The Masonic Trowel

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by WM E. Krupp

"Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;  
The proper study of mankind is man."

WHAT the study of mankind is man is as true to-day as when the thought was uttered by the poets and the teachers of ages past. Man's greatest interest has always been in himself. No subject has so engaged his attention. From it he has learned to know his needs and his necessities, his desires and his ambitions, and he has striven, so far as has been within his power, to satisfy and gratify them. It is the study of himself that has caused him to consider his fellow-man, the relationship which he bears and the duties which he owes to him, and it has also led him to a contemplation of the divine. Plato's exhortation, "Know Thyself," is the expression of the same thought, but subjective rather than objective. It is this study of himself that has caused man to rise above his environments and brought about the advancement, the elevation and the improvement of the human race. 

And what an improvement there has been, what an advancement he has made! The most imaginative of the minds of the past, yes, even the most visionary, could not have conceived of, much less have comprehended, man's condition in the present age. 

History delights to dwell upon the golden age of Rome-Rome, mistress of the seas, center of civilization, home of the arts and the sciences, of sculpture and of painting. We read of glorious conquests in war, her great and renowned men, her glorious festivals, the beauties of her architecture, her sculpture and her paintings the golden age of Rome, and fancy pictures all that is great and glorious and beautiful. Great, indeed, she was in all her glory, but the glory faded and passed away, as do all things whose foundations are laid in the quicksands of error and not upon the rocks of everlasting truth. 

Let us pause for a moment and consider the basic principles upon which that superstructure was reared and without the enforcement of which it was believed human society could not exist. 

According to their views the state was everything, the individual nothing. Man existed but for the purposes of the state, and was valuable only so far as he was of value to the state. They assumed that in the beginning came government and then came man, and their beliefs are diametrically opposed to our present beliefs that government exists for the benefit of mankind and not mankind for the benefit of government. 

Again mankind was divided and classified, the nobility and aristocracy, the plebian or common people, and beneath these were the slaves. A slave, who might be one taken captive in war and of equal intelligence and education with his master, was property, and as such was bartered and bought and sold. As property his life was of no particular consequence and might be taken by his master with impunity. And woman, man's only peer, was little better than a slave. If married she was the property of her husband, if unmarried she was the property of her father. Like a slave, she had no rights, and having no rights she could get no redress for wrongs. What a contrast to the fundamental principles of all enlightened governments of to-day that in the eyes of the law all men are equal, that the life of one human being is as valuable as the life of another, and that neither government nor man dare take a life without a most just and sufficient reason. 

And the conception of the relationship of man to his Creator - death was the end of all. Except among some of the philosophers, there was no belief in a hereafter, although thought and abstract theories were carried to their highest points, the deepest recesses of the mind explored, the boldest speculations upon the nature of the soul and its spiritual existence originated and carried out. The grave was the end of all. 

And the principle of the brotherhood of man, so potent a factor in the world to-day, did not, it could not, exist. The old primitive truth had been lost sight of, nor was it restored until the cry of the down-trodden of France, LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY shook the earth to its very foundations and welled in the hearts of men. The heralding of that principle stirred mankind from their lethargy and brought about the final and complete overthrow of all those principles which made the greatness and the glory of Rome. Man to-day can look down from a most exalted position upon the past ages of the world. 

But, my brethren, we are far from perfection. We practice the great principle of the brotherhood of man but partially, and we have much to strive for. Selfishness is our greatest curse, and moral weakness in doing our duty is out greatest handicap. "Count that day lost whose low descending sun, views from thy hand no worthy action done" should be the rule and guide of our lives; not for ourselves but for others, should be our motto; and to endeavor to do something in the cause of humanity that shall live when we are dead, should be our purpose. Life is action, noblest action, and it is not measured by time. To do nothing worth doing is no more than to sleep, and what were life if it were but one continuous sleep: 

"We live in deeds, not in years; in thoughts, not breaths,
In feeling, not in letters on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs. He lives most
Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best." 

Let us believe, my brethren, that man will move steadily onward, that he will acquire the mental light which will enable him to see the right, and the moral courage to do the right as he sees it. And finally, let us have faith in humanity, and in the coming of the day when life and light and love shall be the one great law of the universe and its eternal harmony.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014