Practical Virtues

Masonic Articles and Essays

Practical Virtues

Bro... E. H. English

Date Published: 3/18/2020                        

The following article we take from an address delivered before Western Star Lodge, No. 2, at Little Rock, Arkansas, on St. John's Day, by Brother E. H. English.

Masonry is an institution of practical virtues, taught by pleasing ceremonies, and impressed upon the mind by beautiful and appropriate emblems; and to the fact that it is an institution of practical virtues, and not of mere abstract or speculative faith, it owes the preservation of its unity for so many centuries.

About matters of faith which lie far beyond the visual ken - which appertain to another and an unseen world - men are prone to speculate and conjecture, and must necessarily differ; and this difference of opinion becoming animated, as it always does, leads first to disputation, then to strife, and finally to separation. Hence the cause of the numerous and distinct organizations of religious bodies. Men readily agree upon cardinal virtues, but are prone to differ and disunite upon questions of speculative faith. For example:  

Suppose we summon all the reverend Bishops, Fathers, Elders, and Doctors of Divinity from every tribe, kindred and association of men into one great conclave. Suppose a Mason to propound the following questions to the august Assembly:

Most reverend Sirs, should man offer up his daily devotions to the true and ever living God, and pursue with industry the designs marked out upon the moral trestle-board? Should he act upon the square and keep a tongue of good report? Should he be just, merciful, prudent, frugal, discreet and temperate in all things? Should he do no wrong to the person, the property or the reputation of his neighbor?

Should he wipe the tear from the eye of sorrow, and fill the hungering mouth with bread? Should he minister like a guardian Angel at the bed-side of an afflicted brother, and if the cold hand of death is laid upon him, follow him to the silent resting place of the dead, see that he is decently interred, and take care that his widow and his orphan are not reduced to penury and want?

The whole Assembly would respond, with one voice and one heart: - Yea, verily! all these things should men do and perform, and in no wise omit!  

But suppose the Mason to be a little curious, and to ask further: But tell me reverend fathers, does God exist in "Trinity" or "Unity"? What are the "eternal decrees" of Heaven, and how far do they affect the individual destinies of men? In the kingdom of Satan, are the lost really punished by material fire, brimstone and molten lead, or does the dark pall of a guilty conscience torment them in their dreary and hopeless abode? Is there a Purgatory?

To whom did Peter bequeath the keys of the celestial kingdom on his demise, through what succession have they been transmitted, and who has them now? Did Philip plunge the Treasurer of the Ethiopian queen head and ears into the water, or dip up the emblematical element in a ram's horn and pour it on his head, or sprinkle the sparkling spray in his face, and thereby cause the rainbow of immortal hope to arch his brow? Tell me of Heaven. Where is it? How many Angels are there? When, and of what were they made? Do they eat and drink, or merely live upon the air of Heaven? Were all the souls of men made at one, or at different times?  

Are they sparks from the Divine Essence, or of what were they formed? These questions would fall like so many fire- brands into the grave Assembly; a war of words would ensue among contending Doctors, the conference would adjourn, sine die, in confusion, and each man would betake himself to his peculiar organization, and cling more closely to his own faith.  

Think not that I design by this illustration to disparage Christianity - the purest and best of all institutions - far from it. If these divisions of men in reference to matters of Speculative faith are wrong - if they were not designed by Providence for wise and useful purposes - then the fault is in man and not in Christianity. Prompted by an overreaching curiosity peculiar to our nature, we are not content to believe and follow that which is clearly revealed to us, but are prone to launch out upon an unknown sea, and attempt to fathom unrevealed mysteries, which the mind of man can never comprehend until the clouds of mortality are rifted from its vision, and the soul makes a nearer approach to the illuminating fountain of Divine Wisdom!  

I repeat, therefore, that masonry owes the preservation of its unity to the fact that it is an Institution of Practical Virtues, and not of abstract or speculative faith.

But it is by no means to be inferred that Masonry is destitute of faith. She believes in a sublime Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides; and where all good Masons hope to arrive at last by the aid of the theological ladder which Jacob in his vision saw, ascending from earth to Heaven, the three principal rounds of which are faith, hope and charity - that is to say, faith in God, hope in immortality, and charity toward all mankind. And in this faith, the fraternity, of every people and religion, harmoniously agree. Masonry is not designed, however, to stand in the place of Christianity, but merely to serve as a beautiful handmaiden to her.

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