MORALS AND DOGMA
IV. SECRET MASTER.
MASONRY is a succession of allegories, the mere vehicles of great lessons in morality and philosophy. You will more fully appreciate its spirit, its object, its purposes, as you advance in the different Degrees, which you will find to constitute a great, complete, and harmonious system.
If you have been disappointed in the first three Degrees, as you have received them, and if it has seemed to you that the performance has not come up to the promise, that the lessons of morality are not new, and the scientific instruction is but rudimentary, and the symbols are imperfectly explained, remember that the ceremonies and lessons of those Degrees have been for ages more and more accommodating themselves, by curtailment and sinking into commonplace, to the often limited memory and capacity of the Master and Instructor, and to the intellect and needs of the Pupil and Initiate; that they have come to us from an age when symbols were used, not to reveal but to conceal; when the commonest learning was confined to a select few, and the simplest principles of morality seemed newly discovered truths; and that these antique and simple Degrees now stand like the broken columns of a roofless Druidic temple, in their rude and mutilated greatness; in many parts, also, corrupted by time, and disfigured by modern additions and absurd interpretations. They are but the entrance to the great Masonic Temple, the triple columns of the portico.
You have taken the first step over its threshold, the first step toward the inner sanctuary and heart of the temple. You are in the path that leads up the slope of the mountain of Truth; and it depends upon your secrecy, obedience, and fidelity, whether you will advance or remain stationary.
Imagine not that you will become indeed a Mason by learning what is commonly called the "work," or even by becoming familiar with our traditions. Masonry has a history, a literature, a philosophy. Its allegories and traditions will teach you much; but much is to be sought elsewhere. The streams of learning that now flow full and broad must be followed to their heads in the springs that well up in the remote past, and you will there find the origin and meaning of Masonry.
A few rudimentary lessons in architecture, a few universally admitted maxims of morality, a few unimportant traditions, whose real meaning is unknown or misunderstood, will no longer satisfy the earnest inquirer after Masonic truth. Let whoso is content with these, seek to climb no higher. He who desires to understand the harmonious and beautiful proportions of Freemasonry must read, study, reflect, digest, and discriminate. The true Mason is an ardent seeker after knowledge; and he knows that both books and the antique symbols of Masonry are vessels which come down to us full-freighted with the intellectual riches of the Past; and that in the lading of these argosies is much that sheds light on the history of Masonry, and proves its claim to be acknowledged the benefactor of mankind, born in the very cradle of the race.
Knowledge is the most genuine and real of human treasures; for it is Light, as Ignorance is Darkness. It is the development of the human soul, and its acquisition the growth of the soul, which at the birth of man knows nothing, and therefore, in one sense, may be said to be nothing. It is the seed, which has in it the power to grow, to acquire, and by acquiring to be developed, as the seed is developed into the shoot, the plant, the tree. "We need not pause at the common argument that by learning man excelleth man, in that wherein man excelleth beasts; that by learning man ascendeth to the heavens and their motions, where in body he cannot come, and the like. Let us rather regard the dignity and excellency of knowledge and learning in that whereunto man's nature doth most aspire, which is immortality or continuance. For to this tendeth generation, and raising of Houses and Families; to this buildings, foundations, and monuments; to this tendeth the desire of memory, fame, and celebration, and in effect the strength of all other human desires." That our influences shall survive us, and be living forces when we are in our graves; and not merely that our names shall be remembered; but rather that our works shall be read, our acts spoken of, our names recollected and mentioned when we are dead, as evidences that those influences live and rule, sway and control some portion of mankind and of the world, -- this is the aspiration of the human soul. "We see then how far the monuments of genius and learning are more durable than monuments of power or of the hands. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five hundred years or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter, during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities, have decayed and been demolished? It is not possible to have the true pictures or statues of Cyrus, Alexander, Cæsar, no, nor of the Kings or great personages of much later years; for the originals cannot last, and the copies cannot but lose of the life and truth. But the images of men's genius and knowledge remain in books, exempted from the wrong of time, and capable of perpetual renovation. Neither are they fitly to be called images, because they generate still, and cast their seeds in the minds of others, provoking and causing infinite actions and opinions in succeeding ages; so that if the invention of the ship was thought so noble, which carrieth riches and commodities from place to place, and consociateth the most remote regions in participation of their fruits, how much more are letters to be magnified, which, as ships, pass through the vast seas of time, and make ages so distant to participate of the wisdom, illumination, and inventions, the one of the other."
