Natural Law in Matter
Natural Law in Spirit
Cause and Effect
Human "Rights" and "Wrongs"
See also:Degree XXXI — Questions
These powers and this jurisdiction are now defined, and the mode of proceeding regulated, by statutes enacted by the supreme authority, with a copy of which I now present you, requiring you to become familiar with them that you may be enabled to perform properly the high duties that devolve upon you.
To hear patiently, to weigh deliberately and dispassionately, and to decide impartially: these are the chief duties of a Judge. After the lessons you have received, I need not further enlarge upon them. You will be ever eloquently reminded of them by the furniture upon our Altar and the decorations of the Tribunal.
The Square and Compasses, the Plumb and Level, are well known to you as a Mason. Upon you as a Judge, they peculiarly inculcate uprightness, impartiality, careful consideration of facts and circumstances, accuracy in judgment, and uniformity in decision. As a Judge, too, you are to bring up square work and square work only. Like a temple erected by the plumb, you are to lean neither to one side nor the other. Like a building well squared and levelled, you are to be firm and steadfast in your convictions of right and justice. Like the circle swept with compasses, you are to be true. In the scales of justice you are to weigh the facts and the law alone, nor place in either scale personal friendship or personal dislike, neither fear nor favour: and when reformation is no longer to be hoped for, you are to smite relentlessly with the sword of justice.
The peculiar and principal symbol of this Degree is the Tetractys of Pythagoras, suspended in the East where ordinarily the sacred word of letter glitters and, like them, representing the Deity. Its nine external points form the triangle, the chief symbol in Masonry, with many of the meanings of which you are familiar.
To us, its three sides represent the three principal attributes of the Deity which created, and now as ever support, uphold, and guide the Universe in its eternal movement; the three supports of the Masonic Temple, itself an emblem of the Universe: Wisdom, or the Infinite Divine Intelligence; Strength or Power; the Infinite Divine Will; and Beauty, or the Infinite Divine Harmony, the Eternal Law, by virtue of which the infinite myriads of suns and worlds flash ever onward in their ceaseless revolutions, without clash or conflict, in the Infinite of space, and change and movement are the law of all created existence.
To us, as Masonic Judges, the triangle figures forth in the Pyramids which, planted firmly as the everlasting hills, and accurately adjusted to the four cardinal points, defiant of all assaults of men and time, teach us to stand firm and unshaken as they when our feet are planted upon the solid truth.
The Tetractys includes a multitude of geometrical figures, all having a deep significance for Masons. The triple triangle is peculiarly sacred, having ever been among all nations a symbol of the Deity. Prolonging all the external lines of the Hexagon, which also it includes, we have six smaller triangles whose bases cut each other in the central point of the Tetractys, itself always the symbol of the generative power of the Universe, the Sun, Brahma, Osiris, Apollo, Bel, and the Deity Himself. Thus, too, we form twelve still smaller triangles, three times three of which compose the Tetractys itself.
I refrain from enumerating all the figures that you may trace within it: but one may not be passed unnoticed. The Hexagon itself faintly images to us a cube, not visible at the first glance, and therefore the fit emblem of that faith in things invisible most essential to salvation. The first perfect solid, and reminding you of the cubical stone that sweated blood and of that deposited by Enoch, it teaches justice, accuracy, and consistency.
The infinite divisibility of the triangle teaches the infinity of the Universe; of time, of space, and of the Deity, as do the lines that, diverging from the common centre, ever increase their distance from each other as they are infinitely prolonged. As they may be infinite in number, so are the attributes of Deity infinite; and as they emanate from one centre and are projected into space, so the whole Universe has emanated from God.
The laws of matter we learn only by observation and experience. Before experience of the fact, no man could foretell that a body falling towards the Earth would descend sixteen feet the first second, twice that the next, four times the third, and sixteen times the fourth. No mode of action in our consciousness anticipates this rule of action in the outer world. The same is true of all the laws of matter. The ideal law is known only because it is a fact. The law is imperative. It must be obeyed without hesitation. Laws of crystallisation, laws of proportion in chemical combination — neither in these nor in any other law of Nature is there any margin left for oscillation or disobedience. Only the primal Will of God works in the material world, and no secondary finite will.
There are no exceptions to the great general law of Attraction, which binds atom to atom in the body of a rotifer visible only by aid of the microscope, orb to orb, system to system; which gives unity to the world of things, and rounds these worlds of systems to a Universe. At first there seem to be exceptions to this law, as in growth and decomposition and the repulsions of electricity; but at length all these are found to be special cases of the great law of attraction acting in various modes.
