[Elu of the Nine.]
Originally created to reward fidelity, obedience, and devotion, this Degree was consecrated to bravery, devotedness, and patriotism; and your obligation has made known to you the duties which you have assumed. They are summed up in the simple mandate, "Protect the oppressed against the oppressor; and devote yourself to the honor and interests of your Country."
Masonry is not "speculative," nor theoretical, but experimental; not sentimental, but practical. It requires self-renunciation and self-control. It wears a stern face toward men's vices, and interferes with many of our pursuits and our fancied pleasures. It penetrates beyond the region of vague sentiment; beyond the regions where moralizers and philosophers have woven their fine theories and elaborated their beautiful maxims, to the very depths of the heart, rebuking our littlenesses and meannesses, arraigning our prejudices and passions, and warring against the armies of our vices.
It wars against the passions that spring out of the bosom of a world of fine sentiments, a world of admirable sayings and foul practices, of good maxims and bad deeds; whose darker passions are not only restrained by custom and ceremony, but hidden even from itself by a veil of beautiful sentiments. This terrible solecism has existed in all ages. Romish sentimentalism has often covered infidelity and vice; Protestant straightness often lauds spirituality and faith, and neglects homely truth, candor, and generosity; and ultra-liberal Rationalistic refinement sometimes soars to heaven in its dreams, and wallows in the mire of earth in its deeds.
There may be a world of Masonic sentiment; and yet a world of little or no Masonry. In many minds there is a vague and general sentiment of Masonic charity, generosity, and disinterestedness, but no practical, active virtue, nor habitual kindness, self-sacrifice, or liberality. Masonry plays about them like the cold though brilliant lights that flush and eddy over Northern skies. There are occasional flashes of generous and manly feeling, transitory splendors, and momentary gleams of just and noble thought, and transient coruscations, that light the Heaven of their imagination; but there is no vital warmth in the heart; and it remains as cold and sterile as the Arctic or Antarctic regions. They do nothing; they gain no victories over themselves; they make no progress; they are still in the Northeast corner of the Lodge, as when they first stood there as Apprentices; and they do not cultivate Masonry, with a cultivation, determined, resolute, and regular, like their cultivation of their estate, profession, or knowledge. Their Masonry takes its chance in general and inefficient sentiment, mournfully barren of results; in words and formulas and fine professions.
Most men have sentiments, but not principles. The former are temporary sensations, the latter permanent and controlling impressions of goodness and virtue. The former are general and involuntary, and do not rise to the character of virtue. Every one feels them. They flash up spontaneously in every heart. The latter are rules of action, and shape and control our conduct; and it is these that Masonry insists upon.
We approve the right; but pursue the wrong. It is the old story of human deficiency. No one abets or praises injustice, fraud, oppression, covetousness, revenge, envy, or slander; and yet how many who condemn these things, are themselves guilty of them. It is no rare thing for him whose indignation is kindled at a tale of wicked injustice, cruel oppression, base slander, or misery inflicted by unbridled indulgence; whose anger flames in behalf of the injured and ruined victims of wrong; to be in some relation unjust, or oppressive, or envious, or self-indulgent, or a careless talker of others. How wonderfully indignant the penurious man often is, at the avarice or want of public spirit of another!
A great Preacher well said, "Therefore thou art inexcusable. O Man, whosoever thou art, that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself: for thou that judgest, doest the same things." It is amazing to see how men can talk of virtue and honor, whose life denies both. It is curious to see with what a marvellous facility many bad men quote Scripture. It seems to comfort their evil consciences, to use good words; and to gloze over bad deeds with holy texts, wrested to their purpose. Often, the more a man talks about Charity and Toleration, the less he has of either; the more he talks about Virtue, the smaller stock he has of it. The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart; but often the very reverse of what the man practises. And the vicious and sensual often express, and in a sense feel, strong disgust at vice and sensuality. Hypocrisy is not so common as is imagined.
Here, in the Lodge, virtue and vice are matters of reflection and feeling only. There is little opportunity here, for the practice of either; and Masons yield to the argument here, with facility and readiness; because nothing is to follow. It is easy, and safe, here, to feel upon these matters. But to-morrow, when they breathe the atmosphere of worldly gains and competitions, and the passions are again stirred at the opportunities of unlawful pleasure, all their fine emotions about virtue, all their generous abhorrence of selfishness and sensuality, melt away like a morning cloud.
For the time, their emotions and sentiments are sincere and real. Men may be really, in a certain way, interested in Masonry, while fatally deficient in virtue. It is not always hypocrisy. Men pray most fervently and sincerely, and yet are constantly guilty of acts so bad and base, so ungenerous and unrighteous, that the crimes that crowd the dockets of our courts are scarcely worse.