To learn, to attain knowledge, to be wise, is a necessity for every truly noble soul; to teach, to communicate that knowledge, to share that wisdom with others, and not churlishly to lock up his exchequer, and place a sentinel at the door to drive away the needy, is equally an impulse of a noble nature, and the worthiest work of man.
"There was a little city," says the Preacher, the son of David, "and few men within it; and there came a great King against it and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then, said I, wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless, the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard." If it should chance to you, my brother, to do mankind good service, and be rewarded with indifference and forgetfulness only, still be not discouraged, but remember the further advice of the wise King. "In the morning sow the seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both shall be alike good." Sow you the seed, whoever reaps. Learn, that you may be enabled to do good; and do so because it is right, finding in the act itself ample. reward and recompense.
To attain the truth, and to serve our fellows, our country, and mankind -- this is the noblest destiny of man. Hereafter and all your life it is to be your object. If you desire to ascend to that destiny, advance! If you have other and less noble objects, and are contented with a lower flight, halt here! let others scale the heights, and Masonry fulfill her mission.
If you will advance, gird up your loins for the struggle! for the way is long and toilsome. Pleasure, all smiles, will beckon you on the one hand, and Indolence will invite you to sleep among the flowers, upon the other. Prepare, by secrecy, obedience, and fidelity, to resist the allurements of both!
Secrecy is indispensable in a Mason of whatever Degree. It is the first and almost the only lesson taught to the Entered Apprentice. The obligations which we have each assumed toward every Mason that lives, requiring of us the performance of the most serious and onerous duties toward those personally unknown to us until they demand our aid, -- duties that must be performed, even at the risk of life, or our solemn oaths be broken and violated, and we be branded as false Masons and faithless men, teach us how profound a folly it would be to betray our secrets to those who, bound to us by no tie of common obligation, might, by obtaining them, call on us in their extremity, when the urgency of the occasion should allow us no time for inquiry, and the peremptory mandate of our obligation compel us to do a brother's duty to a base impostor.
The secrets of our brother, when communicated to us, must be sacred, if they be such as the law of our country warrants us to keep. We are required to keep none other, when the law that we are called on to obey is indeed a law, by having emanated from the only source of power, the People. Edicts which emanate from the mere arbitrary will of a despotic power, contrary to the law of God or the Great Law of Nature, destructive of the inherent rights of man, violative of the right of free thought, free speech, free conscience, it is lawful to rebel against and strive to abrogate.
For obedience to the Law does not mean submission to tyranny; nor that, by a profligate sacrifice of every noble feeling, we should offer to despotism the homage of adulation. As every new victim falls, we may lift our voice in still louder flattery. We may fall at the proud feet, we may beg, as a boon, the honor of kissing that bloody hand which has been lifted against the helpless. We may do more: we may bring the altar and the sacrifice, and implore the God not to ascend too soon to Heaven. This we may do, for this we have the sad remembrance that beings of a human form and soul have done. But this is all we can do. We can constrain our tongues to be false, our features to bend themselves to the semblance of that passionate adoration which we wish to express, our knees to fall prostrate; but our heart we cannot constrain. There virtue must still have a voice which is not to be drowned by hymns and acclamations; there the crimes which we laud as virtues, are crimes still, and he whom we have made a God is the most contemptible of mankind; if, indeed, we do not feel, perhaps, that we are ourselves still more contemptible.
But that law which is the fair expression of the will and judgment of the people, is the enactment of the whole and of every individual. Consistent with the law of God and the great law of nature, consistent with pure and abstract right as tempered by necessity and the general interest, as contra-distinguished from the private interest of individuals, it is obligatory upon all, because it is the work of all, the will of all, the solemn judgment of all, from which there is no appeal.
In this Degree, my brother, you are especially to learn the duty of obedience to that law. There is one true and original law, conformable to reason and to nature, diffused over all, invariable, eternal, which calls to the fulfillment of duty, and to abstinence from injustice, and calls with that irresistible voice which is felt in all its authority wherever it is heard. This law cannot be abrogated or diminished, or its sanctions affected, by any law of man. A whole senate, a whole people, cannot dissent from its paramount obligation. It requires no commentator to render it distinctly intelligible: nor is it one thing at Rome, another at Athens; one thing now, and another in the ages to come; but in all times and in all nations, it is, and has been, and will be, one and everlasting; -- one as that God, its great Author and Promulgator, who is the Common Sovereign of all mankind, is Himself One. No man can disobey it without flying, as it were, from his own bosom, and repudiating his nature; and in this very act he will inflict on himself the severest of retributions, even though he escape what is regarded as punishment.
