I have been a Mason thirty-five years, and on the way to being a man for fifty-nine years. I give my experience for what it is worth, that while I have known Masons who contributed little or nothing to manhood, their number being relatively very small to the number of those known to be faithful and true, I have never known any teaching of Masonry, and never have had any experience in a Masonic lodge that has not directly aided and abetted genuine manhood.
Whatever Masonry has represented in times that are past, Kings and Bishops having been proud to do it service, in our country it is to-day the greatest social democratic popular organization in existence. It represents better than any other the plain, solid, reliable men of America. . . .
It is favorable to all religions, and has quarreled with none. It recognizes all political parties, yet espouses none. It encourages all forms of charity and supports generously its own.
I beg to dedicate my message of this year, to be widely distributed among Masons throughout the world by the generosity of the two lodges inviting me to preach, to our Grand Master Charles Smith, who in his person and by his personal character represents what I call and try to be
A Man and a Mason
Geo. R. Van De Water
Walter V. Brown
Master Republic Lodge, 690, F. & A.M.
Maslin F. Fleck
Master Naphthali Lodge, 752, F. & A.M.
Here we have three interesting inquiries, three searching questions the satisfactory answers to which ought definitely to determine one's doctrine and duty.
For the more convenient preparation for requested publication, we will ask you to forego whatever pleasure you might have from an extemporaneous discourse, and give your attention to reasoning and conclusions that have had at least careful and conscientious study and thought.
In the name of the two lodges of this Metropolitan jurisdiction, of which I have active and honorary membership, I welcome the Brethren of the Masonic Fraternity to St. Andrew's Church. It may be interesting for those of you who have any long-time association with New York to know that the name of this parish is St. Andrew's Church in the Village of Harlem, the twenty-third ward of the City and County of New York. Times change, and we with them, and nowhere change so rapidly as in this great city.
This happens also to be St. Andrew's day, which is interesting and also significant. Andrew was the first called of the twelve Apostles. It was Andrew who, himself called, called Peter.
The word Andrew means a man, just as Adam in Hebrew means red, the meaning in each instance being significant either of the character of the Apostle, or the composition of which the first man was made.
Andrew was a manly man, who brought other men into the possession of what he esteemed precious, who remembered his brother when he had discovered a blessing, who proved faithful to every trust during an eventful life, and finally died the death of a martyr, tradition says in India, rather than speak or act in any way traitorously to his convictions. Such was St. Andrew, who died on a cross decussated, which transverse shape has ever since been associated with his name.
It is easily understood, though the time of its adoption is unknown, that when such sturdy sons, as the men of Scotia are known to be all the world over, determined to adopt one of the Apostles as their patron saint, the lot fell on Andrew. Andrew was an ideal man, as the men of Scotland wanted to be, and with all the limitations common to the race, and a few peculiar to themselves, as the men of Scotland ever have been. I cannot tell you why, though from what I have, said of manly men it is not difficult to speculate satisfactorily upon the reason, it became the part and pride of Scotland, the country of manly men, the land of St. Andrew, to gather together the remnants of preserved historic rites, and newly to formulate the several degrees of Freemasonry, so that to-day a very large part of the traditional degrees of our ancient and honorable order are officially associated with Scotland, and clustered together constitute what is known as "the Scottish Rite." All of which has at least this much of common interest to all Masons that they were manly men who preserved for us the rites, ceremonies, and symbolical teachings that everywhere, when left to do their proper work unhindered, go to make manly men.
The color dominant in all of our hangings at this service, you will observe, is red, and refers to blood shed in martyrdom by Saint Andrew, in whose honor this day is kept by the Holy Church throughout all the world. The significance of this symbolism to us is that for whatever we maintain to be true we should be ready and willing to suffer and to die, rather than betray it.
So much for this occasion, this hallowed place, the saint and the day, and all who honor both.
I have chosen for my subject to-night "A Man and a Mason," and have taken three texts from God's word for suggestive illustration of what I have in mind to say to you.
The first is from the Old Testament, one of the undisputed psalms of David having to do with man in general. The second concerns a particular man like unto whom, though in all respects save sin he was one of us, there has never been one in all the world. The third is a pertinent inquiry that is designed to engage the attention and compel action of every one present.
"What is man?"
"What manner of man is this?"
"What manner of men ought ye to be?"
Let us consider these in their order.
What is man?
"The study of mankind is man." He challenges mostly himself. Nothing without is more mysterious than all within. Nature uplifting in many of its moods is very depressing also by its overpowering majesty and evident indifference to him. Even the influence of religious faith varies with the varying temper and experience of the one professing it. Philosophy makes occult as often as it clears. It is not always nature that makes it easy to believe that God is, or is near. David asking "What is man?" felt oppressed and overwhelmed by the majesty of the sun, and the moon, and the stars which God had ordained. A sunset at open sea, or moonlight on the beach, passing clouds from mountain heights or a rainbow seen from fertile valley fills with awe, and rouses within one a quickening reverence, but love seems listless in the aspect of devastated crops, or floods, or earthquake. What is man? How does he figure in this stupendous universe? If he perished from the face of the earth, and with him went all of his kind, what would it matter? The mountains would stand firm, the tides would continue to ebb and flow, the stars would shine, the seasons recur, the roses would bloom in the spring and the grass turn brown in autumn, the sea would surge and the rivers roar as they always have done, and ever before. What is man? Nothing until one was made in God's image, an animal until he reflects something of that image, small and mean enough so long as wholly human, majestic and mighty the moment he is linked to the Divine.
