In this Degree you have been taught the important lesson, that none are entitled to advance in the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, who have not by study and application made themselves familiar with Masonic learning and jurisprudence. The Degrees of this Rite are not for those who are content with the mere work and ceremonies, and do not seek to explore the mines of wisdom that lie buried beneath the surface. You still advance toward the Light, toward that star, blazing in the distance, which is an emblem of the Divine Truth, given by God to the first men, and preserved amid all the vicissitudes of ages in the traditions and teachings of Masonry. How far you will advance, depends upon yourself alone. Here, as everywhere in the world, Darkness struggles with Light, and clouds and shadows intervene between you and the Truth.
When you shall have become imbued with the morality of Masonry, with which you yet are, and for some time will be exclusively occupied,—when you shall have learned to practice all the virtues which it inculcates; when they become familiar to you as your Household Gods; then will you be prepared to receive its lofty philosophical instruction, and to scale the heights upon whose summit Light and Truth sit enthroned. Step by step men must advance toward Perfection; and each Masonic Degree is meant to be one of those steps. Each is a development of a particular duty; and in the present you are taught charity and benevolence; to be to your brethren an example of virtue; to correct your own faults; and to endeavor to correct those of your brethren.
Here, as in all the Degrees, you meet with the emblems and the names of Deity, the true knowledge of whose character and attributes it has ever been a chief object of Masonry to perpetuate. To appreciate His infinite greatness and goodness, to rely implicitly on His Providence, to revere and venerate Him as the Supreme Architect, Creator, and Legislator of the universe, is the first of Masonic duties.
The Battery of this Degree, and the five circuits which you made around the Lodge, allude to the five points of fellowship, and are intended to recall them vividly to your mind. To go upon a brother's errand or to his relief, even barefoot and upon flinty ground; to remember him in your supplications to the Deity; to clasp him to your heart, and protect him against malice and evil-speaking; to uphold him when about to stumble and fall; and to give him prudent, honest, and friendly counsel, are duties plainly written upon the pages of God's great code of law, and first among the ordinances of Masonry.
The first sign of the Degree is expressive of the diffidence and humility with which we inquire into the nature and attributes of the Deity; the second, of the profound awe and reverence with which we contemplate His glories; and the third, of the sorrow with which we reflect upon our insufficient observance of our duties, and our imperfect compliance with His statutes.
The distinguishing property of man is to search for and follow after truth. Therefore, when relaxed from our necessary cares and concerns, we then covet to see, to hear, and to learn somewhat; and we esteem knowledge of things, either obscure or wonderful, to be the indispensable means of living happily. Truth, Simplicity, and Candor are most agreeable to the nature of mankind. Whatever is virtuous consists either in Sagacity, and the Perception of Truth; or in the preservation of Human Society, by giving to every man his due, and observing the faith of contracts; or in the greatness and firmness of an elevated and unsubdued mind; or in observing order and regularity in all our words and in all our actions; in which consist Moderation and Temperance.
Masonry has in all times religiously preserved that enlightened faith from which flow sublime Devotedness, the sentiment of Fraternity fruitful of good works, the spirit of indulgence and peace, of sweet hopes and effectual consolations; and inflexibility in the accomplishment of the most painful and arduous duties. It has always propagated it with ardor and perseverance; and therefore it labors at the present day more zealously than ever. Scarcely a Masonic discourse is pronounced, that does not demonstrate the necessity and advantages of this faith, and especially recall the two constitutive principles of religion, that make all religion,—love of God, and love of neighbor. Masons carry these principles into the bosoms of their families and of society. While the Sectarians of former times enfeebled the religious spirit, Masonry, forming one great People over the whole globe, and marching under the great banner of Charity and Benevolence, preserves that religious feeling, strengthens it, extends it in its purity and simplicity, as it has always existed in the depths of the human heart, as it existed even under the dominion of the most ancient forms of worship, but where gross and debasing superstitions forbade its recognition.
