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FREEMASONRY'S WISDOM, STRENGTH AND BEAUTY

by Frank Church
The Voice of Masonry - 1880


FROM time immemorial and in almost every land there has existed an institution, strange and mysterious to the outer world, but plain and simple to those who have passed its tyled portals, and rejoiced in its moral and intellectual treasures. We wonder not that in the early age of man these associations were formed, for by the wisdom of the Divine Intelligence, man was made dependent upon his fellow man; he was endowed with a nature which emphatically demanded the joys and pleasures of social life. The law of development and growth depends upon this principle. Neither do we wonder that men in those most ancient of days entered into covenants, for the Creator himself set the example. Neither do we wonder that fraternal relations were cultivated, for the moral and intellectual natures predominated, and, like the physical, must have food. either do we wonder that these organizations were exclusive in their natures, and that barriers were erected to stay the rush of the multitude, for then as now in this enlightened age of the 19th century, all were not worthy of esteem and fellowship. But when we come to consider only in part the wonders of man's growth and progress, from the early infancy of the race to the present age; when we consider how vast the changes which have transpired; how wonderful the growth of his moral and intellectual nature; when we come to reflect how empires have risen, flourished and decayed; how nations have been swept away from the face of the earth; how all things else have been marked by the finger of decay and ruin; how sects and systems of religion have been dissolved; how dispensation followed dispensation in quick succession to the grave; when we look around upon the world of to-day and study its institutions, and the existing relations of our race, and find in them scarcely a fact or principle which we seem to hold in common with those of most ancient times; when we come to consider how often society has been revolutionized and its foundations broken up and destroyed, we may well wonder that an institution thus founded should have withstood the changes and mutations, and come down to us with the material features as they were when the "morning stars sang together" - with even its forms and ceremonies substantially unaltered since the time when the first civilization and the Lost Arts reared those stupendous monuments which are the wonder and admiration even of this enlightened age. But if we wonder that the institution itself has been preserved, how much more should we wonder when we consider that through every age of the world's development; in peace and in war; in light and in darkness; in freedom and in bondage; in every condition of the race, it has administered to the wants of all those who could claim its patronage.

Not only in every age and land, but to every age and class has it been available and useful. To the untutored child of the forest, who sees God only in the works of nature - the Hindoo, cultivated in the subtle though sophistical lore of the Brahmin - the followers of Mahomet kneeling to the East in morning prayer - the sons of Judea on the sacred Mount - the Christian, the Catholic and Protestant alike; the Northman and the Druid - the Arab that roams the desert free as the wind - the wanderer among the ruing of the dead past - all, all save the fool who hath said in his heart, there is no GOD, have knelt at the sacred altar of the lodge, shared its glories, learned its mystic language, submitted to its influence, which has turned them toward the truth and GOD.

Prince and peasant, priest and layman, the ruler and the ruled, prophet and philosopher, have met upon the level and gazed upon the hieroglyphic light, and worn the same symbols of the Craft with the same degree of satisfaction.

Universal as the universe, and as widespread as humanity itself, its temples are the symbols of the world we inhabit, and represent to us that a Mason's duty is equally extensive, embracing every conceivable relation of humanity. And now, my brethren, what shall be said of the wisdom which could contrive so far back in the world's history such an institution, which, unchanging in itself, is still found adapted to the wants of all ages, of every people and every class of society, however differently constituted? Is there a problem more difficult for the philosopher to solve? What else beside the creations of the human intellect and genius has survived? If this be the work of man simply, how has it escaped the tide of destruction which has swallowed up all else? What power has stayed the ruthless hand of time? The material structures, reared with all the skill and ingenuity of the wisest, and which hoped to be perpetual, the monuments of brick and stone, iron and brass, even the Temple of Solomon, all have perished, and now mingle with the common clay.

In the moral world decay and desolation have been equally as triumphant, judging from a human standpoint. Every form of government, every social, political and religious association of every hue and complexion, all systems, sects, and philosophies, have come forth like leaves in the spring, and like them, have perished.