The variety of effect of this law at first surprises the senses; but in the end the unity of cause astonishes the cultivated mind. Looked at in reference to this globe, an earthquake is no more than a chink that opens in a garden-walk on a dry day in Summer. A sponge is porous, having small spaces between the solid parts: the solar system is only more porous, having larger room between the several orbs; the Universe yet more so, with spaces between the systems as small compared with infinite space as those between the atoms that compose the bulk of the smallest invisible animalcule of which millions swim in a drop of salt water. The same attraction holds together the animalcule, the sponge, the system, and the Universe. Every particle of matter in that Universe is related to each and all the other particles; and attraction is their common bond.
No doubt, underneath all the little bubbles which are the lives, the wishes, the wills, and the plans of the two hundred millions or more of human beings on this Earth (for bubbles they are, judging by the space and time they occupy in the great and age-outlasting sea of human-kind) resides one and the same eternal force which they shape into this or the other special form; and over all the same paternal Providence presides, keeping eternal watch over the little and the great, and producing variety of effect from the Unity of Force.
It is entirely true to say that justice is the constitution or fundamental law of the moral Universe, the law of right, a rule of conduct for man (as it is for every other living creature), in all his moral relations. No doubt all human affairs (like all other affairs) must be subject to that as the law paramount; and what is right agrees therewith and stands, while that which is wrong conflicts with it and falls. The difficulty is that we ever erect our notions of what is right and just into the law of justice, and insist that God shall adopt that as His law, instead of striving to learn by observation and reflection what His law is, and then believing that law to be consistent with His infinite justice whether or not it corresponds with our limited notion of justice. We are too wise in our own conceit, and ever strive to enact our own little notions into the Universal Law of God. [My emphasis — Ed.]
It might be difficult for man to prove, even to his own satisfaction, how it is right or just for him to subjugate the horse and ox to his service, giving them in return only their daily food which God has spread for them on all the green meadows and savannahs of the world; or how it is just that that we should slay and eat the harmless deer that only crops the green herbage, the buds, and the young leaves, and drinks the free-running water that God made common to all; or the gentle dove, the innocent kid, the many other living things that so confidently trust to our protection — quite as difficult, perhaps, as to prove it just for one man's intellect or even his wealth to make another's strong arms his servants for daily wages or for a bare subsistence.
To find out this Universal law of justice is one thing: to undertake to measure off something with our own little tape-line and call that God's law of justice, is another. The great general plan and system, and the great general laws enacted by God, continually produce what to our limited notions is wrong and injustice which hitherto men have been able to explain to their own satisfaction only by the hypothesis of another existence in which all inequalities and injustices in this life will be remedied and compensated for. To our ideas of justice, it is very unjust that the child is made miserable for life by deformity or organic disease in consequence of the vices of his father; and yet that is part of the Universal law. The ancients said that the child was punished for the sins of its father. We say that its deformity or disease is the consequence of its father's vices: but so far as concerns the question of justice or injustice, that is merely the change of a word.
It is very easy to lay down a broad general principle embodying our own idea of what is absolute justice and to insist that everything shall conform to that: to say, "all human affairs must be subject to that as the law paramount; what is right agrees therewith and stands; what is wrong conflicts and falls. Private cohesions of self-love, of friendship, or of patriotism must all be subordinate to this universal gravitation towards the eternal right". The difficulty is that this God-created Universe of necessities, of sequences of cause and effect, and of life evolved from death, this interminable succession and aggregate of cruelties, will not conform to any such absolute principle or arbitrary theory, no matter in what sounding words and glittering phrases it may be embodied. [My emphasis — Ed.]
Impracticable rules in morals are always injurious: for as all men fall short of compliance with them, they turn real virtues into imaginary offences against a forged law. Justice as between man and man, and as between man and the animals below him, is that which, under and according to the God-created relations existing between them and the whole aggregate of circumstances surrounding them, is fit and right and proper to be done with a view to the general as well as to the individual interest. It is not a theoretical principle by which the very relations that God has created and imposed on us are to be tried and approved or condemned.
