Vol. XLI No. 3 — March 1963

Be Particularly Careful

Conrad Hahn

“Be particularly careful not to recommend him."

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Among the dozen admonitions given in the charge to Entered Apprentices, the forceful negative, be careful not to, occurs twice. It is especially striking in this reference to new members.

Even before he has become a full-fledged member of the lodge, when he has just completed the first of the three steps of initiation, the candidate is told concerning a friend or acquaintance who may wish to join the Fraternity, “Be particularly careful not to recommend him, unless you are convinced he will conform to our rules.”

At the very moment that he is being congratulated on his acceptance into “this ancient and honorable order,” the new member is forcefully told not to recommend a friend for admission into Freemasonry, unless — and he is given a condition that the new Entered Apprentice is incapable of comprehending at that moment.

Certainly the new Apprentice is still in the dark about many of the rules of the Fraternity. Furthermore, he is in no position as yet to judge the qualifications of a friend or acquaintance for membership in the order. What does he really know about the ancient charges?

May this not be an example of too little teaching too soon? One of Freemasonry’s Ancient Landmarks is alluded to in this instruction, when the master says, “If, in the circle of your acquaintance you find a person desirous of being initiated into Masonry.” But the fact that the person must voluntarily seek membership is not emphasized strongly enough, either here or later, so that the initiate is not made sufficiently aware of the fact that this is one of the fundamental rules, or landmarks of the Fraternity.

One must therefore ask, "At what point does a new member acquire sufficient knowledge of the rules to enable him to judge an acquaintances desirability as a member of the Craft?”

It takes a fairly skillful and experienced player to judge another’s potential value to a team, and he must know the rules of the game rather thoroughly to determine whether the other’s playing will be an asset or a liability. One doesn’t expect a world-series winning baseball manager to put together and manage a super-bowl winning football team; his skills lie in the sport of baseball.

Just what are “the rules” referred to in the charge to an Entered Apprentice? Dare we assume that the new member knows them all because they are mentioned to him there? Such an assumption would be as logical as saying that one is an expert bridge player because one has observed Charles Goren’s television show once or twice.

At a time when the Fraternity is concerning itself about problems of membership, attendance, interest, and leadership, it seems important to “get back to fundamentals,” to evaluate, if possible, how well the Craft is maintaining those ancient rules and landmarks that mark out Freemasonry as such, and to question its programs and techniques as they become parts of the problem. “Be particularly careful not to recommend” may be just as applicable to certain “cures” for the Fraternity as to prospective members, especially if they reveal an ignorance of Freemasonry’s fundamental rules and landmarks.

If one of the problems is the lack of understanding that results from too little instruction a little too soon, the logical cure is further and more complete instruction. In spite of the scorners who believe that a Masonic lodge should be a bustling social organization that "doesn’t bore busy men with education,” a conscientious master should be particularly careful not to ignore the educational needs of his brethren, Masonically speaking. It is a master’s duty to give good and wholesome instruction to the members of his lodge.

If they are going to exercise that necessary care in recommending for membership only those who “will conform to our rules,” they must be taught the spirit and meanings of those rules, as well as the regulations themselves.

“Universal benevolence you are always to cultivate.” This is one of the “rules” of Freemasonry, but unless it is explained and illustrated by specific acts and challenging situations, such benevolence becomes universally taken for granted instead of practiced. A master might well take for himself a motto like this: “Be particularly careful not to forget some call upon the lodge for charity or relief at every meeting.”

The more the members have to go on foot and out of their way to help some needy individual, the more they will learn about the real spirit of Masonic benevolence. The annual per capita tax that a brother pays for the Masonic Home or for the charity fund is a benevolent contribution; but too often it’s paid like one’s income tax, grudgingly and without the joy that should accompany real giving. To cultivate benevolence is more than paying dues or signing a check. In like manner, it is easy to assume that the new member acquires an appreciation of the spirit of Masonic law, when as a matter of fact; he frequently fails to get even a minimum knowledge of the customs and regulations of the Fraternity. How can he be careful not to recommend a candidate, if he has no understanding of the rules of Freemasonry?

Good and wholesome instruction must include some explanation and clarification of the by-laws of the lodge and of the constitution, edicts, rules, and regulations of the grand lodge. It is not enough to present the newly made Mason with a printed copy of such Codes and law books. He should have some help in determining the whys and wherefores of the rules and regulations, especially where they are based upon or illuminate some of the so-called Landmarks of Freemasonry. This should be part of the lodge’s education program.

Every master should be careful not to let a new member remain ignorant of the Ancient Charges and Constitutions of Freemasonry, those original documents for the governing of the Craft, which explain not only what a Mason may or may not do, but also what he is and what he represents in the Builder’s scheme of things. This is the kind of legal knowledge that the new member must have if he is really going to be careful not to recommend unqualified candidates for initiation. This is the kind of understanding that every new member needs to insure his own appreciation and enjoyment of Masonic membership.

The whole aim of Freemasonry is to take a good man — one at a time — and to make him better, by inspiring him to live according to the universally accepted tenets of morality and brotherly love, such as friendship, relief, truth, temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, and civic responsibility. By the time he becomes a Master Mason, the newly admitted brother is supposed to have achieved a complete understanding of this process, for he is charged “to support the dignity of your character on every occasion.”

If that actually happened every time a man was raised to the sublime degree, there probably wouldn’t be any problems for Masonic leaders to worry about, at any rate, not the kind of problems that bother them right now.

Instead of worrying about the kind of men who are entering the west gate, worshipful masters would be hard put to find enough stimulating leaders and teachers to keep the new members satisfied that they were making real progress in a speculative art and activity. They would be busy trying to capture the essence of Masonic faith and fellowship. They would be concerned about the Light of Masonic truth and brotherhood.

Such an outcome is purely visionary. Human beings differ so widely in their tastes and inclinations that the widest extremes and varieties must be expected even in an ideal situation.

Freemasonry, however, is especially adapted for such a situation, because it insists that the individual is more important than the mass. The smoothed ashlar is Freemasonry’s real concern; the total design is in the hands of God.

Be Particularly Careful

Consequently, the individual’s moral growth is more important to the Fraternity than any nationwide or international program of public relations or influence. The sum total of any organization’s public relations is the image created by each individual member in the eyes of his immediate and distant neighbors.

If Freemasonry wants to preserve its reputation for brotherly love and good works by men of good will, it must of necessity insist on those ancient customs, laws, and landmarks that make it possible for men of various races, educational backgrounds, persuasions, and political beliefs to unite in a common purpose.

For this reason it is more than a pedagogue’s dream to suggest that it is tremendously important to teach new members the Ancient Charges and Regulations. In no other way can we make sure that each new individual will understand and apply those criteria to potential new members when he remembers the admonition to him as an Apprentice: “Be particularly careful not to recommend him, unless you are convinced that he will conform to our rules.”

And what is the purpose of that forceful negative? “That the honor, glory, and reputation of the institution may be firmly established, and the world at large convinced of its good effects.” It is the individual who makes or mars the Fraternity’s honor, glory, and reputation. It is the individual who strengthens its activities and achievements at any time or place. It is the individual who can destroy its usefulness by lack of moral growth and spiritual understanding.

It was the instinct of self-preservation that prompted our ancient brethren to say,

Be particularly careful not to recommend him, unless you are convinced that he will conform to our rules.

The Masonic Service Association of North America