JEWELS OF MASONIC ORATORY 4
R.W.. James W. Boyd, Grand Orator
Most Worshipful Grand Master and Brethren of the Grand Lodge of Missouri:
Standing in the footsteps of so many able and eloquent predecessors, and in the presence of the representatives of Masonry throughout Missouri, it would be unnatural for me not to realize, to some extent, the responsibility of the hour. The different phases of the one great subject have, from time to time, been so ably presented, the field before me has been so well culled, that there seems but little left for me to glean; yet, having been honored with the appointment, you expect me to present a sheaf, even though I gather only what the great reapers have left by the wayside.
It has been said that every man's opinion of Freemasonry is elevated just in proportion to his knowledge of its history, symbolism and philosophy. If this is true, it would not be inappropriate for us to consider the most important of these —
THE PHILOSOPHY OF MASONRY.
For of what avail will be our art, symbolism, ceremonies, plans and aims, unless there is beneath them all a philosophic basis — a philosophy profound enough to adapt our Order to the demands of the highest interest of every civilized country, in every epoch of its history; as well as to the advancement of the true welfare of individuals.
We cannot all visit the seat of Solomon's Temple to survey that locality, but we may survey, with an intelligent eye, a structule more magnificent than was that spacious and symmetrical building. We cannot all spend our time in explorations about Mount Moriah, but we may explore the regions round about the Moriah upon which we profess to stand to-day. We cannot all examine the quarries where the stones were squared and numbered, nor the forests where the timbers were fitted and prepared for that celebrated edifice, but we may examine and understand what it is that now fits and prepares the timbers, squares and numbers the stones, making them living columns and shining pilasters in our grand, effective Institution.
That we may appreciate the problems with which Freemasonry deals, and the results which flow from its workmanship, let us enquire in what respect our Order is adapted to the development of the highest type of manhood,which is, indeed, the end of all philosophy. What is there underlying its forms, symbols and ceremonies calculated to redound to such a consummation? In order to answer this enquiry it is necessary to ascertain the characteristics of the material which is to be made ready by its workmanship for a place in its polished walls. The rough ashlar with which speculative Masonry deals, is human nature — the human heart, with its infinite capabilities, manifold passions, conflicting tendencies, recurring fears, and undying hopes. To adjust this stone, iridescent with the fires of immortality, and yet loaded down with a material body, is the work of our Craft.
Every man is a strange compound, a combination of two distinct natures mysteriously connected together, and yet constantly at war with each other. For our present purpose, one of these may be termed "animal," the other "moral." This animal nature is absolutely selfish; all its appetites, passions, inclinations and tendencies are selfish; and it develops itself without any assistance or culture. It needs no school for its tuition. Like the animal about us, it knows no higher law or rule of action than expediency or gratification. It has no regard for the right or happiness of others. "Responsibility," "obligation," "duty," are words unknown to its vocabulary. Self is its motto, self is its end and aim, indulgence is its worship, gratification is its god. Shakespeare says, "love thyself last," but it loves self first, last, and all the time., Again, he says, "Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's, thy God's and truth's;" but these ends it ignores; their claim it repudiates. This selfish nature is the source of all our unhappiness; it destroys happiness in him who yields to its control; destroys even his capacity for happiness, and causes him to disregard the happiness of those around him. The world's history is little less than a panorama of wars, strife, bloodshed and misery — all the work of this selfish nature.
"Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn."
But man is by no means an animal; he is also a moral being; endowed with a conscience, a spiritual illumination, a still, small voice within, whose call to duty may be ever heard above the wildest clamorings of appetites, passions and selfish tendencies. The latter may lash him with their enraged fury, as the angry billows lash the storm-tossed vessel; but, as it may ride over the foaming crests of the maddened waves into the peaceful harbor; so may he rise superior to the demands of his selfish tendencies, and pursue a course of rectitude in spite of their fury. Here is the conflict: These selfish tendencies, in their unreasonable demands for gratification, would disregard the true interests of the man, subject him to their tyrannical sway, and, finally, sink him into degradation and ruin; while his moral nature is constantly urging him to deny himself; to restrain these selfish tendencies; to rise above their demands; to obey the dictates of his conscience; to follow a course of benevolence, and thus to be a freeman whom the truth makes free.
