MASONIC MONTHLY - 1864.
THE human species have tenanted this planet for several thousands of years. For what purpose has been this long occupancy of the earth? Has this purpose been accomplished? or does the grand result, as discernable in our day, exhibit, what may be construed, as being the accomplished purpose of human existence on this earthly sphere? These are great and grave questions, and most difficult to answer, if answerable. If the existence of mankind for a period so extended has any purpose towards itself as a total, then that purpose can scarcely yet have been achieved, so the human mind would reason, for the general condition of our race is so unequal, so wanting in its approaches to perfection, as to require many thousands of years, judging from the slow rate of our past progress, before that end, if it be the end, can be reached.
What has been accomplished by those vast movements of mankind, some of which history has recorded, others of which it has entirely passed over, towards solving the problem of human destiny? The innumerable wars, emigrations and immigrations, revolutions and reformations, destructions and reconstructions of races and societies, to what extent have these aided towards the consummation of Heaven's purpose with us? Who can give answer to these weighty queries? These questions, or kindred ones, have occupied the leading minds among men in all ages, and it will be the destiny of such minds for ages yet to come, judging from the past, still to ponder these great problems and find them still unsolved. Then what utility is there or can there be in raising such questions? We can only answer that the human mind as constituted inevitably and of some peculiar necessity propounds these riddles to itself, and it may be that in seeking to unravel them, it is securing that development of its faculties which may be a leading if not the main purpose of its existence. The Sphinx well symbolizes mankind, which is both riddle and answer combined, for as Shakespeare hath well said, "the greatest mystery to mankind is man."
But what has all this to do with Freemasonry? Has civilization any higher purpose than to furnish us with all the modern conveniences of life? - If it achieves nothing more than this, for ourselves we would prefer a little of barbarism and its more positive manners. What is the end and aim of all education ? As to the individual it is to develop him to the fullest extent in all his faculties, and as to the race, it is to elevate mankind to its highest attainable condition short of that perfection, which we do not believe possible of attainment on earth or in this life.
From the birth of the first pair of human beings until this present instant, the anxious student has been painfully poring over problem after problem with but one object, namely, hour to realize his highest ideal. Every power in church and state, lawful or unlawful, he has invoked towards this end. Often has he appealed to the sword, yet the sword has rendered him no assistance. Philosophy, science, art, religion, every institution that ever existed has been in turn appealed to with this ever present purpose in view, and every institution has been weighed in the balances and pronounced either competent to assist or found wanting in ability to assist towards this continual aim.
Whatever answer may be given to the questions with which we started, it does seem to us that the worthiest object which mankind can seek is its own highest happiness both here and here-after, and that this is only attainable through the development of all our faculties both individually and socially to their fullest extent. Whether or not in following this object we are in the dark as to the proper purpose of our existence on earth, as individuals or as a race, here we have an object worth pursuing; here we have an end in view, however distant, yet worth living for and striving for. Further, we think it fair to judge of the value of every human institution, whether in church or state, by the amount of service it can render to us towards the promotion of this grand aim. In whatever particular, the church, the state, the college, the literary society, civilization itself in any of its departments, fails to help us, or succeeds in hindering us in our progress, as to that particular, we may safely and properly pronounce each and all of them defective and in need of reform and improvement.
Among the institutions which mankind has tried, none has longer been sustained, none has tested his patience more thoroughly than Freemasonry. More ancient than the oldest of existing governments, older than the oldest of churches extant, Freemasonry has maintained its life among men. By what peculiar property has been secured this wonderful freedom from that death and decay which has overtaken and obliterated so many of the institutions of antiquity? Must there not be in the system of Freemasonry a wonderful adaptation to the wants of man through all ages and under all circumstances to secure this unparalleled perpetuation of itself? Through storm and sunshine, from under the frowns of the mighty, and out of persecutions as severe as have overtaken any institution, it has descended to us from the remotest antiquity, and now in this day it exhibits as much life and vigor, if not greater vitality and force than ever before in its history.
"What has Freemasonry to do with the great problem of human progress to which we have alluded? What is a lodge? The ancient charges answer "a lodge is a place where Masons assemble and work." What is their work? Whatever tends to benefit mankind, whatever tends to its elevation, whatever is promotive of human progress in all its phases, is true Mason's work. - Never in all history has it been ranged on the side of tyrants against the people, never has it aided superstition and priestcraft in their warfare against freedom of thought, but, always allied with the friends of humanity, ever devoted to the inextinguishable light of truth and fraternity, it has been one with the life of mankind itself, and therefore imperishable. "Progress," the poet sings, "is the rule of all," and if this progress be among the purposes of our race here below, then is Masonry intimately associated with human destiny, and has its glorious work in the world.
Masonry has been variously defined as an art and a science, and as a system of morality veiled in allegory. Masonry is all these, and more than these. It is one of the worthily working institutions of the world. It is one of the few institutions among men which has a work to do, in harmony with that progressive development of humanity which seems to be the great purpose of existence, and appears to be becoming more and more important as one of the instrumentalities by which that development is being affected.
And how does Masonry accomplish its work? By a process as old as the oldest lodge Freemasonry is sifting community and selecting such material as is calculated for the labors of the Craft. This material is then led through an impressive initiation, passed and raised to the grade of Master, and, in the language of the Ancient Charge, made to feel "the benign influence of Masonry, as all true Masons have done from the beginning of the world, and will do to the end of time." Masonry accomplishes its work by taking hold of good men and making them better, by giving them an ideal and an aspiration which would lead them ever upward from the lowest, even to the highest round of that ladder, symbolical of all the virtues, whose bottom rests on the earth but whose top reacheth unto the heavens.
To the lodges one word in conclusion would we add - see to it that ye turn out nothing but true Mason-work.