Dispersal and Degeneration
The Faithful Few
The Masonic God
See also:Introduction to the Bible
Degree XIV — Question Set 1
Degree XIV — Question Set 2
Degree XIV — Question Set 3
After Adonhiram, Joabert and Stolkin had discovered the cube of agate and the Mysterious Name, as you have heard, and had delivered it to King Solomon, the two Kings, after much deliberation, determined to deposit it in the secret vault, and to permit the three Masters who had discovered it to be present, and then to make known to them the true pronunciation of the Ineffable Word, creating a new degree, the last of Ancient Masonry, of which those three Masters and themselves should be the first members, to be called the Degree of Perfection, and its recipients Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Masons.
Accordingly, after some days, the cube of agate was so deposited in the Secret Vault (which was thereafter styled the Sacred Vault) being set upon the summit of the column of white marble called the Pillar of Beauty. Then all knelt and returned thanks to God for His multiplied favours shown to them and to the Jewish people. Then the correct pronunciation of the Sacred Name was given to the three Masters, and the Degree of Perfection, with its signs, words and tokens, was instituted; and thus the zeal and devotedness of Adonhiram, Joabert and Stolkin were rewarded.
After the twelve Princes Ameth, the first Nine of the Illustrious Elect of Fifteen, and the Chief Architect, were admitted to this Degree, the nine Elect of Fifteen were assigned to the duty of guarding the approaches to the Sacred vault, the oldest being stationed at the entrance to that Vault, and the others respectively at the entrances of the other eight. But that has long been dispensed with in our ceremonies; and three sentinels only are required, each of whom has his especial password.
The private entrance to the Secret Vault having been constructed by Hiram Abi with the aid of certain Phoenician Architects and Masons who, being initiates of the Mysteries and solemnly sworn to secrecy as to its existence, had returned to their homes; none others knew of it except the two Kings and those who were made Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Masons. To none others was the True Word communicated, all of inferior degree knowing only the substitute, adopted at the death of Hiram Abi, as the Master Mason's Word.
It was after these ceremonies were performed and the Temple was dedicated that King Solomon conferred this Degree on the twenty-five whom we have mentioned. During three days, he gave audience to the Brethren. The twenty-five to whom he gave this Degree he received in the Sacred Vault, exacting from each of them a solemn promise to live in peace, union and concord; to practise, like their deceased Grand Master, Charity and Beneficence; like him to make wisdom, justice and equity the rule of their life and conduct; to be profoundly secret as to the mysteries of this degree, and never to confer them on any one who should not have proven himself worthy thereof by his zeal, fervour and constancy; to assist each other in their labours, distresses, difficulties and calamities, and to punish treason, perfidy and injustice. When they had so promised, he gave them his benediction; showed them the Ark of the Covenant, whence issued the oracles of God; offered up sacrifice and incense; united with them in a libation; and then, having embraced each of them, and presented each with a ring as a token of the covenant which each had entered into with virtue and the virtuous, and bestowed upon them many other marks of honour, he gave them permission to remain at his Court or to travel into foreign countries, as they might prefer.
The second day, he gave audience to all Masons up to that of Royal Arch. He filled all the vacancies in the different degrees created by the exaltation of the twenty-five Brothers to that of Perfection, and made many honorary members of the Degree of Grand Master Architect and the other degrees, engaging them never to forget the principles of honour, uprightness and virtue which they had been and then were taught in the different degrees: always to live united in harmony and to aid and comfort one another in their necessities and distresses. This was done in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. He gave them the jewels and decorations of the different degrees which he conferred, and bound them by solemn obligations to be faithful and discreet guardians of the mysteries of their respective degrees, and never to communicate them to any but the deserving; and having showed them many other marks of favour, he invited them to remain at his Court, giving them permission to travel in foreign countries if they saw fit; and to those who were of Tyre, to return to their own homes.
The third day he devoted to the Fellow-crafts and Apprentices, raising those of the former who were worthy to the degree of Master, and passing such of the latter as deserved it by fidelity and obedience, to the degree of Fellow-craft. He caused them to enter into like obligations, and gave them permission to remain at Jerusalem or return to their homes, giving the Intendants of the Building orders to furnish them money for their expenses in case they should see fit to return to their own countries.
