|Moral Preparation for Advancement
Search for Truth
The Masonic Moral Code
See also:Belief in God
The Economy of Life
Degree VIII — Questions
When you shall have become imbued with the morality of Masonry, with which you are, and for some time will be, exclusively occupied; when you shall have learned to practise 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 towards 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 endeavour to correct those of your brethren.
Here, as in all the degrees, you meet with the emblems and 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 upon 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 5 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 bare-foot and on flinty ground; to remember him in your supplications to the Deity; to clasp him to your heart and protect him against misfortune and slander; to uphold him when about to stumble and fall; and to give him prudent, honest, and friendly counsel: these are duties plainly written upon the pages of God's great code of laws and first among the ordinances of Masonry.
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 Candour 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.
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.
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 splendour. 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 endeavour to persuade men that they are obliged wholly to despise this world and all that is in it, even while they themselves live here. God has not taken all these pains in forming and framing and furnishing and adorning the world so 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 honour 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.
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 worthless one; nor is it a misfortune: but a thing for a man, if he is a man, to be thankful for.
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 one's 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, but 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 will never 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.
It has no sympathy with those who profess to have proved this life, and found it of little worth; who have 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, its honours faded, and its paths beaten, familiar and dull.
Masonry deems it no mark of great piety towards 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 either in comparison or 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.
Masonry 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 on 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 or 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 the earthquake, because they are out of the common course of things. They are like disastrous events because extraordinary, and with whole and unnoticed periods of prosperity in between. We mark and signalise the times of calamity: but many happy days and periods of enjoyment pass unrecorded either in the book of memory or in the scanty annals of our thanksgiving. We are little disposed and less able to recall the peaceful moments from the dim remembrances of our past years. The easy sensations, the bright thoughts, the quiet reveries, the throngs of kind affections in which life flowed on bearing us calmly and gently, almost unconsciously, upon its bosom, have sunk into the background.
Life is not only good: it has been glorious in the experience of millions. The glory of all human virtue clothes it. The splendours of devotedness, beneficence, and heroism are upon it. The brightness of the soul shines through this visible and sometimes darkened life, through all its cares and labours. The humblest life may feel its connection with the Infinite Source. There is something mighty in the inner man; something of immortality in this frail, momentary and transient being. The mind stretches away to infinity on every side. 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.
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 kindle 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.
We ourselves make our fortunes good or bad. 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; if we 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 dishonest action; if we think impatience a worse evil than a fever, pride to be the greatest disgrace as well as the greatest folly, and poverty far preferable to the torments of avarice, then we may still bear an even mind and smile at the reverses of fortune and the ill-nature of fate.
If you have lost your land, do not also lose your constancy. If you must die sooner than others or than you expected, yet do not die impatiently. For no chance is evil to him that 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 has 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 while we make use of the plainness of his declamation. If there be nothing else in abuse but that it makes us to walk warily, that is better than to be flattered into pride and carelessness.
If you fall from your employment in public, take sanctuary in an honest retirement, being indifferent to your gain abroad or your safety at home.
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.
Measure your desires by your fortune and condition, not your fortune by your desires. Be governed by your needs, not your fancy; by nature, not by evil customs and ambitious principles. It is no evil to be poor, but to be vicious and impatient.
There are instances of fortune and a fair condition that cannot stand with some others: 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 honours 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.
God 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 circumstances change or we understand the reason for them.
The particulars of mercy or alms cannot be narrower than men's needs. He that gives alms must do it in mercy, out of a true sense of the calamity of his brother, first feeling it in himself in some proportion, and then endeavouring to ease himself and the other of their common calamity. They offend against this rule who give alms merely out of custom, or to upbraid the poverty of the other, or to make him mercenary and lay him under obligation, or with any unhandsome circumstances.
He that gives must do it with a single eye and heart, without designs to get the praise of men. He who has done a good turn should so forget it as not to speak of it; but he that boasts it or upbraids it has paid himself and lost the nobleness of the charity.
Give, looking for nothing again, without consideration of future advantages. Give to children, to old men, to the unthankful, to the dying, and to those you shall never see again: for else your alms or courtesy is not charity, but traffic and merchandise. And omit not to relieve the needs of your enemy and him who does you injury.
Charity is the great channel 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 the 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.
Such are the lessons of this Degree. Reflect upon them well, my Brother, before you again apply to advance in Masonry.