THE COVERING OF A LODGE
"The covering of a Lodge is no less than a clouded canopy, or starry-decked heaven, where all good Masons hope at last to arrive, by the aid of that theological ladder, which Jacob in his vision saw ascending from earth to heaven; the three principal rounds of which are denominated Faith, Hope and Charity, and which admonish us to have faith in God, hope in immortality, and charity to all mankind. The greatest of these is charity; for our faith will be lost in sight; hope ends in fruition; but charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity."
Such is the quaint language of Masonry in describing a Lodge in all its parts and purposes. The language is that of antiquity, for it has been used by the Craft from time immemorial. It is beautiful and expressive, as well as venerable, and embraces in few words the moral creed of the Mason — "faith in God, hope in immortality, and charity to all mankind." The occurrence referred to is designed to teach us the doctrine of a watchful and overruling Providence:- that the destiny of men is not left to blind chance, as the Atheist would madly teach; but that over this world — this Lodge — in which we are apprentices for eternity, there is a Providence which, by laws and modes of its own enactment, the affairs of those who put their trust in God, are all directed. However we maybe situated, in the crowded city or desert waste; amid friends at home or alone in foreign lands, still God is above and over all. The eye that never "slumbers nor sleeps" is cognizant of every thought and action; and the arm that guides and governs the destiny of all things will protect and shelter the objects of his care.
Let us look at the occurrence more particularly. The wife of the aged patriarch, Isaac, knowing that a blessing of priceless value had been promised to her husband "and his seed after him," determined if possible, to obtain it as an inheritance for her youngest son, Jacob. To effect this, she had recourse to stratagem, and by fraud and falsehood she succeeded in her design, and Jacob secured the blessing. The elder son and rightful heir, Esau, became greatly enraged at being thus defrauded, and Jacob was advised to fly to Padan-Aram, in Mesopotamia, to escape the vengeance of his outraged brother. In all this transaction Jacob was not so much to blame as his artful and designing mother, although he was consenting to the unrighteous act. She, however, received her reward, for she saw her son no more:- fourteen years afterwards, when the wanderer returned, she was in her grave. Jacob, also, was taught that the "way of the transgressor was hard;" for he was compelled to leave his father's house and his native land, and spend toiling years, — a servant among strangers. He found, too, that "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;" for as he had defrauded his brother, he himself was in turn defrauded by Laban out of seven years of labor, — or rather, the reward of seven years of labor — the object of his most ardent affection.
But notwithstanding all these untoward features of this whole transaction, the eye of God was upon Jacob for good. We can imagine his feeling, and the emotions that swelled his young heart, as the fond farewell lingered upon his lips, and he turned away in sadness and sorrow from the home and friends of his childhood. He was to go to a strange country — to the home of strangers; he was gong on that long and weary journey alone. There would be no friend with him for counsel or protection. Besides, should his elder brother, whom he had so deeply wronged, overtake him, alone and unprotected, what might be his fate! He knew, also, that he was guilty, and merited the severest chastisement. That sense of guilt added speed to his flight, and the dread of approaching danger drowned every emotion of regret at his departure. The lot of Jacob, and his seeming destiny, was at this moment most unenviable. A youthful fugitive from justice; compelled to flee from his kindred and home, and seek a refuge among strangers and far away. What heart does not pity the youthful wanderer?
A consciousness of guilt, doubtless, produced in Jacob's heart its legitimate fruits — a hearty and sincere repentance. Could we follow his footsteps across the plain, and through the rugged defile, and away among the mountain ranges towards Mesopotamia, we should likely witness the tear of sorrow at his misdoings, and hear the sigh escaping from his repentant heart. How desolate must have been that journey! How lonely and sad the weary hours, while he toiled on- farther from home-and farther among strangers.
It was night. Darkness had overtaken the traveler in the neighborhood of Luz; but he was afraid to enter the city, fearful lest his out-raged brother might have reached it before him. He therefore chose to spend the night "in a certain place." He made a pillow of stones, and on them be laid him down to sleep. How different from his quiet and comfortable home! His mind perhaps wandered back to that Meca of the affections; and, as tired nature sank away into slumber, he was once more beside his mother, and again worshipping at the shrine around which clung his young heart's affections.
But he dreamed, and the God of his fathers saw fit to reveal himself to the lone wanderer in a "vision of the night." A "ladder was set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood above it," and spake to the future Patriarch, "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father." Here was a basis for the "hope in immortality." Abraham had long slept in the vale of Mamre; but "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Therefore, though Abraham had passed away from earth, he was not "dead, but sleeping;" his body was in the grave, but the man — the spiritual man could not die, — that was immortal, for a voice from the skies proclaimed Jehovah still the "God of Abraham." Here was the revelation of one important truth; the immortality of the soul was clearly taught by the lips of divine authority.
But this was not all. The august speaker above him declared that He would be with the sleeper in his farther wanderings, and bring him "again into this land." "I will not leave thee," said the friend of the penitent wanderer, "until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." Here was the groundwork for an unshaken "faith in God." The Almighty had pledged his word to Jacob; and there on that mystic ladder were the spiritual messengers of His power, ready to do His bidding and minister to the youthful wanderer in his exile from home and friends. Here, also, Jacob was taught to love his fellows; to exercise "charity towards all mankind." He was permitted an interview with the august Father of all; and then and there he was taught the principles of that piety which he exhibited in such rich maturity in his future life.
This whole occurrence is full of interesting instruction; and Masons, especially, should ponder it well, while the eye rests upon the engraving that illustrates it. It is not guilt alone that severs the bonds of early friendship, and sends manhood in its morning to other and distant lauds. Duty, business, pleasure, frequently separates the young craftsman from his friends and early home, and leads him "in a path he knew not." Alone, inexperienced, and unprotected, he may find himself among strangers, with no friend or "brother" to counsel or guide him. But he should never forget that He in whom he was taught confidently to trust, was the "God of Abraham;" and that wherever may find himself on the wide earth, though it may be slumbering on the road side, with a stone for his pillow and darkness for his curtains, yet above him is an "all-seeing eye." And that, however lonely and desolate the spot, there is still a pathway thence to heaven. Let him, therefore, steadfastly cling to his "faith in God" — the God of the Patriarchs — the God of the Bible. On this faith, as a basis, and sustained by an active obedience to the precepts taught in the "great Light of Masonry," he may indulge a hope — a blessed hope, — in a glorious immortality. And the watchful care of his Father in heaven, the blessings daily received from His bountiful hands, should induce him to cultivate "charity towards all mankind" — that charity which prompteth to kindly acts to all, especially the "household of faith," and which even "thinketh no evil."