Vol. XXXIX No. 9 — September 1961

The First Lesson

Dr. William Moseley Brown, PGM

This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of the distinguished author and Freemason, Dr. William Moseley Brown, M.W. past grand master of Masons in Virginia.

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Early in the monitorial lecture of the Entered Apprentice Degree the candidate is brought face to face with the following words:

The tenets of our profession, are brotherly love, relief, and truth.

Truth is a divine attribute and the foundation of every virtue; to be good men and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry. On this theme we contemplate and by its dictates endeavor to regulate our conduct. . . .

Many years ago Dr. Elliott, a college professor of almost unlimited erudition and experience and with a corresponding point of view, asked a class of adult students the universal question: “What is TRUTH?” Most of them gave their individual definitions, each somewhat different from the others; but none satisfied him. After some time it appeared that the knowledge of the entire group with the exception of the professor himself had been exhausted. Dr. Elliott had a quizzical and rather dissatisfied look while everyone else regarded him intently. Then, after some moments of silence, as if he were pondering his words deeply and using not one unnecessary word, he answered his own query — as well as that of everyone else since the beginning of time — “TRUTH is what is as it is!”

For no man is this definition more important than for the Master Mason.

Said the great H. L. Haywood on this important subject:

No TRUTH, for such is the nature of TRUTH itself, can be any man’s private property, or be owned or monopolized by anybody; it is in its own essence something free, something that any man can have who desires to have it. TRUTH is one of the three principal tenets of Freemasonry. There are many truths in Freemasonry; some of them were first discovered and stated by Freemasons, but not one of them is the exclusive property of Freemasonry. No TRUTH can be anybody’s private property; and the mere fact that a TRUTH is found in Freemasonry cannot mean that it differs from the same TRUTH when found outside it; and if a TRUTH is found outside Freemasonry, in any religion, in any science, in any country, Freemasons know themselves to be as free to know and to use it as they desire.

Then TRUTH, as one of the principal tenets, is not a philosophic idea, or a scientific idea, but an ethical idea, and this idea means that any righteous man will never try to make any TRUTH his own property or the property of his own fraternity, or church, or party; and will never try to prevent any other man from having any TRUTH. This is what a righteous man does about TRUTH: he will keep it wholly free, he will never do violence to it, he will never misrepresent it, and he will never try to keep any other man from having it.

If we realize the meaning of this statement, which is, after all, but an expansion of the definition given by Dr. Elliott, we shall, as members of the greatest fraternity on earth, never again use the word TRUTH carelessly or bandy it about as so many of us do. We shall see that TRUTH is just about synonymous with the Name of the Supreme Architect of the Universe. Any disrespect for the one, therefore, signifies exactly the same disrespect for the other. And the opposite also is bound to be the fact: Any respect and honor for TRUTH means respect and honor for GOD Himself.

Let us see how this concept of TRUTH leads us to certain conclusions when we consider its implications. First, let us consider TRUTH and Man’s responsibility,

Man’s sole responsibility in this world is to discover, and to ascertain, and to know the TRUTH. He becomes free from the ignorance that binds and hampers him only in proportion to his knowledge of the TRUTH. Man’s ability to penetrate outer space depended on his discovery of certain scientific truths, or principles. Man’s ability to five harmoniously on this planet depends on the discovery and application of certain universal truths, or principles, concerning man’s behavior and aspirations.

Responsibility means, of course, answerableness, and it becomes more and more possible for us to formulate the answer to our problems as we become aware of the TRUTH about them. When men suppress the truth about their problems, the answers that they formulate are false and lead to trouble.

The very fact of life itself means that man is responsible for its quality as well as its objectives. We cannot at will determine its length, but we must and do determine its aim and its quality. It is well known that some men five more in an hour than others do in a year or a span of years. Living intensively is the key phrase here.

We come inevitably to the conclusion that the TRUTH of God’s creation is a measure of the TRUTH by which each problem is solved. In itself wrong is simply a lack of TRUTH, a lack of adjustment, a negative condition. Man’s greatest “sinfulness” is his ignorance. Is this not the real fault with the world and mankind today? Poverty and greed are the most powerful forces that induce men to remain in ignorance. Fear is the greatest enemy of TRUTH.

The laws of Mathematics are founded, obviously, on principles that few of us would care to dispute or contest.

The man who digs a well or builds a wall must use a “plumb” (“plummet”) to make both “true,” as we say.

A bridge must be constructed truly. The builder must “obey” the laws of mathematics and of physics.