A Masonic Lodge should resemble a bee-hive, in which all the members work together with ardor for the common good. Masonry is not made for cold souls and narrow minds, that do not comprehend its lofty mission and sublime apostolate. Here the anathema against lukewarm souls applies. To comfort misfortune, to popularize knowledge, to teach whatever is true and pure in religion and philosophy, to accustom men to respect order and the proprieties of life, to point out the way to genuine happiness, to prepare for that fortunate period, when all the factions of the Human Family, united by the bonds of Toleration and Fraternity, shall be but one household,—these are labors that may well excite zeal and even enthusiasm.
We do not now enlarge upon or elaborate these ideas. We but utter them to you briefly, as hints, upon which you may at your leisure reflect. Hereafter, if you continue to advance, they will be unfolded, explained, and developed.
Masonry utters no impracticable and extravagant precepts, certain, because they are so, to be disregarded. It asks of its initiates nothing that it is not possible and even easy for them to perform. Its teachings are eminently practical; and its statutes can be obeyed by every just, upright, and honest man, no matter what his faith or creed. Its object is to attain the greatest practical good, without seeking to make men perfect. It does not meddle with the domain of religion, nor inquire into the mysteries of regeneration. It teaches those truths that are written by the finger of God upon the heart of man, those views of duty which have been wrought out by the meditations of the studious, confirmed by the allegiance of the good and wise, and stamped as sterling by the response they find in every uncorrupted mind. It does not dogmatize, nor vainly imagine dogmatic certainty to be attainable.
Masonry does not occupy itself with crying down this world, with its splendid beauty, its thrilling interests, its glorious works, its noble and holy affections; nor exhort us to detach our hearts from this earthly life, as empty, fleeting, and unworthy, and fix them upon Heaven, as the only sphere deserving the love of the loving or the meditation of the wise. It teaches that man has high duties to perform, and a high destiny to fulfill, on this earth; that this world is not merely the portal to another; and that this life, though not our only one, is an integral one, and the particular one with which we are here meant to be concerned; that the Present is our scene of action, and the Future for speculation and for trust; that man was sent upon the earth to live in it, to enjoy it, to study it, to love it, to embellish it, to make the most of it. It is his country, on which he should lavish his affections and his efforts. It is here his influences are to operate. It is his house, and not a tent; his home, and not merely a school. He is sent into this world, not to be constantly hankering after, dreaming of, preparing for another; but to do his duty and fulfill his destiny on this earth; to do all that lies in his power to improve it, to render it a scene of elevated happiness to himself, to those around him, to those who are to come after him. His life here is part of his immortality; and this world, also, is among the stars.
And thus, Masonry teaches us, will man best prepare for that Future which he hopes for. The Unseen cannot hold a higher Place in our affections than the Seen and the Familiar. The law of our being is Love of Life, and its interests and adornments; love of the world in which our lot is cast, engrossment with the interests and affections of earth. Not a low or sensual love; not love of wealth, of fame, of ease, of power, of splendor. Not low worldliness; but the love of Earth as the garden on which the Creator has lavished such miracles of beauty; as the habitation of humanity, the arena of its conflicts, the scene of its illimitable progress, the dwelling-place of the wise, the good, the active, the loving, and the dear; the place of opportunity for the development by means of sin and suffering and sorrow, of the noblest passions, the loftiest virtues, and the tenderest sympathies.
They take very unprofitable pains, who endeavor to persuade men that they are obliged wholly to despise this world, and all that is in it, even whilst they themselves live here. God hath not taken all that pains in forming and framing and furnishing and adorning the world, that they who were made by Him to live in it should despise it. It will be enough, if they do not love it too immoderately. It is useless to attempt to extinguish all those affections and passions which are and always will be inseparable from human nature. As long as the world lasts, and honor and virtue and industry have reputation in the world, there will be ambition and emulation and appetite in the best and most accomplished men in it; and if there were not, more barbarity and vice and wickedness would cover every nation of the world, than it now suffers under.