These acts of the King and their Grand Master covered all good Masons with shame and afflicted them with the profoundest grief. Far from following his example, they lamented his infatuation and devoted themselves to bringing up their children in the true principles of virtue, pointing them by way of warning to the shameful and irregular life led by the King as an example to be avoided. The people, following their Monarch's example, frequented the temples of the false gods and sacrificed upon their altars, indulging in all the obscene and indecent rites of the worship of Moloch and Astarte. The Masons long contended against this inroad of vice and evil; but finding their efforts unavailing, and remembering the punishment that similar excesses and crimes had often brought upon their ancestors, they foresaw the future desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, and that the descendants of the Jews would expiate in captivity the monstrous sins of their ancestors; and therefore determined to flee into other countries to avoid the impending disaster.
They were of necessity extremely careful as to the admission of new members into the Masonic Order, making merit, and merit alone, the test of qualification; and the GRP&S Masons especially received no one until after long probation and by many trials he had been proven worthy.
But the GRP&S Masons did not fall into these errors. They carefully concealed their secrets from the vulgar gaze, kept strict watch at the doors of their Temples, and refused to multiply the number of their initiates. They strove to arrest the downward progress of the Symbolic Degrees, and refused to confer any degree above that of Master on those who conducted themselves imprudently and unmasonically. But they could not close the door against innovations and irregularities. Masonry continued to degenerate; candidates were admitted without due inquiry, and for the sake of revenue alone; the degrees were conferred with too great rapidity, and without a knowledge of the principles, or even of the work of the preceding degrees, on the part of the candidates; men of little intellect and information swarmed into the Order and debased and degraded it; others joined it merely through idle curiosity, and wholly disregarded and set at naught their obligations; frivolous ceremonies were multiplied and new degrees invented, and large bodies of men calling themselves Masons threw off their allegiance, pretended to a knowledge of the True Word, and invented new rites; so that the Temple of Symbolical Masonry became a mere arena of strife and house of contention.
The crimes and follies of the Jewish people at length produced their natural consequences. Immediately upon King Solomon's death they were divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The people of the former, after no great lapse of time, were carried into captivity, ceased to act as a people, and their descendants have never yet been discovered. The descendants of Solomon reigned for many years over Judah but at length, in the reign of Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Assyria, conquered Judah, and Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's general, the Temple razed to the ground, and the treasures and most of the people of Jerusalem and Judah carried away to Babylon. This occurred four hundred and seventy years after the dedication of the Temple.
Removing the body, and descending into the vault, they erased the sacred letters from the plate of gold, and broke the plate in pieces, placed the cube of agate in a corner of the vault and covered it with rubbish, extinguished the lamps and overturned the pedestal. Then ascending, they conveyed the body of Galahad into the vault and laid it down by the overturned pedestal clad in his Masonic clothing and wearing the insignia and jewel of a GRP&S Mason, and performed over him a brief and solemn ceremony of Masonic burial. Then they ascended again, replaced the slab of marble that covered the entrance, and heaped upon it heavy stones and beams of timber that it might not be discovered until the Temple should at some future time be rebuilt.
They then departed, determining not to make known to any one what they had done, except to those who should afterwards be permitted to become GRP&S Masons; and not again to write the Name, but to hand it down by tradition only, and that only by spelling in syllables without ever pronouncing the entire Word. That practice was afterwards observed, when the Temple had been rebuilt by permission of King Cyrus; and has come down to us, the true pronunciation being confided to none but those who receive this Degree: and then in a whisper, and with a prohibition against ever pronouncing it aloud, or even in a whisper, except when confiding it to a new Initiate. Once on each year, the Word was repeated by syllables in the Temple, the Brothers forming a circle and the High priest, in the centre, repeating the syllables to a Brother, who repeated them to the one next him, and so they passed round the circle and returned to the High Priest; while a great noise was made without the Temple, with trumpets and instruments of music, that none might hear the Sacred Syllables; and in that manner the true pronunciation has come down to us.
