The expression "darkness visible" is probably borrowed from Milton's "Paradise Lost" where we read:
"Yet from these flames
No light, but rather darkness visible,
Served only to discover sights of woe."
"Paradise Lost" was first published in 1667, and it was not until about 1725 that the Master Mason degree began to be accepted by Lodges in England, though its final form was not established until much later in that century. It would seem, therefore, that some brother who had a part in the wording of our ritual, especially this particular charge, must have been well acquainted with this masterpiece of literature.
Let us understand, however, that the experience through which a candidate passes as he represents Hiram Abif, though it refers to the legendary death of our Grand Master, does not signify a physical death. It is a death in the moral sense. It is an experience which every man must face in his moral and spiritual development.
The dangers to a man's moral character do not come from outside himself. They come from within a man's own soul. Just as the three ruffians were members of King Solomon's own staff of trusted workmen, so it is the enemies within a man, his ignorance and selfishness, his passions and sins, which can destroy his moral and spiritual life.
It is of this moral death and regeneration that the Master mason degree reminds us. The figurative descent into the grave, the emblems of mortality, are all symbolical of the death of the baser life of earthly imperfection, and the raising to the living perpendicular of an upright, pure life that will shine as the stars for ever and ever.
All this is beyond our power fully to explain. It is an experience which each brother must feel and interpret for himself. But there is visible in that shadowy realm of mystery a truth that can be faintly discerned, darkness visible.
Here are forces deep in our consciousness so mysterious that we can only describe them in symbol, for they transcend the power of mind. So the Master Mason, who, in that darkness visible, not only catches a glimpse of these things, but who applies himself to the cleansing of his soul by a death to his worldly possessions, a death to his selfish self, and has been raised to a true life of self-forgetful service, he indeed is a Master Mason.
For such the world is calling out today.