This is that battle of life which is waged in the breast of every individual. Than this, no more important battle is ever fought. Alexander conquered the world, and wept, it is said, because there were not other worlds to conquer. This animal nature conquered Alexander, and caused him to die in a drunken revelry in the streets of Babylon. Caesar, fired by the love of country, led the Roman legions through a thousand battles to a thousand victories; love of self — ambition — led Caesar beyond the limits of patriotism; induced him to commit the fatal act of placing on his own brow the crown of the Roman Goverment, and thus caused his sudden downfall. Napoleon unthroned kings and emperors of Europe, and held them captives at his will. His selfish nature — ambition — held Napoleon captive at its will, swept him beyond his appointed bounds, and thus caused him to be banished to the lonely island.
All along the pages of the world's history, we see where her poets, orators, philosophers, warriors and statesmen have gone down in this conflict, beneath the power of this fell destroyer of their best hopes and highest interests. Men everywhere, to-day, overcome the obstacles to what they consider success, then, yielding to the demands of this lower nature, utterly fail to fulfil any useful mission in life, and die unwept, unhonored and unsung, leaving behind them no fit memorial of the life of a rational, intelligent being.
Life's victory is, so to gain control of this selfish nature that it may be subordinate to a sense of duty to cultivate and develop the moral faculties so that they may assert their superiority, and thereby establish in the individual true manhood. And every institution, society or order is beneficial in its xItirnate results just in proportion as it enlists, encourages and assists the individual to fight this battle, and to gain this victory.
But how is this grand result to be attained? How is this victory to be gained? Certainly not simply by good impulses occasionally flashing through the mind; not by sudden outbursts of benevolence now and then; not by spasmodic fevers of charity which seize the patient only on state occasions — these can never constitute manhood. An occasional skirmish, or a dress parade, no matter how brilliant, will never gain the battle of life.
Character is to be found in the permanent disposition of the mind in the governing purpose of the life — and this permanent disposition or governing purpose is the result of a deliberate, unreserved commitment of the spirit to the ends of worthiness. In order to overcome this innate, selfish power, it is absolutely necessary for the individual, at some moment, to commit himself, fully firmly, deliberately, unreservedly to the ends of benevolence. Without this commitment, there is no foundation upon which to build character. Without a governing purpose controlling the life, all deeds of benevolence are but desultory and, consequently, evanescent in their effects upon the actor. It is true that they may benefit the object, but, subjectively, their influence is lost, and their subjective influence is their only influence which tends, in any way, to make character. There is a great deal of this transient excellence in the world; subjectively, it is a mere shadow flitting across the landscape, nothing more. These purely impulsive acts of charity, which spring from no governing purpose, are like meteors which wildly shoot across the heavens, leaving behind them no trace of their short but brilliant career. These spasmodic displays of generosity may be beautiful in themselves, and pass current among men at a high estimate; they may be apples of gold, but their effect upon the actor is lost, because they are not set in pictures of silver, previously made ready to receive them — their effect upon the actor is evanescent because his mind has not been prepared to retain their reflex influence. Without this preparation, this committal, generous impulses and magnanimous conduct will fail to elevate to true manhood. Under such circumstances, magnanimous acts may be the finely sculptured pieces of delicately tinted stone, but they do not constitute the beautiful and costly Mosaic, which is the aim of the artist, simply because they are not set in a suitable background, previously prepared to retain them.
What the man needs, what the interests of his moral nature imperatively demand in this conflict with these selfish tendencies, is some institution, some individual, some influence which will lead or induce him to rise up in the might of his imperial nature and vow allegiance to its demands — to make this commitment, to form this governing purpose.
Show me an institution which demands, upon its very threshold, an unqualified commitment of its initiate to the ends of benevolence; which demands that he enter fully upon this contest, determined to wage an unrelenting war against this selfish nature; that he burn the bridges behind him, and thus cut off every avenue of honorable retreat, and I will show you an institution founded in a wise philosophy. With this foundation for character laid, every act of virtue is a stone set in the wall; every benevolent deed has a permanent subjective influence; every act of charity elevates and ennobles the character of him who only thought to bless the other; all magnanimous deeds and charitable acts are now beautiful pieces of marble set in the mosaic of character; now every victory over self adds strength to the victor, and thus character grows and is developed; thus the individual passes out of the miasmatic valley of selfishness, ascends the shining heights of virtue, and there labors in the noble duties of manhood.
