AURORA GRATA COUNCIL OF PRINCES,
AURORA GRATA CHAPTER OF ROSE CROIX.
NATHAN LANE'S SONS, 126 Pearl Street.
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.--ST. LUKE, 10th Ch. pt. 27th ver.
Most cordially-do I welcome you, my brethren of Aurora Grata, to my Cathedral of St. Paul, a building of such winsome beauty, that I may be pardoned for the pride which I feel in its noble proportions, its fine carvings, its lofty clerestory, and its beautiful chancel. Not that the welcome would be any less cordial were it a humbler building which had received you to-night; but I am glad that with the welcome can go so beautiful an auxiliary to add to the pleasure which I feel at your presence. But I must not forget that I am here in this pulpit not to indulge in the mere utterance of [3/4] compliments and greetings, but to preach to you as my brethren of the noble fraternity whose mother is our Aurora Grata. And that I may neither exceed my time nor your patience, I hasten at once to the duty before me, premising only that you will not expect to hear what I should be unwilling to utter, mere empty gratulations, but that you rather wish me to occupy my rightful place as your preacher, and to utter that which may serve to instruct, perhaps to warn, at any rate "words of truth and soberness" to men who long since "have put away childish things." Masonry, like religion, is built up upon our duty to God and to our neighbor. This is the fundamental principal of our art, upon which has been reared a beautiful superstructure, and without which the united efforts of thousands of all generations could not have kept from crumbling to pieces, leaving behind it naught but a name, a folly that was for a time, and then vanished. It is the rock upon which Masonry has been built, that has preserved it in every clime and among all nations of the world. So too, if the art has been thus founded, its votaries can none the less escape the obligation of building their Masonic life upon the same vital principals as the art itself. Hence [4/5] the necessity of understanding what Masonry teaches, and of implicit obedience to her laws as loyal sons of so noble an inheritance. 1st, then, our duty to God. Certainly this implies an acknowledgment of His existence, and His right to our reverence. Nothing does Masonry more plainly teach. She refuses absolutely to receive within her ranks, an Atheist: the whole drift of her ritual is in but one direction, and that Heavenward and Godward. The initiate has scarcely taken his first step in the Lodge room, when as if to rebuke him for his forgetfulness, the presiding officer, in no uncertain tones, bids him at once to invoke the aid of Deity. In the advance which the brother afterwards makes in the 2nd Degree, the letter G, the initial of the Supreme Architect of the Universe, is pointed out, before whom all, from the highest to the lowest, are most humbly, reverently, and devoutly to bow. In the 3rd, there is the solemn stillness of the silent prayer, when for the time being the candidate as no one to whom to turn but his God. And as he first three steps in the Art lead to Deity, so throughout the still further advance of the Scottish Rite; the existence of Jehovah is as jealously insisted upon as at the beginning. Nor does Masonry stop [5/6] here. Her declaration of His existence precedes only her mandate to obey Him. In this, Religion and Masonry are at one. What God has done, and is doing for us, who can be base enough to deny? This fair earth so lovely to look upon, sprang not into being at our bidding, nor did it come by chance; the faculties to appreciate her beauties were given to man when he was made in the image of his Maker. The food to nourish our dependent bodies, grows according to laws which He has wisely ordained: and all those means which we use in order to get wealth are not of our origination. We are, I fear, a self-important people. We are industrious in our several callings, which is indeed praise-worthy, we are shrewd in our calculations, we are indefatigable in our efforts, and if we meet with some degree of success, how apt are we to feel and to proclaim "my hands have gotten me my wealth." But is it so? Understand me, I am now talking of honest wealth, honestly gotten; not of the gamblings of Wall St. speculations; not of the robbery of corners in cotton or wheat; not of the soap-bubble inflations and consequent collapses of railroads or other stocks; none of those underhand expedients daily resorted to, to make a lazy man [6/7] quickly rich, so that his less fortunate brethren shall envy, his confreres praise him as wonderfully clever; forgetting that sounding above all the Babel of tongues on the street, or the floor of the exchange, is the truth fearlessly uttered by Divine lips, "thou thief." No, it is not to this sort of success that I allude, but to that which comes as God has ordained it should come, out of honest labor, whether of the hands or the ad. It is to these I put the question, "have your hands alone