Those only who feel a deep interest in, and affection for, this world, will work resolutely for its amelioration. Those who undervalue this life, naturally become querulous and discontented, and lose their interest in the welfare of their fellows. To serve them, and so to do our duty as Masons, we must feel that the object is worth the exertion; and be content with this world in which God has placed us, until He permits us to remove to a better one. He is here with us, and does not deem this an unworthy world.
It is a serious thing to defame and belie a whole world; to speak of it as the abode of a poor, toiling, drudging, ignorant, contemptible race. You would not so discredit your family, your friendly circle, your village, your city, your country. The world is not a wretched and a worthless one; nor is it a misfortune, but a thing to be thankful for, to be a man. If life is worthless, so also is immortality.
In society itself, in that living mechanism of human relationships that spreads itself over the world, there is a finer essence within, that as truly moves it, as any power, heavy or expansive, moves the sounding manufactory or the swift-flying car. The man-machine hurries to and fro upon the earth, stretches out its hands on every side, to toil, to barter, to unnumbered labors and enterprises; and almost always the motive, that which moves it, is something that takes hold of the comforts, affections, and hopes of social existence. True, the mechanism often works with difficulty, drags heavily, grates and screams with harsh collision. True, the essence of finer motive, becoming intermixed with baser and coarser ingredients, often clogs, obstructs, jars, and deranges the free and noble action of social life. But he is neither grateful nor wise, who looks cynically on all this, and loses the fine sense of social good in its perversions. That I can be a friend, that I can have a friend, though it were but one in the world; that fact, that wondrous good fortune, we may set against all the sufferings of our social nature. That there is such a place on earth as a home, that resort and sanctuary of in-walled and shielded joy, we may set against all the surrounding desolations of life. That one can be a true, social man, can speak his true thoughts, amidst all the janglings of controversy and the warring of opinions; that fact from within, outweighs all facts from without.
In the visible aspect and action of society, often repulsive and annoying, we are apt to lose the due sense of its invisible blessings. As in Nature it is not the coarse and palpable, not soils and rains, nor even fields and flowers, that are so beautiful, as the invisible spirit of wisdom and beauty that pervades it; so in society, it is the invisible, and therefore unobserved, that is most beautiful.
What nerves the arm of toil? If man minded himself alone, he would fling down the spade and axe, and rush to the desert; or roam through the world as a wilderness, and make that world a desert. His home, which he sees not, perhaps, but once or twice in a day, is the invisible bond of the world. It is the good, strong, and noble faith that men have in each other, which gives the loftiest character to business, trade, and commerce. Fraud occurs in the rush of business; but it is the exception. Honesty is the rule; and all the frauds in the world cannot tear the great bond of human confidence. If they could, commerce would furl its sails on every sea, and all the cities of the world would crumble into ruins. The bare character of a man on the other side of the world, whom you never saw, whom you never will see, you hold good for a bond of thousands. The most striking feature of the political state is not governments, nor constitutions, nor laws, nor enactments, nor the judicial power, nor the police; but the universal will of the people to be governed by the common weal. Take off that restraint, and no government on earth could stand for an hour.
Of the many teachings of Masonry, one of the most valuable is, that we should not depreciate this life. It does not hold, that when we reflect on the destiny that awaits man on earth, we ought to bedew his cradle with our tears; but, like the Hebrews, it hails the birth of a child with joy, and holds that his birthday should be a festival.
It has no sympathy with those who profess to have proved this life, and found it little worth; who have deliberately made up their minds that it is far more miserable than happy; because its employments are tedious, and their schemes often baffled, their friendships broken, or their friends dead, its pleasures palled, and its honors faded, and its paths beaten, familiar, and dull.
Masonry deems it no mark of great piety toward God to disparage, if not despise, the state that He has ordained for us. It does not absurdly set up the claims of another world, not in comparison merely, but in competition, with the claims of this. It looks upon both as parts of one system. It holds that a man may make the best of this world and of another at the same time. It does not teach its initiates to think better of other works and dispensations of God, by thinking meanly of these. It does not look upon life as so much time lost; nor regard its employments as trifles unworthy of immortal beings; nor tell its followers to fold their arms, as if in disdain of their state and species; but it looks soberly and cheerfully upon the world, as a theatre of worthy action, of exalted usefulness, and of rational and innocent enjoyment.