Among the material structures of man there is but one parallel in time and duration the Pyramids of Egypt stand alone marking the rust of centuries. Man's works in the moral world have no parallel. And as the Pyramids have stood for ages, so must they continue to stand for ages yet to come baffling the efforts of science and the mechanic arts to discover the secret of their construction and their exemption from decay. So in the moral world, this institution, which has transmitted through a succession of ages unimpaired the valuable tenets of our profession, shall endure forever, baffling every effort to find in the wisdom of man the capacity to project and complete its organization. Again I say the wisdom which contrived the Masonic art is far beyond the depth and range of poor humanity. Where, then, shall we look for its origin but to His wisdom who created all things and who is the Giver of all good?

As the design of its first material temple was first given by GOD to its founder, so the wisdom which designed that moral and spiritual edifice which has outlasted the sanctuary at Jerusalem and blesses mankind to-day, could be no less than the Supreme Architect Himself. It has endured because it is the work of Him whose work cannot be destroyed. It is unchanging and eternal, because these are attributes of its author.

Its fortunes have been as varied as the things which it existed. In every age and in almost every land, it has been persecuted. In the Dark Ages, when its sublime truths were unappreciated, its enemies rose on every side, numberless as the leaves of the forest - kings and princes arrayed armies against it - its temples were destroyed, its children robbed and hunted like wild beasts; still they refused to lay down their faith or abandon their vows, and thus the institution of Patriarchal Age has still survived; the attentive ear still receives the sound from the instructive tongue; and the mysteries of the Royal Art are safely lodged in the repository of faithful breasts. What then shall be said of the strength which has supported it through all ages of trial and persecution? Has the power of man alone, think you, been adequate to support that which it had not the wisdom to contrive? Can it be less than, the power of the Infinite which' has preserved and sustained it? And have we not the right to claim a divine origin for than which divinity seems to have so cherished and protected?

Let us now, for a moment, turn from the wisdom which contrived, and the strength which supported, to the contemplation of the beauty which adorns the mystic edifice, and behold how apt and beautiful the analogy; how perfect the harmony and correspondence between the spiritual and material structures. Study the beauty of the first temple, erected on the sacred mountain where the fidelity of the stricken Patriarch had been so severely tested, to commemorate the virtue he displayed, and to commend its practice to after ages.

Contemplate the grandeur of the stately edifice, its gorgeous finish, its costly appointments, its perfect harmony of parts - the grandest triumph of human art - the theme of song and inspiration, and fitly hallowed by the presence of the Deity Himself; the most worthy to be his dwelling-place on earth; though our Ancient Grand Master, at its solemn dedication, exclaimed: "Lo, the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have made!" So the Spiritual Temple, there organized and perfected, stands without precedent in the moral world.

As to its moral beauty, it is unapproached by any association which the skill of man has contrived wince first the "Morning stars sang together." The relation of the first temple to our Institution - of the material to the moral structure - is the relation of the mortal body to the immortal soul. As the mortal body is the most wonderful of all the material works of the Creator, so was the Temple the grandest achievement of human skill. As the body grows in silence, so in silent grandeur rose the Temple. "No ringing sound was heard of axe or other tool, nor one discordant word. In perfect peace and harmony they plied their cunning art. The secret tie of brotherhood had bound them heart to heart. And lo! the toiling legions from the quarry to the hills, were moved by its mysterious power, and felt its quickening thrills. And when their work was done, the Temple with its golden spires stood glistening in the sun. Its splendor and magnificence enraptured every gaze, and filled the thronging multitude with wonder and amaze." Seven years the patient toilers worked, and the Temple stood complete, the mystic creation of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Seven years the body grows - renews itself and grows again - nine times seven the sands of life do run until the grand climacteric is reached, which is the beginning and the end.

Our bodies perish; so did the Temple. Before the Chaldee's vengeful ire the Temple was overthrown. The gorgeous fabric sank to earth, a shapeless mass of stone." But the soul is the nobler and better part within us. So does the spiritual edifice which dwelt within the Temple on the sacred Mount far exceed the cradle in which it was nursed. And, as the soul shall live forever, so shall the spiritual edifice live until all things else shall have perished.

