SHORT TALK BULLETIN
Vol. VI No. 4 — April 1928
The common gavel, used by operative Masons to break off the corners of rough stones, is in Speculative Freemasonry a symbol of power. The twenty-four inch gauge is an instrument used by operative Masons to measure and lay out their work, but in speculative Freemasonry we are taught by its symbolism to divide our time into three equal parts, whereby are found eight hours for refreshment and sleep, eight for our usual vocation and eight for the service of God and humanity. There is an object in view and an end attained. It is therefore, a symbol of purpose.
Power is the ability to act so as to produce change and cause events. Purpose is the idea or object kept before the mind as an end of effort or action.
Modern science has uncovered so much power that thoughtful men fear it will work for the destruction of civilization unless a commensurate humane purpose is developed for its direction. The day and generation in which we live pulsates with power, the world is held in place by dynamic appositions, the universe is vibrant with force and man is a part of the Divine energy. The greatest thing in God's created universe is man. In him, according to the teachings of Freemasonry, is the Eternal Flame, the indestructible image of the living God. The power of man cannot be defined, cannot be fenced in, because it transcends all finite standards of measurement.
Power directed by a bad purpose is positive destruction. Alexander the Great was the most powerful man of antiquity. With an Army of 35,000 men he flung himself against a Persian horde of over one million. He conquered the world, but could not master himself. Intent on lust and luxury, dissipation and destruction, his purposes were bad, and at the age of forty-two he died in a drunken fit.
Charles the First of England insisted on the Divine right of Kings. He had his courts decree that the King could do no wrong, he filled the Tower of London with political prisoners, tortured and decapitated his enemies, claimed the right of life and death over his subjects. and exercised the unlimited power of an absolute monarch. His purposes were bad, and under Oliver Cromwell his career was canceled, the executioner swung his axe and the head of Charles the First rolled in the dust.
These were unusual men occupying exceptional positions, but the power of destruction is terrific in the most ordinary life. Czolgocz, the Polish anarchist, was a man of low order in the social scale; without wealth, without influence and without education; from the casual viewpoint ignorant, insignificant and weak. His mind was a breeding ground of crazy purposes, but he had sufficient destructive power to shoot William McKinley and assassinate the Chief Magistrate of the greatest nation on earth.
Power directed by a good purpose is constructive, and results in achievement. It keeps the cars on the tracks and the wires in the air; it turns the wheels of man's industry and carries the commerce of continents as upon a mighty shoulder.
Warren Hastings was born in 1832; his mother was a servant girl who died when the baby was two days old; his father deserted him, so he grew up as a charity child. He had a hungry mind and obtained an education as best he could. When eighteen years of age he shipped for India, working for his own passage. He had a purpose in his life and there came a power that enabled him to establish the Bengal Asiatic Society, to found colleges out of his own funds and in his own name. Disraeli and English supremacy in India was the direct result of this man's work. Today the memory of Warren Hastings is linked with the greatness of the British Empire,
David Livinston was a humble Scotchman, the son of a weaver and himself a worker at the spinning wheel. Into his soul there came a great purpose of life, and he went to South Africa as a missionary. He was frail of body, never physically strong, but with a purpose there came to him a power to brave danger and endure privations. For a period of twenty years he blazed a trail of light through a dark continent, destroyed the slave trade in Negroes, and convinced the world that the salvation of Africa was a white man's job. In that commission he surrendered his life on his knees in supplication to God. His body was carried thousands of miles by a black man through jungles, over rivers, across land and seas; last summer at West Minster Abbey I stood before his mortal remains buried and honored in the sepulcher of Kings.
