Masonic Foundations

W.Bro. W. H. Topley, P.M. Nova Ecclesia Lodge, No. 1466

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all things shall be added unto you. Matthew: 6-33


I will begin by asking your indulgence for the frequent use of the first person singular, for what I have to say is largely of a personal nature. Usually, when one stands before the Brethren of our Craft with a message to deliver, it is more or less a case of fighting against time; with us it is otherwise. As we move together in the heights, time almost ceases to count — we part only when we must, and then with reluctance. So, it is with a happy feeling of not being in any particular hurry that I have come here today in order to pursue my leisurely and discursive ways. The title of this Paper, homily call it what you will, should perhaps have been called "Pre-Masonic Foundations," for, in its personal application, I regard it as a pen-picture of what I ought to have been, but was not, when I first offered myself as a Candidate for the "mysteries and privileges" of Freemasonry. That was some time ago, and although I am entitled to wear the emblems of a Past Master and Past First Principal, it remains a picture still, not of what I am, but of what, in my best moments, I should like to be. It is indeed true that "man needs must love the highest when he sees it" — despite the fact that by some strange perversity he does not always follow what he sees and loves. There are, no doubt, occasions when we all must echo in our hearts the confession of the great Apostle: "For the good that I would I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do ... Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" I have,for some years now, undertaken the task of writing and speaking about the simpler implications of Masonic teaching, and have thus presumed to preach to others I am acutely aware of the necessity of continually striving to "practice what I preach." May I, then take you into my confidence while I unfold the story of my personal approach to the spiritual truths enshrined in our wonderful Craft system?

From earliest childhood I have found that the essentials of profound spiritual experience can be focused in a simple, easily remembered tale, thereby preserving in the mind a memorial of them. The difficulty is, however, that only a few can be subjected to the tyranny of words. Let me try to explain. I have one story complete in three words. Let me try to explain. I did not even "make-it-up" myself; my Mother told it to me when I was two, or maybe three years old. The words of this story are familiar to us all; "GOD — IS — LOVE;" nothing more; but these words sank into my infant mind, and with the passing of the years, I have built up around them a hymn of creation which seems very beautiful to me; and this without adding a single word to the original three. I wonder if you follow what I mean? In these days of horror many are loud in denunciation; and in truth the deeds of some men are, God knows, hateful enough; but I cannot join in the general clamour of hate because some years ago it was given to me, in the spirit, to see the soul of a friend of mine. Until that vision fades, which God helping me, it never will, I cannot hate my Brethren whether in general or particular, because I know that in some mysterious way we are all at once separate yet one in God, and that God is not just lovely, which is a manifestation of love, but Love itself.

I should also explain, before proceeding with my Paper,that not having written a technical Masonic treatise I do not necessarily use such words as mind, soul, reason, and intuition, in a strictly technical sense. Moreover, I sometimes, like "Humpty-Dumpty," make words mean what I want them to mean; and if I work them too hard I pay them overtime! What did Lewis Carrol, otherwise C. L. Dodgson, sometime mathematical lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, intend when he attributed this and other words of veiled wisdom to an embryo? It may be that the explanation will be found in the following lines from the poet Wordsworth:-

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in the entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."

(Intimations of Immortality from recollections of early childhood).

Humpty Dumpty does not have to trail his cloud — he is in it! Truly, Lewis Carrol, in the tradition of the brothers Grimm, wrote intuitive stories, and embodied "truth in a tale," for the delight and instruction of "children" of all ages.

Brethren, the thoughts and aspirations I am about to offer to your contemplation are in the nature of an individual approach. I feel that they form the foundations upon which I must endeavour to build up my understanding of what we are taught in this Circle, if the superstructure of my Masonic faith is to withstand these moral, intellectual, and spiritual stresses and strains, to which is it so constantly subjected.