God has made this great system of the Universe, and enacted general laws for its government. Those laws environ everything that lives with a mighty network of necessity. He chose to create the tiger with such organs that he cannot crop the grass but must eat other flesh or starve. He has made man carnivorous also; and the smallest singing-bird is as much God's creation as the tiger. In every step we take, in every breath we draw, is involved the destruction of a multitude of animate existences, each, no matter how minute, as much a living creature as oneself. He has made necessary among mankind a division of labour, intellectual and moral. He has made necessary the varied relations of society and dependence, of obedience and control.
What is thus made necessary cannot be unjust: for if it be, then God, the great Law-giver, is Himself unjust. The evil to be avoided is the legislation of injustice and wrong under the false plea of necessity. Out of all the relations of life grow duties — as naturally and as undeniably as the leaves grow upon the trees. If we have the right, created by God's law of necessity, to slay the lamb that we may eat and live, we have no right to torture it in doing so, because that is in no wise necessary. We have the right to live, if we fairly can, by the legitimate exercise of our intellect, and hire or buy the labour of the strong arms of others to till our grounds, to dig in our mines, to toil in our manufactories: but we have no right to overwork or underpay them. [My emphasis — Ed.]
If we faithfully use this faculty of conscience; if, applying it to the existing relations and circumstances, we develop it and all its kindred powers, and so deduce the duties that, out of these relations and those circumstances and limited and qualified by them, arise and become obligatory upon us, then we learn justice, the law of right, the divine rule of conduct for human life. But if we undertake to define and settle "the mode of action that belongs to the infinitely perfect nature of God", and to set up any ideal rule beyond all human reach, we soon come to judge and condemn His work and the relations which it has pleased Him in His infinite wisdom to create.
A sense of injustice belongs to human nature, and is a part of it. Men find a deep, permanent, and instinctive delight in Justice, not only in the outward effects but in the inward cause, and by their nature they love this law of right, this reasonable rule of conduct, this justice, with a deep and abiding love. Justice is the object of the conscience, and fits it as light fits the eye and truth the mind.
It is not true to say that "one man, however little, must not be sacrificed to another, however great, or to a majority, or to all men". That is not only a fallacy, but a most dangerous one. Often one man and many men must be sacrificed, in the ordinary sense of the term, to the interest of the many. It is a comfortable fallacy to the selfish; for if they cannot, by the law of justice, be sacrificed for the common good, then their country has no right to demand of them self-sacrifice; and he is a fool who lays down his life, or sacrifices his estate or even his luxuries, to ensure the safety or prosperity of his country. According to that doctrine, Curtius [possibly Quintus Curtius Rufus, Roman historian, writing probably during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). — Ed.] was a fool, and Leonidas [Spartan king, (ca. 530 BC-480 BC). — Ed.] an idiot; and to die for one's country is no longer beautiful and glorious, but a mere absurdity. Then it is no longer to be asked that the common soldier shall receive in his bosom the sword or bayonet-thrust which otherwise would let out the life of the great commander on whose fate hang the liberties of his country and the welfare of millions yet unborn.
On the contrary, it is certain that necessity rules in all the affairs of men, and that interest and even the life of one man must often be sacrificed to the interest and welfare of his country. Some must ever lead the forlorn hope: the missionary must go among savages, bearing his life in his hand; the physician must expose himself to pestilence for the sake of others; the sailor, in the frail boat upon the wide ocean, escaped from the foundering or burning ship, must step calmly into the hungry waters if the lives of the passengers can be saved only by the sacrifice of his own; the pilot must stand firm at the wheel, and let the flames scorch away his own life to ensure the common safety of those whom the doomed vessel bears.
In literature, men always look for practical justice; they desire that virtue should have its own reward and vice its appropriate punishment. They are ever on the side of justice and humanity. The majority of them have an ideal justice, better than the things about them, juster than the law: for the law is ever imperfect, not attaining even to the utmost practicable degree of perfection. No man is as just as his own idea of possible and practicable justice. His passions and his necessities ever cause him to sink below his own ideal. The ideal justice which men ever look up to and strive to rise towards is true; but it will not be realised in this world. Yet we must approach as near to it as practicable, as we should do towards that ideal democracy that "now floats before the eyes of earnest and religious men — fairer than the Republic of Plato or More's Utopia or the Golden Age of fabled memory", only taking care that we do not, in striving to reach and ascend to the impossible ideal, neglect to seize upon and hold fast to the possible actual. To aim at the best, but be content with the best possible, is the only true wisdom. To insist on the absolute right, and throw out of the calculation the important and all-controlling element of necessity, is the folly of a mere dreamer.