gotten you what you have so far earned?" You have been successful as a merchant, as a tradesman, as a scientist, as a builder, as an inventor, as a physician, as a lawyer, as a singer, as an actor. Well, did you originate the cotton or the wool, the grain or the produce, the minerals or the elements, the stones the electricity, the herbs or the antidotes, the laws right and wrong, or the organs of the throat, whereby comes the music of the voice in speech or song? Were not all these things here before you were? Were not here before your fathers were? Were they here before the generations, long since passed away? Were they not here in the beginning of all things, created by God before He made man at all, who was the last act of His creative power? You [7/8] have made good use of these things, but do not deny the solemn fact, that without these essential elements of success made ready to your handling of them, you had toiled in vain. Nay, more! from whom come the blessed gifts of health and strength, without which these commodities had surrounded your every footstep in vain? Nay, more! at whose pleasure dost thou draw the very breath of life? Is there not One who can stretch forth the finger at any moment, lay it upon the heart, and thou, cease to be? When we look at the matter in this light, can we fail to perceive how very dependent we are upon His bounty? to realize that He is not only our Creator, but our Preserver, our Benefactor, yea, best of all, our Father? Is he not entitled to our reverence? In our eager pursuit of the things of time and sense, we make Him a God afar off. We place Him in a very distant Heaven, surrounded by all the glories properly belonging to the grandeur of such a place and such a Being, then we close the pearly gates bar them fast, and place illimitable space between ourselves and Him. We have a misty idea that we shall meet Him some day, somewhere. We do not feel quite certain that we want to, but knowing that it must be, we push it from [8/9] us into a far-distant future, and have but little to do with Him in the meanwhile. If we really loved Him with all our heart and soul, and strength, and mind, would this separation be pleasant to us? Should we not rather be laying plans, and dreaming pleasant dreams of beholding with our mortal eyes, the- God and the things of immortality? Masonry does not teach us to stretch out the time or space or distance between us and Him, but rather that we are very near to Him, and that the time of our earthly .pilgrimage is very brief, that 'to our mother earth our b"dies must shortly, shortly return, and the spirit return to God who gave it. Naturally enough, with the idea of a far-off God, we lose sight of his relation ship to us. How many put out of mind His numberless declarations; and look upon Him as the stern and unforgiving Judge, rather than, as He calls Himself, our tender and compassionate Father. If we fail to view him in this light, we are doing him the greatest injustice, nay, cruelly wronging Him. All things in nature around us, all the immediate associations about us, all the wonderful mysteries within us proclaim with a force no tongue can utter, and with a proof no learned arguments tan make more convincing, that [9/10] God is Love: that His mercy is over all His works, and that His judgement is reserved only for those who wilfully defy or deny Him. All this our Art teaches no less strenuously than does religion. Am I not right? has not every mason said time and again, that if he lived up to what masonry taught, he would be a religious man? But the phrase, "if he lived up to what masonry taught," opens up a boundless field for thoughtful contemplation and earnest exhortation; but time, which is inexorable in waiting for no man, will not permit me to consider but two points at the present. Perhaps some future opportunity may afford me a further privilege to speak upon others equally and as vitally important. We will suppose that in consideration of what God has done and is doing for us, we acknowledge that he is worthy of, and entitled to, our reverence. The question then naturally comes up as to the manner in which we can show our willingness so to do. The question is easily answered. We all have some one or more among men, whom we love. A father, or a dear old mother; a wife, a child, or a friend who is a Pythias to our Damon, although I am looking for my Pythias still. Circumstances have chosen them for us, and we love them dearly. [10/11] We often speak of them to others in the very highest terms, and with strong expressions of affection. A slur upon them from the lips of another would excite our honest indignation, and we would quickly resent the slight or insult. Our devotion is too strong to tolerate any thought or word in the slightest manner derogatory to them. Much less could our own lips utter anything or our minds harbor the slightest thought which should manifest the least shadow of disloyalty to those we love. But, alas! is it so with us: towards the Deity? Are