In his early manhood Abraham Lincoln stood before a slave market in New Orleans. Upon the block was a young woman, stripped to the waist. He heard the auctioneer describe her fine points and estimate her value. He became conscious, not simply of a black form, but a life divinely given. His soul responded to the challenge of a supreme purpose and he said: "If I have a chance to strike this institution I will strike it hard." Through the years there came to him the power to blaze out the path and light up the way for a new baptism of human freedom, finally to seal that purpose with a martyr's blood and ascend to the throne of God with four million broken fetters in his hands. Now the whole world joins in a myriad-voiced chorus of love and honor to his memory. In every land and under every clime he is exalted and glorified as a mighty champion of human rights.
History preserves in the clear amber of immortality the record of men, who, set on fire by some sublime purpose and dedicate the power of their lives to its prosecution.
The lesson is definite and practical. The twenty-four inch gauge and the common gavel speak to every Mason the language of constructive purpose and personal power. They mean that a Mason should cherish his ideals, the beauty that forms in his mind, the music that stirs in his heart, the glory that drapes his purest purpose, for out of these things he has the power to build for himself and a new world in which to live.
The Level is an instrument used by operative Masons to prove horizontals. It is trite to say that it is a symbol of equality. The Declaration of American Independence proclaims that all men are "Created Equal." With most of us this is a glittering generality, born of the fact that we are all made of the same dust, share a common humanity and walk on the level of time until the grim democracy of death blots out all distinctions, and the scepter of the prince and the staff of the beggar are laid side by side.
It is apparent that men are not equal, and cannot be equal either in brain or brawn. There is no common mold by which humanity can be reduced to a dead level. The world has various demands requiring different powers; brains to devise great and important undertakings; seers to dream dreams and behold visions; hands to execute the designs laid down upon the Trestleboard; scientists to adorn the mind and reveal the glories of the universe; poets to inspire the soul and play music on human heart strings; pioneers to blaze out the path, and prophets to light up the way to a land where the rainbow never fades.
The equality of which the Level is a symbol is one of right and not one of gift and endowment. It stands for the equal right of every man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the equal right of every man to be free from oppression in the development of his own faculties. It means the destruction of special privilege and arbitrary limitation.
Freemasonry presided over the birth of our Republic and by the skill of its leaders wrote into organic law of this land the immutable truth of which the Level is a symbol. In a Masonic Lodge George Washington was taught that the Level is a symbol of equality. In the darkest hour of the Colonial cause, the soldiers, in a moment of despair and desperation, would have placed on Washington's head the crown of a King. Hayden says, "The overthrow of the rump of Parliament by Cromwell, the breaking up of the imbecile directory by Napoleon were difficult tasks compared to the ease with which the divided Continental Congress could have been dispersed." Washington was not fighting for Royal Rank, nor for coronation. As a champion of human rights, he was fighting for exact justice and equality of opportunity, and so the kingship and the crown were rejected with indignation and contempt.
I remember reading a story of the great flood that came upon the Ohio. In the gray of the morning some men saw a house floating down the river and on its top a human being. Going to the rescue, they found a woman whose life they wished to save, but she said, "No! In this house I have three dead babies I will not desert; I am going out with them." To most of us that act would verge on the immorality of suicide; to her it was the expression of a mother's love deeper than despair and death; her conduct corresponded with her conscience. We cannot place ourselves in her circumstances and in charity should refrain from judgment.
Jean Valjan was a great hulk of a man, young and strong, ignorant and big hearted, tramping the streets of Paris in search of work, trying to care for a widowed sister and her family of seven little ones. There was no work to be had. He could not bear to hear the voices of starving children so he came home late at night, thinking they would be sleep. But hunger gnawed, and when he came in they were wide-awake and cried, Oh Uncle Jean, have you any work? Oh, Uncle Jean, we are so hungry!" Madness seized the man; he went to the nearest bakery, broke the window and stole a loaf of bread. Jean was arrested and sent to Toulon as a galley slave. In the eyes of the law he had committed the immoral act of theft. But his eyes saw pinched-up faces, his ears heard cries of hunger and, regardless of consequences, his conduct corresponded with his conscience in a deed of moral heroism.