Such is the Legend of this Degree. We do not know how far, in its details, it is historically true. That the true Name of the Deity was thus cautiously communicated, we know; and that its true pronunciation was lost to the Jewish people. And we also know that the Legend has a double meaning. To those whom Solomon initiated in the final degree of the Mysteries, afterwards called the Degree of Perfection of Free Masonry, he taught the true doctrine in regard to the being, nature and attributes of God, the true history of the creation of the Universe, the explanation of the great problem of the existence of suffering and evil, and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of a future spiritual existence in which it would ever advance towards that perfection of which this Degree is but a faint and imperfect symbol. In the care taken to conceal the Word from their conquerors and from the people, we see that which was habitually taken to conceal these doctrines, and to expound and develop them to the favoured few alone who became enrolled among the Masons of this Degree.
From them the Essenes and their great Teacher John the Baptist received their pure and profound doctrines; from them Philo Judaeus learned them in the schools of Alexandria. They were the Masters of the Druids, the Brahmins and the Magi, and inspired Confucius, Zoroaster, Pythagoras and Plato.
Christ appeared, and made public the true doctrines, until his time confined to a select few, and even by them in many instances added to, perverted and corrupted. After his death, Jewish traditions and the tenets of the Greek Philosophy were interpolated into his pure religion: and the creed taught by the Great Teacher was overlaid with follies and fictions. The religious mind indulged in the fantastic vagaries of Gnosticism; and the idolatry of saints and images recalled to mind the worship of idols in the days of Solomon.
It would be impossible to relate all their acts of heroism and bravery in the different battles which were fought during the Crusades. Without them, Palestine would not have been recovered nor a Christian King have been seated on the Throne of Jerusalem. They fronted the most imminent danger, and ever sought to receive the first shock of the battle. Often they turned the scale in favour of the Christian hosts. Their counsels were heard with respect; and they were ever ready to assist and succour the unfortunate, to nurse the sick and care for the wounded soldier of every Nation. Their blood was poured out like water at Acre and Ascalon. They were the foremost to mount the walls of Jerusalem, and to plant upon them the standard of the Cross; and when the city was taken, they, entering among the foremost, strove to stay the carnage which ensued, saving the wounded, the old and the unfortunate, and at the hazard of their lives protecting the women from violation.
Their disinterestedness, generosity, their close and perfect union with and devotion to one another, and their undaunted bravery and contempt of danger and death, attracted the attention and excited the admiration of the Christian leaders and Princes who, finding that they had some secret bond of union, and one leader whose slightest order was obeyed by all, and whose will was communicated instantaneously, as it were, and in some unknown mode, to all his forces, sought to penetrate the mystery. Learning that they constituted a particular Order in which all, even the humblest soldier, were equals, they sought to become members of it, and were admitted. But they were first informed that wisdom, justice, probity, honour, morality, friendship, equality and union were the fundamental laws of the Order; that rank and dignity gave no one a claim to enter it; and that if they did so, they must thereafter regard every Mason as their equal, if he were an honourable, honest and upright man, no matter what his rank or title. Some of the Princes, governed by prejudice and pride of birth, declined to enter the Order: but the eminent, virtuous and distinguished among them did so with joy, and were in due time advanced to the Degree of GRP&S Mason. Received as Fellow-Crafts, they embraced the Venerable Brothers who surrounded and accepted them, and many of whom were but private soldiers, thanking them for displaying to their eyes the mysteries of Masonry, and for their distinguished services in the common cause of Christendom. They were told that their gratitude was due to the Great Architect of the Universe alone; for that their fathers having been driven from the Holy land, the Masons could not but unite in the common enterprise and deserved no thanks for assisting to recover their country from the hands of the Infidel. Such is the feeling which should animate all Masons; since, in complying with our obligations and practising the virtues here inculcated, we but perform our duty.
Thus was new vigour given to Masonry. Carried into every country by those returning from Palestine, it was protected by the Christian Princes and became a Power in every State. Connecting itself with Chivalry and the Knightly Orders by new Degrees, it everywhere taught the practice of the noble and heroic virtues, and continued to flourish amid all the revolutions and vicissitudes of Empires, the downfall of Dynasties, and the overthrow of Thrones. It crossed the ocean to America, it penetrated the primeval forests, it was scattered even among the Indian tribes. Itself undergoing many changes in forms and ceremonies, it divided into different rites practised in different countries; but the cardinal principles of Masonry remained unchanged in all. Let us hope, my Brother, that they may so continue, until time shall be no more. Go now to the Senior and Junior Grand Wardens, and receive from them the Catechism of this Degree.