1. The Poetical Approach

This paper is concerned mainly with first things. Its purpose is to bring to the forefront of the mind certain familiar, but fundamental truths, and the duties that flow therefrom, without which, so I believe, higher knowledge may be possible, but not higher attainment. Perhaps I ought to explain that when contemplating the secrets of our Masonic Art, I am not guided by pure reason. Reason is, of course, indispensable in the ordinary affairs of life — in the realm of "substituted secrets"; but as an instrument for approaching reality I choose the intuitive faculty, exercised through the medium of allegory and symbolism, in a poetic setting. For the poet is the only really creative artist, and therefore, let us not overlook that before a great sculptor puts chisel to his marble, the poet in him has created a thing of beauty within the marble. Our real creative acts are, I think, only to ourselves and to the Author of our being. The scientist discovers the already existent; the philosopher dreams of things that are not, but may be; the poet imagines what is not, and behold, it is! If I may dare to express so great a mystery in simple words, I would say: The Unmanifest imagined, and Deity Threefold in Manifestation "Became"; and from that "becoming: all things have proceeded. We know that Freemasonry is a transcendental philosophy, and therefore claims to hold the key to that Reality which lies behind the veil of appearances, but the key is fashioned in symbolism, and must remain only a key, unless we can translate what it "opens" to us in terms of personal experience. What, then are the Masonic means of helping us to arrive at some measure of this inner experience? To use the analogy of a School; the average present day Lodge of Freemasons may be likened to the kindergarten, but with this peculiarity; in the Masonic Academy all the pupils, whatever, their state of advancement, are expected to keep up a regular attendance at the kindergarten, and for a good and sufficient reason. If the foundations of a material edifice are "well and truly laid," we cannot forget about them and get on with the erection of the superstructure; we Freemasons, however, being "builders in the Spirit," we cannot take for granted the abiding permanence if our moral and spiritual foundations. The first to the fifth forms of the Masonic School meet also in Lodges of Research, Study Groups and Circles, and in fact, wherever two or three brethren are met together in the love of the Craft. In the sixth, or highest form of all on earth, although the teachers may be many, under the guiding hand of the Great Headmaster, there is only one pupil. This is indeed a paradox; yet each of us must face the "last and greatest trial" alone, learning its lessons intuitively as something personal to ourselves. I see three avenues of approach to Reality by Masonic means: The Symbolical, the Mystical, and the Poetical, the third being a flowering from the other two. Freemasonry recognises the poetical instinct in the human heart, and uses it as the handmaiden of the intuitive faculty, and by poetry I mean, and Freemasonry means, not mere versification for its own sake, but the imaginative use of rhyming verse, blank verse, and musical prose, wherewith to clothe the invisible in garments of visibility. There is music and poetry, so it seems to me, in the legends, traditional histories, and narratives, which adorn Masonic Rituals and Lectures both within and outside of the Grand Lodge Ritual system, as they speak of hidden things in a manner all their own. I have a feeling too, that no amount of thinking and study, essential as it is, will of itself, bring us to the Beatific Visition; by no power of learning we possess, or ever shall possess, can we scale the ramparts of the Spirit and take Paradise by storm, but God in His mercy has provided His Citadel with many doors, and each must use the door which own particular key, when found, will fit. Some find theirs in simple piety and service, some in mystical contemplation, some in the exercise of faith operating through the imaginative faculty; and this last is, I think, the poets and the children's way. It may be that the finer niceties of abstract thought are for wiser heads than most of us possess, and those gifted ones who seem to know without learning, but "truth embodied in a tale" the simplest may receive with gladness, according to his nature.

2. The Perfect Law

As Freemasons, we are particularly enjoined to obey the "perfect law." This law is so simple that the veriest child can understand it — yet so difficult that all born of women, save One, have sinned against it. And the law is: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." We all know in our heart of hearts that love is the fulfilling of the perfect law, but the way is too hard for us in its entirety, and there are times when we cannot, or will not, follow it. For nearly twenty weary centuries this law has been known to Christendom, yet still the cry of the Crucified echoes down the corridors of time: "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered you -- but ye would not;" I speak, Brethren, of the Cosmic Christ, who of himself bore witness, "Before Abraham was, I am."

