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What Does Freemasonry Stand For?
John T. Thorp

Freemasonry, as we know it to-day, is so complex so many-sided, so varied in its activities, presents itself in so many different ways, may be viewed from so many different stand-points, that it is well, now and again, to ask the question — "What does Freemasonry really stand for?" and endeavour to find some answer to the question, in order that we may ascertain its position in human society, and properly estimate the influence for good which it has exerted — and still exerts — in this great and wonderful world in which we live.

I think it may be taken for granted, that Freemasonry does not present itself in exactly the same manner to any two Masons. Each one has probably a slightly different idea of what it is generally, and of what it means especially to him. To one man the outer aspect is the most prominent and the most important, the Lodge and its activities taking the first place in his regard; to another it is the inner meaning of Freemasonry, the spirit that underlies all the outward forms and ceremonies, which appeals most strongly, and which fascinates him most intensely.

To some the Lodge is a haven of rest, whither they may retire for an hour's quiet, from the rush and turmoil of everyday life, and I know of no better place for the proper restoration of body and mind, except perhaps some sacred edifice, than an orderly, well-regulated and harmonious Masonic Lodge. To others Freemasonry affords an opportunity for social intercourse, for the making and strengthening of human friendships, and indeed, no truer friends can be found anywhere, than those which may be obtained by a judicious selection from the members of the Masonic fraternity. To others, again, it is the symbolism of Freemasonry which proves the most attractive. They find in the Masonic ritual and ceremonial ample food for thought and reflection, which prompts them to apply the tenets and principles therein inculcated, to their own betterment and for the uplift of those among whom they live and labour.

But whilst this diversity is apparent to every Mason, there are certain features, certain principles, certain distinguishing characteristics, which are perhaps not evident to all, but which, when pointed out, are acknowledged by all and appeal to all, and it is to a few of these that your attention is here directed.

Freemasonry stands for many things besides Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, although these must ever occupy an important place in its activities, as the Grand Principles upon which the Order is founded. Indeed, the beneficent work and influence of Freemasonry may now be seen in very many spheres of life and labour, and the Masons have left numerous marks in the world besides those made with mallet and chisel. For it may be truly said, that there is no Society in the universe, except perhaps those that are of a purely religious character, whose influence is as world-wide, and whose ramifications are as extensive, as those of the Society of Freemasons, or whose fundamental principles are as noble, as beautiful, as sublime, as those upon which the Brotherhood of Masons is established.

Amongst other things. Freemasonry stands for Patriotism, the love of one's native land, devotion to its interest and welfare and a determination to spend one's-self in its service if necessary. Those who possess this Masonic virtue to the fall are willing to sacrifice all personal interest, to go out and do all that is possible to establish and maintain the rights of their native land, against any other power whatever, whether it be the internal power of corruption in high or low places, or the power of a foreign aggressor. Masonry has ever stood for that kind of patriotism and, we believe, will ever stand for it.

Freemasonry stands for Tolerance for the opinions and views of others, for each one has a perfect inalienable right to form his own opinion, and to hold it tenaciously. It demands mutual respect for each other's feelings, mutual regard for each other's rights, mutual desire for each other's welfare, and mutual regret for each other's misfortunes.

It stands for Equality, for there is probably no more democratic body in the world than the Masonic fraternity, alike in its constitution, laws and government. It draws its members from every rank, and from every honourable occupation in which men engage, while every Installed Master and Warden can vote annually for a Grand Master, and even the youngest Entered Apprentice has a voice in the annual election of a Master for his Own Lodge.

Freemasonry stands for a Self-respecting Manhood, a manhood that rejoices in its freedom, while knowing and accepting willingly the limitations and responsibilities which freedom brings.

It stands for Friendship, for all mankind, no matter what country, language or colour, provided only that, upon examination or inquiry, they are found to be good men and true, obedient to the moral law, and observant of the golden rule.