But still the ploughshare of justice is ever drawn through and through the field of the world, uprooting the savage plants. Ever we see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. The injustice of England lost her America, the fairest jewel of her crown. The injustice of Napoleon bore him to the ground more than the snows of Russia did, and exiled him to a barren rock, there to pine away and die, his life a warning to bid mankind be just.
We should ever do to others what, in the same circumstances, we ought to wish and should have the right to wish, they should do unto us. There are many cases constantly occurring where one man must take care of himself in preference to another, as where two struggle for possession of a plank that will save one but cannot uphold both; or where, assailed, he can save his life only by slaying his adversary. So one must prefer the safety of his country to the lives of her enemies; and sometimes, to ensure it, to those of her innocent citizens. The retreating General may cut away a bridge behind him to delay pursuit and save the main body of his army, though he thereby surrenders a detachment, a battalion, or even a corps of his own force to certain destruction.
These are not departures from justice: though, like other instances where the injury or death of the individual is the safety of the many, where the interest of one individual, class, or race is postponed to that of the public, or of the superior race, they may infringe some dreamer's ideal rule of justice. But every departure from real practical justice is no doubt attended with loss to the unjust man, though the loss is not reported to the public. Injustice, public or private, like every other sin and wrong, is inevitably followed by its consequences. The selfish, the grasping, the inhuman, the fraudulently unjust, the ungenerous employer, and the cruel master are detested by the great popular heart; while the kind master, the liberal employer, the generous, the humane, and the just have the good opinion of all men, and even envy is a tribute to their virtues. [My emphasis. — Ed.] Men honour all who stand up for truth and right, and never shrink. The world builds monuments to its patriots. Four great statesmen, organisers of the right, embalmed in stone, look down upon the lawgivers of France as they pass to their hall of legislation, silent orators to tell how nations love the just. How we revere the marble lineaments of those just judges, Jay and Marshall, that look so calmly towards the living Bench of the Supreme Court of the United States! What a monument Washington has built in the heart of America and all the world, not because he dreamed of an impracticable blind justice, but by his constant effort to be practically just!
But necessity alone, and the greatest good of the greatest number, can legitimately interfere with the dominion of absolute and ideal justice. Government should not foster the strong at the expense of the weak, or protect the capitalist and tax the labourer. The powerful should not seek a monopoly of development and enjoyment; not only prudence and the expedient for today should be appealed to by statesmen, but conscience and the right. Justice should not be forgotten in looking at interest, nor political morality neglected for political economy: we should not have national housekeeping instead of national organisation on the basis of right.
We may well differ as to the abstract right of many things: for every such question has many sides, and few men look at all of them; many only at one. But we all readily recognise cruelty, unfairness, inhumanity, partiality, over-reaching, hard-dealing, by their ugly and familiar lineaments. In order to know and hate and despise them, we do not need to sit as a Court of Errors and Appeals to revise and reverse God's Providences.
There are certainly great evils of civilisation at this day, and many questions of humanity long adjourned and put off. The hideous aspect of pauperism, the debasement and vice in our cities, tell us by their inarticulate utterings or eloquent silence that the rich and the powerful and the intellectual do not do their duty by the poor, the feeble, and the ignorant; and every wretched woman that lives, Heaven scarce knows how, by making shirts at sixpence each, attests the injustice and inhumanity of man. There are cruelties to slaves, and worse cruelties to animals, each disgraceful to their perpetrators, and equally unwarranted by the lawful relation of control and dependence which it has pleased God to create.
We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends towards justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God's real law of justice continually endure. The Power, the Wisdom, and the Justice of God are on the side of every just thought, and it cannot fail, any more than God Himself can perish.
In human affairs, the justice of God must work by human means. Men are the instruments of God's principles; our morality is the instrument of His justice which, incomprehensible to us, seems to our short vision often to work injustice, but will at some time still the oppressor's brutal laugh. Justice is the rule of conduct written in the nature of mankind. We may, in our daily life, in house or field or shop, in the office or in the Court, help to prepare the way for the commonwealth of justice which is slowly, but we would fain hope, surely, approaching. All the justice we mature will bless us here and hereafter, and at our death we shall leave it added to the common store of human-kind. And every Mason who, content to do that which is possible and practicable, does and enforces justice, may help deepen the channel of human morality in which God's justice runs; and so the wrecks of evil that now check and obstruct the stream may be the sooner swept out and borne away by the resistless tide of Omnipotent Right. Let us, my Brother, in this as in all else, endeavour always to perform the duties of a good Mason and a good man.