The Masonic Trowel

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by J. Q. Goss

M.'.W.'. Grand Master, Fellow Craftsmen, Ladies and Gentlemen: 

In standing before this vast audience, composed of many whom we, in Masonic language, term "profane," of the representatives of the Fraternity of this State, and I have no doubt, of many others - skillful craftsmen - representing the Fraternity at large, but not members of this Grand Body, I feel that the duty assigned me is one of no ordinary magnitude, and were it not that I have been schooled in the Masonic lesson of obedience, my feelings would have prompted me to have declined the honor of being your orator on this occasion. 

I shall not, at this time. urge upon you the necessity of becoming Masons, or ask you to unite yourselves with the Fraternity, for this the regulations and spirit of Masonry forbid; but in obedience to the commands of the Grand Lodge, and in accordance with a custom of our Order, on occasions like the present, I stand here to address you upon the principles, the aims and object of our institution. 

So much has been said and written about the antiquity of Masonry, that no one, not impervious to the charge of being a mere "copyist," would attempt, on such an occasion as this, or indeed at any other time, to trace the Masonic institution through all its periods of prosperity and adversity, from its inception to the present time. In relation to the date of its origin, permit me to say, that it is so far back in the remote ages of the past that the precise time cannot be determined. This is sufficient proof, if proof be necessary, that Masonry is not of modern origin, that it has passed through its periods of prosperity and adversity, and it stands before you to-day with the traces of age upon its brow, yet marked with none of those signs and evidences of decay, which age generally produces. 

I shall not, then, on this occasion, delve into the subterranean caverns of the dead past, and, from amid the rubbish and ruins of antiquity, exhume musty records, and from their time-stained pages decipher those mystic characters and letters which tell of the mysteries of the Gymnosophists of India, of the Persian Rite of Mithras, the Egyptian of Osiris and Isis, the Eleusis of Greece, or of the Scandinavian and Druidical Rites, of the Gothic and Celtic tribes, and adduce these as proofs of the antiquity of Masonry, for however much we may search those vaults of antiquity, translate the dusty records of dead centuries, and decorate and beautify the walls of our Masonic temple with the fragrant garlands of poesy, or with traditions and legends of the days of yore, it will avail us nothing, unless we know what Masonry is, and what are its principles and teachings. 

In leaving those empyrean heights, intended only for the flights of genius, and contenting myself with traveling in more practical paths, and an examination of the vital, living present of Masonry - that in which we live and move, and with which we have to do - I ask your indulgence for the brief time allotted me on this occasion. 

Masonry is founded in the very wants of the nature of man. When the human emerged from the hand of the Divine Being, there was implanted within him a desire for society and for social intercourse. The declaration of God, that "it is not good for man to be alone," applies as well to every individual and to all classes of society, as it did to Adam in the garden. Through the ages that have rolled into eternity since God created man, and looked upon everything that He had made, and pronounced it "very good," down to the present, this longing for social intercourse has maintained its position in the human breast, and inspired man with noble aspirations and desires to elevate himself and his fellow-man in the scale of moral and social being. It is true that there are some who have none of those Heaven-born aspirations and longings within their bosoms, who are content to grovel in ignorance, and who seek not their own good or the welfare of their race. Such as these can never become Masons. It was but the beatings of the pulsations of our common humanity that laid the corner-stone of the Masonic temple, that has placed block upon block in the walls of this stupendous edifice, and that will continue to infuse life and energy into the hearts of those who bow at its altars, until the temple shall be completed in all its parts - the keystone having been placed in its proper position - a monument to the wisdom of its founders and builders - its pillars being strong and enduring, and "beauty" being inscribed thereon in indelible characters. 