It holds that, with all its evils, life is a blessing. To deny that is to destroy the basis of all religion, natural and revealed. The very foundation of all religion is laid on the firm belief that God is good; and if this life is an evil and a curse, no such belief can be rationally entertained. To level our satire at humanity and human existence, as mean and contemptible; to look on this world as the habitation of a miserable race, fit only for mockery and scorn; to consider this earth as a dungeon or a prison, which has no blessing to offer but escape from it, is to extinguish the primal light of faith and hope and happiness, to destroy the basis of religion, and Truth's foundation in the goodness of God. If it indeed be so, then it matters not what else is true or not true; speculation is vain and faith is vain; and all that belongs to man's highest being is buried in the ruins of misanthropy, melancholy, and despair.
Our love of life; the tenacity with which, in sorrow and suffering, we cling to it; our attachment to our home, to the spot that gave us birth, to any place, however rude, unsightly, or barren, on which the history of our years has been written, all show how dear are the ties of kindred and society. Misery makes a greater impression upon us than happiness; because the former is not the habit of our minds. It is a strange, unusual guest, and we are more conscious of its presence. Happiness lives with us, and we forget it. It does not excite us, nor disturb the order and course of our thoughts. A great agony is an epoch in our life. We remember our afflictions, as we do the storm and earthquake, because they are out of the common course of things. They are like disastrous events, recorded because extraordinary; and with whole and unnoticed periods of prosperity between. We mark and signalize the times of calamity; but many happy days and unnoted periods of enjoyment pass, that are unrecorded either in the book of memory, or in the scanty annals of our thanksgiving. We are little disposed and less able to call up from the dim remembrances of our past years, the peaceful moments, the easy sensations, the bright thoughts, the quiet reveries, the throngs of kind affections in which life flowed on, bearing us almost unconsciously upon its bosom, because it bore us calmly and gently.
Life is not only good; but it has been glorious in the experience of millions. The glory of all human virtue clothes it. The splendors of devotedness, beneficence, and heroism are upon it; the crown of a thousand martyrdoms is upon its brow. The brightness of the soul shines through this visible and sometimes darkened life; through all its surrounding cares and labors. The humblest life may feel its connection with its Infinite Source. There is something mighty in the frail inner man; something of immortality in this momentary and transient being. The mind stretches away, on every side, into infinity. Its thoughts flash abroad, far into the boundless, the immeasurable, the infinite; far into the great, dark, teeming future; and become powers and influences in other ages. To know its wonderful Author, to bring down wisdom from the Eternal Stars, to bear upward its homage, gratitude, and love, to the Ruler of all worlds, to be immortal in our influences projected far into the slow-approaching Future, makes life most worthy and most glorious.
Life is the wonderful creation of God. It is light, sprung from void darkness; power, waked from inertness and impotence; being created from nothing; and the contrast may well enkindle wonder and delight. It is a rill from the infinite, overflowing goodness; and from the moment when it first gushes up into the light, to that when it mingles with the ocean of Eternity, that Goodness attends it and ministers to it. It is a great and glorious gift. There is gladness in its infant voices; joy in the buoyant step of its youth; deep satisfaction in its strong maturity; and peace in its quiet age. There is good for the good; virtue for the faithful; and victory for the valiant. There is, even in this humble life, an infinity for those whose desires are boundless. There are blessings upon its birth; there is hope in its death; and eternity in its prospect. Thus earth, which binds many in chains, is to the Mason both the starting-place and goal of immortality. Many it buries in the rubbish of dull cares and wearying vanities; but to the Mason it is the lofty mount of meditation, where Heaven, and Infinity and Eternity are spread before him and around him. To the lofty-minded, the pure, and the virtuous, this life is the beginning of Heaven, and a part of immortality.
