JEWELS OF MASONIC ORATORY 2
R.W. And Rev. Geo. C. Betts, Grand Orator
It is a time-honored custom among Masons, when met in grand communication, that one should set forth the principles of the Order — not to combat prejudice or misrepresentation, not so much to restore the wavering brother to a just and upright position, not even to strengthen the edifice we love, but simply that we may together contemplate the matchless symmetry of its proportions, the stupendous height to which it reaches; and by inculcating the duty of diligent watchfulness, to impress more thoroughly on our minds, and establish more firmly in our hearts, as individual members of the Ancient Brotherhood, those glorious maxims, and that hidden knowledge which distinguish us from the rest of mankind.
The interests of the Craft have gathered you together from all parts of our Territory, to review the past and take action for the future; and the column of "Wisdom," while it presided over your deliberations, has been nobly adorned by the counsels which experience dictated and affection for the Order presented.
Prosperity has been with you, and no confusion disturbs the Craft, and the sounds which greet you from the quarries tell only of vigorous emulation among the workmen, and the rapid growth of the temple under their skilful hands.
To you they have committed the task of putting together the work they have prepared, and well and skilfully has it been done, with a thorough appreciation of the responsibilities connected therewith, and nobly has the Grand Lodge acquitted itself. And still it is true, that while your well-doing must advance the glory and usefulness of the Order, should you prove recreant to your trust, it is gratifying to know that you cannot dim the lustre of its beauty or mar the dignity of its position. The honor of Freemasonry does not depend upon individuals. Its reputation is not based upon the conduct of its votaries; its foundations are cemented by the enduring principles of right, and its honor based upon the existence of the Infinite. Take away all that is external of the Order, destroy its columns, and trail its ensign in the dust; let legislative enactments be hurled at its gates, and persecuting monarchs drive it from their kingdoms. When all the malice that human hate begets is expended, and pride and bigotry have trodden it under foot, Phoenix like, it springs to life vigorous and strong, and true Masonic brethren hear the comforting voice proclaiming "Because I live ye shall live also." As it regards no man for his wealth or substance, so it does not rely upon externals to perpetuate its existence. This is secured to it while "Truth is mighty," and on its sublime tenets it rests the vast structure securely; confident that at the last, the glorious lesson of Faith, Hope and Charity, which it teaches, shall prevail, and that they who have seen "The Light" illuminate every step to the temple are the best guardians of its mysteries, and the most trustworthy keepers of the veils that hide the Holy Place from profanity. "To attentive ears," "instructive tongues," and "faithful breasts," its honor has been committed, and not to the tender mercies of any monarch or community, however great or honored. And so it has endured and withstood the lapse of time and the hour of danger, and to-day stands proud and honored, supplicating no undeserved favor, dreading no earthly power, extending from pole to pole, and from centre to circumference, numbering at its altar the prince and the peasant, the courtier and the ploughman, high and low, rich and poor, who mingle equally on the chequered floor, without a feeling of restraint on the one hand, or of patronizing condescension on the other.
From the lofty pinnacle of perfection to which it has attained, it beckons us onward, and while we are led by regular, upright steps, through right angles, horizontals and perpendiculars, to mount the ladder whose highest round is bathed in Celestial light, we are encouraged and warned by the precept, "That they only who trust in God," may venture to approach, fearing no danger.
What cause have we, my brethren, for gratitude to the G.A.O.T.U. in this bright noon-day of civilization, when the arts and sciences flourish everywhere, and the refinement of intellectual cultivation is diffused over the globe?
That Masonry not only lives, but progresses with a rapidity that astonishes even its friends, while it confounds and terrifies its enemies. And in this general appreciation, this universal commendation of a fraternity at once so loved and hated, is there not pregnant cause for all rational men to give ear to its teachings, and all Masons to diligently examine their working tools that no rust dim their sheen?
We search the wide world over, but we search in vain, to find an association that dare call itself our rival. Lost in the ages of the past, no history tells the outer world where or by whom it was first established. The rocks of Judea, the pyramids of Egypt, resurrected cities, the abstruse sciences of the East, only tell us that it lived with them; and not until that masterpiece of beauty, the temple of our first Most Excellent Grand Master, at Jerusalem, was built, do we know of its organization. Here first, "the Mighty Three, in Peace, Love and Unity," resolved into a perfect system the scattered elements of the Order, and the particulars left us, and preserved to us, of that great work, are in the highest degree suggestive of the secret bonds that bind Masons to Masons, whenever met, of whatever country or kindred, tribe or tongue.
Succeeding ages have witnessed the triumphs of the Order. As time rolled itself away into eternity, the oblivion that ignorance and superstition assigned as the ultimate fate of Masonry, sought out its own tomb, and the dark shades of barbarism and the twilight of semi-civilization fled dismayed before the "Great Lights" that, compassing the world, presented "good work, true work and square work," to the astonished multitudes that had prepared themselves to sing its funeral dirge.