Compare him to the man who has surrendered to his selfish nature: In the ordinary affairs of life, the one is equivocal, unstable, untrustworthy; the other is honorable, true and worthy of all confidence. In the profession of medicine, the one is an empyric, falsely boasting an alleged panacea, with which he filches the last dollar from the despondent invalid; the other is the benefactor of his fellow beings, alleviating pain, annihilating suffering and allaying distress. In law, the one is a shyster, polluting this noble profession by his very touch; defrauding those who trust their interests to his care; the other is ever ready to protect the innocent, to shield the weak from the merciless demands of the strong, and to see that injustice be done no man, however humble or obscure. In politics, the one is a "ringster," full of deceit, false, "a thoroughbred fraud," seeking only self-advancement; the other is truthful, honorable, patriotic, seeking to advance his country's welfare; the one, by his conduct, says, "I have no use for any man unless I can use him ;" the other, by his life, proclaims, "I am a man, and whatever is humanity is akin to me," and deserves my earnest co-operation in its laudable efforts; the one, as he often occupies positions of trust and honor, is like the moon, which reflects the unfruitful rays of a borrowed light, thereby deceitfully appearing to be a beautiful luminary, until the telescope is turned upon it, when the astonishing fact is revealed that it is only a dreary waste, a sepulchral orb, full of yawning chasms and horrible abysses of darkness, upon whose surface charred and desolate peaks rise in dismal chains, like foreboding phantoms — a world in which every principle of vitality has long since been destroyed by its own internal, desolating, volcanic powers — the other — in all the relations of life, abounding in generosity, magnanimity and true nobility — is like the sun, the real luminary of a grand system of worlds, which sends its rays of heat and life into every nook and corner of the surrounding universe, producing life, growth and development, thus causing all nature throughout her endless gradations to resound with her thrilling songs of joy and gratitude.
But what influence does Masonry exert upon State? Is it adapted to the promotion of the true interests of every civilized country, in every epoch of its constantly changing condition? Is it peculiarly adapted to that end in our country at this time? Every age in a country's history has its own peculiar evil. The predominant evil of the last epoch is not the prevailing evil of this age, and the prevailing evil of this age will not be the chief evil of the next era. This leading evil of every age is simply the form in which the selfish tendencies of the people most strongly manifest themselves at that time. The hour forbids elaboration here, and I must confine my observations to two epochs.
What, then, is the characteristic evil of the present era? What is the predominant vice of our day? What is the evil which seems to be permeating the masses of our people and affecting all classes of our citizens; the evil whose baneful influences have reached even those who have been honored by positions of trust and power — an evil which is every day extending, which seems to know no abatement, which looms up like a portentous cloud, above our political horizon, which casts a foreboding shadow across our political sky, which, strange as it may seem to you, in this hour of peace and prosperity, even threatens to undermine our Republican institutions, and to destroy our civil liberty? It is that which has been designated as the root of all evil — "the love of money."
If there is a vice which can more completely than another extinguish the fires of patriotism, and paralyze the benevolent impulses of the heart, that vice is the inordinate love of gain. When this desire to accumulate wealth becomes so general and so excessive in any people as to lead them to regard lightly the means by which it is gained, then dishonesty invades all kinds of business, hypocrisy and deceit characterize the times, adulterations and counterfeits abound, "corners" and gambling speculations prevail, every man begins to suspect his neighbor, honesty itself is doubted, moral integrity hangs her head in shame and weeps over her own downfall while civil liberty — the daughter of virtue and intelligence — wings her sad flight to realms more congenial to her own proud spirit. There was a time in our Republic when to show what ought to be done was to secure the adoption of that measure. How is it to-day? What measures are now adopted, and how are they secured? Let the legislative history of the last two decades answer. How many measures of doubtful expediency (not to say of doubtful honesty), involving millions of dollars, have marked this period? We live in a most magnificnt country. Nature has lavishly bestowed upon us everything necessary for our comfort and happiness. Our growth as a people during the first century of our existence is without a parallel in the history of the world. To-day, we rank as onc of the leading nations of the earth. And yet, it is a recognized fact that the basis of all this grandeur and power, the palladium of our liberty, the electoral franchise is, to a considerable extent, controlled by money. It is a fact, strikingly suggestive, painfully humiliating, and fearfully prophetic, that a potent factor in our elections is money. Do we, as a people, love money more than freedom? Do we value gold more highly than honor? Has our material progression become a retrogression in the high qualities of moral excellence? Has partyism been substituted for patriotism? Have spoils, as the end of public measures, been substituted for public good? And do we, as a people, look with complacency upon these signs of the times?
The curse of our age is this fierce, excessive, absorbing mercenary spirit, which crowds out all higher and nobler motives; and which will, unless checked, prevent the perpetuation of our civil institutions.