3. The Substituted Law

And so, mankind in its weakness qualifies the perfect law, and says: "Thou shalt love thyself.... and thy neighbour... provided"; and on the basis of this proviso has built up a body of substituted law; of reservations, safeguards, props, and supports, wherewith to buttress man's infirmities. Hence, as a result of sad experience, the substituted law assumes that the average man is not to be trusted with unrestricted power over his fellows, or with unlimited freedom of action for himself. The principle behind the substituted, or secular law is that those entrusted with governance shall be accountable to those over whom they are set in authority. Let us, then, as citizens of the world, be faithful to what is best in the substituted law, and do all within our power to bring about improvements therein.

4. The Hierarchical Principle

We, however, being Freemasons, are not "average" men; we are chosen, initiated, and dedicated men, and Freemasonry, in its organic and ethical structure, rises superior to the substituted law, and is hierarchical in character. It is a familiar dictum of our Order (we hear it every time that we attend an Installation Meeting), that "such is the nature of our Constitution, some must of necessity rule and teach, while others must learn, submit, and obey." Moreover, it is given to some both to rule and teach; others to teach, but not to rule; to many to serve, and serving learn. We are all Members of One Body, although each Member has not the same Office; yet all are priests in the Masonic Temple; and "he also may serve who stands and waits." Indeed, in a Lodge where all the Brethren present understand, and play, their part, their combined aspirations will raise the Rite to heights beyond the reach of thought. The hierarchical principle, however, is governed by the key phrase in our Masonic dictum, which I have not yet mentioned: "Humility in each is an essential qualification." Somewhere in our all too neglected Craft lectures there occurs a profound little aphorism to the effect that there is no situation in life upon which pride can with stability be founded — and all of the aspects of pride to which humility is subject, perhaps an overweening intellectuality is the most insidious. Thus, should we ever be tempted to think of ourselves as better instructed, or in any way superior, to some we could name, let us remember that all, whether wise or simple, are like little children at the sea-side, filling our tiny buckets at the margin of the unfathomable deep.

5. The Equipment of a New-Made Mason

We came into Masonry, you and I at different ages according to the flesh; equipped with different qualities of heart and mind. Most of us, I expect, had prejudices to overcome; appraisements which needed re-valuation; habits of mind we had come to take for granted; maybe, ideals once entertained but since forgotten — in a word, a good deal to learn, re-learn, and un-learn.

6. A Personal Affirmation

Perhaps it was because I came into Masonry somewhat late in life, that its first impact made such a profound impression on my mind, kindling into life again high thoughts and aspirations of earlier years, which had become dimmed and overlaid by mundane ears. But, be that as it may; I turned with avidity to a study of the origins and doctrines of our ancient Institution. Was it not Robert Lewis Stevenson who wrote that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive?; I have found this delightfully true of the Craft. Not expecting in this transitory life to arrive at finality, I travel happily and hopefully along the highways and byways of Masonry, finding here some gem of thought, and there some spark of inspiration, to assist me in the endeavour, enjoined upon us all at our Initiation, to "make daily advancement in Masonic knowledge." Masonic knowledge — what is it? Masonic secrets — what are they? Brethren, the secrets of Masonry are fenced about and guarded more closely than any mortal Tyler can guard them. Our Rituals have been sold in the streets, and our symbols displayed in the market place, but the secrets of our Order are still secret. They are not for the merely curious, even among the Brethren. But, if in our hearts we truly seek that Light, which, as "poor Candidates in a state of darkness," we declared to be the "predominant wish" of our hearts, then for us the venerable exhortation stands. Seek in your hearts and ye shall find; ask, and a Brother will come to your aid; knock, and the close-tyled door of your own being will, in some measure, be opened to your inner vision. we must, however, be fortified by an overwhelming desire to know; even if it be through trials and afflictions, for so the Great Architect has ordained it, that labour to perceive must come before refreshments in partaking.