Freemasonry claims Civil and Religious Liberty for all men. Perhaps in no respect has the Masonic influence been exerted in days gone by to better and nobler purpose, than in the age-long struggle for liberty and freedom in the world. The Masons were ever champions of the oppressed individual, people and nation, and for centuries past every movement which has had for its object the emancipation of mankind from every form of tyranny, whether civil or religious, has received encouragement and support from the members of the Masonic fraternity. The consistent Mason will never be found engaged in plots or conspiracies against any government based upon the Masonic principles of liberty and equal rights. But (declares Albert Pike, the great American Freemason), "with tongue and pen, with all our open and secret influence, with the purse, and if need be, with our personal service, we will strive to advance the cause of human progress, labour to enfranchise human thought, to give freedom to the human conscience, and equal rights to the people everywhere. Wherever a nation struggles to be free from an intolerable tyranny of either body or soul, wherever the human mind asserts its independence, and people demand their inalienable rights, there shall go, not only our warmest sympathies, but also our personal help."

Again, Freemasonry stands for a true 'Brotherhood. This is one of the words which to-day is on everybody's lips. There is a universal craving, a deepseated urgent longing for a real, genuine Brotherhood of Peoples, which shall promote and establish good-will, peace and harmony in this sorely troubled world. Now Freemasonry stands for Brotherhood, both within and without the Order. But what do w-e mean by Brotherhood, and what does it involve? It means putting on one side the primary thought of self, and ceasing to struggle exclusively for our own individual interest and welfare—recognising that others have rights as well as ourselves. It means that we acknowledge it as a duty to others, to act upon the square in all our dealings with them, never to take advantage of their ignorance to our own profit, but to deal with them in as honest and straightforward a manner, as we would wish others in similar circumstances to deal with us, ever remembering that we are all members of one family, whose father is the G.A. of the U. Brotherhood means that we must be just, but must temper justice with mercy, that we must be merciful, but must supplement mercy with justice. Brotherhood involves taking the Masonic Principles, inculcated and nourished in the quiet, serene atmosphere of the Lodge, out into the busy world, right into the turmoil of the daily life of humanity, and promptly and intelligently applying them to the uplift of the needy, the oppressed and the downcast, by assisting the weary to carry their heavy burdens, by raising those who have been beaten down in the battle of life, by bringing hope to those who have lost what little hope they once had, and by directing some rays of warm and cheery sunshine upon all who sit in the darkness. True Brotherhood is all this, and it is more, infinitely more, for when Brotherhood and Charity encompass the earth, then indeed will the true spirit of Freemasonry prevail, and humanity be well on its way to ultimate perfection.

Freemasonry stands for Systematic Benevolence. Benevolence may not be a natural feeling of the human heart. By nature man is more prone to be selfish than generous, more inclined to get for himself than to give to others, more ready to claim help from others than to sacrifice himself on their behalf. But from our very first introduction into Freemasonry, the duty, the necessity, the praiseworthiness of systematic giving is so constantly impressed upon us, that at length Benevolence and Charity have come to be considered the distinguishing characteristics of a Freemason's heart. Although the Order is not, strictly speaking, a Benevolent Society, yet Benevolence is really the very breath of its nostrils, while Freemasonry and Charity are almost synonymous terms. It is, I think, an indisputable fact, that no organised body of persons, of equal numbers, gives or has of late years given so much time and money, towards charitable and philanthropic objects, as the Freemasons of English-speaking Grand Lodges. There are no institutions anywhere, which can put into the shade those established by the Masonic fraternity, and supported by the Brethren with a generosity which knows no bounds save those of prudence. Nor is the benevolence of the Brethren by any means confined to what are designated "the Masonic Charities," but recognising the duty of helping all who are in want and distress, the Masons' charity breaks down every barrier of nation, language, colour or creed, and flows in a generous stream even to the very ends of the earth.

Freemasonry exemplifies the Dignity of Labour. The whole of our ritual and ceremonial has always been, and still is, referred to and spoken of as "work." The duties of the Master and his officers, which are carried out in the regular routine of a Lodge, are as truly their "work," as "squaring stones" and building churches was the work of the Masons of long ago. We are proud to acknowledge our descent from the operative masons of centuries past, who beautified and adorned the world with many stately and superb edifices, and we still retain the outward and visible sign of our connection with them, in the apron which we wear. For although we decorate and adorn it with ribbons and emblems, almost out of all recognition, we would ever remember that its foundation and basis is the leather apron of the worker, the badge of the man who does things. Labour is honourable in all men, and the aprons we wear as Masons are the outward symbol and expression of our faith in work, and our participation therein, for without work there would be no progress, all arts and crafts would stand still and die. The world would then be no place for living folk, for an idle world would be a dead world.