We have spoken of the wisdom which contrived this institution - the strength which bas supported it through all its trials and vicissitudes of fortune - the beauty which adorned and still adorns it, and we would now ask, What is Freemasonry? A learned author says: "Freemasonry is a moral institution, founded on liberality, brotherly love and charity. Truth is its centre, the point whence its radii diverge, directing its disciples to a correct knowledge of the Great Architect of the Universe, and the moral laws which he has ordained for their government." Another has said: "Freemasonry is an institution founded on eternal reason and truth, whose deep basis is the civilization of mankind, and whose everlasting glory is supported by those two mighty pillars - Science and Morality." "A beautiful system of morality, veiled to allegory and illustrated by symbols." But, my brethren, is it not something more; is it not, in the true and comprehensive sense of the term, a religious institution, resting upon the Holy Writings and the Divine Order of things? Before proceeding any farther let us see whether there is any foundation for the statement that it is a religious institution. Roll back the wheels of time to a period long anterior to the building of the Temple; stand upon the very spot where the foundations were afterwards laid, and what do you behold? An altar - and upon that altar a sacrifice - beside the altar and sacrifice a father about to offer up his only and well-beloved son in obedience to command; but the final blow does not fall; the test is complete and a. substitute is furnished; the hand of death is stayed and the destroyer is vanquished. So the mysteries of the Temple and its moral counterpart, so cherished now, teach as they should, and teach with more power and emphasis than all the eloquence of press and pulpit combined, the lessons of a resurrection and a second life. Is it not, then, a religious association? Not religious in any narrow or restricted sense: not Christian or Jewish; not Pagan or Mahometan; Catholic or Protestant; but only simply and purely religious. Religion is of GOD. Sects, forms, creeds, and dogmas, are of men. It is universal religion, which it inculcates; that. religion which is essential everywhere to the true character of man; that sense of obligation and final responsibility which affords the only security for the faithful observance of its own pure principles, and its solemn and sacred vows; a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, His justice and goodness, and the immortality of the soul are the elements of religion which it requires of its votaries, while it heeds not the dogmas and specific articles of faith which men have set up and called the only true religion. Masonry from its first beginning has, indeed, been the sanctuary of this universal religion. To preserve the knowledge of the true GOD from the assaults of paganism, when idolatry possessed the whole world, save the little land of Judea and the chosen people, was one of the objects of its organization.

It has preserved that knowledge through all these periods, and but for it it must have been lost. The high and holy mission has been performed faithfully. It has come down to us with this religious element in its character unimpaired, and it will cease to be the institution which has come down to us when it ceases to inculcate religion. Not the religious system of Paul or Moses, Calvin or Luther, but that religion which requires us to recognize a "First Great Cause;" that religion which requires us to invoke the aid of Deity in all our laudable undertakings; that religion which commands and requires us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, and leaves us within the range of these duties and landmarks to adopt our own form of worship, to approach the throne of the Almighty in our own way, and adore him under whatever name we choose. Such is the broad and comprehensive religion which Masonry inculcates. It embraces all other religions; it includes the whole duty of man revealed by nature or revelation; it comprehends everything which we have received from GOD, and whatever has been added is the work of man himself. It is a religion by which he may grandly and nobly live, and by which he need not fear to die.

The more we study the Scriptures and the more we reflect upon the teachings of the Masonic Institution, its scope and comprehensiveness, the snore we are led to believe that our commentators and divines are reading the "First Great Light" as "through a glass darkly," and that the time may come when Masonry, resting, as it does, upon the Bible, will stand alone as the exponent of truth and GOD's teaching. Other associations may have much in them that is in Masonry, but they have not the Masonic Order - that is the Divine Order, and without this there is confusion, and confusion is as foreign to religion as to geometry, for religion is a part of the Divine Order. There can be no confusion in the Divine Order, nor was there ever any; and any doctrine which throws confusion on the Divine Order is, of necessity, false, in part at least. Masonry has stood the test of ages, because it rested upon GOD's law, which is harmony.

The degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry are three, because this is in accordance with the order of the universe, and of all things else in the universe. These degrees are real degrees, and not mere divisions of the same subject; and there can be but one Masonry any more than there can be more than one geometry. The Scriptures are written in degrees; humanity has its threefold character, and its development is by degrees; man individually develops in accordance with this law. The Masonic Lodge works by degrees, and every member of it, each according to the light he has. The lodge is typical of the universe, and the Grand Lodge or General Assembly represents the universe at work, and its work shall result in wisdom, strength, and harmony, which is beauty, else the object of creation becomes a failure.

The degrees of Masonry are Secrecy, Science, and Immortality. To the first degree honor and probity are recommendations. Here the practice of virtue is enforced and the duties of morality inculcated, while the mind is being prepared for progress in the underlying principles of knowledge and philosophy.

