|Principles versus Sentiments
Defence of Liberty
See also:War on Terrorism — 2
Degree IX — Questions
Masonry is not speculative, but experimental; not sentimental, but practical. It requires self-renunciation and self-control. It wears a stern face towards men's vices, and interferes with many of our pursuits and our fancied pleasures. It penetrates beyond the regions of vague sentiment; beyond the regions where moralisers and philosophers have woven their fine theories and elaborated their beautiful maxims. It penetrates 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, candour, and generosity; and ultra-liberal refinement 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 religious reverence; but no particular virtue, nor habitual kindness, veneration, or liberality. Masonry plays about them like the cold though brilliant lights that flash and eddy over Northern skies. There are occasional flashes of generous and reverential feeling, transitory splendours 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 regions of the Northern Pole. They do nothing; they gain no victories over themselves; they make no progress; they are still in the North East 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.
Most men have sentiments, but not principles. The former are temporary impressions, 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 they that Masonry insists upon.
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 honour 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.
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 tomorrow, 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 at 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.
How ungratefully he lives that dies and does nothing to reflect a glory to Heaven! How barren a tree he is that 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 proportion 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 that 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 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 that never did aught, but only lived and died! That we have liberty to do anything we should account a gift from the favouring 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 honour 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 would 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 the 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: and if there be not a sound and virtuous populace, the elaborate adornments at the top of the pyramid of society will be a wretched compensation for 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 ensured 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 the dry grass in the hot fire of popular fury.
It gives no countenance to anarchy and licentiousness; and no illusion of glory or extravagant emulation of the Ancients inflames it with a thirst for ideal liberty. It teaches that in rectitude of life and sobriety of habits is the only true and safe road to real liberty; and it is chiefly the soldier of the sanctity of the laws and rights of conscience.
But wherever a people is fit to be free and generously strives to be so, there go all its sympathies. It hates and detests the Tyrant, the lawless oppressor, and him who abuses a lawful Power. It frowns upon cruelty and wanton disregard of the rights of Humanity. It abhors the ferocious master and the selfish employer: and it exerts its influence to lighten the chains which the interest of society forbid should be broken, and to foster that humanity and kindness which man owes to his brother, even when that brother is his slave.
It can never be employed, in any country under Heaven, to teach a toleration of cruelty, to weaken moral hatred for guilt, or to deprave and brutalise the human mind. The dread of punishment will never make a Mason an accomplice in so corrupting his countrymen, nor 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 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 round the courts of justice and demanded the blood of those who, during its temporary fit of insanity and drunken delirium had chanced to become odious to it for true words frankly spoken: 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 tiger and his 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 be placed upon the most splendid throne of the universe tantalised 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 lead 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 the 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.
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.
But also it conduces, and in no small measure, to the beauty and glory of one's country, that justice should be always administered there to all alike, and neither denied, sold, or delayed to any one; that the interest of the poor should be looked to, and none starve nor be houseless nor clamour in vain for work; that the child and the feeble woman should not be overworked; and that God's great Laws of Mercy, Humanity and Compassion should be everywhere enforced, not only by the laws but also by the power of public opinion. And he who labours, 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 seen resplendent, not only in the field of battle and amid the clash of arms, but displays its energy under every difficulty and against every assailant. He who wars against cruelty, oppression and hoary abuses, fights for his country's honour, which those things soil; and her honour 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 accomplished 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 in a contest most glorious in which virtue could be signalised — 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 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 and disgrace, and cruelties that dishonour, and scenes of misery and destitution and brutalisation that disfigure his country, and makes no effort to remedy or to prevent either.
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 upon 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 labour diligently and faithfully in their calling, not only will they enjoy that calm contentment which diligence in the lowest 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 of the glory, even as the meanest soldier who fought at Marathon or at the King's Mountain became a sharer in the glory of those saving days; and within his own household and 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: he was often talked of there in the long winter evenings; and his family was deemed fortunate in the neighbourhood because it had had a hero in it who had fallen in defence of his country.
Remember, my Brother, that life's length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein for our country and our kind. A useless life is short if it last a century: but that of Hannibal was long as the life of oaks, though he died at the age of 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 every thing go on around us as it pleases; or if we live but to amass wealth, or gain offices, or wear titles, we might as well not have lived at all.
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 honour of your country; and may the Great Architect of the Universe give you that strength and wisdom which shall enable you well and faithfully to perform these high duties!