7. Faith

But we all have this in common. We came, of necessity, into Masonry in faith, not knowing what may — indeed, cannot, be revealed to the uninitiated. We know, of course, that some Brethren were well skilled in the "Heavenly science" before they were made Masons. There is nothing in the Masonic doctrine and teaching which a non-Mason, by difficult and circuitous means, cannot find out for himself. The real secrets of Masonry reside, not in certain signs, tokens and words, used as a formal means of recognition, but in its peculiar methods of imparting knowledge. What cannot be known beforehand, because it is incapable of communication by some perjured Brother to a non-Mason, is the magic and environment of a Lodge of Freemasons in session. Dean Inge has well said that "faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience." It is also true to say that we came into Masonry as an experiment; and to each Brother his own experience. Again, most of us, I imagine, came into this Circle in faith, believing in what as yet we imperfectly comprehend; so may I say a word about faith. Of adolescent recollections, among the most vivid is that of listening to my elders debating what they regarded as the contrary doctrines of justification by faith, and justification by works. Debating is too mild when I recall their attitude of mind; they prayed, they agonized, believing that on right thinking in this matter, depended their eternal destiny. Little they knew of neutral shades, these earnest God- fearing men; black was black, and white was white, with salvation in the balance. Enthusiasts they may have been, yet I would rather confess their burning zeal, although in a different cause, than be numbered among those whom the Seer of Patmos lashes with his pen:-

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3; 14-16)

Looking back over the years it seems to me that the doctrines of faith and works, which so agitated my forebears, are not contrary but complementary, and I have come to believe that works, in a spiritual and Masonic sense, whether for ourselves or for others, are impossible without faith. None the less, faith without works profiteth no man, so let us next consider faith in action.

8. Works

Recently, in the course of reading, I came across these remarkable passages extracted from a book called, "By an unknown Disciple." The author depicts an imaginary scene in which the disciples of the Christian Master are discussing Judas Iscariot:-

"Does he ever smile" I asked, and Nathaniel replied "Judas seeks somewhat; I am sorry for him; I wonder if he will ever find it?" "I have fear of him" said John, "he does not love men." "Perhaps he loves causes better than men" said Nathaniel, and we were silent and spoke no more, but lay and watched the people as they flocked from the towns and villages."

To love causes, ideas, abstractions, better than men; surely Masons, of all people, should fall into so grievous an error. We Masons are taught that Brotherly Love comes first, from which flows Relief in its most ample sense; it is through the avenues of Benevolence and Charity that we are invited to approach Truth. Our duty, so we are instructed, is to God, our Neighbour, and ourselves, in that order. By faith, now passed into knowledge we accept, do we not, those Grand Principles upon which our Order is Founded? Yet I perceive a certain danger, that in the contemplation of the secrets of our Masonic Art, we may become so absorbed in the transcendental, as to forget that we travel the pilgrim path in company, and become self-centred. Cain once asked a question of the Voice: "Am I my brother's keeper?"; all through the ages man has been putting this self-same question to High Heaven, in excuse for his own selfishness. The answer has been given, once in time, and for all time: "Depart from me, ye cursed ... I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink." Many years ago, while rummaging about around the second-hand book shops in the Charing Cross Road, peeping into books too expensive for my purse, my eyes lighted upon this lovely saying: "If every man would mend a man, all mankind were whole." That was long before I became a Mason, but I have often thought what a splendid Masonic motto it would make; a clasp of the hand, when words will not assuage a Brother's grief; a little practical help, maybe, when a Brother is down on luck; a smile in season; a kindly word of advice to one in need of it. Small things, you may say, but how much nearer Paradise this fallen world would be if everybody practised them! It seems to me, Brethren, that if we are faithful in these small things, the greater will in due time follow; and for those who, in whatever guise or manner, place the cup to thirsty lips, there is a different message: "Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world .... for inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my Brethren, ye did it unto me." How are we to interpret "the least of these"?; the least in strength, wisdom, comeliness?; surely, the least in every way; the young, weak, and helpless, who so arouse our pity — of course; but also, the Brother or acquaintance we simply cannot manage to get on with; the person whose manner irritates us so much; that fool of a man who has only himself to blame. Not easy, is it, to proffer the cup to such as these? Very well, then, let us try, just for that reason, and someone whom God knows as we do not know, may be the better, the happier, because of us; and we — may find ourselves a little further along the path, without quite knowing how we got there. Helping others, especially the difficult ones, is a salutary and preoccupying employment.