we at all indignant if He is lightly spoken of? Are our own lips always loyal to Him, the Friend of friends? This is a solemn thought addressed by no means to my brethren of Aurora Grata only, but to every man in this assembly, whether I know him, or am a stranger to him. I am speaking now as a man to his brother men. Of all the commandments written by the finger of God Himself upon the two tables of stone, amid the terrors of Mount Sinai, no one is more often violated than the 3rd, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"; and though all of them are written with the stern "Thou shalt not," yet this is the only one haying a threat attached to its violation: "for [11/12] the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain." Is it not an awful penalty for so useless a sin? I say useless, for of all the temptations to break any of the commandments, this seems to me the most devoid of reason or common sense. Humanly speaking, I can see a gain, even though it be an unworthy and wicked one, yet I can see vain in the violation of the others. To make wealth or fame or position, or any other hobby your god, is to win the rewards which each has to offer, To neglect to keep the sabbath day holy, is to yield to laziness or the gratification of selfish inclinations. To be disobedient or neglectful to parents, is to gain one's liberty of action, free from interference or advice; or if they are helpless and dependent, to shirk responsibility for their support. To kill, satisfies revenge. To commit adultery, gratifies the animal passion. To steal, gains the coveted object. To lie, gets one out of a scrape. But as to swearing, what is gained? You may drop a weight upon your foot, and while you hop around, you may make the air blue with expletives, but the pain goes right on just the same until it is ready to stop. You may swear until you can't think of anything new to say, but the effects of that collision will [12/13] not abate one minute the sooner. Or you may be in a fierce rage, because someone has made a mean speech about you, or a servant or employee has broken something, or some stupid person has done a more stupid thing, and you swear, and swear, and swear until you get red in the face, and your breath has given out, and what good has it all done? While you have been indulging in an exhibition of mild insanity, the mean speech does not become unsaid, the broken pieces do not jump up and cement themselves together, and your stupid acquaintance remains just as idiotic as ever. "But," say some of you, "it is such a vent, if it were not for something of this sort, I should simply burst." Well, considering the vent does not mend matters, and consists principally in "hollering," could not some other expletives be found, just as effective and not having such an awful penalty attached to their use? Granted that swearing is a vent, will not your own experience bear me out in the assertion, that where profanity is used once for such a purpose, it is used nine times simply to emphasize and embellish ordinary conversation. Have you not heard many talking upon the most common-place subjects, spill out those adjectives with the most profuse recklessness, [13/14] or if they wished to express their appreciation of something that was good, immediately damn it? for instance, a beautiful day which the Lord hath made; a friend whose excellence of character made him a good fellow; an exhibition of talent in business, or art, . or music, or invention; so that we find a good day, a good fellow, a good business man, or artist, or singer, or player, or inventor, must be adorned with this adjective, leading the enquiring mind to wonder how anything so good in itself must needs be damned in order to make its goodness to be acknowledged. I once had an old sea captain in my congregation, who after listening to my sermon upon one occasion, was so pleased with it, that he waited to tell me "it was a -------- good sermon." The real truth of the whole matter is, it is nothing but a useless habit, contracted in the adolescent period, when to get a defined shadow of down growing above the mouth, a cigarette in it, and some oaths out of it, are thought to be the convincing signs of an entrance upon a noble manhood, a fitness for the Presidential chair, a high time for parents and elders, who absolutely know nothing, to step down and out, though the only foundation upon which to base the imbecility of the parents would be the idiocy of their [14/15] offspring. I know that this habit long indulged, is extremely difficult to throw off: but if a lady's presence, can so effectually cause the oath to cease, why cannot the thought of His presence at least, help one to make the effort to break off the chains? Let me draw a distinction, and then offer a suggestion. All that is called swearing is not swearing. Profanity is taking God's name in vain: the expletives, "the devil" and "hell" are simply vulgarisms. That is the distinction: now for the suggestion. Make a beginning. Make