice charity, and observe the Divine
Order. We have all passed between the pillars of strength
and establishment, ascended the flight of winding stairs,
have stood in the middle chamber, and there learned the
results of our labors; have stood complete on the centre. We
have beheld the scenes which belong to the familiar, but
most wonderful and impressive legend of all time, whose
symbolic lesson is the apocalypse of the Divine Humanity,
and that omnific power which alone can raise weak and
selfish human nature from the dead level of mortality to the
living perpendicular of eternal life, yet still signifying that
though man may approximate, yet never can reach
perfection. All these things we have seen and passed
through, and the lessons inculcated should be deeply
impressed on our minds. Truth was the object of our labors,
and though we have received but a substitute representing
it, yet it signifies to us an important fact, that man in this
world can approximate only to the full conception of truth.

And finally, my brethren, in our estimation of Masonry, let us
look beyond its secret works, its rituals, lectures,
ceremonies, signs, and symbols, for these are but the
garment in which it is clothed - they are the visible body -
Masonry is the invisible soul. The promotion of virtue, the
practice of morality, and the relief of distress, are but the
fruits of the vital active principle within. Masonry is more than
mere signs and ceremonies. We may know its history, its
traditions, its achievements, and its laws; we may be learned
in its lectures and masters of its secret work; we may be able
to understand and interpret its symbolism, and be termed
"bright Masons," and yet the whole volume of Masonry be to
us a sealed and a silent book. We may admire its spirit, and
refuse that spirit a dwelling within our soul; we may admire
its wisdom, its strength, its harmony, (which is beauty,) the
perfection of its ceremonies, its lectures, and its laws; and
yet if we have failed to learn that these are but avenues
leading up to the moral edifice beyond; that they are only
emblems of like qualifies in the spiritual structure; then,
indeed, have we labored in vain, and spent our strength for
naught.

The power which expands, purifies, elevates and ennobles
the soul and fills us with the presence of the Infinite, and
prepares us for a better life, is the divinity which dwells within
your temples, and if it dwell not in your hearts, then are you
but whited sepulchres, bearing the name, but mocking the
spirit and purpose of the Fraternity.

Let us, then, my brethren, apply ourselves to the study of the
Royal Art; let us seek for wisdom, practice charity, and
observe the Divine Order; let us seek for the attainment of
useful knowledge, and having gained it, let us apply it to the
discharge of our duties to GOD, our neighbors, and
ourselves. As for us, we pass hence, each on his several
journey through the tangled ways of life, and here we may, in
parting, will repeat the touching and significant lines of a
gifted brother long lost to earth:

Ah, when shall we three meet like them
Who last were at Jerusalem?
For three there were, but one is not -
He lies where Cassia marks the spot.

Though poor he was, with kings he trod;
Though great, he humbly kneeled to GOD.
Ah, when shall Time restore again
The broken links of friendship's chain.

Behold where mourning beauty bent
In silence o'er his monument;
And wildly spread in sorrow there
The ringlets of her golden hair.

The future sons of grief shall sigh
While standing round in mystic tie,
And raise their hands, alas! to Heaven
In anguish, that no hope is given.

Then whence we come, or whither go,
Ask me no more, or seek to know,
'Til three shall meet to form like them
The Grand Lodge at Jerusalem.

 

         

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