9. Knowing About and Possessing

We come here, Brethren, do we not, to be instructed in, and to dwell upon, the deeper implications of our Masonic doctrine, and our very presence is evidence of our desire to make advancement in Masonic knowledge. But in Freemasonry, as in all, transcendental instructional systems, there is no royal road to enlightenment; no easy privileged way. Any Brother of reasonable education, a taste for study, and a retentive memory, can by patience and assiduity, gradually accumulate a good deal of factual knowledge regarding the presentation of at least some of the secrets of our Masonic Art; but to know about them is one thing; to possess and be possessed by them is quite another. Speaking for myself, I entertain a strong conviction that before one can in any real sense possess what is enshrined in the higher Degrees as a living reality, one must first have understood, accepted, and as far as in one lies, endeavoured to live up to the fundamental principles inculcated in the First Degree. Here, in this Dormer Circle, I seek and find instruction, encouragement, and inspiration, to assist me on my way to that goal, which not having attained, I press on towards. In the meantime, I feel it to be my immediate and urgent duty to try to become a more worthy Entered Apprentice.

10. Let Your Light So Shine

Let us not think of our labours here, in our Lodges, or in the outer world, as being segregated into separate compartments, but as comprising life as a whole, to be lived in all its aspects in the spirit which informs the Craft. I have little sympathy with the attitude that one should keep it so very quiet that one is a Mason. There are, we know, certain unworthy Brethren who use Masonry largely as an excuse for getting away from home for a good evening, with an eye to the after proceedings. There are others, perjured individuals, who seek some business or other self-seeking advantage from their Membership. These, the world knows of to the sad detriment of our Order; and I feel it be our right and our duty, unobtrusively to let it be known that Masonry is other that what it is sometimes made to seem, and that there are Masons after a different manner. Therefore, Brethren, let us so move among our fellows, unashamed of our calling, that if some kindly deed of ours should chance to come to light, friend may say to friend — "Oh yes, he's a Mason, didn't you know?"

11. The Fulfilment of the Perfect Law

And now to go back to where we began. Perfect love is the fulfilment of the Perfect Law. How, then, may we become fit to possess, and be possessed by, this saving grace of love for all mankind?; for it is the foundation upon which Freemasonry, if it is to carry out its mission, must rest; and is, so it seems to me, the inescapable concomitant of what we are taught, and profess to believe, as Masons. May I offer a line of thought which has helped me in such dark and testing days as the present? We believe, do we not, in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man?; let us go a little deeper. The Father suffers when His children quarrel and hurt each other, for they are part of Him. Those who fight against us are as much sons of God and instruments of His high Providence, as are we who fight against them. As I contemplate the mystery of man's inhumanity to his fellow man I can only bow my head and say, "I do not understand"; but, God the Father understands, and it is written: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise him; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain." It has also been wisely said that to understand is to forgive; I would add to this that to understand and to forgive is to love. I will conclude with a little story I have called:-