Man should not live for himself alone, for he is a member of one great family or brotherhood, each member of which derives its support and assistance from the whole, and is therefore a dependent being. This dependence of the parts is true of all created matter, and is beautifully exemplified in all the works of the Sovereign Architect of the Universe, as proclaimed in the dignity, peace and harmony of nature. The animal world breathes out gases for the vegetable kingdom, and in turn exhales or stores up those elements that are essential to animal health and vigor. Every mountain slope supports its own herbage, and from the gentle rains which fall from heaven to moisten their surface, the little rill is formed, which flows into the vale below and feeds the herbage there, - thence it flows onward and still on, until it reaches the boundless ocean, whose waves wash every shore, and upon whose bosom is carried the commerce of the world. The warm gulf stream that flows from the sunny regions of the equator to near the polar coasts, softens the winds of that arctic region; the poles, in return, send forth their vast array of icebergs, which, floating onward, at length reach the torrid zone, and there serve to temper the fierce tropical heat. Thus we find that, by the harmonies of creation, selfishness is condemned, and that from the interwoven service of nature each department gives and receives a corresponding benefit. 

The harmony of nature is produced by the organization and order which over all prevails. The idea of organization is in fact connected with that of order. This is true of societies as well as in nature; and the more perfect the organization, the greater the harmony. It makes no difference how discordant the elements of which a society is composed; if there is perfect organization, entire harmony exists therein. This is beautifully illustrated in Masonry; within our lodges may be found men of every shade of opinion, political and religious; yet, notwithstanding those differences, peace and tranquility abound; and while assembled in the lodge room, at least, "brethren dwell together in unity." There is a reciprocity of brotherly kindness, which springs up in the hearts of those who in deed and in truth are Masons, that time cannot obliterate, and that circumstance can never change. This has been fully exemplified during the strife from which our country has just emerged. When hostile armies met in deadly conflict - when the fiercest passions of hate and revenge were aroused - when the clashing of arms and the booming of the cannon were heard - when the shrieks of the wounded and dying saluted the ear on every hand - above all these, Masonry asserted her sway - the mystic sign was not unheeded. It checked those unholy passions of strife, envy, hatred and discord, which, but a few moments previous, had crushed out all the ennobling qualities of the man, and rekindled within the bosom of those hostile combatants, those feelings of brotherly love and affection which Masonry inculcates. 

We do not claim for Masonry that it is of Divine origin. It is an institution founded by man, upon those divine principles which underlie all that is truly noble and good in humanity. Its object is to educate man, and to develop him to the fullest extent in all those faculties of his nature that tend to harmonize the human family and to elevate mankind to the highest attainable condition to which it is possible for human agencies and institutions to raise him. Its teachings are pure and holy, designed to fill the soul of the initiate with higher conceptions of those duties which every man owes to himself, to his fellow man and to his God. He is taught that to himself he owes the sacred duty of refraining from all those indulgences which tend to impair his faculties and degrade his being; to be temperate in all his desires, and chaste in all his actions, and to place such restraint upon all his affections and passions as shall most effectually free his mind from the allurements of vice. 

To his fellow man he is taught to act upon the principles of brotherly love. From the time when he first crosses the threshold of the Masonic temple, through all the forms and ceremonies of the three degrees, until he becomes a full brother among us, and as long as he continues to worship at the Masonic altar, he is constantly reminded that it is his duty to practice brotherly love, relief and truth. Love to his fellow man, and especially to the brotherhood, is strongly inculcated; and he is taught that the unity and harmony that pervades the universe should form conspicuous elements in the human character. To the individual who has been fully prepared at heart to become a Mason, how beautifully sublime must fall upon his ear the exhortation to "behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." He learns that 

"There is a calm in friendship's hour, 
There is a spell when hearts unite, 
There is a magic in that power, 
That leads to better worlds of light -  
That cheers the soul with heavenly ray, 
And tells about a peaceful home, 
And, 'mid the gloom of sorrow's day, 
Says softly, 'brighter hours will come.' " 

This unity constitutes the secret of the permanence of our Order. At our communications, all those subjects which tend to produce discord and contention are strictly forbidden. Political partisanship is forever debarred, and cannot enter within our walls. In this respect, Masonry is indeed peculiar. The founders of the institution, and those who built upon the foundations so skillfully laid, have ever solemnly declared that this prolific source of bickering and strife should never enter within her doors. How truly good and pleasant, then, is it, when the heart has become careworn and chilled by the beating of pitiless storms of adversity. to enter there, where "kindred hearts in fond embrace doth meet." When the angry waves of the troubled ocean of political contests have tossed us about, and almost made shipwreck all the faith, hope and charity that once existed within our breasts; when fierce prejudices and passions have been engendered, how good and how pleasant to enter the lodge room, where this fruitful source of jarring discord cannot enter, and where heavenly peace is a welcome and delightful guest. 