Back of all the temporary circumstances and conditions of men and transitory moral codes evolved by human minds are certain positive standards of morality which the Divine Intelligence has impressed upon every particle of matter and every pulsation of energy. They are the same for all mankind, regardless of place, time, race or religion. Of these standards the try square is the Masonic mouthpiece. Freemasonry is defined as a beautiful system of morality.
It is a woven tapestry of great moral principles and purposes. Whenever a Mason fails to live up to the best that is in him, whenever he blots out the Divine light of his conscience, whenever he is recreant to right as God gives him to see the right, he is false to the trying square of his profession, for by this symbol Freemasonry teaches a morality that masters manners, molds mind and makes mighty manhood.
The plumb is an instrument used by operative Masons to try perpendiculars. In speculative Freemasonry it is a symbol of righteousness, that is, an upright life before God and man. It has been said that, in the art of building, accuracy is integrity. If a wall not be perpendicular, as tested by the plumb line, it is a menace to the stability of the structure. Likewise if a Mason is ignorant of this symbol as an active principle in his life, he is a danger to the standing of the Fraternity in the community where he lives.
Righteousness is not a sanctimonious word. It means rectitude of conduct, integrity of character, and deathless devotion to the truth. The Psalmist asked, "Lord, who shall abide in Thy Tabernacle?" and this was his answer: "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness and speaketh the truth in his heart." When correctly understood, the truth symbolized by the Plumb constitutes a challenge to courage.
In the sixteenth century Giordano Bruno taught a plurity of words; for this he was accused of heresy. He was tried, convicted and imprisoned in a dungeon for seven years. He was offered his liberty if he would recant, but Bruno refused to stain the sanctity of his soul by denying that which he believed to be true. He was taken from his cell and led to the place of his execution, clad in a robe on which representations of devils had been painted. He was chained to a stake, about his body wood was piled, fagots were lighted and on the spot in Rome where a monument now stands to his memory he was consumed by the flames. Without the hope of heaven or the fear of hell he suffered death for the naked truth that was in him.
The Great Light of Freemasonry contains this promise: "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance." Men of tremendous power, men of creative genius have passed into oblivion, but the righteousness of pure and noble character, of unselfish and Divinely inspired life finds perpetuation in the clear amber of immortality. Of the righteousness the Plumb is a symbol in Freemasonry.
Unrighteousness has wrought the destruction of peoples and civilizations, but "Righteousness exalteth a nation." Symbols are not academic playthings, they are intended to provoke and sustain thought.
Fellowcraft Working Tools present to the mind basic ideas of equality, morality and righteousness.
All the implements of Masonry are assigned to the use of the Master Mason. The principal one is the Trowel, an instrument used by operative Masons to spread the cement which unites the building into one common mass. In Speculative Freemasonry it is a symbol of brotherhood.
Paul stood on the Mars Hill and said to the Athenians, "God hath made of one blood every nation of men." That is not an expression of sentiment but the announcement of a fact, whether men desire or deny it, whether men cherish it in their hearts or crucify it. Man's ignorance does not change the laws of nature nor vary their irresistible march. God's laws vindicate themselves; they crush all who oppose and break into pieces everything that is not in harmony with their purpose. In the light of this truth it can be safely asserted that no nation, no civilization can long endure which does violence to the Divine fact of human brotherhood. Fraternity is the basis of all important movements for the common good and the general welfare of society.
Freemasonry has been called a "society of friends and brothers employing symbols to teach the truth." The Trowel is a Masonic symbol of love, and with it we are to spread the cement of brotherly affection. Next to faith in God, the greatest landmark in Freemasonry is the "Brotherhood of Man." We call each other "Brother," but we sometimes fail to realize that brotherhood is a reciprocal relationship. It means that if I am to be a brother to you, then you must be a brother to me. It is exceedingly practical; is it not only for grateful gifts and happy hours, but for use when the soul is sad, when the heart is pierced and pained, when the road is rough and rugged, and the way seems desolate and dreary.
