The Masonic Trowel

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by Rev. James E. Latimer, A. M.

It is religious, not by creed or dogmatic statement, but deeply, necessarily so in its spirit. Its symbols, in which it is so rich, all point to piety - to a genuine religious experience. Nowhere do you see more distinctly that nature is typical of man's being, his life, and his destiny. 

The Lodge typifies the world. It is blue, because the sky arches above it. The Mosaic pavement symbolizes the lights and shades of human life. Menzel, the historian of Germany, in speaking therein of Masonry, tells us "the aim of this Society was the erection of the invisible temple of humanity, and its allegorical symbols, the trowel, the square, and the leather apron, were borrowed from the tools used in common Masonry." 

In Oliver's "Signs and Symbols" we read, "you must keep within the compass and act upon the square with all mankind, for your Masonry is a dead letter if you do not habitually perform its reiterated injunctions." 

Robert Burns, who was a Mason, though because of his gross errors, not a true (perfected) one, realized the symbolism and morality of our Order, in lines written to the Lodge where he belonged - lines not found in his published works 

"May freedom, harmony and love 
Unite you in the grand design, 
Beneath the Omniscient Eye above, 
The glorious Architect Divine! 
That ye may keep th' unerring line, 
Still rising by the plummets law, 
Till order bright completely shine, 
Shall be my prayer when far awa'." 

So better yet, and far more poetically has the German Goethe set forth the typical character of Masonry - Goethe, the first poet and largest brain of modern times. Thus he sings in a poem entitled "The Lodge:" 

"The Mason's ways are 
A type of existence, 
And his persistence 
Is as the days are 
Of men in this world. 

The future hides in it 
Good hap or sorrow, 
We press through it - 
Naught there abides in it 
Daunting us - onward. 

And silent before us, 
Veiled, the dark portal, 
Gaol of all mortal; 
Stars silent rest over us 
Graves under us silent. 

But heard are the voices -  
Voice of the sages 
Of the world and the ages -  
Choose well, your choice is 
Brief, but yet endless. 

Hero eyes do regard you 
In eternity's stillness, 
Here is all fullness, 
Ye brave, to reward you, 
Work and despair not." 

Here is evidence enough of the deep symbolism of Masonry. Its rites and ceremonies mean far more than a careless observer may see. To me, they stand as finger-posts pointing to the deep mysteries of religion. There may be men who can see nothing religious in them. So there are men who look with staring eyes upon the Sun of Truth and yet are blind; and do we not read of one of old, who saw not the angel of God in his way, and pressed on madly, till the dumb beast beneath him broke the silence and chided his master? 

Masonry does not afford us a church, and it does not claim to be a religion. Yet I may say, and truly say, as St. Paul says of the law, "It is a schoolmaster, to lead us to Christ." It is, in fine, a beautiful porch, with long arcade, hung with pictures of Bible scenes which familiarize the eye with sacred objects, and lead you to the church and personal religion. I do not say it always does this, but I do say it ought to do this - it is admirably designed to do this. 

It seems to me that every one of the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry is emblematic of a certain type of Christian experience, and no one but a genuine pious man can fathom their full meaning. 

That this is not a mere subjective view of my own let me skew you by quoting from Masonic authorities. William Hutchinson says: "The first state of a Mason is representative of the first stage of the worship of the true God. The second stage of Masonry," he continued, "rises with the temple. The Master Mason," he goes on to say, "represents a man under the Christian doctrine, saved from the grave of iniquity and raised to the faith of salvation." 

The venerable Salem Town, so long Grand Chaplain, presents his view of the three degrees as follows: "In the first, every observing candidate is led to view his moral blindness and deplorable state by nature. The second is emblematical of a state of improvement and trial. The third presents the life of the good man in his pilgrimage state, with enemies on every side - evil propensities to be conquered, and remaining corruptions to be extirpated - amid all which he keeps his integrity." 

If I may be permitted to add my own view, and illustrate it by Pilgrim's Progress, I should say, that the first degree represents the Pilgrim leaving the city of destruction. The second leads him through the house of the Interpreter, and the third brings him beneath the cross, where his burden falls off and rolls into the sepulchre below. 

My brothers, let us be Masons in deed, and not in word alone. Heed the exhortation of Salem Town, as he tells you, "Look through the forms of Masonry to the substance; through the symbols contemplate their high and sacred allusions." 


When Robbins and Riley were cast away upon the coast of Africa, many years ago, in that country, far away from home and friends, they were the recipients of Masonic favor. And at the hands of a stranger, face to face they, found a brother. The story of their extreme suffering from heat, thirst and hunger, beggars description; there are but few cases on record which portrays such human distress. And when they arrived at Mogadore, but mere skeletons, as much so as they could be and be alive, they had merely the spark of human life, and in this condition a stranger came to them with a language spoken in signs and tokens. They knew each other. They had somewhere upon the face of the globe knelt before the altar - taken upon themselves a solemn obligation to help a poor worthy brother in distress. 

Joy and gladness overflowed their hearts, melting the strong men to tears, when he kindly and sympathetically administered to the necessities of his brethren. Like a good Samaritan, Bro. Wilberforce bound up their sorrowful and aching hearts, and gave them means to return home to friends and kindred. - Mystic Star.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014