In religious matters, also, Freemasonry holds itself aloof from any and all attempts to control the opinions of its members. It is true that we recognize the existence of Church and of State; but we also recognize to its fullest extent the fact that were we to go farther than this, were we to point out the party to which those who become associated with us should belong, were we to lay down the principles or tenets of a religious faith and practice to be observed and believed by all, we should endanger the very existence of our Order. In religion, therefore, where religious denominations begin to construct their systems of faith, Masonry halts. Here her path lies in a different direction from theirs. Denominations, or religious sects, adopt a theology peculiar to the views of their founders, and to these views their devotees must subscribe; while Masonry demands from its disciples a recognition of a simple and primitive faith in Deity, an acknowledgment of, and a pure simple trust in Him as the author and giver of all good - those principles in which all men who are not atheists agree - leaving it to their own consciences as to their application of this faith to their daily walk and conversation; thus reserving to itself the sacred mission of propagating the principles and true ideas of brotherhood of man as extended as humanity itself, and of uniting in the bonds of friendship and love those who otherwise must have remained at variance, and possibly at enmity, with each other. In the lodge room, then, we may truly say that 

Earth's distinctions vanish here; 
We know no race, nor sect nor clan,  
Only the brother tried and dear; 
Only the Mason and the man. 

Hail, holy, happy brotherhood ! 
Truth, love and friendship bind in one 
Hearts that are true, sincere and good, 
By thy refining influence won. 

There are certain prominent points of Masonic duty, of which no Mason can be ignorant, although he may not be acquainted with all the minutiae and ceremonies of the Order. The peculiar traditions and doctrines which are included in the lectures may, by him, have been unexplored; but the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth - of Faith, Hope and Charity - have all been inscribed upon his tracing-board in such bright, indelible characters that he cannot be uninformed as to his duties in relation thereto. 

The true Mason is continually seeking opportunities for the exercise of those virtues of which I have just spoken, and which have formed so prominent a part in his Masonic education. He knows his duties, and knowing, seeks to reduce them to practice; for with him Masonry is a living reality and not theory alone. It is in the practice of those virtues that he delights for he has learned that in doing good there is much joy. Is a brother afflicted and distressed, his hand is ever ready to aid and assist him, and to relieve his wants and necessities. The blessed influences of brotherly love and charity - twin daughters of Heaven - prompt him to those noble deeds of benevolence which give joy and gladness to many a weary, sad and sorrowing heart. 

Masonic charity is not limited to simple gifts and contributions of money or other tangible material of worldly goods, although these, when necessary, are right and proper, and are included within the term of charity. The being who is compelled, by the force of adverse circumstances, to beg from door to door, feels grateful for a crust of bread or other food with which to appease the cravings of hunger. Thanks are uttered for a pair of shoes to protect the feet, or a coat to shield the body from the chilling blasts of winter. He calls these acts charity, because they alleviate his bodily sufferings and provide for him the necessaries of physical life. True charity, however, extends beyond these, to all the wants of the great brotherhood of mankind. Have the cold and pitiless storms of a selfish, unfeeling world beat upon the heart, charity throws around it her broad mantle of brotherly love and affection, which warms and infuses into its whole being new life and animation, and as the genial showers and summer sun cause the face of nature to smile and look glad, so the drops of genial affection and the rays of brotherly love, beaming from the benign countenance of one whose heart is prompted by the honest impulses of genuine charity, cause the soul of the recipient thereof to overflow with gratitude and joy. Is a brother led astray by the erring propensities of his nature, this charity prompts the true Mason to gently remind him of his faults, to whisper good counsels in his ear, and to aid and assist him in all his efforts at reformation. She bends over the poor fallen brother, and with her broad mantle hides from the inquiring and condemning gaze of the world the self-inflicted shame and degradation, and at the first dawn of returning reason, she lifts him again to his feet, and by the gentle allurements of affection, endeavors to lead him back to the paths of rectitude and self-respect. She enters the house of mourning, and there, unto the saddened heart that has been berefit of some loved one by the cruel hand of death, she presents the cup of sympathy and affection, and pours the oil of consolation into its bleeding wounds. 