[Editors' Note: It is not appropriate in this context to reproduce the Catechism — consisting of about 100 questions designed to test the candidates' knowledge of the teachings of this and the preceding Degrees and of the pertinent signs, symbols, and tokens.]
It is for each individual Mason to discover the secret of Masonry by reflecting on its emblems and upon what is said and done in the work. Seek and ye shall find. The great object of Masonry being the physical and moral amelioration of every individual in particular and of society in general, there are important truths to be substituted in public opinion in the place of many errors and injurious prejudices; and among these moral maladies are some whose treatment requires courage and at the same time much prudence and discretion. The Masonic Secret manifests itself without speech revealing it to him who well comprehends all the degrees in proportion as he receives them, and particularly to those who advance to the highest degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. That Rite raises a corner of the veil even in the degree of Apprentice: for in that it declares that Masonry is a worship.
Never intermeddling with points of doctrine in politics or religion, Masonry labours to improve the social order by enlightening men's minds, by warming men's hearts with love of the good, by inspiring them with the great principle of human fraternity, by requiring of its disciples that their language and actions shall conform to that principle, that they shall enlighten one another, triumph over their passions, abhor vice, and pity the vicious man as one afflicted with a deplorable malady.
It is the universal, eternal, immutable religion such as God planted it in the heart of universal humanity. Its ministers are all Masons who comprehend it and are devoted to it; its offerings to God are good works, the sacrifice of the base and disorderly passions, and perpetual efforts to attain to all the moral perfection of which man is capable.
That enlightened faith, from which as from a living spring flow sublime devotedness, the sentiment of fraternity fruitful of good works, the spirit of indulgent kindness and gentle peace, sweet hopes, effectual consolation, and inflexible resolution to accomplish the most arduous and painful duties, Masonry has at all times religiously preserved. Ardently and perseveringly it has propagated it in all ages, and in our own day more zealously than ever. Scarcely a Masonic discourse is pronounced or a Masonic lesson read by the highest officer or the humblest lecturer, that does not demonstrate the necessity and advantages of this faith and earnestly teach the two constitutive principles of religion, the two great tenets that make all true religion — Love of God, and Love of our neighbour. These two principles Masons carry into the bosom of their families and into society. The Sectarians of former days substituted intolerance for charity and persecution for love: and did not love God because they hated their neighbour. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind, and thy neighbour as thyself; this do, and thou shalt live ... Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven, into which ye shall not enter except ye become as little children ... He that loveth not his brother knoweth not God, for God is love ... Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer and abideth in death and darkness". Such is the true religion, and whatever is contrary to it is falsehood; and that true religion is the very spirit of Masonry. Forming one great people over the whole globe, it preserves that religion, strengthens it, extends it in its purity and simplicity, and makes it the rule and guide of the life and conduct of its members.
To make honour and duty the steady beacon-lights that shall guide your life-vessel over the stormy seas of Time; to do that which it is right to do, not because it will insure you success or bring with it a reward or gain the applause of men or be most prudent and most advisable, but because it is right and therefore ought to be done; to war always against error, ignorance, intolerance and vice; and yet to pity those who err, to teach the ignorant, to be yourself tolerant even of intolerance, and to strive to reclaim the vicious: these are some of the duties of a Mason.
A good Mason is one that can look upon death and see its face with the same countenance with which he hears its story; that can endure all the labours of his life with his soul supporting his body; that can equally despise riches when he has them and when he has them not; that is not sadder if they are in his neighbour's exchequer, nor more lifted up if they shine round about his own walls: one that is not moved with good fortune coming to him, nor going from him; that can look upon another man's lands with equanimity and pleasure, as if they were his own; and yet look upon his own and use them too, just as if they were another man's; that neither spends his goods prodigally and foolishly, not yet keeps them avariciously and like a miser; that weighs not benefits by weight and number, but by the mind and circumstances of him that confers them; that never thinks his charity expensive if a worthy person be the receiver; that does nothing for opinion's sake, but everything for conscience, being as careful of his thoughts as of his acting in markets and theatres, and in as much awe of himself as of a whole assembly; that is bountiful and cheerful to his friends, and charitable and apt to forgive his enemies; that loves his country, consults its honour, obeys its laws, and desires and endeavours nothing more than that he may do his duty and honour God. And such a Mason my reckon his life to be the life of a man and compute his months, not by the course of the sun, but by the zodiac and circle of his virtues.