God hath appointed one remedy for all the evils in the world; and that is a contented spirit. We may be reconciled to poverty and a low fortune, if we suffer contentedness and equanimity to make the proportions. No man is poor who doth not think himself so; but if, in a full fortune, with impatience he desires more, he proclaims his wants and his beggarly condition. This virtue of contentedness was the sum of all the old moral philosophy, and is of most universal use in the whole course of our lives, and the only instrument to ease the burdens of the world and the enmities of sad chances. It is the great reasonableness of complying with the Divine Providence, which governs all the world, and hath so ordered us in the administration of His great family. It is fit that God should dispense His gifts as He pleases; and if we murmur here, we may, at the next melancholy, be troubled that He did not make us to be angels or stars.
We ourselves make our fortunes good or bad; and when God lets loose a Tyrant upon us, or a sickness, or scorn, or a lessened fortune, if we fear to die, or know not how to be patient, or are proud, or covetous, then the calamity sits heavy on us. But if we know how to manage a noble principle, and fear not death so much as a dishonest action, and think impatience a worse evil than a fever, and pride to be the greatest disgrace as well as the greatest folly, and poverty far preferable to the torments of avarice, we may still bear an even mind and smile at the reverses of fortune and the ill-nature of Fate.
If thou hast lost thy land, do not also lose thy constancy; and if thou must die sooner than others, or than thou didst expect, yet do not die impatiently. For no chance is evil to him who is content, and to a man nothing is miserable unless it be unreasonable. No man can make another man to be his slave, unless that other hath first enslaved himself to life and death, to pleasure or pain, to hope or fear; command these passions, and you are freer than the Parthian Kings.
When an enemy reproaches us, let us look on him as an impartial relator of our faults; for he will tell us truer than our fondest friend will, and we may forgive his anger, whilst we make use of the plainness of his declamation. The ox, when he is weary, treads truest; and if there be nothing else in abuse, but that it makes us to walk warily, and tread sure for fear of our enemies, that is better than to be flattered into pride and carelessness.
If thou fallest from thy employment in public, take sanctuary in an honest retirement, being indifferent to thy gain abroad, or thy safety at home. When the north wind blows hard, and it rains sadly, we do not sit down in it and cry; but defend ourselves against it with a warm garment, or a good fire and a dry roof. So when the storm of a sad mischance beats upon our spirits, we may turn it into something that is good, if we resolve to make it so; and with equanimity and patience may shelter ourselves from its inclement pitiless pelting. If it develop our patience, and give occasion for heroic endurance, it hath done us good enough to recompense us sufficiently for all the temporal affliction; for so a wise man shall overrule his stars; and have a greater influence upon his own content, than all the constellations and planets of the firmament.
Compare not thy condition with the few above thee, but to secure thy content, look upon those thousands with whom thou wouldst not, for any interest, change thy fortune and condition. A soldier must not think himself unprosperous, if he be not successful as Alexander or Wellington; nor any man deem himself unfortunate that he hath not the wealth of Rothschild; but rather let the former rejoice that he is not lessened like the many generals who went down horse and man before Napoleon, and the latter that he is not the beggar who, bareheaded in the bleak winter wind holds out his tattered hat for charity. There may be many who are richer and more fortunate; but many thousands who are very miserable, compared to thee.
After the worst assaults of Fortune, there will be something left to us,—a merry countenance, a cheerful spirit, and a good conscience, the Providence of God, our hopes of Heaven, our charity for those who have injured us; perhaps a loving wife, and many friends to pity, and some to relieve us; and light and air, and all the beauties of Nature; we can read, discourse, and meditate; and having still these blessings, we should be much in love with sorrow and peevishness to lose them all, and prefer to sit down on our little handful of thorns.
Enjoy the blessings of this day, if God sends them, and the evils of it bear patiently and calmly; for this day only is ours: we are dead to yesterday, and we are not yet born to the morrow. When our fortunes are violently changed, our spirits are unchanged, if they always stood in the suburbs and expectation of sorrows and reverses. The blessings of immunity, safeguard, liberty, and integrity deserve the thanksgiving of a whole life. We are quit from a thousand calamities, every one of which, if it were upon us, would make us insensible of our present sorrow, and glad to receive it in exchange for that other greater affliction.
