Vol. XXXVIII No. 6 — June 1960


Eugene G. Beckman, GrChap

This address was delivered at the religious services at the opening of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, April 28, 1960, by R.W. Eugene G. Beckman, grand chaplain. The author has graciously permitted The Masonic Service Association to publish it as a Short Talk Bulletin.

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For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. — Romans 14:7

As one looks over a large assembly, with its sea of human faces, several reflections suggest themselves to the observer. In a few years, not one of those present will still be living on the earth. The epistle reminds us of this universal fact: “It is given to every man once to die.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Yet there is another solemn reflection on this matter. Our minds are carried forward to that day when the graves will give up their dead and all eyes shall be fixed on the great white throne and Him who sits crowned thereon. “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Romans 14:10)

But there is a third and more mundane reflection that quickly follows the other two. This sea of human faces, like the swelling ocean, suggests a deep and irresistible power. What a force is here! What an immense moral power!

You may smile at the man standing by Niagara Falls, who, instead of being filled with awe and admiration, begins to calculate how much machinery this water power could turn. As the Niagara gathers her waters from many lakes and streams to the west and rolls them over with the roar of thunder, he ignores the majesty of the spectacle to reckon horsepower and kilowatts of energy. You may smile at his reaction to that great wonder of the world. But it is a serious, solemn, stirring thought to think how much moral machinery this great assembly of human beings could turn for good, if every brain and hand and heart were engaged in the service of God and our fellow men.

It is impossible to overestimate the moral power that lies latent in the Masonic lodges of the world. Men talked about the power latent in steam, unused till Watt came along and harnessed that power, and set the giant to work to turn the wheels of industry. Men talked about the power latent in the skies, till Brother Benjamin Franklin seized the power of lightning and channeled it into our service.

But what are these forces to the moral power that lies asleep in our lodges? And why is it latent? Because so many of us do not appreciate the power of individual influence, nor estimate our own individual responsibilities. It is so easy to be over-awed by the complexities of life. A man cannot do everything, so he feels justified to do nothing. He cannot blaze like a star; so he won’t even shine like a little candle. And thus a few do the work and labor to give us light, while the many stand by and look on.

Not thus, however, are the woods clothed in green. That is the result of every little leaf expanding its own destined form. Not thus are the fields covered with rich golden grain, but by every stalk ripening its individual head. Not thus does the coral reef rise from the depths of the ocean, but by every little polyp building its own rocky cell.

“No man liveth to himself.” (Romans 14:7) Paul of Tarsus was stating a universal law. It operates in the individual, in the community, and in the wider world of men. Every one of us has an influence, either for good or for evil. No nation lives unto itself. It too has an influence, for weal or for woe.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, speaking to the Assembly of the League of Nations, while Italians in the gallery hurled insults at him, declared, “I could not believe that fifty-two nations, among them the most powerful in the world, could be defeated by a single aggressor. God and history will remember your judgment.”

And he was right. More and more we are coming to realize that this is one world. “God made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) No act is morally or politically neutral. This is true of nations, and it is true of individuals. As Plato expressed it centuries ago, “I was not born for myself alone. My country claims a part; my relations claim a part; my friends claim a part of me.”

Our influence in life begins at birth. When a new baby is expected in the home, changes are made to receive the child. Many a clergyman can testify to the remarkable spiritual growth exhibited by young couples when their first baby is born. The family is God’s university; its curriculum is inexhaustible.

Personal influence begins in that smaller world of the family. We educate each other at home in a way no school can rival; we are there prepared for the opportunities of that larger world in which we are expected to live for God the Father and our brother fellow man.

We may claim to be neutral in a matter of right and wrong, but there is no neutral ground. Jesus of Nazareth said, “He that is not with Me is against Me.” (Luke 11:23, Mark 12:30) We may say that we want more time to make up our minds . . . when what we really mean is that we want to avoid a decision. Such delays may influence someone else to postpone a commitment as well.

John Newton, the writer of some of our finest hymns and a minister of the gospel, was in early manhood a wicked person, and during that time he led another young man into sin. Years later, when Newton was pastor of a church in London, he was asked to visit a dying man.

At his bedside, Newton was asked, “Are you the John Newton who was once a midshipman on the Harwich?” The minister replied that he was.

The dying man then said, “You started me on the downward path; but it’s too late for repentance now.” John Newton never forgot that awful moment. “No man liveth to himself!”

But our influence in life may be for God and for good, if we live by faith in Him. President Woodrow Wilson once visited a barbershop where the famous evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, sat next to him. There was nothing especially pious in Moody’s conversation, yet his influence in that place was remarkable.

Wilson wrote,

I purposely lingered in the shop after Moody left and noted the singular effect his visit had had upon the barbers in that shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew that there was something about the man that elevated their thoughts. And I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.

No man liveth to himself!

A young college graduate accepted a position with a large shoe manufacturer in St. Louis. He had not been very religious at school. He had attended chapel mainly because it was required. He attended church only occasionally. Then he fell in love with a beautiful girl, a young woman with spiritual convictions. He began to change.

