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some practical aspects of freemasonry

by W.Bro. Rev. W.C. Wood, 5th August 1910
Published in "Selected Papers", Vol.1
United Masters Lodge, No. 167,
Grand Lodge of New Zealand

For the purpose of defining my position and placing this paper before you, may I remark, in the first place, that anything I may say on viewing the Craft on its practical side is not intended in any way to discount the ideal and theoretical side. No brother can feel greater satisfaction than myself that our Institution is not of mushroom growth, or greater appreciation of its beauty of ceremonial and wealth of teaching.

But in addressing you tonight I am keeping my thoughts free from any consideration of the past, or the future, and giving my attention to the question - What is the Craft worth to us?

Webster defines the word practical as meaning something capable of being turned into useful account, in distinction to the ideal and theoretical. And it is in that light I suggest that we view Freemasonry. For depend upon it, antiquity alone will not save any institution from decay, and ultimate death, if it fails in serving practical purposes.

I have no doubt that many of my brethren would contend that it is in her charitable and educational institutions that Freemasonry discharges her practical duties to the world. They would say, look at the extent of her charities, her schools, scholarships, orphanages, etc., and no one would know anything of them would discount their values for a moment. But I suggest that these woks should be viewed as the effects of some cause; and it is the cause I want to get at. Masonry may be considered as the trees, and these institutions as the fruit, but there are other trees that bear the fruit of Charity - Religious, Philanthropic, and State, and bear it much more profusely. Others may say the real value of Freemasonry is in the Truth. She teaches, viewing Freemasons as seekers after Truth-a very high-sounding term, but to be quite candid one that has never conveyed much meaning to my mind-and I agree with the writer Carlile, when he says, "Masonry is not the repository of any system of truth known only to itself." You sometimes hear brethren say "Masonry is my religion," but this is to my mind a wrong view of Masonry; for Masonry is not a religion, though it is deeply religious. Bu there is no truth embodied in it that is not common to all religions, so that its real worth is not to be found in its power to impart any truth or system of truth.

Throughout the history of the world we find men and women banding themselves together in leagues, societies, etc., for the purpose of gaining certain ends, and to change certain conditions. As these objects have been achieved, or conditions changed to the desired order, these leagues etc. have passed away, having served their purpose; and so the process has gone on, society superseding society, as the ever changing conditions of life have determined. But Freemasonry has lived through them all, and is with us today. Old customs and systems have changed, but ours, like Tennyson's "Brook", goes on for ever. And why? Freemasonry has one special feature; within its circle, around one common centre, every class, sect, and colour can meet.

As you observe the various groups of men and women around you, you will see that the principle that forms the bond of union in one party is the point of cleavage in another. In religion, for instance, one aspect of truth unites in one community, and divides in another. Every sect demands a recognition of its creed or dogma as imperative.

In politics, in art, and philosophy, you find men divided into parties and schools, and while the eye of the profane would is ever ready to detect and be influenced by the divisions of class, sect, and colour, Masonry looks out upon her own, and sees soul, not class, and within her circle divisions are lost in the depths of a great brotherhood.

The chief value of the Craft is not in any truth she has to teach or interpret, for what she has was borrowed from the Hebrew Scriptures, much of which she delivers in the language of the Christian Scriptures; not in her charitable and educational systems, valuable as they are, but in the facilities she affords, whereby men of different minds may dwell together in one home.

What is the practical value of the Craft? Brethren, just this: that she offers a shelter into which her members may retire for rest and refreshment. In the outside world the conditions of life often force us into competition, arraying us in hostile camps, and in the daily walk of life we find ourselves hedged about by environment, conflicting interests, and a host of forces; and it is when I think of men spending their days of threescore and ten in the burning heat of keen competition that I recognize the value of the shade cast by this great rock in a weary land; for as the Tyler admits you every element of discord and division should be left outside, and you should be with the circle of friendship, love, and truth. Thus I am led to think the social and convivial side of the Craft, based on the ideal of a brotherhood is her distinctive characteristic; and in a social order such as the world possesses today this constitutes it real value.

Now, as my paper is intended to traverse practical aspects, I would ask: Are such conditions maintained in the Craft as will assure to brethren the advantages of a real brotherhood? Do we find, in practice, that the theory of brotherhood, as taught in Masonry, and sworn to in our S.O.'s, is a reality? There can be no doubt as to the true meaning of the contract between Mother Lodge and her Masonic son: that by the process of initiation, passing and raising the individual is adopted into a family, made a son of the widow, and entitled to all the privileges of sonship. You know, without my repeating them here, the beautiful sentiments expressed in our ceremonial on this very point. How much of it, brethren, is simply "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal"! I fear that if we get off the Masonic stilts many of us love to mount when we are at Masonic "labour", we must admit all is not gold that glitters.