Hence, a man’s word must be as good as his bond. Under present conditions in the world, is it? Yet the laws of harmony in living require it continually.

The very Foundation Stone (or, as we call it in Freemasonry, the cornerstone) of the Fraternity is TRUTH, and no enduring success can be achieved without it.

One of the most often used synonyms for TRUTH is Perfection, which means as we employ it, “spiritual reality.”

TRUTH is always right, and it is likewise unchangeable. Is this not what we long for in this ever-changing world in which we live? It cannot be altered to fit the opinions or beliefs or desires of men. Wishful thinking cannot vary it one iota.

Perfection is the final goal toward which “the whole creation moves.” In it “is no darkness at all.”

TRUTH thus becomes the divine emancipator that liberates man from spiritual and mental darkness. It is a necessary precondition of light. Every Mason recalls that point in the ritual that states: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was fight.” (Genesis 1:3)

We can never really understand the meaning of TRUTH until we know what GOD is, because it is the vision that we perceive through spiritual insight, the unchangeable principle that controls the universe.

Man changes; TRUTH does not.

TRUTH comes from GOD; the TRUTH is GOD.

Life, on the other hand, is continually changing and getting out of adjustment. But even change proceeds from aspects of the TRUTH, which man, finds too disquieting to recognize.

Principle, on the other hand, remains. Sometimes we call it Law. And there is always the LAW OF TRUTH, to which we may conform.

Let us know, therefore, that TRUTH is always the unchangeable criterion, by which our lives must be measured and tried. Let it not be said of us in the final judgment: “Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:27) Let not our fellows be compelled to make this same judgment of us when we are gone.

What is the inevitable conclusion to which we must come before it is too late? We must adopt the habit of welcoming the Light of TRUTH.

A recent speaker on a Masonic occasion called attention to these objectives of Freemasonry:

  1. Preservation of liberty: spiritual, mental, and material.
  2. Perpetuation of justice.
  3. Defense of the dignity of the individual.

This means that we must be inevitably and unalterably opposed to any ideology that replaces liberty with tyranny, that substitutes injustice for justice, and that seeks the destruction of the dignity of the individual personality. We must become steadfast adherents of all movements that have as their goals the rights of free men, the TRUTH about our destinies as nations, races, groups, and individuals. But, what is just as important, we must know the earmarks of TRUTH at all times and in all places.

In 1923 J. S. M. Ward foresaw this in propounding his views in Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals. He wrote, at a period when few of his countrymen shared his thoughts:

Then in truth shall dawn the day of which the poet Tennyson sang: “That last and greatest empire, the federation of the world.” Yea, a federation of the world, not of the sort envisioned by the conquering war lords, or the scheming politicians, but a federation of the Spirit founded on those sure foundations — brotherly love, relief, and truth.

This, then, is the mission of Freemasonry — to aid the weak, to love all, and teach the TRUTH concerning the nature of God and the soul of man.

And with this glimpse of the Vision Splendid I lay aside my pen. Must it remain but a vision, and must man and his civilizations go down through anguish, toil, and war to their inevitable destruction? I will not believe it. Freemasonry has not survived the wreck of mighty empires and the corroding hand of time merely to serve as a pleasant social center where men can escape from the worries of their home lives. Neither has it spread throughout the length and breadth of the whole world for no other purpose than to work a stately ritual and provide an excuse for eating a good dinner.

Nay, it has a loftier mission, and on us falls the responsibility, and to us comes the great glory, of taking one more step, which will complete the task and solve the age-old problem of how to save mankind.

Therefore to all true Masons throughout the world I send forth the message:

Let us to our task while it is yet day, for the night cometh when no man can work. Step by step we can reach our goal, and though we ourselves may not live to see the day of attainment, yet if we play our part now we shall thereby make certain the final triumph.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

What is the only possible alternative in our time? It is for every loyal Freemason to be a confirmed optimist, and to hope and pray with all his powers unto God that, in the fiery furnace of men’s greed, passions, and selfishness, the nations of the earth shall be molten and welded unto one people, whose unyielding objective shall be to become “the kingdom of God and to realize in man the image of the master.” Otherwise we shall meet with that eternal destruction, from which in the atomic age, in the space age, and in the supersonic age, there shall be no escape — and the hour is always later than we think. Let me suggest this as every Freemason’s motto today — now. “Let us work as if all depended upon us, let us pray as if all depended upon God.” (Charles Spurgeon)

The Masonic Service Association of North America