A man may be a good sort of man in general, and yet a very bad man in particular: good in the Lodge and bad in the world; good in public, and bad in his family; good at home, and bad on a journey or in a strange city. Many a man earnestly desires to be a good Mason. He says so, and is sincere. But if you require him to resist a certain passion, to sacrifice a certain indulgence, to control his appetite at a particular feast, or to keep his temper in a dispute, you will find that he does not wish to be a good Mason, in that particular case; or, wishing, is not able to resist his worse impulses.
The duties of life are more than life. The law imposeth it upon every citizen, that he prefer the urgent service of his country before the safety of his life. If a man be commanded, saith a great writer, to bring ordnance or munition to relieve any of the King's towns that are distressed, then he cannot for any danger of tempest justify the throwing of them overboard; for there it holdeth which was spoken by the Roman, when the same necessity of weather was alleged to hold him from embarking: "Necesse est ut eam, non ut vivam:" it needs that I go: it is not necessary I should live.
How ungratefully he slinks away, who dies, and does nothing to reflect a glory to Heaven! How barren a tree he is, who lives, and spreads, and cumbers the ground, yet leaves not one seed, not one good work to generate another after him! All cannot leave alike; yet all may leave something, answering their proportions and their kinds. Those are dead and withered grains of corn, out of which there will not one ear spring. He will hardly find the way to Heaven, who desires to go thither alone.
Industry is never wholly unfruitful. If it bring not joy with the incoming profit, it will yet banish mischief from thy busied gates. There is a kind of good angel waiting upon Diligence that ever carries a laurel in his hand to crown her. How unworthy was that man of the world who never did aught, but only lived and died! That we have liberty to do anything, we should account it a gift from the favoring Heavens; that we have minds sometimes inclining us to use that liberty well, is a great bounty of the Deity.
Masonry is action, and not inertness. It requires its Initiates to WORK, actively and earnestly, for the benefit of their brethren, their country, and mankind. It is the patron of the oppressed, as it is the comforter and consoler of the unfortunate and wretched. It seems to it a worthier honor to be the instrument of advancement and reform, than to enjoy all that rank and office and lofty titles can bestow. It is the advocate of the common people in those things which concern the best interests of mankind. It hates insolent power and impudent usurpation. It pities the poor, the sorrowing, the disconsolate; it endeavors to raise and improve the ignorant, the sunken, and the degraded.
Its fidelity to its mission will be accurately evidenced, by the extent of the efforts it employs, and the means it sets on foot, to improve the people at large and to better their condition; chiefest of which, within its reach, is to aid in the education of the children of the poor. An intelligent people, informed of its rights, will soon come to know its power, and cannot long be oppressed; but if there be not a sound and virtuous populace, the elaborate ornaments at the top of the pyramid of society will be a wretched compensation for the want of solidity at the base. It is never safe for a nation to repose on the lap of ignorance: and if there ever was a time when public tranquillity was insured by the absence of knowledge, that season is past. Unthinking stupidity cannot sleep, without being appalled by phantoms and shaken by terrors. The improvement of the mass of the people is the grand security for popular liberty; in the neglect of which, the politeness, refinement, and knowledge accumulated in the higher orders and wealthier classes will some day perish like dry grass in the hot fire of popular fury.
It is not the mission of Masonry to engage in plots and conspiracies against the civil government. It is not the fanatical propagandist of any creed or theory; nor does it proclaim itself the enemy of kings. It is the apostle of liberty, equality, and fraternity; but it is no more the high-priest of republicanism than of constitutional monarchy. It contracts no entangling alliances with any sect of theorists, dreamers, or philosophers. It does not know those as its Initiates who assail the civil order and all lawful authority, at the same time that they propose to deprive the dying of the consolations of religion. It sits apart from all sects and creeds, in its own calm and simple dignity, the same under every government. It is still that which it was in the cradle of the human race, when no human foot had trodden the soil of Assyria and Egypt, and no colonies had crossed the Himalayas into Southern India, Media, or Etruria.
It gives no countenance to anarchy and licentiousness; and no illusion of glory, or extravagant emulation of the ancients inflames it with an unnatural thirst for ideal and Utopian liberty. It teaches that in rectitude of life and sobriety of habits is the only sure guarantee for the continuance of political freedom; and it is chiefly the soldier of the sanctity of the laws and the rights of conscience.
It recognizes it as a truth, that necessity, as well as abstract right and ideal justice, must have its part in the making of laws, the administration of affairs, and the regulation of relations in society. It sees, indeed, that necessity rules in all the affairs of man. It knows that where any man, or any number or race of men, are so imbecile of intellect, so degraded, so incapable of self-control, so inferior in the scale of humanity, as to be unfit to be intrusted with the highest prerogatives of citizenship, the great law of necessity, for the peace and safety of the community and country, requires them to remain under the control of those of larger intellect and superior wisdom. It trusts and believes that God will, in his own good time, work out his own great and wise purposes; and it is willing to wait, where it does not see its own way clear to some certain good.