Well, if defects there are, they are certainly not in our principles, so must necessary be in ourselves. I think it will have to be admitted that many brethren do not realize the real intention of Freemasonry, and it is not always their fault that they misinterpret or misapply it, for one of two reasons-either they have never been properly taught, or they should never have been made.

There is one subject that is ever with us: Grand Lodge officers invariably address us on it: guarding the portal of the lodge. "Exercise every care in the selection of candidates" is the advice they give to lodges; and lodges do exercise care to a very considerable extent. But I am suggesting that it is not always done with a full sense of what "fit and proper" means. We sit in lodge, and listen to the proposition of a candidate. The proposing brother tells us that he ahs known Mr. A.B. for so many years, and feels assured that he will prove an acquisition to the lodge but we very seldom hear a reason given for this belief that he will prove an acquisition; or if we do, to my mind, as a rule it is beside the point. I contend it is not enough to be able to say he is a good fellow. There are lots of good fellows who won't make good Masons. It is not enough to know that he is an honest man! Every man should be honest, but not every man should be a Freemason. Perhaps some brother would like to ask if a man is a god fellow, and honest, why should he not be a Freemason? And this raises just the point that I desire to emphasize: I am contending that the Craft is a brotherhood, and its value that in it you are assured of the benefits of brotherhood.

Our Masonic brotherhood assumes a harmony of will and purpose on the part of its members. Therefore much depends on the type of man a candidate is, as to whether he will be any good to Freemasonry, or Freemasonry any good to him. I contend that the term "fit and proper" as used in our ritual, suggests an inquiry into the qualifications of a candidate of a far-reaching order. For, in the first place, Freemasonry is a science, and as such makes considerable demands upon the intellect, and a candidate, in addition to being a good fellow, honest, and respectable, and able to pay from six to ten guineas as initiation fees, ought to possess the intellectuality that will enable him to grasp and profit by our system of allegorical and symbolic teaching; if he should not be the possessor of such intellectuality is it not a species of fraud to take his money? And will not his inclusion in our ranks tend to lower the standard and effectiveness of our labour? For if a brother of average education and intelligence is to get real refreshment when he comes to his lodge the atmosphere must not be heavy with the effects of ill-digested and unenlightened work. Some of the brethren may not have met with experiences that lead them to attach much importance to these remarks, but such must be unquestionably the case unless the Craft is composed of men capable of understanding intelligently imparting to others the beauties of our system.

But Freemasonry not only makes demands upon the intellect; it makes even bigger demands upon the soul. For it is only by the exercise of our spiritual vision that we are enabled to see the beauties of our ornate and symbolical ceremonials.

To the brother who only sees stone in the rough or perfect Ashlar, whose vision never penetrates beyond the visible, whose mind is only influenced by the material, much of our ritual will be only foolishness. He will hear, and will not understand: see and perceive not: he may even think of it, as a candidate I once heard express himself, as rot.

Then again, the very nature of our obligations makes heavy calls upon patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and strength of character; for do we not impose upon our members the practice of every social and moral virtue?

Handicapped as we are in this life, it is not possible for us to reach the high ideal presented in our rites, but Masonry assumes that every member is a tryer. That, with the aid of the Most High, he is engaged in a constant effort upward and onward.

But I am led to believe one of the reasons why our attainments in this direction are not marked with more signal success is a consequence of the fetish so many Masons make of the term "secrecy." A host of candidates are initiated into the Order without having the faintest conception of the real meaning of Freemasonry. Many a man has entered our lodges in the character of a candidate to meet the biggest surprise in his life; one such said to me, expressing his astonishment at the character of our initiation, "I thought I was in a prayer-meeting."

The practice of keeping a candidate in ignorance of the real nature and true purpose of the Craft, and then putting the most solemn words into his mouth, has often struck me as resembling in a measure the idea people have about vaccination-a think that has to be done, and the virtue is in the thing done. But in our case Initiation, Passing and Raising are only the starting point, merely placing the candidate on the mark. The matter of importance is will he run well, prove sound, and turn out to be a stayer; and we ought to be reasonably satisfied on these points before he even crosses our threshold.

Freemasonry being a brotherhood, we must remember that the character of the individual is a contribution to the character of the whole, and the body of Freemasonry will be what its individual members make it. The question that ought to be answered before anyone is admitted is not: "Do you know any reason why Mr. A.B. should not be a Freemason? But "Do you know any reason why he should be?"

In short, Freemasonry supplies an atmosphere in which the best traits in human character can be expanded and developed; where the man of imagination and aspiration can find congenial associations that help the upward bent of his soul, and refresh and strengthen the warm impulses of his heart. But as we do not gather grapes off thorns, neither can we reap such a harvest unless we maintain jealously the necessary conditions.

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