|The Masonic Legend
Justice in Decision
Injustice and Its Consequences
Justice in Judgment
Caution and Charity
See also:Degree VII Questions
Such is the brief account which has come down to us of the establishment of this degree. The lesson which it inculcates is justice in decision and judgment, and in our intercourse and dealing with other men.
Those who are invested with the power of judgment should judge the causes of all persons uprightly and impartially, without any personal consideration of the power of the mighty or the bribes of the rich or the needs of the poor. That is the cardinal rule which no one will dispute, though many fail to observe it. But they must do more. They must divest themselves of prejudice and preconception. They must hear patiently, remember accurately, and weigh carefully the facts and arguments offered before them. They must not leap hastily to conclusions, nor form opinions before they have heard all. They must not presume crime or fraud, but decide that it exists only when, and not until, it is proven. They must neither cherish and indulge a stubborn pride of opinion, nor be too facile and yielding to the views and arguments of others. In deducing the motive from the proven act, they must not assign to the act either the best or the worst motive, but that which they would think it just and fair for the world to assign to it if they themselves had done it; nor must they endeavour to make little circumstances that weigh nothing separately weigh much together, merely to prove their own acuteness and sagacity.
Every wrong done by one man to another, whether to affect his person, his property, his happiness or his reputation, is an offence against the law of justice. The field of this degree is therefore a wide and vast one; and Masonry seeks for the most impressive mode of enforcing the law of Justice and the most effectual means of preventing wrong and injustice.
To this end it teaches that great and momentous truth: that wrong and injustice once done cannot be undone, but are eternal in their consequences; once committed, are numbered with the irrevocable Past; that the wrong that is done contains its own retributive penalty as surely and as naturally as the acorn contains the oak. Its consequences are its punishment; it needs no other, and can have no heavier; they are involved in its commission and cannot be separated from it. A wrong done to another is an injury done to our own Nature, an offence against our own souls, a disfiguring of the image of the Beautiful and Good. Punishment is not the execution of a sentence but the occurrence of an effect. It is ordained to follow guilt, not by the decree of God as judge, but by a law enacted by Him as the Creator and Legislator of the Universe. It is not an arbitrary and artificial annexation, but an ordinary and logical consequence; and therefore must be borne by the wrong-doer alone.
There can be no interference with, or remittance of, or protection from, the natural effects of our wrongful acts. God will not interpose between the cause and its consequence; and in that sense there can be no forgiveness of sins. The act which has debased our soul may be repented of, may be turned from; but the injury is done. The debasement may be redeemed by after efforts, the stain obliterated by bitterer struggles and severer sufferings; but the efforts and the endurance which might have raised the soul to the loftiest heights are now exhausted in merely regaining what it has lost. There must always be a wide difference between him who only ceases to do evil and him who has always done well.
He will certainly be a far more scrupulous watcher over his conduct, and far more careful of his deeds, who believes that those deeds will inevitably bear their natural consequences, exempt from after intervention, than he who believes that penitence and pardon will at any time unlink the chain of sequences. Surely we shall do less wrong and injustice if the conviction is fixed and embedded in our souls that every thing done is done irrevocably; that even the Omnipotence of God cannot uncommit a deed, cannot make that undone which has been done; that every act of ours must bear its allotted fruit according to the everlasting laws; this truth must remain forever ineffaceably inscribed on the tablets of Universal Nature.
Repentance for a wrong done bears, like every other act, its own fruit, the fruit of purifying the heart and amending the Future; but not of effacing the Past. The commission of the wrong is an irrevocable act; but it does not incapacitate the soul to do right for the future. Its consequences cannot be expunged; but its course need not be pursued. Wrong and evil perpetrated, though ineffaceable, call not for despair but for efforts more energetic than before. Repentance is still as valid as ever; but it is valid to secure the Future, not to obliterate the Past.
Even the pulsations of the air, once set in motion by the human voice, cease not to exist with the sounds to which they give rise. Their quickly attenuated force soon becomes inaudible to human ears. But the waves of air thus raised perambulate the surface of the earth and ocean, and in less than twenty hours, every atom of its atmosphere takes up the altered movement due to that infinitesimal portion of primitive motion which has been conveyed to it through countless channels, and which must continue to influence its path throughout its future existence. The air is one vast library on whose pages is forever written all that man has ever said or even whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characters, mixed with the earliest as well as the latest signs of mortality, stand forever recorded vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled; perpetuating, in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man's changeful will. God reads that book, though we cannot.