To the Second degree diligence, assiduity, and application, are qualifications. Here, both in theory and practice, is given an accurate exemplification of science; here the human reason is cultivated and made strong and reliant in accordance with the law of development and growth. Here new discoveries are made and difficult theories explained, and those already known beautified and adorned.

And to the Third belong those whom truth and fidelity have distinguished; whom years and experience have improved and whose merit and ability have marked and prepared as master workmen.

Each step taken by the candidate is typical of the corresponding step in the progress humanity; in the active life of the individual in his growth and progress. Not only this, but the work of the lodge represents the creation of nature - the Grand Architect of the Universe in His creative character, whose creations are constant and in harmony, proceeding by regular steps from the lowest to the highest.

Let us look briefly at a few of the infinite symbolisms of this ancient Order, for only by seeking after the thought that lay in the mind of those who founded it, and instituted the beautiful symbols which distinguish the workings of the Craft, can we expect to know what they mean. If we find the "thought" which originated the symbols, we shall see in them a series of moral and philosophical dramas most eloquent and instructive; we shall find that our rites embrace all the possible circumstances of human life, and have a meaning high as the Heavens, broad as the Universe, and profound as Eternity. But when we have lost the sense intended to be conveyed by the symbols, our ceremonies are useless, and we teach in vain. In the first step or degree, the candidate closes his eyes on the past, lays aside his vestment of the outer world - everything that will remind him of the selfishness and discord of life, and turns his face with trembling upon the dread unknown - the mysterious future. In darkness he knocks at the portal of the lodge and demands admission, instruction, and light.

Man in his primitive condition of helplessness, ignorance, and moral blindness, sought after that mental and moral light which alone could deliver his mind from slavery, and make him master of the material world. As individuals, we are born ignorant, helpless, and blind, yet we feel stirring within us an insatiable longing for knowledge, and we knock at the door of the Temple of Science; we question Nature, demand her secrets, and at last possess her mysteries. Does not, therefore, the First degree symbolize man's first entrance into the world in which he is to become a living, thinking actor. Coming from ignorance and darkness, his first desire is for light - that light which originates from the source of all things; hence the primary lesson in all regular degrees is to symbolize the birth of intellectual light into the soul. Groping in mental and moral darkness, the unregenerate man seeks for that light which is to guide him in the path of duty to truth and to GOD. In this condition he is to be taught to realize the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of GOD, the fundamental principles of character, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice, and above all secrecy. Among the ancients, silence and secrecy were considered virtues of the highest order. The entire fabric of the universe is founded on secrecy, and the great life force which vivifies, moves and beautifies the whole, is the deepest of all mysteries. We cannot fix our eyes on a single point in creation which does not shade off into mystery and touch the realms of eternal silence. In this respect, as in all others, we see that our institution conforms to the Divine Order of things. A modern writer has said: "Thought will not work except in silence, neither will virtue work except in secrecy. Like other plants, virtue will not grow unless its roots be hidden - buried from the light of the sun. Let the sun shine on it, nay, do but look at it privily thyself; the root withers, and no flowers will glad thee." We, therefore, denominate the Entered Apprentice degree the degree of secrecy.

The object of the First degree is to teach by what means the human mind, struggling in darkness for intellectual light, may be prepared properly to advance, that of the second, the true order of its progress, and the means by, which it may be conducted to the attainment of the true philosophy of life, amid the difficulties which encumber every labor. The Entered Apprentice comes from moral darkness to moral light. The Fellow Craft from intellectual darkness into knowledge. The Second degree, therefore, by its lessons, represents the struggles of the ardent mind in the attainment of truth - moral and intellectual - and inculcates and teaches above all that divine truth, the comprehension of which surpasseth human understanding. Here in this degree we are taught how man, through science, art, and philosophy, becomes the sovereign of the material world. The Second degree we, therefore, call the Degree of Science.

The ceremony of the Third degree is, without doubt, the most important, impressive and instructive of all the Masonic rites; it transcends all others in the depth of its philosophy and the dramatic interest with which it is invested. That portion which is connected with the legend of the Widow's Son is worthy the deep and earnest study of thoughtful men. It draws the attention of the mind to the contemplation of a subject that extends beyond the grave through the boundless realms of eternity - to that immortal principle that makes man the rational, thinking being that he is.