The whole world is but one Republic of which each nation is a family and every individual a child. The sublime art of Masonry, not in any wise derogating from the different duties which the diversity of States requires, tends to create a new People which, composed of many nations, shall all be bound together by the bonds of science, morality and virtue.
Essentially philanthropic, philosophical and progressive, it has for its bases the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; for its object the study of universal morality, the sciences and the arts and the practice of all the virtues. In every age its device has been Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
It is neither a political party not a religious sect. It embraces all parties and all sects, to form from among them all a vast fraternal organisation. It recognises the dignity of man and his right to freedom whenever he is fitted for it; and it knows nothing that should place one man below another except debasement, ignorance and crime.
It is philanthropic: for it recognises the great truth that all men are of the same origin, have common interests, and should co-operate together to the same end.
Therefore it teaches its members to love one another, to give to each other mutual assistance and support in all the circumstances of life, to share each other's pains and sorrows as well as their joys and pleasures; to guard the reputations, respect the opinions, and be perfectly tolerant of the errors of each other in matters of faith and beliefs.
It is philosophical, because it teaches the great Truths concerning the nature and existence of one Supreme Deity and the existence and immortality of the soul. It revives the Academy of Plato and the wise teachings of Socrates. It reiterates the maxims of Pythagoras, Confucius and Zoroaster, and reverentially enforces the sublime lessons of him who died upon the Cross.
The ancients thought that universal humanity acted under the influence of two opposing Principles, the Good and the Evil: of which the Good urged men towards Truth, Independence and Devotedness; and the Evil towards Falsehood, Servility and Selfishness. Masonry represents the Good Principle and constantly wars against the evil one. It is the Hercules, the Osiris, the Apollo, and the Ormuzd, at everlasting and deadly feud with the demons of ignorance, brutality, baseness, falsehood, slavishness of soul, intolerance, superstition, tyranny, meanness, bigotry, and the insolence of wealth.
Man's views in regard to God will contain only so much positive truth as the human mind is capable of receiving, whether that truth is attained by the exercise of reason or communicated by revelation. It must necessarily be both limited and alloyed to bring it within the competence of finite human intelligence. Being finite, we can form no correct or adequate idea of the Infinite: being material, we can form no clear conception of the Spiritual. We do believe in and know the infinity of Space and Time and the spirituality of the Soul; but the idea of that infinity and spirituality eludes us. Even Omnipotence cannot infuse infinite conceptions into finite minds; nor can God, without first entirely changing the conditions of our being, pour a complete and full knowledge of His own nature and attributes into the narrow capacity of a human soul. Human intelligence could not grasp it, nor human language express it.
The Consciousness of the individual reveals itself alone. His knowledge cannot pass beyond the limits of his own being. His conception of other things and other beings are only his conceptions. They are not those things or beings themselves. The living principle of a living Universe must be INFINITE, while all our ideas are finite and applicable only to finite beings. The Deity is thus not an object of knowledge but of faith; not to be approached by the understanding but by moral sense; not to be conceived but to be felt. All attempts to embrace the Infinite in the conception of the Finite are, and must be, only accommodations to the frailty of man. Shrouded from human comprehension in an obscurity from which a chastened imagination is awed back and Thought retreats in conscious weakness, the Divine Nature is a theme on which man is little entitled to dogmatise. Here the philosophic Intellect becomes most painfully aware of its own insufficiency.
And yet it is here that man most dogmatises, classifies, and describes God's attributes; makes out his map of God's nature and his inventory of God's qualities, feelings, impulses and passions; and then hangs and burns his brother who, as dogmatically as he, makes out a different map and inventory. The common understanding has no humility. Its God is an incarnate Divinity. Imperfection imposes its own limitations on the Illimitable, and clothes the Inconceivable Spirit of the Universe in forms that come within the grasp of the senses and the intellect, and are derived from that finite and imperfect nature which is but God's creation.
We are all of us, though not all equally, mistaken. The cherished dogmas of each of us are not, as we fondly suppose, the pure truth of God, but simply our own special form of error, the fragmentary and refracted ray of light which has fallen on our own minds.
