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THE TWENTY-FOUR-INCH GAUGE
The Master Mason - January 1926
NO LESSON of Masonry is wiser, or more needed, than its teaching about the division of time and the right use of each day, by the twenty- four-inch gauge. Here is a noble rule for numbering and measuring our days, using part for the worship of God and the service of man, another equal part for labor, another for rest and refreshment. Here is real wisdom, and a Golden Rule for the New Year.
No doubt time is a fiction, as wise men tell us, being only a measured portion of eternity in which we live now and always. Yet we do well to number our days, though in youth we do not know how swift they are, any more than on a day in June we realize the snowy days of winter. But, later, as our years both lessen and shorten, we set more store by them, and would fain lay a finger upon a spoke of the Great Wheel. We may even be angry at time, as Shakespeare was in a sonnet, in which he denounced it as a thief and a robber.
The past we conquer by the power of memory, one of the noblest gifts of God, at once a traveler revisiting days agone and an interpreter of the meaning of life. As Jacob met angels on the road he had journeyed years before, so by the magic of memory we go back to the days that come not back. Truth is discerned more clearly; sorrow is seen in softer light - as they could not be at the moment. Time gives a truer perspective, as a mountain, too near to be seen at its base, reveals its majesty in the distance. Memory masters the past.
The present we conquer by courage and duty, whereby we defy the despotism of days, investing fleeting hours with meaning. Lavater was right when he said that the great rule of moral conduct is, next to God, to respect time. Each of us has all the time there is - one moment - and it is wicked to waste it. Time is money, said Franklin; but he had been wiser had he said that time is life - literally so, since what we call time is only a putting forth of power, the movement of life.
Yet how foolishly we spend it, throwing enough into the rubbish heap - odd hours and fag ends of days - to make us master of any field of knowledge or service. Truly we must "number our days," and use them to some purpose and with some method, if we would attain to wisdom. He who kills time is killed by it. If duty masters time, love fills it with wonder and beauty, and hope outruns it, even at its swiftest, leading the way to the City where a thousand years are as a day.
AS WE conquer the past by memory, and the present by duty, love, and labor, so we triumph over the future by faith. The plays of Shakespeare have a lesson for us here. In the early plays the action is decided and visibly completed within the play, all problems solved, all issues settled. In the later plays it is less so, though the Divinity does appear at the end to adjust inequalities. But when we reach the great tragedies the scene has become so involved that it cannot be closed up and finished - the issue is pushed forward into the Beyond.
So it is in Hamlet, and especially in Othello; and so it is in the tragedy of the Third Degree of Masonry. There the play is not all: it shapes itself for something beyond, and becomes a prophecy. So it is in life, as year by year more problems are pushed into the future, and faith becomes a Redeemer.
Those who think it is wise to take "one world at a time," as Thoreau urged us to do, cannot do so if they would, in face of issues so great that they must await the outworking of laws which reach beyond life and time, and the shadow which men call death. Where reason falters, faith flies - running forward, as memory runs backward, linking our fleeting days with the mighty law and will and love of God.
A Mason, if he knows the secret of his Craft, does not simply believe in immortality; he lives it. Eternity is here, as the sky begins at the top of the ground. It is not a fiction, but a fact. Time is a corrector of errors, a tester of truth, a healer of sorrows - yet time is only eternity measured by a twenty- four-inch gauge.
The 90th Psalm is a hymn of eternity in which we may learn the secret of victory over time. Having lived for three thousand years, it is itself an example of triumph over the tyranny of days. Ages have come and gone, but this ancient Psalm still sings, older than philosophies, more enduring than civilizations.
It begins in God, Who is from everlasting to everlasting; then descends into the valley of mortality, where the flood of years sweeps the generations away. Having begun in God, it returns to Him at last, in Whose eternal life man has a share by virtue of his passion for righteousness, his quest of truth, and his love of "the beauty that passes with the sun on her wings."
ANOTHER Finis, another year ended. We may have to write the word a few more times, and then the end of ends. How little we remember - only a few delightful passages, dear, brief, never forgotten. A few more years, and be bold the end itself coming to an end, and the Infinite beginning.
Time goes, you say; ah, no,
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Last modified: March 22, 2014