When the people of any country bow down before the golden calf, and worship at its shrine, the tables of the law of civil liberty fall from the hands of the greatest law-givers, and are broken into fragments. Civil liberty is, indeed, the boon of virtue and intelligence in the people; a blessing not gratuitously lavished upon all alike; a reward reserved for the intelligent, the unselfish; but never bestowed upon, or perpetuated to a people too mercinary to be capable of appreciating it. Nor is it any disparity to liberty that such is the case. On the contrary, its highest praise, its proudest distinction, is that an all-wise Providence has reserved it as the noblest reward for the development of our faculties, intellectual and moral.
The past abounds with illustrations: The Grecians were one of the most cultured, literary, brave and patriotic people of ancient times. Their literary productions are yet the admiration of the literary world, and their deeds of valor are to-day sung in every civilized clime. Yet, even this people became mercenary, selfish, venal, corrupt, and lost their patriotism to such an extent that even the burning eloquence of Demosthenes could not arouse them to a sense of duty; and their proud republic, after which our own was modeled, fell, not really by the hands of Philip of Macedon, but by its own internal weakness, caused by the degeneracy of its citizens. And who does not know that self indulgence, voluptuous living, corrupt practices, private and public in a word, the loss of virtue and patriotism in the Roman people, caused their grand governmental fabric, which once held the world in subjugation, to crumble to atoms beneath the attacks of the hardy sons of the North. Other instances need not be given. Civil liberty is not, cannot be, maintained by bayonets, compacts, leagues or constitutions; it can stand upon no other foundation than virtue and intelligence in the people. History is full of warning, and will repeat itself, because we heed not its lessons.
And when the future historian shall write the history of our times, then the full effects of this evil upon our destiny as a nation will be revealed. It is, however, already apparent that the true welfare of our country now demands that all conservative moral forces be swiftly arrayed and called into active service to battle against the further development or extension of this giant evil; for upon the result of this conflict between this mercenary spirit and higher, better motives in the people, depends not only the future history of our own country, but even the destinies of all the ages yet unborn. If our experiment of self-government shall at last fail, that failure will prove a fatal blow to civil liberty throughout the world, and turn the wheels of progress back a thousand years. In this momentous conflict, what a powerful influence may be, must be, wielded by our Order! What a determined, uncompromising foe this vice finds in Masonry!
Even upon the threshold of this Institution, the candidate must rise above all mercenary motives; he must commit himself against this form of selfishness, and as he advances step by step in Masonry, if he advances in its spirit, he must rise higher and higher above this influence, so that to be a Mason, indeed and in truth, is to be found in the ranks of those who, by their manner of life, stand shoulder to shoulder in solid phalanx of opposition to the prevailing evil of our day.
While this evil overshadows us, there are in Missouri alone, not to mention the forty-five other Grand Jurisdictions in our country, more than five hundred altars upon which the vestal fires of faith, hope and charity never cease to emit their bright and hallowed rays.
While the world about us, to-day, seems determined to sacrifice everything for gold, there are, in Missouri alone, more than five hundred shekinahs burning with their unquenchable glory, from whose presence there go forth, not upon mercenary, but benevolent missions, messengers of good will, to raise the fallen, cheer the faint, strengthen the weak, relieve the distressed, and to dispense that genuine charity, which, like mercy, brings its own recompense;
"Which droppeth, like the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed,
It blesses him who gives and him who takes."
While the foundations of all our greatness and grandeur as a nation are being undermined by this overleaping love of self, there are, in Missouri, alone, twenty-seven thousand Craftsmen who profess to be learning, at our altars, these lessons of life which are calculated to elevate them above the poisonous vapors of selfishness, and to array them as living conservators of all that tends to promote civil liberty — as enemies to oppression, and as benefactors of the human race.
Had not Masonry come down to us from antiquity, we might reasonably conclude that it was organized for the especial purpose of combating this evil; but as it is of ancient date, we are forced to admit that at its origin there presided a philosophy wise enough to look down through the vista of ages, and to adapt it to the demands of the true interests of our country in this era of its existence.