Thus perfect Truth is not attainable anywhere. We fondly style this Degree that of Perfection: and yet that which it teaches is imperfect and defective. Still we are not to relax in the pursuit of Truth, nor contentedly acquiesce in error. It is our duty ever to press forward in the search: for though absolute Truth is unattainable, yet the amount of error in our views is capable of progressive and perpetual diminution; and thus it is that Masonry is a continual struggle towards the Light.
All errors are not equally innocuous; and to entertain unworthy conceptions of the nature and Providence of God is what Masonry symbolises by ignorance of the True Word. Not the entire and perfect and absolute Truth in regard to God, but the highest and noblest conception of Him that our minds are capable of forming is the True Word of a Mason; and it is Ineffable because one man cannot communicate to another his own conception of Deity.
For every man's conception of God must vary with his mental cultivation and mental powers. If any one contents himself with any lower image than his intellect is capable of grasping, then he contents himself with that which is false to him, as well as false in fact. If lower than he can reach, he must needs feel it to be false. The savage's idea of God, true to him, is false to me, because I feel it to be unworthy and inadequate. And if we, of the nineteenth century after Christ, adopt the conceptions of the nineteenth century before him; if our conceptions of God are those of the ignorant narrow-minded and vindictive Israelite, then we think worse of God and have a lower, meaner and more limited view of His nature than the faculties which He has bestowed are capable of grasping. The highest view we can form is nearest to the truth. If we acquiesce in any lower one, we acquiesce in an untruth. We feel that it is an affront and an indignity to Him to conceive of Him as cruel, short-sighted, capricious, and unjust; as a jealous, an angry, a vindictive Being. When we examine our conceptions of His character, if we can conceive of a loftier, nobler, higher, more beneficent, glorious and magnificent character, then this latter is to us the true conception of Deity: for nothing can be imagined more excellent than He.
We cannot read literally the views of God contained in the Hebrew writings. To us, their inner meaning is different from their words; and we read them thus:
"I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; the Absolute, Uncreated Existence, that which was and shall be. This is my Eternal name, and my memorial unto all generations.
"I demand the veneration and adoration due Me from mankind. By the inflexible law of cause and effect which I have enacted, the consequences of the vices and iniquities of the fathers descend and are visited upon their children through many generations of those that set My laws at defiance; and those only escape who love Me and follow My law.
"God is merciful and gracious, indulgent and abundant in goodness and truth, showing mercy to thousands. Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, but requiring repentance, reformation and atonement from the guilty.
"The Lord is one God. He is the only God, the Eternal Truth, by whose immutable laws the good deed involves in itself its reward, and the sin its punishment. He protects the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, and gives him food and raiment."
To him, God is the great Artificer of the World of Life and Matter and man, with his wonderful corporeal and mental frame, His direct work. He believes that God has made man with different intellectual capacities and enabled some, by superior intellectual power, to see and originate truths which are hidden from the mass of men. He believes that when it is His will that mankind should make some great step forward or achieve some pregnant discovery, He calls into being some intellect of more than ordinary magnitude and power to give birth to new ideas and grander conceptions of the Truths vital to Humanity.
We hold that God has so ordered matters in this beautiful and harmonious, but mysteriously governed, Universe that one great mind after another will arise from time to time as such are needed to discover and flash forth before the eyes of men the truths that are wanted, and the amount of truth that can be borne. He so arranges that nature and the course of events shall send men into the world endowed with that higher mental and moral organisation in which grand truths and sublime gleams of spiritual light will spontaneously and inevitably arise.
Whatever Hiram Abi really was, he is the type, perhaps to us an imaginary type, of humanity in its highest phase, an exemplar of what man may and should become in the course of ages in his progress towards the realisation of his destiny: an individual gifted with a glorious intellect, a noble soul, a fine organisation, and a perfectly balanced moral being; an earnest of what humanity may be and what we believe it will hereafter be in God's good time: the possibility of the race made real.