The Master Mason is the type of the upright man on his journey through life. In the First and Second degrees we have seen the type of man complete in moral worth and intellectual culture, and thus completed, in the Third degree, we see the type of man holding communion with his Maker. This degree embraces all the possible conditions of humanity, ranges through all worlds, reveals the law of eternal justice, announces the omnipotence of truth, and proclaims the. immortality of man. It pictures to the mind, in an impressive manner, the conflict of truth with error; light with darkness; life with death; and the final triumph of the former and destruction of the latter. It teaches us that the same power which creates, destroys - destroys and makes alive again.

And now my brethren, in all these things have we seen only a series of unmeaning rites and ceremonies; have we learned our ritual, our mystic words and signs, and there ended the lesson? If so, then to us Masonry is a failure, a delusion and a snare. But no intelligent Mason can take such a view, for in the science of Masonic symbolism the temple represented the world, purified by the Divine presence; and, as every Masonic Lodge is a representative of the temple, it is, therefore, a representative of the world purified. Hence to enter the lodge, to be made a Mason, is to become good, pure and noble.

We all of us wandered long in the darkness, asked for light, sought for wisdom, in the world of the profane. We knocked at the door of Masonry, and coming in the name of GOD, and being free born, full grown, and well tried, the door opened to us, and we stood within the porch of the temple, and there learned to practice charity, and observe the Divine Order. We have all passed between the pillars of strength and establishment, ascended the flight of winding stairs, have stood in the middle chamber, and there learned the results of our labors; have stood complete on the centre. We have beheld the scenes which belong to the familiar, but most wonderful and impressive legend of all time, whose symbolic lesson is the apocalypse of the Divine Humanity, and that omnific power which alone can raise weak and selfish human nature from the dead level of mortality to the living perpendicular of eternal life, yet still signifying that though man may approximate, yet never can reach perfection. All these things we have seen and passed through, and the lessons inculcated should be deeply impressed on our minds. Truth was the object of our labors, and though we have received but a substitute representing it, yet it signifies to us an important fact, that man in this world can approximate only to the full conception of truth.

And finally, my brethren, in our estimation of Masonry, let us look beyond its secret works, its rituals, lectures, ceremonies, signs, and symbols, for these are but the garment in which it is clothed - they are the visible body - Masonry is the invisible soul. The promotion of virtue, the practice of morality, and the relief of distress, are but the fruits of the vital active principle within. Masonry is more than mere signs and ceremonies. We may know its history, its traditions, its achievements, and its laws; we may be learned in its lectures and masters of its secret work; we may be able to understand and interpret its symbolism, and be termed "bright Masons," and yet the whole volume of Masonry be to us a sealed and a silent book. We may admire its spirit, and refuse that spirit a dwelling within our soul; we may admire its wisdom, its strength, its harmony, (which is beauty,) the perfection of its ceremonies, its lectures, and its laws; and yet if we have failed to learn that these are but avenues leading up to the moral edifice beyond; that they are only emblems of like qualifies in the spiritual structure; then, indeed, have we labored in vain, and spent our strength for naught.

The power which expands, purifies, elevates and ennobles the soul and fills us with the presence of the Infinite, and prepares us for a better life, is the divinity which dwells within your temples, and if it dwell not in your hearts, then are you but whited sepulchres, bearing the name, but mocking the spirit and purpose of the Fraternity.

Let us, then, my brethren, apply ourselves to the study of the Royal Art; let us seek for wisdom, practice charity, and observe the Divine Order; let us seek for the attainment of useful knowledge, and having gained it, let us apply it to the discharge of our duties to GOD, our neighbors, and ourselves. As for us, we pass hence, each on his several journey through the tangled ways of life, and here we may, in parting, will repeat the touching and significant lines of a gifted brother long lost to earth:

Ah, when shall we three meet like them
Who last were at Jerusalem?
For three there were, but one is not
He lies where Cassia marks the spot.

Though poor he was, with kings he trod;
Though great, he humbly kneeled to GOD.
Ah, when shall Time restore again
The broken links of friendship's chain.

Behold where mourning beauty bent
In silence o'er his monument;
And wildly spread in sorrow there
The ringlets of her golden hair.

The future sons of grief shall sigh
While standing round in mystic tie,
And raise their hands, alas! to Heaven
In anguish, that no hope is given.

Then whence we come, or whither go,
Ask me no more, or seek to know,
'Til three shall meet to form like them
The Grand Lodge at Jerusalem.

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