12. The Imprisoned Splendour

There was once a man in great distress, for a friend had done him some injury which he could neither forget not forgive. Yet it grieved him to be at variance with his friend, and he prayed fervently to the Almighty that he might somehow find grace to forgive. It was a powerful prayer, and when God heard it He sent for one of His little angels, saying "Go down and reason wit this man, that he may forgive his friend." The little angel, all excited at tis important mission, fluttered to earth and appeared to the man in the spirit. He tried to point out that all the faults were not on one side, and pleaded everything he could think of in mitigation of the offense. But the man was hardly listening, he could only wring his hands and cry, "How could he have done it — how could he have done it?"; for nothing hurts so much as a blow from an erstwhile friendly hand. And there were tears of disappointment in the eyes of the little angel as he flew back home, for he knew that the honour of reconciling these two sons of God was not to be his; but perhaps the Lord had reserved for him some better victory, as he did try so hard, although with ill success. Still the prayer of the troubled man reverberated in the heavenly places. So God sent for a more experienced angel, and told him to go down and see what he could do. The more experienced angel went down to earth and appeared before the man in the spirit saying: "It is God's command that men should forgive each other their trespasses"; and he quoted many apposite passages from the Scriptures to this effect. But the man, a keen Bible student, knew them all, and answered thus: "Listen, angel — if God will enslave my body, soul, and spirit, and then order me to forgive, I will do so because I must; but He has made me free, and feeling as I do, I cannot forgive, although I would give anything to view the matter differently." There was fear in the heart in the heart of the more experienced angel as he hurried heavenward, at the awful responsibility of a creature who might disregard the dictates of the Living God, and could make his mark upon tomorrow. And still the prayer of the troubled man, growing ever more urgent, beat against the very Throne of God Himself. So the Lord turned to His great Archangel and said; "Gabriel, My servant, I would save this prayerful man from himself; go down and show him the soul of the friend whom he cannot forgive." The Seraph listened in amazement — the heavenly choir was hushed to silence: "Lord, he faltered, shall I disturb the balance of the Universe for the sake of this one man?" But the Father of All Mercies made an answer: "Go, and do my bidding — We will preserve th balance;" the mighty Gabriel bowed low before the Presence, then, the Grace of God sustaining him, he sped to earth and appeared before the man of the powerful prayer. There was no command or argument when Gabriel spoke: "By virtue of the Power in me vested, I will show you the soul of the man you cannot forgive." And as he the troubled man looked on in wonder, Gabriel, having summoned the unforgiven one in the spirit, brushed away from him those little shifts and pretences wherewith man shield themselves from the malice and the laughter of the world; all those foolish little piques and prides which so hide men form each other. Then, almost fainting at the strain, as the spheres rocked in their places under the restraining hand of God, the Angel tore away those fearful sins against the Light, as when men, having seen the higher, chose the lower path, and God, as touching His Sonship, is crucified afresh. When it was over Gabriel stood back exhausted, and there was revealed the soul of the friend whom the troubled man could not forgive. It was as a clear, flawless crystal, in which the whole Universe was mirrored, and the thoughts of God Himself reflected. The shamed onlooker shielded his eyes from the splendour, as he whispered, with awe and wonder in his tones:-


and there was a smile on the lips of the great Archangel as he softly winged his way to Paradise, for he knew that all was forgiven, and friend reconciled with friend.


Here, Brethren, my Paper really ends, but a final thought, which I should like to leave with you, came to me after I had concluded. I have said that we Masons are all Members of One Body; I have not said, and do not mean, that we are the whole Body, which, as yet, is incomplete. Of what Body, then, do I speak? Well, being a Christian Mason I would turn to the Church of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth; but which Church?; for alas, that Body is torn by schisms. Oft-time blind acceptance vies with honest doubt; reason trembles, and truth departs unheard. I cannot believe as those good, earnest, men of whom I have spoken believed yet, there are still with us zealots of this or that Church or Sect, or Persuasion, who claim to possess all the verities of the Faith, and who would consign to perdition those not so fortunate as to be of their number. Turning disillusioned from all such clashing claims, and cramping theologies, I find a wider, more satisfying, and I believe, a more truly Christian Evangel in the fundamental teachings of our Masonic Order.

This, then, is the story of a vision for which I can find no name; When that far off Divine event, of which Freemasonry, and the Royal Arch in particular, speaks, and towards which the whole creation moves, comes to its culmination, and all the peoples of every colour, race, and creed, are gathered around the Throne in unity of spirit; with the light of knowledge in their eyes, and love abiding in their hearts:

The shall the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity stand before the Father saying:

"Here are the children, every one — These are My Body."