Truths that are written by the finger of God upon the heart of man are definite enough for the Mason. Views of religion and duty, wrought out by the meditations of the studious, confirmed by the allegiance of the good and wise, stamped as sterling by the response they find in every uncorrupted mind, are sure enough for him. He does not cling to dogmatic certainty nor vainly imagine such certainty to be attainable. He is willing to rest the hopes which animate him and the principles which guide him on the deductions of reason and the convictions of instinct. He believes that no surer foundation can be discovered for religious belief than the deductions of the intellect and the convictions of the heart. Reason proves to him the existence and attributes of God; those spiritual instincts, which he believes to be the voice of God in the soul, infuse into his mind a sense of his relation to God and a hope of future existence; and his reason and conscience alike irresistibly point to virtue as the highest good and the destined end and aim of man.
He studies the wonders of the Heavens, the frame-work and revolutions of the Earth, the mysterious beauties and adaptations of animal existence, the moral and material constitution of the human creature so fearfully and wonderfully made, and is satisfied that God is; that a Wise and Good Being is the author of the starry Heavens above him and of the moral world within him; and his mind finds an adequate foundation for its hopes, its worship, its principles of action in the far-stretching Universe, in the glorious firmament, in the deep, full soul, bursting with unutterable thoughts.
These are truths which every reflecting mind will unhesitatingly receive as not to be surpassed nor capable of improvement, fitted, if obeyed, to make Earth indeed a Paradise and man only a little lower than the angels. The worthlessness of ceremonial observances and the necessity of active virtue: the enforcement of purity of heart as the security for purity of life and the government of the thoughts as the originators and forerunners of action; universal philanthropy, requiring us to love all men and to do unto others that and that only which we should think it right, just and generous for them to do unto us; forgiveness of injuries; the necessity of self-sacrifice in the discharge of duty; humility; genuine sincerity and being that which we seem to be: all these sublime precepts need no miracle, no voice from the clouds, to recommend them to our allegiance or to reassure us of their divine origin. They command obedience by virtue of their inherent rectitude and beauty; they have been, and are, and will be the Law in every age and every country of the world.
As to our feelings towards Him and our conduct towards man, Masonry teaches little about which men can differ and little from which they can dissent. He is our Father; and we are all brethren. This much lies open to the most ignorant and busy as fully as to those who have most leisure and are most learned. This needs no Priest to teach it and no authority to endorse it; and if every man did that only which is consistent with it, it would exile barbarity, cruelty, intolerance, uncharitableness, perfidy, treachery, revenge, selfishness, and all their kindred vices and bad passions beyond the confines of the world.
Thus believing, he has attained an eminence in virtue: the highest, amid passive excellence, which humanity can reach. He finds his reward and his support in the reflection that he is an unreluctant and self-sacrificing co-operator with the Creator of the Universe and in the noble consciousness of being worthy and capable of so sublime a conception, yet so sad a destiny. He is then truly entitled to be called a Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Mason. He is content to fall early in the battle if his body may best form a stepping-stone for the future conquests of humanity.
It cannot be that God Who, we are certain, is perfectly good, can choose us to suffer pain unless either we are ourselves to receive from it an antidote to what is evil in ourselves, or else such pain is a necessary part in the scheme of the Universe which as a whole is good. In either case, the Mason receives it with submission. He would not suffer unless it was ordered so. Whatever his creed, if he believes that God is, and that He cares for His creatures, he cannot doubt that; nor that it would not have been so ordered unless it was either better for himself or for some other persons or for some things. To complain and lament is to murmur against God's will, and worse than unbelief.
The Mason, whose mind is cast in a nobler mould than those of the ignorant and unreflecting and is instinct with a diviner life; who loves truth more than rest and the peace of Heaven rather than the peace of Eden; to whom a loftier being brings severer cares; who knows that man does not live by pleasure or content alone, but by the presence of the power of God: must cast behind him the hope of any other repose or tranquillity than that which is the last reward of long agonies of thought; he must relinquish all prospect of any Heaven save that of which trouble is the avenue and portal; he must gird up his loins and trim his lamp for a work which cannot be put by and must not be negligently done. If he does not like to live in the furnished lodgings of tradition, he must build his own house, his own system of faith and thought, for himself.
The hope of success and not the hope of reward should be our stimulating and sustaining power. Our object and not ourselves should be our inspiring thought. Selfishness is a sin when temporary and for time: spun out to eternity, it does not become celestial prudence. We should toil and die not for Heaven or bliss but for Duty.
