The Crossing of the River


MASONIC SYMBOLS--

The Crossing Of The River.
by Bro. Chalmers I. Paton, P.M., No.393, England 
 
 
    A Wide river, flowing between luxuriant banks; boats
crossing from one side to the other, all in one direction,
and each with a single passenger; on the side to which
they come friendly hands helping the passengers to land.
Such is the picture before us, symbolising the good man's
passage over the Jordan of Death to the heavenly Canaan.
    It is no scene from heathen mythology which is here
presented to our view.  It is not the river Styx which we
behold: it is not Charon's boat that ferries across the
passengers.   The whole  symbol is  derived  from the
language and imagery of Holy Scripture, it represents
truths which we learn from that book alone, and encourages
us in hopes which are entirely rounded on its revelations.
    We know that we have death before us; but it is not an
utterly unknown world into which we are to pass.  Much,
indeed, there is, as to which we would fain inquire, but as
to which the Word of God affords us no answer.  This,
however, is sure, that the land of promise is one of bliss.
All is blissful there.  And the promise is sure.  The Word
of the Lord can never fail.  He is Lord of that world as he
is of this, and he has given it to those who put their trust
in him.  As he gave the land of Canaan to Abraham and
to his seed, so to the spiritual children of Abraham he has
given the  better Canaan.   Years,  centuries elapsed;
generation  after  generation passed away,  before the
promise made to Abraham was fulfilled in the entrance of
the Israelites under Joshua into the promised land.  But
the promise was fulfilled.  And so will the better promise
be fulfilled to every one who receives it and rests upon it.
    "The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed
will I give this land" (Gen. xii. 7).  " The Lord made a
covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given
this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the
river Euphrates" (Gen. xv. 18). Again, when as a token of
God's promise to him, his name was changed to Abraham,
God said, " I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after
thee, the land in which thou art a stranger, all the land of
Canaan for an everlasting possession; and I will be their
God" (Gen. xvii. 8).  " By faith, Abraham" we read in
the Epistle to the Hebrews, "when he was called to go
out into a place which he should after receive for an
inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither
he went.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as
in a strange country, dwelling in tabernades with Isaac
and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For
he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder
and maker is God" (Heb. xi. 8-10).  And so must we live
by faith upon the earth, seeking a better country, even a
heavenly, and that city whose builder and maker is God.
    As we see in the picture which forms this symbol,
persons standing on the bank of the river to which the
boats cross, helping the passengers to land, so we are
encouraged to expect the kindest of welcomes when we
cross the Jordan of Death, and reach the shore of the
heavenly Canaan.  We may expect the angels to receive
us there.  It is little that we read in Scripture of their
ministry, but we read that they are " all ministering
spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be
heirs of salvation" (Heb. i. 14).  From this we may surely
infer, that they shall be ready to receive us at the last
moment of our earthly life, and to welcome us into those
abodes of bliss in which they themselves have dwelt since
their creation.  Above all, let us rejoice in the thought
that the King of the Land, whose servants they are, will
graciously receive us, and that not as strangers on whom a
little of His bounty is to be bestowed, but as His Brethren
whom He is not ashamed to acknowledge, and whom He
delights to invest in a wonderful manner with a portion of
His own glory.
    Bunyan, in the Pilgrim's Progress, makes admirable
use of that Scriptural figure, of death as a river which
must be passed over that we may enter the abodes of bliss;
although he does not represent it as crossed by boats; as it
is represented in the symbol now before us.  In the First
Part of that admirable allegory, we read as follows,
concerning the pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful :--
    "Now I further saw that betwixt them and the gate was
a river, but there was no bridge to go over, and the river
was very deep.  At the sight, therefore, of this river, the
pilgrims were much stunned; but the men that went with
them said, You must go through, or you cannot come at
the gate.
    "The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no
other way to the gate; to which they answered, ' Yes; but
there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah,
been permitted to tread that path, since the foundation of
the world, nor shall, until the trumpet shall sound."'  The
pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in
their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way
could be found for them, by which they might escape the
river.  Then they asked the men if the waters were all of
a depth.  They said, No: yet they could not help them in
that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or
shallower, as you believe in the King of the place.
    "They then addressed themselves to the water; and
entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his
good friend Hopeful, he said ' I sink in deep waters; the
billows go over my head, all his waves go over me.'
    "Then said the other, ' Be of good cheer, my brother, I
feel the bottom, and it is good.'  Then said Christian,
' Ah ! my friend, the sorrows of death have compassed me
about; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and
honey ;' and with that a great darkness and horror fell
upon Christian, so that he could not see before him.  Also
here he in a great measure lost his senses, so that he could
neither remember, nor orderly talk of the sweet refresh-
ments that he had met with in the way of his pilgrimage.
But all the words that he spake still tended to discover
that he had horror of mind, and heart-fears that he should
die in that river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate.
Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in
troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed,
both before and since that he began to be a pilgram.  It was
also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hob-
goblins and evil spirits, for ever and anon he would intimate
so much by words.  Hopeful, therefore, here had much ado
to keep his brother's head above water, yea, sometimes he
would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would
rise up again, half dead.  Hopeful also did endeavour to
comfort him, saying, 'Brother, I see the Gate, and the men
standing by to receive us;' but Christian would answer
'It is you, it is you they wait for; you have been hope-
ful ever since I knew you.'  ' And so have you,' said he to
Christian. ' Ah, brother !' said he, ' surely if I was right he
would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath
brought me into the snare, and hath left me.'  Then said
Hopeful, 'My Brother! you have quite forgot the text
where it is said of the wicked, ' There are no bands in their
death, but their strength is firm.  They are not in trouble
as other men, neither are they plagued like other men' (Ps.
lxxiii. 4-5).  These troubles and distresses that you go
through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken
you, but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind
that which heretofore you have received of his goodness,
and live upon Him in your distresses.'
    Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was in a muse
a while.  To whom also Hopeful added this word, ' Be of
good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; ' and with that
Christian brake out with a loud voice, 'Oh! I see him
again, and he tells me,"when thou passest through the
waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they
shall not overflow thee' (Is. xliii. 2).  Then they both took
courage, and the enemy was after that as still as stone,
until they were gone over.  Christian therefore presently
found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the
rest of the river was but shallow.  Thus they got over.
Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw
the two shining men again, who there waited for them;
wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them,
saying, ' We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister
for those that shall be heirs of salvation.'"
    It may be asked why so many Masonic Symbols represent
to us the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, and
are thus of a gloomy and awful character.  The answer is
that Freemasonry is intended to fit us for and to call us to
the discharge of all our duties in life, and that of these and
the responsibilities connected with them we can have no
right notion, unless we think of Death as certain and of the
uncertainty of the duration of Life.  It is also to be con-
sidered that these symbols suggest to us the thought of
other things, by which light is shed over the gloom, a better
light than that of this transitory world.