No persecution however bitter, no hate however terrible, no sycophancy however plausible, succeeded in destroying the principles that underlay the superstructure, of our temple; and, "unbiased by improper solicitations, uninfluenced by mercenary motives," it has raised its head proudly above the ruin of a thousand imitations that revolved around it — borrowing its brilliancy, reflecting its glory, but possessing neither themselves. And so, in its journey to its divine original, though "rough and rugged its way," it has distanced all competitors, while the "beauty" that adorns its several parts, and the "strength" that supports the whole, prove conclusively that infinite wisdom superintended its first efforts after life, and a beneficent Creator showered in blessing upon it, the beams of an onwavering and effulgent "Light."
To-day Masonry stands in all the splendor of an acknowledged monarch, whose sway is world-wide, and whose law is love; whose bond is the magnetic chain of clasped hands that encircles the earth, and whose points of order are those holy "Five points" that touch every obligation of man to man, and man to God, while the heraldry that emblazons the Masonic crest points us for applause, not to the world, but to the mysterious light that beams over the Mercy Seat in the secret place of the Tabernacle of God. To-day kings, princes and chiefs wait at our doors and humbly sue admittance on terms that must be tried by square and plumb to the level of the chequered floor, and wherever Masonic light has been treasured, there the wisest and the best, the most intelligent and the good, have craved to stand where scintillations from its altar may fall upon them, quickening their understanding and displaying to their gaze the hoarded riches of our Arcana.
Dear, then, to every Masonic heart, must be the welfare of that temple whose sacred keeping is committed to his trust, and fervent and zealous must every workman be to preserve inviolate in peace and unity the ancient landmarks of the Order, and whether as Entered Apprentices, by the exercise of the cardinal virtues, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, or as Fellow Crafts, by the steps that bring you nearer to the goal, or as Master Masons, who. having traveled the weary road, now rest in the Sanctum Sanctorum, and contemplate the sublime lessons of its holy mysteries, you give your aid in erecting this edifice to God, remember for humility's sake, though proud the enterprise, that it is not the individual that gives glory to the work, but the work that reflects credit upon you. Let it be well done, then, so that the stones which this jurisdiction prepares may be presented without fear, to be tried by the unerring square of the Grand Architect, and that on each the mark will be found that will give it a place, honored and respected, among men, and accepted in the Celestial Lodge above.
Ho! worthy Craftsmen all,
Up, cheerily to your toil,
While strength is given;
Strike boldly for the right,
Drive error from your sight,
Grasp virtue with your might,
And trust in Heaven.
Far be it from us, my brethren, in these days when open and organized opposition, as such, is no longer employed against us, to abandon our stations, and forsake the strict duty which is the first great care of Masons when convened. Danger is no less imminent because invisible, and well we know that one misstep of ours at any time will infallibly draw upon us the maledictions of our foes.
The all-conquering genius of Freemasonry has made disreputable and contemptible any public attempt to destroy the temple which we erect. Yet not for this should the Tiler leave her doors, or the Wardens her gates.
There are duties that at all times demand our vigilant attention. To ourselves, our brethren, our God. The sacred principles of the Order are themes to engage the constant attention of all true brethren, and in the practice of our sublime precepts the Mason may most profitably find employment. From the time that as Entered Apprentices we stood trembling before the Orient, the chart of duty has been unfolding, and each step onward opened before us increased and increasing obligations, the remotest of which was still within the charmed circle embroidered by the parallel lines that indicated the bounds of our duty to God and man, and whether we meet in lowly vale or on highest hill, while we tread the chequered floor we are equally illuminated by that Celestial Light that rescued the world from chaos and darkness, that attended the giving of the law, that rested in the Holy of Holies, that beamed on us from the altar of Masonry, and taught us that when there we consecrated ourselves to the purposes of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, there was no mental reservation that could hold back aught of the sacrifice. Pledged to universal benevolence as the offspring of Love, what a holy mission is before us. Let us not mistake the voice that calls to us from the Grand Orient. My brethren, there is something deeper, holier, higher in these mysteries than the mere association of men in a meaningless, powerless symbolism, as some charge against us, and although good, but mistaken men may have supposed that our Order was simply a "Mutual Protection and Benefit Society," it is not enough that the error be corrected in words — deeds must speak for us. The rough must give way to the smooth ashlar, superfluities and irregularities must be trimmed away by the gavel of truth, and the cement of brotherly love and affection be spread by the trowel of peace; the square of uncorrupted virtue must be applied to all work, and unwavering fidelity demanded, that the service of God and distressed worthy brethren be the principal division of our time.