The GEP&S Mason will in nowise deserve that honourable title if he has not that strength, that will, that self-constraining energy; that faith that feeds upon no earthly hope nor ever thinks of victory but, content in its own consummation, combats because it ought to combat, rejoicing fights and, still rejoicing, falls.
The Mason does not war with his own instincts, macerate the body into weakness and disorder, or disparage what he sees to be beautiful, knows to be wonderful, and feels to be unspeakably dear and fascinating. He does not put down the nature which God has given him to struggle after one which He has not bestowed. He knows that man is sent into the world not a spiritual, but a composite, being, made up of body and mind, the body having, as is fit in a material world, its full, rightful and allotted share. His life is guided by a full recognition of this fact. He does not deny it in bold words and admit in it weaknesses and inevitable failings. He believes that his spirituality will come in the next stage of his being, when he puts on the spiritual body; that his body will be dropped at death; and that, until then, God meant it to be commanded and controlled but not neglected, despised or ignored by the soul, under pain of heavy consequences.
Yet the Mason is not indifferent as to the fate of the soul, after its present life, as to its continued and eternal being and the character of the scenes in which that being will be fully developed. These are to him topics of the profoundest interest and the most ennobling and refining contemplation. They occupy much of his leisure; and as he becomes familiar with the sorrows and calamities of this life, as his hopes are disappointed and his visions of happiness here fade away; when life has wearied him in its race of hours; when he is harassed and toil-worn, and the burden of his years weighs heavy on him: the balance of attraction gradually inclines in favour of another life, and he clings to his lofty speculations with a tenacity of interest which needs no injunction and will listen to no prohibition. They are the consoling privilege of the aspiring, the wayworn, the weary and the bereaved.
To him the contemplation of the Future lets in light upon the Present and develops the higher portions of his nature. He endeavours rightly to adjust the respective claims of heaven and earth upon his time and thought so as to give the proper portions thereof to performing the duties and entering into the interests of this world, and to preparation for a better; to the cultivation and purification of his own character; and to the public services of his fellow-men.
There is Life for us somewhere, and we ask not where. We can wait God's time for that. Somewhere in His great Universe we shall find our lost ones and be with them evermore. The Mason believes that there is that within us which shall never die; that the soul is essentially immortal, and immortally blessed; and that no dark eclipse shall come over it between death and resurrection to bury it in the gloom of utter unconsciousness or cause it to wander like a shadow in the dim realms of an intermediate state.
In that future existence, the Mason believes that his perceptions of God's presence will be clearer and his insight into His nature incalculably deeper. When the soul at death emerges from the body, he hopes to lay down at once and forever all those temptations with which in this life the senses beset the soul, all that physical weakness which has clogged and bounded the exertions of the intellect, all that obscurity with which our material nature has too often clouded our moral vision. But he does not hope to attain perfection at once. He believes that, according to the point which each soul has reached on Earth, will be its starting point in Heaven; that through long ages of self-elaborating effort, it must win its way up nearer and nearer to the Throne of God; and that occupation can never fail, nor its interest ever flag, even through everlasting being: for, infinite as may be its duration, it will ever be surpassed by the infinity of God's perfection and of the created Universe. Nor does he fear that eternity will exhaust the contemplation of him to whom will lie open not only the systems and firmaments we read of and can dimly see, but that larger, remoter, more illimitable Universe which we cannot even dream of here.
And he hopes that at length, when, in the course of those endless gradations of Progress through which our spiritual faculties will ever advance towards full development we shall have begun to know God our Father with something of the same cognisance wherewith we knew our fellow-creatures here, we shall so learn to love Him that Love will absorb into itself all the elements and constituents of that immortal life.
And even in regard to this, the Mason does not dogmatise but, entertaining and uttering his own convictions, he leaves every one else free to do the same and only hopes that the time will come, even if after the lapse of unimaginable ages, when all men shall form one great family of brothers and one Law alone shall govern God's whole Universe, and that Law the Law of Love.
Believe as you may, my Brother; if the Universe is not, to you, without a God, and if man is not like the beast that perishes but has an immortal soul, we welcome you among us: to wear, as we wear, with humility and a strong consciousness of your own demerits and short-comings, the title of Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Mason.