It hopes and longs for the day when all the races of men, even the lowest, will be elevated, and become fitted for political freedom; when, like all other evils that afflict the earth, pauperism, and bondage or abject dependence, shall cease and disappear. But it does not preach revolution to those who are fond of kings, nor rebellion that can end only in disaster and defeat, or in substituting one tyrant for another, or a multitude of despots for one.
Wherever a people is fit to be free and to govern itself, and generously strives to be so, there go all its sympathies. It detests the tyrant, the lawless oppressor, the military usurper, and him who abuses a lawful power. It frowns upon cruelty, and a wanton disregard of the rights of humanity. It abhors the selfish employer, and exerts its influence to lighten the burdens which want and dependence impose upon the workman, and to foster that humanity and kindness which man owes to even the poorest and most unfortunate brother.
It can never be employed, in any country under Heaven, to teach a toleration for cruelty, to weaken moral hatred for guilt, or to deprave and brutalize the human mind. The dread of punishment will never make a Mason an accomplice in so corrupting his countrymen, and a teacher of depravity and barbarity. If anywhere, as has heretofore happened, a tyrant should send a satirist on his tyranny to be convicted and punished as a libeller, in a court of justice, a Mason, if a juror in such a case, though in sight of the scaffold streaming with the blood of the innocent, and within hearing of the clash of the bayonets meant to overawe the court, would rescue the intrepid satirist from the tyrant's fangs, and send his officers out from the court with defeat and disgrace.
Even if all law and liberty were trampled under the feet of Jacobinical demagogues or a military banditti, and great crimes were perpetrated with a high hand against all who were deservedly the objects of public veneration; if the people, overthrowing law, roared like a sea around the courts of justice, and demanded the blood of those who, during the temporary fit of insanity and drunken delirium, had chanced to become odious to it, for true words manfully spoken, or unpopular acts bravely done, the Masonic juror, unawed alike by the single or the many-headed tyrant, would consult the dictates of duty alone, and stand with a noble firmness between the human tigers and their coveted prey.
The Mason would much rather pass his life hidden in the recesses of the deepest obscurity, feeding his mind even with the visions and imaginations of good deeds and noble actions, than to be placed on the most splendid throne of the universe, tantalized with a denial of the practice of all which can make the greatest situation any other than the greatest curse. And if he has been enabled to lend the slightest step to any great and laudable designs; if he has had any share in any measure giving quiet to private property and to private conscience, making lighter the yoke of poverty and dependence, or relieving deserving men from oppression; if he has aided in securing to his countrymen that best possession, peace; if he has joined in reconciling the different sections of his own country to each other, and the people to the government of their own creating; and in teaching the citizen to look for his protection to the laws of his country, and for his comfort to the good-will of his countrymen; if he has thus taken his part with the best of men in the best of their actions, he may well shut the book, even if he might wish to read a page or two more. It is enough for his measure. He has not lived in vain.
Masonry teaches that all power is delegated for the good, and not for the injury of the People; and that, when it is perverted from the original purpose, the compact is broken, and the right ought to be resumed; that resistance to power usurped is not merely a duty which man owes to himself and to his neighbor, but a duty which he owes to his God, in asserting and maintaining the rank which He gave him in the creation. This principle neither the rudeness of ignorance can stifle nor the enervation of refinement extinguish. It makes it base for a man to suffer when he ought to act; and, tending to preserve to him the original destinations of Providence, spurns at the arrogant assumptions of Tyrants and vindicates the independent quality of the race of which we are a part.
The wise and well-informed Mason will not fail to be the votary of Liberty and Justice. He will be ready to exert himself in their defence, wherever they exist. It cannot be a matter of indifference to him when his own liberty and that of other men, with whose merits and capacities he is acquainted, are involved in the event of the struggle to be made; but his attachment will be to the cause, as the cause of man; and not merely to the country. Wherever there is a people that understands the value of political justice, and is prepared to assert it, that is his country; wherever he can most contribute to the diffusion of these principles and the real happiness of mankind, that is his country. Nor does he desire for any country any other benefit than justice.
The true Mason identifies the honor of his country with his own. Nothing more conduces to the beauty and glory of one's country than the preservation against all enemies of its civil and religious liberty. The world will never willingly let die the names of those patriots who in her different ages have received upon their own breasts the blows aimed by insolent enemies at the bosom of their country.