this beginning, that at first, you will fight against the use of our Saviour's name: for I must confess that when I hear in the midst of hot anger and bitter imprecations, the name of Jesus Christ, it seems for the moment to stop the very blood from coursing through my veins. When we consider what a sweet and lovely life he led among men, until amid shame and suffering, he died. the cruel death of the Cross, and then hear his name dragged into the midst of what he shed his blood to wash away, surely it is like dragging one's mother into the company of harlots. Conquer this, and let your next point of attack be against the profane use of the great and sacred name of God. Remember the grand and beautiful truths taught in the 14th Degree. [15/16] At first, while you are fighting the evil habit, and are still bound by it, if "damn" must be your vent word, let it be your strongest expletive, and let it be disassociated from any expression of God's name in thought or word. From that, drop to our great adversary, his Satanic majesty and his place of abode. You cannot possibly treat him with too much contempt, and after having abused him soundly, refuse to have anything more to do with him, or allow his name to be mentioned. Then perhaps the day will come when "confound it," shall be your efficient vent, and the threat attached to the violation of the 3d Commandment have no fears for you, because you have ceased to take "the name of the Lord your God in vain." And now to glance at the second point which I wish to make, as a natural outcome of love to God. The affection which would prevent you from speaking lightly of your nearest and dearest friend, or suffering another so to do, would make you unhappy if deprived of their society. Your heart would find a great satisfaction in being near to them. The lapse of any length of time between such meetings, when they could be easily had, would serve to distress you: the necessary business of life would become hateful, [16/17] and the ordinary cares more irksome if not lightened and brightened by frequent communings with those loved. Should it not be so respecting God? One of the most alarming, and at the same time discouraging signs of the times, is that increasing apathy respecting attendance at Church. And yet what constraining motives there are to fill the various Church buildings on the Lord's Day. The same beneficence which He is constantly manifesting, and to which allusion has already been made, as well as His numerous enjoinders to appear before Him on these stated occasions, and to reverence His Sanctuary, leave little room for hope that the miserable excuses which are offered for the neglect of this duty, will find acceptance in the sight of God. The time required to be taken out of the day of rest is but trifling. From six o'clock Saturday evening until eight o'clock on Monday morning includes 38 hours. The two services on Sunday occupy about 3 hours in all, leaving 35 hours for man's recreation and rest; a time equivalent to more than three working days of ten hours each. Surely none, can complain of any very great infringement upon his hours of relaxation. We should never confound God's appointment of the day as one of [17/18] rest from ordinary labor, with man's appropriation of it, as a day spent in hard work to kill time. And I must confess that we see a great difference between men and women in this respect. The wife and mother of the household has her full share of the cares and worries of life, with other additional trials which do not fall to the lot of men. Yet the average woman will find time and inclination to attend the service of the Church once a day at least. Now men seem to think that religion is meant for women and children, although I think that in most cases the latter stand less in need of its restraints than do the lords of creation. But it has always been so more or less. Women were the last to leave the dead Lord, and the first to arrive at the open sepulchre; and it was to a woman He first appeared and first spake after his resurrection. It is a cause of sorrow to many a clergyman to see the courts of God's House so forsaken by those whose sex His Son took upon Himself when He came into the world. Every man who is at the head of a household has a most awful responsibility resting upon him. It is ordained that he is the one to whom the rest shall look, not only for support and protection, but for an example. If the children behold [18/19] the father careless and indifferent as to spiritual things, they will soon become impregnated with the same fault, and were it not for the influence of some God-fearing mothers that household would become strangers to Him, and aliens from the christian faith. Man is naturally a selfish being; not so much, perhaps, because he wants or means to he, but because he has it in him and does not consider it as such. He consults his own ease and inclination first, and then from his comfortable position looks about to see what he can do for his family. Many