Measure your desires by your fortune and condition, not your fortunes by your desires: be governed by your needs, not by your fancy; by nature, not by evil customs and ambitious principles. It is no evil to be poor, but to be vicious and impatient. Is that beast better, that hath two or three mountains to graze on, than the little bee that feeds on dew or manna, and lives upon what falls every morning from the store-houses of Heaven, clouds and Providence?
There are some instances of fortune and a fair condition that cannot stand with some others; but if you desire this, you must lose that, and unless you be content with one, you lose the comfort of both. If you covet learning, you must have leisure and a retired life; if honors of State and political distinctions, you must be ever abroad in public, and get experience, and do all men's business, and keep all company, and have no leisure at all. If you will be rich, you must be frugal; if you will be popular, you must be bountiful; if a philosopher, you must despise riches. If you would be famous as Epaminondas, accept also his poverty, for it added lustre to his person, and envy to his fortune, and his virtue without it could not have been so excellent. If you would have the reputation of a martyr, you must needs accept his persecution; if of a benefactor of the world, the world's injustice; if truly great, you must expect to see the mob prefer lesser men to yourself.
God esteems it one of His glories, that He brings good out of evil; and therefore it were but reason we should trust Him to govern His own world as He pleases; and that we should patiently wait until the change cometh, or the reason is discovered.
A Mason's contentedness must by no means be a mere contented selfishness, like his who, comfortable himself, is indifferent to the discomfort of others. There will always be in this world wrongs to forgive, suffering to alleviate, sorrow asking for sympathy, necessities and destitution to relieve, and ample occasion for the exercise of active charity and beneficence. And he who sits unconcerned amidst it all, perhaps enjoying his own comforts and luxuries the more, by contrasting them with the hungry and ragged destitution and shivering misery of his fellows, is not contented, but selfish and unfeeling.
It is the saddest of all sights upon this earth, that of a man lazy and luxurious, or hard and penurious, to whom want appeals in vain, and suffering cries in an unknown tongue. The man whose hasty anger hurries him into violence and crime is not half so unworthy to live. He is the faithless steward, that embezzles what God has given him in trust for the impoverished and suffering among his brethren. The true Mason must be and must have a right to be content with himself; and he can be so only when he lives not for himself alone, but for others also, who need his assistance and have a claim upon his sympathy.
"Charity is the great channel," it has been well said, "through which God passes all His mercy upon mankind. For we receive absolution of our sins in proportion to our forgiving our brother. This is the rule of our hopes and the measure of our desire in this world; and on the day of death and judgment, the great sentence upon mankind shall be transacted according to our alms, which is the other part of charity. God himself is love; and every degree of charity that dwells in us is the participation of the Divine nature."
These principles Masonry reduces to practice. By them it expects you to be hereafter guided and governed. It especially inculcates them upon him who employs the labor of others, forbidding him to discharge them, when to want employment is to starve; or to contract for the labor of man or woman at so low a price that by over-exertion they must sell him their blood and life at the same time with the labor of their hands.
These Degrees are also intended to teach more than morals. The symbols and ceremonies of Masonry have more than one meaning. They rather conceal than disclose the Truth. They hint it only, at least; and their varied meanings are only to be discovered by reflection and study. Truth is not only symbolized by Light, but as the ray of light is separable into rays of different colors, so is truth separable into kinds. It is the province of Masonry to teach all truths—not moral truth alone, but political and philosophical, and even religious truth, so far as concerns the great and essential principles of each. The sphynx was a symbol. To whom has it disclosed its inmost meaning? Who knows the symbolic meaning of the pyramids?
You will hereafter learn who are the chief foes of human liberty symbolized by the assassins of the Master Khūrūm; and in their fate you may see foreshadowed that which we earnestly hope will hereafter overtake those enemies of humanity, against whom Masonry has struggled so long.
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