So earth, air, and ocean are the eternal witnesses of the acts that we have done. No motion impressed by natural causes or by the human agency is ever obliterated. The track of every canoe which has yet disturbed the surface of the ocean remains forever registered in the future movements of all succeeding particles which may occupy its place. Every criminal is by the laws of the Almighty irrevocably chained to the testimony of his crime: for every atom of his mortal frame, through whatever changes its particles may migrate, will still retain, adhering to it through every combination, some movement derived from that very muscular effort by which the crime itself was perpetrated.
What if our faculties should be so enhanced in a future life as to enable us to perceive and trace the ineffaceable consequences of our idle words and evil deeds, and render our remorse and grief as eternal as those consequences themselves? No more fearful punishment to a superior intelligence can be conceived than to see still in action, with the consciousness that it must continue in action for ever, a cause of wrong put in motion by itself ages before.
Thus Masonry by its teachings endeavours to restrain men from the commission of injustice and acts of wrong and outrage. Though it does not endeavour to usurp the place of religion, still its code of morals proceeds upon other principles than the municipal law; and it frowns upon and punishes offences which neither that law punishes nor public opinion condemns. In the Masonic law, cheating and overreaching in trade are theft; a deliberate lie is perjury; the slanderer is an assassin; and the seducer worse than a murderer. Especially it condemns those wrongs of which the doer induces another to partake. He may repent; he may, after agonising struggles, regain the path of virtue; his spirit may re-achieve its purity through much anguish, after many strifes: but the weaker fellow-creature whom he led astray, whom he made a sharer in his guilt but whom he cannot make a sharer in his repentance and amendment, whose downward course (the first step of which he taught) he cannot check, but is compelled to witness: — what forgiveness of sins can avail him there? There is his perpetual, his inevitable, punishment, which no repentance can alleviate and no mercy can remit.
We may be able to say: this man has lied; he has pilfered, has forged, has embezzled monies entrusted to him; and that man has gone through life with clean hands. But we cannot say that the former has not struggled long, though unsuccessfully, against temptations under which the second would have succumbed without effort. We can say which has the cleaner hands before man; but not which has the cleaner soul before God. We may be able to say, this man has committed adultery, and that man has been ever chaste; but we cannot tell but that the innocence of the one may have been due to the coldness of his heart, to the absence of a motive, to the presence of a fear, to the slight degree of the temptation; nor but that the fall of the other may have been preceded by the most vehement self-contest, caused by the most over-mastering frenzy, and atoned for by the most hallowing repentance. Generosity as well as niggardliness may be a mere yielding to native temperament; and in the eye of Heaven, a long life of beneficence in one man may have cost less effort and may indicate less virtue and less sacrifice of interest than a few rare hidden acts of kindness wrought by duty out of the reluctant and unsympathising nature of the other. There may be more real merit, more self-sacrificing effort, more of the noblest elements of moral grandeur, in a life of failure, sin and shame than in a career, to our eyes, of stainless integrity.
When we condemn or pity the fallen, how do we know that, tempted like him, we should not have fallen as soon and perhaps with less resistance? How can we know what we should do if we were out of employment, famine sitting gaunt and hungry at our fireside, and our children wailing for bread? We fall not because we are not tempted. He that has fallen may be at heart as honest as we. How do we know that our wife or sister or daughter could resist the distress, the temptation, that lost their poor abandoned sister of shame her virtue? Perhaps they also stand only because they have not been tempted.
Human justice must be ever uncertain. How many judicial murders have been committed through ignorance of the phenomenon of insanity! How many men have been hung for murder who were no more murderers at heart than the jury that tried and the judge that sentenced them? It may well be doubted whether the administration of human laws, in every country of the Globe, is not one gigantic mass of injustice and wrong. God sees not as man sees; and the most abandoned criminal, black as he is before the world, may yet have continued to keep some little light burning in a corner of his own soul which would long since have gone out in that of those who walk proudly in the sunshine of immaculate fame if they had been tried and tempted like the poor outcast.
We do not know even the outside life of men. We are not competent to pronounce even on their deeds. We do not know half the acts of wickedness or virtue, even of our most immediate fellows. We cannot say with certainty, even of our nearest friend, that he has not committed a particular sin and broken a particular commandment. Let each man ask his own heart. Of how many of our best and of our worst acts and qualities are our most intimate associates utterly unconscious! How many virtues does not the world give us credit for that we do not possess: or vices condemn us for of which we are not the slaves? It is but a small portion of our evil deeds and thoughts that ever comes to light; and of our redeeming goodness, the largest portion is known to God alone.