Masonry is a reality that stands invested with powers which no human art can take away. Her robe is the mantle with which we clothe ourselves. But alas! too frequently we imagine that in thus possessing her vesture we embrace herself. She is a divinity whose alluring graces beckon men to the grotto, where she shrouds herself in symbols to be seen by eyes, and understood by hearts, from which the scales of prejudice have fallen, and the cold, cheerless, suspicion of ignorance has been removed, and when the lights she offers for this holy purpose fail, is it any wonder that we find men imagining themselves gods, knowing good and evils possessing the key to the secrets of our heart, walking in the light, and yet in whom that light is darkness — and oh! how great is that darkness!
Masonry is a reality; and it is Divinity, for the tried stone in the corner is its head-stone. The G.A.0.T.U. is the author of its Faith. The Lion of the tribe of Judah is its Hope, and mankind the object of its Charity.
Masons of Nebraska! another Masonic year is closed; another just begun. Notwithstanding the labors of the past, labor is still before you. A noble struggle is yours.
Fight with the arms of love,
Press to the Lodge above,
Our work is just begun,
Toil till your task is done,
Speed till the goal is won,
The prize is there.
And in your toil remember that —
"Heaven is not reached by a single bound,
But we build the ladder by which we rise,
From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,
And we mount the summit round by round."
The coming days call for earnest, faithful labor. The quarries of life for another year must resound to the stroke of gavel and trowel. Our young but rapidly growing territory is fast taking a noble stand beside other and older jurisdictions. Have faith, have courage, and be this your motto: "Deo adjuvante non timendum." It is well to begin right — it is better to continue right — it is best to end right; but the right ending only comes through right beginning.
"Only in dreams is the ladder thrown,
From the weary earth to the sapphire walls,
But the dreams depart and the vision falls,
And the dreamer awakes on his pillow of stone."
Let no untempered mortar mar the beauty of your work, or unskillful hands confuse the designs upon your trestle board. Remember that though in the quarries the sounds of preparation were heard, at the temple no noise disturbed the harmonious adjusting of the blocks. So in the Celestial Lodge silently but strictly is the record kept and when the Chief Overseer comes to inspect your work, let each mark be well defined and true, for
— If imposters are
Mixed with the worthy there,
Let them beware
— Of the right hand.
The unseen influence of Freemasonry is abroad in our land. Thousands whose histories are never given to the world owe much to the Order, and the undercurrent of favor to the institution improperly directed may be as injurious to its interests, nay, more so, than the rancor of implacable enemies. We have much to dread; I think, from the indiscriminate admission of those who are popularly styled "good fellows." Choice of material is an essential qualification of the true workman, and he who has the glory and stability of the Order at heart will choose only such as he may never be ashamed to own. Still it is very pleasant to know that, abroad among men, there is to some extent an appreciation of the ties that bind us together, and a willingness to acknowledge advantages that have accrued to the profane, through the channels of Masonry. Who shall estimate its deeds of love during the past four years? What wounds it has bound; what tender hands it has furnished to the sick and dying; what tears it has chased away; what hearts it has gladdened; how many owe their lives to its obligations, and how many the sanctuary of their last resting place to its teachings?
Oh! Masonry! from thy Holy Altar the great light of God's favor has illuminated many a dark pathway, and many a rough and rugged road hast thou smoothed; burdened hearts have brought their sorrows to thy door, and went away forgetting them there. Blessed art thou, thou beautiful temple — thy minarets pierce the heavens above us, and cast no shadow upon the earth. "Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sake I will now say, peace be within thee, for the Lord of Hosts is with thee, the God of Jacob is thy refuge."
Like a beautiful stream, rippling over the rocks and crags and pebbles of its channel, thou dost flow by every door, singing ever the same sweet song of untiring love, gladdening all hearts, while along thy course spring fresh and fragrant the flowers of beauty, innocence and truth, to adorn thy life and lend a lasting perfume to thy work of faith, thy labor of love. My brethren, I have done. A little while and you will gather up your working tools and part upon the square. You will go back to the duties of your several callings until the sound of the gavel in the Grand East again calls the Craft to account for its work. Let not the lessons of these returning seasons be lost upon you, or forgotten in the busy battle of life. They each mark to us the rapid passage of time, and the nearing of eternity. They are pleasant spots in memory to which we turn, let us hope not so much as mementoes of the past as prophecies for the future; but each admonishingly points us to that last gathering that sooner or later will come. And then — what then? Then, my brethren, comes the examination and test. Look well to the East, and see to it that you possess the "true word" that gives admission to the City and Temple of our God.
And when with each of us the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, when the dust returns to the earth as it was, and our spirits to the God that gave them, may our work be approved, our mark accepted, and we raised to the Celestial Lodge above, where the Grand Architect of the Universe forever presides.