This is the charity which envieth not another and which puffeth not itself, which is kind and forbearing, full of long-suffering, and goodness and truth; and this charity every Mason should practice. 

It is to be feared, however, that there are some who become members of the Fraternity for the benefit they expect to derive from it, rather than from a desire to confer blessings and benefits on others. They are advocates of brotherly love, when that love is to flow from another's breast towards them, but which kindles within their own hearts no sympathetic spark of love and affection. They believe it to be a duty to relieve the distressed, and who more distressed than they? They hope that great good will enure to them from their association with Masons, and above all they believe that charity is the greatest of Christian graces, and they have also learned that "charity begins at home." Such men have no sentiment in common with the teachings and spirit of Masonry. Within their breasts there pulsates no emotion of pure love. They live for themselves, and for themselves alone; and their hearts, if any they have, are like the glaciers of the Alps and the icebergs of the arctic seas. I thank God that but few such ever darken the doorway in the Masonic temple; and those few soon find that the lodge is no place for them, and they soon cease to frequent our assemblies, for the heartfelt greetings and fraternal communions there enjoyed are but torments to their uncongenial natures. 

Faith, Hope and Charity are so interwoven that they cannot be separated. They are stars which give light and lustre to the Mason's pathway here, urging him onward to the exercise of the noble principles of the Order to which he belongs. Faith lends to him her seraphic wings, whereby he soars above the transitory things of earth, and beholds the Great Architect of the Universe, and learns to adore Him as the chief good; while Hope points him to a home beyond the tomb. He has "faith in God, hope in immortality," and these engender within his bosom "charity toward all mankind." These stars shine with brighter lustre, as he becomes more and more in harmony with the teachings of Masonry. The poet has sung: 

There are three stars of lustre bright, 
Which cheer the Mason's conflict here, 
And cast their pure and holy light 
Across life's billows dark :and drear 

The star of Faith, when doubts arise, 
And veil the troubled heart in gloom, 
Points to bright realms beyond the skies, 
And lasting joys beyond the tomb. 

When o'er life's ocean, rude and wild, 
Our fragile barks are madly driven, 
The star of Hope, with radiance mild, 
Points to a harbor safe in Heaven. 

When reckless of a brother's tears, 
Down pleasure's slippery track we go, 
The star of Charity appears, 
And points us to that brother's woe. 

Oh ! brethren of the mystic tie, 
Pure light upon our path will shine 
If on these stars we fix our eye -  
"Faith, Hope and Charity divine." 

Masonry is a permanent institution. Its existence dates far back into the annals of the past; and although empires and kingdoms have been overthrown, and changes and revolutions have taken place in Governments and in society, since it first had a being, yet Masonry still lives having withstood the ravages of time, the shafts of persecution, through periods of prosperity and adversity; and to-day occupies a prominent position on the earth - yea, is has to-day a living, vital existence, and will continue to exist as long as time shall be. It stands forth to the world as a tried institution. She has been weighed in the balances, and "Tekel" has not been written against her. 

Notwithstanding the ancient origin that Masonry can boast, the permanent character that she sustains, and the moral influence of her teachings, she has, in all ages, been assailed by her enemies, and the shafts of persecution have been hurled against her - yet without effect. We may congratulate ourselves, however, that organized opposition has long since ceased; yet there are still some who bring objections against the Order. 

These objections have been met and answered, from time to time, until they have become stale; and, to Masons, it seems almost a waste of time to consider them. There are one or two, however, that I will at the present time briefly consider, coming, as they do, from a source that deserves some attention, and also to combat any idea that may be entertained of their truth. Some of our clerical friends ( ?) have, not long since, asserted that "Masonry teaches infidelity." We, who belong to the Fraternity, know full well that this charge is utterly unfounded; but coming, as it does, from those who profess to be ministers of the Gospel of Christ, and who consider it to be their duty to warn mankind against all attempts to overthrow the influence of the Christian religion - and in this work we bid them Godspeed - some might be induced to believe the charge. Let us first inquire as to the means of knowledge of those who thus testify against us. Are they now, or have they ever been, Masons? If not, they know nothing about Masonry, except so much as they can derive from sources that are open to all who do not belong to the institution. All others, then, have as good an opportunity of judging as they. Read, then, our Masonic literature - our Monitors - which give all that is connected with the ceremonies of Masonry, that instructs the candidate as to the principles of the Order. View the class of men who are Masons; look at them, as they appear before you to-day, and tell me if they are not men who rank as high in community as those even who oppose us. Some of our members are even ministers of that same Gospel of peace. Examine these things carefully, and you can readily determine whether the charge of "infidelity" is well founded. Masonry challenges your scrutiny in this as well as in everything or objection that is urged against her. 