It is our duty to obey the laws of our country, and to be careful that prejudice or passion, fancy or affection, error and illusion, be not mistaken for conscience. Nothing is more usual than to pretend conscience in all the actions of man which are public and cannot be concealed. The disobedient refuse to submit to the laws, and they also in many cases pretend conscience; and so disobedience and rebellion become conscience, in which there is neither knowledge nor revelation, nor truth nor charity, nor reason nor religion. Conscience is tied to laws. Right or sure conscience is right reason reduced to practice, and conducting moral actions, while perverse conscience is seated in the fancy or affections -- a heap of irregular principles and irregular defects -- and is the same in conscience as deformity is in the body, or peevishness in the affections. It is not enough that the conscience be taught by nature; but it must be taught by God, conducted by reason, made operative by discourse, assisted by choice, instructed by laws and sober principles; and then it is right, and it may be sure. All the general measures of justice, are the laws of God, and therefore they constitute the general rules of government for the conscience; but necessity also hath a large voice in the arrangement of human affairs, and the disposal of human relations, and the dispositions of human laws; and these general measures, like a great river into little streams, are deduced into little rivulets and particularities, by the laws and customs, by the sentences and agreements of men, and by the absolute despotism of necessity, that will not allow perfect and abstract justice and equity to be the sole rule of civil government in an imperfect world; and that must needs be law which is for the greatest good of the greatest number.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it. It is better thou shouldest not vow than thou shouldest vow and not pay. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in Heaven, and thou art upon earth; therefore let thy words be few. Weigh well what it is you promise; but once the promise and pledge are given remember that he who is false to his obligation will be false to his family, his friends, his country, and his God.
Fides servanda est: Faith plighted is ever to be kept, was a maxim and an axiom even among pagans. The virtuous Roman said, either let not that which seems expedient be base, or if it be base, let it not seem expedient. What is there which that so-called expediency can bring, so valuable as that which it takes away, if it deprives you of the name of a good man and robs you of your integrity and honor? In all ages, he who violates his plighted word has been held unspeakably base. The word of a Mason, like the word of a knight in the times of chivalry, once given must be sacred; and the judgment of his brothers, upon him who violates his pledge, should be stern as the judgments of the Roman Censors against him who violated his oath. Good faith is revered among Masons as it was among the Romans, who placed its statue in the capitol, next to that of Jupiter Maximus Optimus; and we, like them, hold that calamity should always be chosen rather than baseness; and with the knights of old, that one should always die rather than be dishonored.
Be faithful, therefore, to the promises you make, to the pledges you give, and to the vows that you assume, since to break either is base and dishonorable.
Be faithful to your family, and perform all the duties of a good father, a good son, a good husband, and a good brother.
Be faithful to your friends; for true friendship is of a nature not only to survive through all the vicissitudes of life, but to continue through an endless duration; not only to stand the shock of conflicting opinions, and the roar of a revolution that shakes the world, but to last when the heavens are no more, and to spring fresh from the ruins of the universe.
Be faithful to your country, and prefer its dignity and honor to any degree of popularity and honor for yourself; consulting its interest rather than your own, and rather than the pleasure and gratification of the people, which are often at variance with their welfare.
Be faithful to Masonry, which is to be faithful to the best interests of mankind. Labor, by precept and example, to elevate the standard of Masonic character, to enlarge its sphere of influence, to popularize its teachings, and to make all men know it for the Great Apostle of Peace, Harmony, and Good-will on earth among men; of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
Masonry is useful to all men: to the learned, because it affords them the opportunity of exercising their talents upon subjects eminently worthy of their attention; to the illiterate, because it offers them important instruction; to the young, because it presents them with salutary precepts and good examples, and accustoms them to reflect on the proper mode of living; to the man of the world, whom it furnishes with noble and useful recreation; to the traveller, whom it enables to find friends and brothers in countries where else he would be isolated and solitary; to the worthy man in misfortune, to whom it gives assistance; to the afflicted, on whom it lavishes consolation; to the charitable man, whom it enables to do more good, by uniting with those who are charitable like himself; and to all who have souls capable of appreciating its importance, and of enjoying the charms of a friendship founded on the same principles of religion, morality, and philanthropy.
A Freemason, therefore, should be a man of honor and of conscience, preferring his duty to everything beside, even to his life; independent in his opinions, and of good morals; submissive to the laws, devoted to humanity, to his country, to his family; kind and indulgent to his brethren, friend of all virtuous men, and ready to assist his fellows by all means in his power.
Thus will you be faithful to yourself, to your fellows, and to God, and thus will you do honor to the name and rank of SECRET MASTER; which, like other Masonic honors, degrades if it is not deserved.