Freemasonry stands for a Simple Religious Faith. We have but one dogma, a belief in God, but this is so firmly established as the principal foundation stone of the Brotherhood, that no one can ever be admitted a member of an English speaking Lodge, without a full and free acceptance thereof. In all references to the Diety, God is reverently spoken of as the G.A. of the U., the creating and preserving power of all things in heaven and earth, the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent father of all mankind. Upon this foundation stone we construct a simple religious faith, viz., the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the Immortality of the Soul, — simple but all-sufficient. By reason of this simple creed. Freemasonry has been able to attract as members of the Order, adherents of every religious faith in the world, Christians, Jews, Hindoos, Mohammedans, Parsees, Buddhists and others are freely admitted to the Fraternity — atheists alone being rigidly excluded. If any member of the Order honestly acknowledges his faith in a Supreme Being, whose law is his guide, and to whom he looks up for inspiration and guidance in all times of difficulty, danger and doubt, and strives honestly to live by his faith, we care not what the other articles of his creed may be, for we believe that when summoned from this sublunary abode, he will be received into the all-perfect, glorious and celestial Lodge above, for he will, by his life, have made of earth the porch-way entrance into heaven.

Freemasonry stands for a "Bright Outlook on Life. If looked at aright, the Masonic allegory of the Master's death is an incentive to keep a bright outlook in all the chequered experiences of life. In all our changing circumstances, whatever inspires hope and courage, and enables us to face all the problems of life with a quiet mind and an enduring fortitude, should be welcomed with gratitude and thankfulness. And the Master Mason's degree, properly viewed will, I think, be a means of lessening the anxieties of life, and inspiring us with an abundant hope. We see, in our beautiful Masonic Allegory, the Master smitten, the Builder slain, the work arrested, and the emblems of mortality in evidence. But at the close there is the sprig of acacia, the emblem of immortality, and a promise of final reunion. In the gloom there is grief and distress, but afterwards there come joy and exultation. Now Freemasonry stands for a bright outlook. It teaches that in men there is something that cannot die, that this "something" is akin to the divine, that it can be given the rule of a man during his earthly pilgrimage, and that it is the purpose of Freemasonry to discover and to crown this divine element in human life. Call it by what name you please, it is the life of the G. A. of the U. in the soul of man, lived in the bounds of rime and space, and under human conditions. Of all this the sprig of acacia is the symbol. Should not these thoughts, deeply rooted in the mind, enable us to keep life's horizon bright?

And lastly, but by no means of least importance, Freemasonry stands for the exercise of Faith, Hope and Charity, the three cardinal virtues in the Freemasons' creed. These are the principal rounds of that many-staved ladder, of which every stave represents an active virtue, which links earth to heaven, and which, though invisible, is a reality to the true Mason. Indeed, no man can be a true Mason without the exercise of these virtues in his daily life, for having Faith in God and His promises, he has the Faith which banishes doubt. He has also Faith in himself. Faith in his fellow-man. Faith in the boundless possibilities for a regenerate humanity, Faith in the ultimate happiness of all mankind, Faith in the enjoyment of perfect bliss throughout an endless life. With this Faith in his soul, the consistent Mason has hope. Hope for that in which he has Faith, Hope for himself. Hope for his fellows, Hope for all mankind—Hope for the present, Hope for the future — a Hope so firmly rooted in his soul, that it is steadfast, immovable, enduring to the end. And Charity, that perfection of all virtues, the choicest, rarest of all the jewels which adorn the life of a perfect Mason, that too Freemasonry stands for, although each Brother well knows the difficulty of its full attainment in this world of conflict, error, sin and tears. To bring help to a suffering humanity, to relieve the distressed stricken in body or mind, to shelter those whom a censorious world has cast out, and to throw a veil over the faults and failings of all weak and over- tempted souls—that is the Charity placed before us in a Freemasons' Lodge.

And now. Brethren, I have enumerated some of the things for which Freemasonry has stood, and still stands, and I am sure we shall all agree that they are worth living for, and worth working for, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.

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