The sentiment of brotherhood in a man's heart is a futile thing unless he can find avenues for its external expression. So far as I have been able to discover, there are three such avenues.
The first is sympathy. Not intellectual sympathy that passes by on the other side of the street and expresses sorrow, but a red-blooded sympathy that lifts a man up who has fallen down and speaks the light of a new hope into his face. Dr. Hillis said that sympathy is the measure of a man's intellectual power. Sympathy is more than this; it is a measure of a man's heartthrob and soul vision. The great painters, poets, preachers, physicians and patriots whose names illuminate the pages of history, excelled their contemporaries in this one quality of human sympathy.
The second avenue is service. I have read somewhere, most likely in one of the writings of Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, a statement that all over the vast Temple of Freemasonry, from foundation stone to the highest pinnacle, is inscribed in letters of living light the Divine truth that labor is love, that work is worship and that not indolence but industry is the crowning glory of a man's life whether he be rich or poor. In all the annals of human progress the men who have accomplished works which have lived after them, which have come up through cycles of time a blessing to succeeding generations, had not before their eyes Gold or Fame, or Selfish aims or Sordid gain; but had hung upon the walls of their minds great ideals of human service to which they remained devoted until the light faded and the day closed.
The third avenue is sacrifice, the most radiant word in the history of our race. The sacrifices of father and mother for the education of the child, the sacrifices of son and daughter for the old folks back home, the sacrifices of the patriot for the homeland and the Flag, the sacrifices of the great servants of humanity; have through the ages made music in the souls of men. He who would take sacrifice out of human life would steal from maternity its sacred sweetness, expunge the wrinkles from the face of Abraham Lincoln, and obliterate the stripes of red in our National Flag.
Every advance in civilization involves a victim.
Before the progress of the world stands an Altar and on it a sacrifice.
Back in the centuries Socrates, with a cup of hemlock poison to his lips, offered himself upon the Altar of human sacrifice for the Divine right of liberty in man.
The words of Patrick Henry before the Virginia Assembly: "The next gale that blows from the north will bring to our ears the resounding clash of arms. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death," lifted the soul of Colonial America up to the coronation of a supreme sacrifice and made this Republic of the West a possibility.
In the world crisis, American soldiers and sailors, as the champions of civilization, laid their all, their hopes, their aspirations, their ambitions, their home ties and affections upon the altar of human sacrifice to insure our National safety, defend our National honor, and vindicate the ideals of American independence on the battlefields of Flanders and France.
In a little country school I was taught that our National Flag stands for the graves of men and the tears of women, for untrammeled conscience and free institutions, for sacred memories and great ideals; that is red stands for the blood that bought it, it white for the purity of the motive that caused it to be shed, its blue for loyalty ascending to the sky, and its stars for deeds of bravery brighter than the stars of a faultless night. But when I think of George Washington and Gen. Joseph Warren, and Capt. John Paul Jones, and that heroic band of Masonic patriots in the American Revolution, and cast the utility of out Craft against the background of its history, I can see its stripes of red baptized in the sacrificial blood of our Fraternity, and its stars of glory illuminated by the deathless light that shines from a Masonic Altar.
In Freemasonry we are familiar with the ancient drama of sacrifice made in the name of faith, fortitude and fidelity.
These three; sympathy, service and sacrifice are the avenues for the external expression of the sentiment of brotherhood in man's heart.
In proportion as we are inspired by this ideal and use these avenues of expression, our Fraternity will contribute to human good and happiness, and answer the end of its institution.
Tools have been called "The evangelists of a new day."
They are teachers not less than college and cathedral. Just as the Twenty-four inch Gauge and Common Gavel stand for purpose and power; the Level, Square and Plumb present basic ideas of equality, morality and righteousness; so the Trowel is Freemasonry's symbol of unity and brotherhood among men.