The faults and crimes and follies of other men are not unimportant to us, but form a part of our moral discipline. War and bloodshed at a distance, and frauds which do not affect our pecuniary interests, touch us in our feelings and concern our moral welfare. They have much to do with all thoughtful hearts. The public eye may look unconcernedly on the miserable victim of vice; and that shattered wreck of a man may move this multitude to laughter or to scorn. But to the Mason, it is the form of sacred humanity that is before him; it is an erring fellow-being; a desolate, forlorn, broken soul; and his thoughts, enfolding the poor wretch, will be far deeper than those of indifference, ridicule, or contempt. All human offences, the whole system of dishonesty, evasion, circumventing, forbidden indulgence and intriguing ambition, in which men are struggling with each other, will be looked upon by a thoughtful Mason not merely as a scene of mean toils and strifes, but as the solemn conflict of immortal minds, for ends vast and momentous as their own being. It is a sad and unworthy strife, and may well be viewed with indignation: but that indignation must melt into pity. For the stakes for which these gamesters play are not those which they imagine, not those which are in sight. For example, this man plays for a petty office, and gains it; but the real stake he gains is sycophancy, uncharitableness, slander and deceit.
Good men are too proud of their goodness. They are respectable; dishonour comes not near them; their countenance has weight and influence; their robes are unstained; the poisonous breath of calumny has never been breathed upon their fair name. How easy it is for them to look down with scorn upon the poor degraded offender, to pass him by with a lofty step, to draw up the folds of their garments that they may not be soiled by his touch! Yet the Great Master of Virtue did not so, but descended to familiar intercourse with publicans and sinners.
Many men think themselves better in proportion as they can detect sins in others. When they go over the catalogue of their neighbour's unhappy derelictions of temper or conduct, they often, amidst much apparent concern, feel a secret exultation that destroys all their own pretensions to wisdom and moderation, and even to virtue. Many even take actual pleasure in the sins of others: and this is the case with every one whose thoughts are often employed in agreeable comparisons of his own virtues with his neighbour's faults.
The power of gentleness is too little seen in the world; the subduing influences of pity, the might of love, the control of mildness over passion, the commanding Majesty of that perfect character which mingles grave displeasure with grief and pity for the offender. So it is that a Mason should treat his brothers who go astray: not with bitterness, nor yet with good-natured easiness, nor with worldly indifference, nor with a philosophic coldness, nor with a laxity of conscience that accounts everything well, that passes the seal of public opinion.
A moral offence is sickness, pain, loss, dishonour in the immortal part of man. It is guilt, and misery added to guilt. It is itself calamity; and brings upon itself, in addition, the calamity of God's disapproval, the abhorrence of all virtuous men, and the soul's own abhorrence. Deal faithfully, but patiently and tenderly, with this evil. It is no matter for petty provocation, for personal strife, nor for selfish irritation.
We are all men of like passions, propensities, and exposures. There are elements in us all which might have been perverted through the successive processes of moral deterioration to the worst of crimes. The wretch whom the execration of the thronging crowd pursues to the scaffold is not worse than any one of that multitude might have become under similar circumstances. He is to be condemned indeed, but also deeply to be pitied.
It does not become the frail and sinful to be vindictive towards even the worst criminals. We owe much to the good Providence of God, ordaining for us a lot more favourable to virtue. We all had that within us that might have been pushed to the same excess. Perhaps we should have fallen as he did, with less temptation. Perhaps we have done acts that, in proportion to the temptation or provocation, were less excusable than his great crime. Silent pity and sorrow for the victim should mingle with our detestation of the guilt. Even the pirate who murders in cold blood on the high seas is such a man as you or I might have been. Orphanage in childhood, or base and dissolute and abandoned parents; an unfriended youth; evil companions; ignorance and want of moral cultivation; the temptations of sinful pleasure or grinding poverty; familiarity with vice; a scorned and blighted name; seared and crushed affections; desperate fortunes: these are steps that might have led any one among us to unfurl upon the high seas the bloody flag of universal defiance; to wage war with our kind; to live the life and die the death of the reckless and remorseless freebooter. Many affecting relationships of humanity plead with us to pity him. His head once rested on a mother's bosom. He was once the object of sisterly love and domestic endearment. Perhaps his hand, since often red with blood, once clasped another little loving hand at the altar. Pity him, then; his blighted hopes and his crushed heart. It is proper that frail and erring creatures like us should do so; should feel it as weak, tempted and rescued creatures should. It may be that when God weighs men's crimes, He will take into consideration the temptations and the adverse circumstances that led to them, and the opportunities for moral culture of the offender; and it may be that our own offences will weigh heavier than we think, and the murderer's lighter than according to man's judgment.
On all accounts, therefore, let the true Mason never forget the solemn injunction, necessary to be observed at almost every moment of a busy life: "Judge not, lest yourselves be judged: for whatsoever judgment you measure unto others, the same shall in turn be measured unto you". Such is the lesson taught to every Provost and Judge.