In St. Louis he found a boarding house where other young men were staying. His roommate had been reared in a religious home, but he had cynically drifted away from those ideals after he left home. The young college man was accustomed to saying his prayers before retiring at night; but on that first night at the rooming house he was tempted to omit them, thinking his roommate might be scornful about it. But he overcame that fear of ridicule, knelt beside his bed and said his prayers.

The effect upon his roommate was remarkable. He became convinced of his own spiritual failure and returned to the faith of his fathers. “No man liveth to himself.” More people are watching us, more people are being influenced by us, than we realize.

Our influence for good or evil outlasts even death. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” While it is undoubtedly true that the evil that men do lives after them, men’s good deeds and constructive influences also survive their earthly sojourn. The dramatist needed a contrast; so Mark Antony made a statement that could have been applied to Brutus’ speech at Caesar’s funeral, but it is not generally true.

The history of two well-documented families in America illustrates this observation. The great religious leader of Colonial America, Jonathan Edwards, had a minister father and a mother who was the daughter of a minister. Among their descendants were fourteen college presidents, more than a hundred lawyers, thirty judges, sixty doctors, more than a hundred ministers, missionaries, and professors of theology, and sixty authors. In addition to this remarkable contribution to the professional skills and to the cultural life of the United States, there is hardly any great industrial enterprise in America that has not had one of this great family among its leaders.

In contrast to the spiritual enrichment stemming from one family is the social havoc wrought in American life by another, the “Jukes” family.[1] Few of them could be induced to study or to work. As “social misfits” they cost the state of New York hundreds of thousands of dollars. Among their descendants, whose record is almost entirely one of pauperism, crime, and feeblemindedness, were three hundred professional paupers, six hundred habitual thieves, and a hundred and thirty convicted criminals. Four hundred wrecked their own lives by deeds of wickedness. Out of twelve hundred known descendants of this family, only twenty learned a trade, and half of these were in state prisons.

“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come, (1 Timothy 4:8)

A clergyman in Chicago convinced a young woman that her greatest opportunity for happiness lay in service to God; she became a missionary to Africa. There she influenced a young British officer to become a man with spiritual ideals; he later became General Edmund Allenby, whose name and fame will always be associated with the World War I campaign in Palestine and with the capture of Jerusalem.

He refused to ride into the city as a conqueror. He went on foot, as a humble pilgrim entering a holy city. That same day he found time to write a letter to the young woman whose missionary zeal had influenced him in Africa many years before. General Allenby wanted her to share in his moment of consecrated triumph.

Later he influenced another young officer named Montgomery, who became Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of World War II fame. General Montgomery’s testimony to the importance of religious ideals and moral principles has gone around the world. “No man liveth to himself.” Every man wields an influence, for good or for evil.

The ritual of Freemasonry is beautiful in expression and powerful in meaning. But the most beautiful language is meaningless unless the words are made to live in our lives, unless we practice outside the lodge those duties that are taught within it. Only as we exemplify our tenets of brotherhood and benevolence in daily “little nameless acts of unremembered love” can we give meaning to our ritual and influence to our purposes.

A woman and her teenage daughter were on their way to visit relatives in the city. A tire on the car went flat. It is difficult for a woman to change a tire on a small car, and her car was a large one. While she and her daughter were debating what to do, a man stopped and offered to help. He was a stranger to them. In a few minutes he had changed the tire and they were ready to resume their trip. The woman offered to pay for the stranger’s services, but he refused to accept anything, saying, "I’m a Mason, and we are taught to help others. It was a privilege to help you.”

“No man liveth to himself.” But when we live for others like that, we are giving meaning to the beautiful language of our ritual. We are giving influence to our ideals.

The principal of a large city school was in the hospital recently. A doctor in that town, not the educator’s own physician, recognized him as a brother. Every evening, after finishing his calls in the hospital, that doctor went into the principal’s room, chatted with him, and offered to help him in any way. “None of us liveth to himself.” But when we live to others like that, we give meaning to the beautiful symbolism of our ancient ritual. We give influence to our obligation, “to help, aid, and assist.”

Suppose kind deeds like these were multiplied by five million! Imagine the influence for good that five million brothers represent. Our ancient fraternity would certainly regain some of its lost prestige and respect.

In a recent Short Talk Bulletin Grand Master Clyde E. Hegman of Minnesota told a beautiful story of the public lamplighter in old St. Paul. As night fell, the figure of the man was gradually swallowed up by darkness; but from the flickering lights that sprang up in the distance, one could tell where he had been.

So Masons must keep lighting their lamps of brotherly love and kindness. Our good deeds must shine in the darkness of this world s fears and greed and hate, so that when we have passed on, others can tell where we have been. “No man liveth to himself.” His influence continues, for good or for evil.

My life shall touch a dozen lives
  Before this day is done —
Leave countless marks for good or ill
  Ere sets this evening’s sun.
So this the wish I always wish,
  The prayer I ever pray:
Let my life help the other lives
  It touches by the way.

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  1. ”Jukes” is a pseudonym, and subsequent research has generally discredited the original study.

The Masonic Service Association of North America