There are others who bring wholesale charges against Masonry because some of its members violate its teachings. Is one Mason intemperate in his habits, then Masonry teaches and encourages drunkenness. Does one Mason swear, then Masonry teaches profanity. And thus, from the misdeeds of its members, Masonry is brought into disrepute, and its enemies exultantly exclaim: "I would not belong to an Order that teaches or allows such practices as these." 

Stop, one moment, my friend, and see what would be the result of your reasoning. Are you a member of some one of the Christian denominations? Do all who profess religion, or who belong to any of these denominations, live in accordance with the doctrines of Christianity? If not, then you must denounce Christianity, sever the ties which bind you to the sect to which you belong, and come out from among them. 

Again: God created man pure and holy. He has laid down his laws for the government of the human race. He says that "no drunkard shall enter the kingdom of Heaven." He has commanded us to "swear not at all," thus forbidding intemperance and profanity; yet men in society and in the world, yea, even outside the Masonic ranks, become drunkards and are profane, thus violating the laws of the Creator, and committing those very vices that thou condemnest in Masonry. Go then, thou objector against Masonry on account of the misconduct of some of its members, and find upon this wide world some place - some lovely spot - where these vices do not exist, and there, perchance, thou mayest dwell in peace, with no compunctions of conscience on account of being associated with those who are contaminated with those vices. If thou canst not find so blest a spot upon this earth, let thy body take to itself wings and fly to some more congenial sphere, where sin was never known, for here thou canst not find a resting place, for those vices which thy soul so abhors, to a greater or less extent, cover every portion of this fair earth. 

In conclusion, Fellow Craftsmen, let me ask you whether we, ourselves, are not, to a great extent, the cause of those objections against our belovecd Order? And here, at the close of this session of the Grand Lodge, as we are about returning to our homes to engage in those duties which devolve upon us in our several stations in life, and which we as Masons are taught, "that we are on no account to neglect," let us ask ourselves a few plain, practical questions. Do we attend to our duties as Masons as we ought? Do we live up to the principles of the Order that we profess to love and cherish ? Do we act towards ourselves, our fellow men and our God as Masonry has taught us we should ? Craftsmen, be it ours to exemplify by our life and conduct, the noble principles of Masonry. Let us, in all our actions, make a constant application of those principles, that others, seeing our good work, may be constrained to acknowledge the utility of Masonry, and that our influence, silent, yet ever working, may draw to the support of our Order the good and true of every land. Take lovely charity by the hand; do whatsoever she commands, and sweet peace will dwell within your faithful breasts. The widow's tears will engrave m indelible characters the benefits of Masonry. The mother's heaving breast - the infant's cries - the orphan's thanks shall answer all objections against the Masonic institution. Learn then, my brethren, the art of doing good, of producing peace amidst the jarring elements of disturbed nations - of producing order out of chaos, and harmony out of discord. Learn to handle well the tools of Masonry - especially the "trowel," and with it spread well that cement of brotherly love and affection which produces no discord nor envy, but instead thereof, that "noble emulation of who best can work and who best agree." Then, when the dim lamp of life is expiring, when we are about to close our labors in the lodge below, to join the celestial lodge above, where the "Supreme Architect of the Uni verse presides," we shall feel conscious of having well performed our work - of having done good, square work; and we shall feel happy, knowing that we are in possession of the pass-words, which will gain us admission into that lodge of the just, the true and the good, being "duly and truly prepared" to become associated with those true craftsmen who have gone before. 

If from our throbbing hearts shall flow 
Pure streams of friendship, truth and love, 
When we "demit" from the lodge below, 
Brothers, we'll join the lodge above.

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