a Sunday is kept in an unholy manner, simply for this reason. The wife who would like to be with her husband, and the children with their father, are divided between their desire to go to Church, and their desire to enjoy his companionship. The man who could at his pleasure gratify both these longings by attending Church with them, consults his own wishes first, and then tries to make the best of what remains. Yet a man who believes in God hopes and expects somehow to be saved. Just how, he does not quite know; possibly because he is a man. The duty of entering upon the services of the Sanctuary rests upon him simply because he needs the privileges therein conveyed, the privilege of holding [19/20] an audience with his Maker, the privilege of confessing his misdeeds, the privilege of pardoning grace, especially to be there received, the privilege of hearing God's Word read and preached, the privilege of weekly going home to meet your Father. These are worth all the fleeting and unsatisfying pleasures of a world which so often mixes with her wine of success the gall of bitterness, and relentlessly forces her lovers to drink it to its bitterest dregs. Looking at this subject from the lowest standpoint, surely in a large City like ours, the charge of tame and uninteresting services can scarcely be upheld. There is the assembling together of friends and acquaintances, the exquisite harmonies of that most delightful of all Arts, Music, the instructive teachings of the oldest book extant, the learning and oratory of pulpit eloquence, and in the Church of my own faith, the Prayer Book Ritual, the language of which is incomparably the most perfect and most beautiful ever compiled. What, then is lacking but the arousing of the inclination and the exercise of the will! Ask yourselves, my dear brethren, the searching question, "why do I not go to Church?" not "why do I not like to go to Church?" for there are many things we do not like to do simply for the very reason [20/21] that we ought to do them, but "why do I not go to Church?" Ask it honestly, without any intention of being partial or vacillating in the matter. "Am I right in neglecting a duty which I owe to my God? Am I right in allowing my selfishness to prove a stumbling-block to the performance of a duty which I owe to my wife and children? Am I right in taking all the benefits and kindnesses which God is continually showering upon me, and then coldly turning my back upon Him and His House? Am I right in expecting that my whole obligation to Him can be compressed into a visit of my clergyman; and the single prayer at my dying bedside, when perhaps I may be lost in unconsciousness, neither seeing the one nor hearing the other?" Think upon these things, my brethren, seriously, conscientiously, manfully! I have almost finished my task. Yet I cannot close without expressing the hope that what I have said may be received with kindly feelings and patient forbearance on your part. I might have summoned you here and spent a half-hour in "booming" Masonry, or saying pretty speeches, flippant and meaningless, but I could find neither heart nor wish to so waste my time or insult your good sense. What I have spoken has sprung [21/22] out of my genuine affection for my boys of Aurora Grata. Had I cared for you less, I should have been the less concerned for your spiritual welfare. Therefore, what sincere affection so lovingly gives, will not a reciprocal affection as lovingly receive? Had I done otherwise, I think that in the end I might have forfeited some of the respect which you have always shown to me and to the office which I bear, and I could not have uttered a word of complaint. I have done that which I thought, under the circumstances, it was my duty to do, and I would not retract one word. We are now present in our Father's House, our faces turned Altarwards, our thoughts Heavenward and Godward. It is the end of one of the Lord's days, our holy and peaceful Rest-day. Our Father has been as He is always, so kind and good to us, our mercies have been more, and our chastisements less than we deserve, but like little children, He is leading us on along the highway of our one great journey, to the everlasting Home beyond. We have not always been grateful, we have not always been obedient, we have often rebelled, we have often sinned, but still He would lead us on, in patience, in forgiveness, to the place of Safety. Soon will come to each one of us the [22/23] end of Life's Day. Its sun will slowly set below the horizon of earthly vision, and weary and travel-stained our feet will enter--where? God grant--There!
"The way is long, my Father, and my soul
Longs for the rest, and quiet of the goal:
While yet I journey through this weary land,
Keep me from wandering. Father, take my hand.
The path is rough, my Father! Many a thorn
Has pierced me; and my weary feet, all torn
And bleeding, mark the way. Yet thy command
Bids me press forward. Father, take my hand,
Then safe and blest--Lead up to rest--Thy child."