But will our Order be directly antagonistic to the evil which will characterize the next epoch in our history as a people? What that evil will be, it requires no prophet to tell. There is more than one cause at work to produce the same result. This money-loving age will produce, and be followed by an epoch of Atheism. You, who live to witness the morning hours of the twentieth century, can then verify this assertion. It has been said that every government is founded upon some religion. A system of morals based upon some religion, binding upon individuals, is necessary to constitute a State. At any rate, a wide-spread Atheism, such as I have indicated, produces disobedience to law,disloyalty to sovereignty, and engenders materialism, rationalism, socialism, nihilism, communism, and other false doctrines wholly inimical to constitutional government, subversive of civil liberty and destructive of true manhood. And this evil, with its concurrent vices, is the monster with which the next generation in our country must grapple in a deathly struggle. And, in my opinion, it will be a struggle between law and anarchy, liberty and despotism, order and plunder, happiness and misery. In this struggle, our noble Order will prove itself to be the powerful ally of law, order, liberty, happiness. When that conflict shall war fiercest, the silent Masonic banner will be the last to retire from the field; when Atheism shall have cast its deepest shadow, the Masonic altar shall yet be luminous with the effulgent rays of her great light when the night of the triumph of Atheism shall be the darkest, one of the last lights to go out in the opposing camp shall be the fire kindled upon the Masonic altar.
And, thus, Masonry will be the powerful conserving force, antagonistic not only to the predominant evil of the next epoch, but to the chief evil of every age of our existence as a people. But this feature of Masonry, which is, indeed, its foundation, also meets and satisfies the chief demand of the human heart.
Ever and anon, through all the vicissitudes of life, we are prone to ask ourselves, What am I? Whence came I? Whither do I tend? Man cannot consent to believe that the earth is his only abiding place. He may reason himself into the well fed, well trained, well developed baboon, but his soul rebels against this false logic, and sadly cries out: Why then have I immortal instincts? Why were these longings for immortality implanted in my breast? Who placed them there merely to mock me in my solitude and desolation? Can it be that our lives are but a bubble, cast up by the ocean of eternity to float for a moment on its waves and then sink into nothingness? "Why is it that the high and glorious aspirations, which leap like angels from the temple of our hearts, are forever wandering unsatisfied? Why is it that the rainbow and the clouds come over us with a beauty that is not of earth, then pass away, leaving us to muse upon their loveliness?" Why is it that the stars, which hold their festival around the midnight throne are set above the grasp of our faculties, forever mocking us with their unapproachable glory? Why is it that the bright forms of human beauty, whose lives here become a part of our own, will not always stay in our presence?
Has he, who graced our last annual communication with his presence; whose face, though gone, we still see; whose voice, though now silent, is yet ringing in our hearts, been consigned to an eternal oblivion? Is there no country where the heart can say: I am at home?
These are such questions as lie at the foundation of our happiness; they rise up before us like Banquo's ghost, and will not "down" at our simple bidding. What institution pretends to answer them? Ah! what means that letter "G."
"That hieroglyphic light
Which none but Craftsmen ever saw."
It stands in the East, an ever-present answer to these recurring questions, impressing upon the mind of every Mason that he is born for a higher destiny; that there is a realm where the rainbow never fades, "where the stars are spread out before him like the island that slumbers in the bosom of the ocean," where the good and the true, who fall before him here like autumn leaves, will forever stay in his presence, even in that Grand Lodge where the Supreme Grand Master of the universe presides.
We have heard that Masonry is grand because she is old; but Masonry is old because she is grand. She has withstood the ravages of time, the revolution of ages, the unrelenting crusades against her, because she is founded upon a philosophic basis. Masonry, is no insurance association; not disparaging or underrating the benefits of insurance, she has nobler, grander ends to accomplish. She is that imperial Institution which carries lessons of true manhood, devotion to women, loyalty to truth into every hamlet within our borders; she is that permanent Institution whose example has actually called into being almost every other benevolent order which exists today; she is that imperishable Institution which takes by the hand the Brother who has fallen in this battle of life, that kindly raises him to his feet again, that gently brushes from his brow the dust of defeat, and encourages him to go forth again to the conflict with renewed strength and a firmer determination to accomplish something in life; that noble Institution, which in the silent watches, unobserved, carries joy and gladness to the lonely and desolate of earth; that immovable Institution, which, by her tenets and cordial virtues, draws, unbidden, to her sanctum sanctorum the high, the low, the rich, the poor, and numbers them all alrke, her own plighted sons and workmen; that imperious Institution, which, by her sublime principles, unswerving faith and noble deeds, challenges the admiration of all men.
We are Masons, not for what we may get, but for what we may attain, what we may do for others. This is her glory; this is what makes Masonry the synonym of charity throughout the civilized world; this is what will shed brighter and yet still brighter luster upon her fair name, as the centuries, one by one, shall be added to the past, even down to "the last syllable of recorded time."