But also it conduces, and in no small measure, to the beauty and glory of one's country, that justice should always be administered there to all alike, and neither denied, sold, nor delayed to any one; that the interest of the poor should be looked to, and none starve or be houseless, or clamor in vain for work; that the child and the feeble woman should not be overworked, or even the apprentice or slave be stinted of food or overtasked or mercilessly scourged; and that God's great laws of mercy, humanity, and compassion should be everywhere enforced, not only by the statutes, but also by the power of public opinion. And he who labors, often against reproach and obloquy, and oftener against indifference and apathy, to bring about that fortunate condition of things when that great code of divine law shall be everywhere and punctually obeyed, is no less a patriot than he who bares his bosom to the hostile steel in the ranks of his country's soldiery.
For fortitude is not only seen resplendent on the field of battle and amid the clash of arms, but he displays its energy under every difficulty and against every assailant. He who wars against cruelty, oppression, and hoary abuses, fights for his country's honor, which these things soil; and her honor is as important as her existence. Often, indeed, the warfare against those abuses which disgrace one's country is quite as hazardous and more discouraging than that against her enemies in the field; and merits equal, if not greater reward.
For those Greeks and Romans who are the objects of our admiration employed hardly any other virtue in the extirpation of tyrants, than that love of liberty, which made them prompt in seizing the sword, and gave them strength to use it. With facility they accomplish the undertaking, amid the general shout of praise and joy; nor did they engage in the attempt so much as an enterprise of perilous and doubtful issue, as a contest the most glorious in which virtue could be signalized; which infallibly led to present recompense; which bound their brows with wreaths of laurel, and consigned their memories to immortal fame.
But he who assails hoary abuses, regarded perhaps with a superstitious reverence, and around which old laws stand as ramparts and bastions to defend them; who denounces acts of cruelty and outrage on humanity which make every perpetrator thereof his personal enemy, and perhaps make him looked upon with suspicion by the people among whom he lives, as the assailant of an established order of things of which he assails only the abuses, and of laws of which he attacks only the violations,—he can scarcely look for present recompense, nor that his living brows will be wreathed with laurel. And if, contending against a dark array of long-received opinions, superstitions, obloquy, and fears, which most men dread more than they do an army terrible with banners, the Mason overcomes, and emerges from the contest victorious; or if he does not conquer, but is borne down and swept away by the mighty current of prejudice, passion, and interest; in either case, the loftiness of spirit which he displays merits for him more than a mediocrity of fame.
He has already lived too long who has survived the ruin of his country; and he who can enjoy life after such an event deserves not to have lived at all. Nor does he any more deserve to live who looks contentedly upon abuses that disgrace, and cruelties that dishonor, and scenes of misery and destitution and brutalization that disfigure his country; or sordid meanness and ignoble revenges that make her a by-word and a scoff among all generous nations; and does not endeavor to remedy or prevent either.
Not often is a country at war; nor can every one be allowed the privilege of offering his heart to the enemy's bullets. But in these patriotic labors of peace, in preventing, remedying, and reforming evils, oppressions, wrongs, cruelties, and outrages, every Mason can unite; and every one can effect something, and share the honor and glory of the result.
For the cardinal names in the history of the human mind are few and easily to be counted up; but thousands and tens of thousands spend their days in the preparations which are to speed the predestined change, in gathering and amassing the materials which are to kindle and give light and warmth, when the fire from Heaven shall have descended on them. Numberless are the sutlers and pioneers, the engineers and artisans, who attend the march of intellect. Many move forward in detachments, and level the way over which the chariot is to pass, and cut down the obstacles that would impede its progress; and these too have their reward. If they labor diligently and faithfully in their calling, not only will they enjoy that calm contentment which diligence in the lowliest task never fails to win; not only will the sweat of their brows be sweet, and the sweetener of the rest that follows; but, when the victory is at last achieved, they will come in for a share in the glory; even as the meanest soldier who fought at Marathon or at King's Mountain became a sharer in the glory of those saving days; and within his own household circle, the approbation of which approaches the nearest to that of an approving conscience, was looked upon as the representative of all his brother-heroes; and could tell such tales as made the tear glisten on the cheek of his wife, and lit up his boy's eyes with an unwonted sparkling eagerness. Or, if he fell in the fight, and his place by the fireside and at the table at home was thereafter vacant, that place was sacred; and he was often talked of there in the long winter evenings; and his family, was deemed fortunate in the neighborhood, because it had had a hero in it, who had fallen in defence of his country.
Remember that life's length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein for our country and kind. A useless life is short, if it last a century; but that of Alexander was long as the life of the oak, though he died at thirty-five. We may do much in a few years, and we may do nothing in a lifetime. If we but eat and drink and sleep, and let everything go on around us as it pleases; or if we live but to amass wealth or gain office or wear titles, we might as well not have lived at all; nor have we any right to expect immortality.
Forget not, therefore, to what you have devoted yourself in this Degree: defend weakness against strength, the friendless against the great, the oppressed against the oppressor! Be ever vigilant and watchful of the interests and honor of your country! and may the Grand Architect of the Universe give you that strength and wisdom which shall enable you well and faithfully to perform these high duties!
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