Man seems small until he realizes that though kindred with the dust he is made in God's image.
All of our serious difficulty in the estimate of man comes from our persistent belief that this world is the entire sphere of his endeavor, this mortal life the circumscribed span of his existence. By the eternal truth, this is not so, as a little study makes us see. A nickel held close to the eye can hide the universe from sight, yet the universe is there. God's presence is powerful where it is not realized. His love is operative where it is not felt. He may be very near, yet seem afar and away.
Let us see if we cannot escape from the oppressive shadows which the seeming immensity of this universe casts across our path and recover conviction of the animating truth that God is right at hand, and is not far from every one of us.
This world seems so big and man is so little. But is this world so big--is it even enduring? And is man really so little? What this side of God is as mighty as a man? The seemingly small things are always confounding the mighty. Jerusalem in all its glory was but a hamlet compared to Babylon. Florence shining brightly still as the home of genius was a mere village compared with Pekin. One sonnet of Milton, an essay of Bacon, a dialogue of Plato, a volume of Newton, one play of Shakespeare could be less easily spared than tons of books that burden the shelves of our libraries. A few square inches of canvas not unfrequently shows a more costly work than a picture that would cover the side of a house. The man seems small compared with the world--but so also seems this world small compared to all other worlds, of which this is known to be the least. This world is small, but what of it; it may be big enough to hold the family of God. Material magnitude is far from a necessity for the housing or the cradling of life.
Nor is the transitoriness of human existence any argument against man's greatness. Let the modern doctrine of evolution be allowed, and what a tribute to the worth of man is the long succession of ages contributing to his worth. The more immense and awful seem the forces of nature the stronger becomes their testimony to the dignity of man.
The laws that seem to control human destiny and take no cognizance of the individual wants are after all laws that work for ultimate good of the race. The few are sacrificed for the benefit of many. In the end, if all things work together for good, in the course of the process what matter if a few things seem unaccountable or gracelessly cruel. Fixed laws are not prohibitive of an interested love in human affairs.
Let it be granted that the paths of stars are determined, that the structure of mountains is unalterable, that the course of rivers, the outlines of continents, the varying depths of oceans, the tint of every flower, the veining of each leaf, all are the result of fixed laws, all this may not he independent or opposed to Divine providence, and in the case of man, a fervent love. Circumscribed, man may be by physical forces, but withal everyman is supremely conscious of personal choice and a moral freedom. The one is as much of a fact as the other, and as clearly to be reckoned with. My acts of virtue and of vice are my own. It is a law of my personal being that I am and I am alone responsible for my moral nature. Heredity is influential. Environment is conditioning, almost compelling. But the individual initiative is the controlling factor. The chain of necessity galls but does not enthrall me. I am unlike the tree or the flower which has no choice whether it shall blossom and bear fruit or not.
Demonstrate if you will that this whole universe is subject to the authority of inflexible laws, for every man there has been reserved an inviolable liberty. He can be good. He may be bad. He is free. He has been redeemed. It is for him to determine whether or not he will go out free. What is man? A being endowed unlike others of the animal creation with Divine attributes, of special concern to his Maker--capable of making proper use of the two greatest gifts that can be bestowed, the gift of truth and the gift of freedom. "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god!" Such is man.
But now, is it not remarkable that with this unique endowment of freedom, among all the sons of men, from Adam to the last baby born, history records but one wholly good? Of one human being only could God, ever say, though he made them all, "In him I am well pleased." The annals of the world give record of but one who dared to stand before a multitude and issue this challenge, "Which one of you convinceth me of sin?"
Moses was a leader, but for his folly was punished, and for disobedience was deprived abundant entrance with his family into the promised land. David was king, and a good one, but for his crimes was openly rebuked by the prophet Nathan, who said "Thou art the man." Histories not inspired give credited accounts of good men, moral teachers, self-sacrificing guides and exemplars of integrity, but of not one would any record assert freedom from fault. The oldest countries and nations of the world, allied with the religions of notable teachers, are open-aimed and clamorous for a civilization that is Christian.
There stands out conspicuously among the world's best and the world's greatest men, one, compelling admiration by his life and his doctrine, of whom it may truthfully be, said, "Never man spake like this man," of whom a Roman Centurion told the truth, when looking at him, "as on the cross his arms were stretched to draw all people nigh, "Truly this was the Son of God."
Masons profess to love the truth. They want to know the truth. The truth alone can make men free. "Truth is mighty, and will prevail." Dismissing all prejudice, without a thought of a propaganda or making a convert, merely to treat my topic, a man and a Mason, having defined for you a man generally, I refer you to a historical character, a man specifically, and I ask you seriously to consider "What manner of man is this?" I am aware that I am honored in this assemblage of my brethren by the presence of those not of the Christian faith, but I am also aware that as in a Masonic lodge there cannot be discussion either of religion or of politics, so in a Christian church by a Christian minister there can be no impropriety in asking sober-minded Masonic brothers to consider with their Grand Chaplain the person and the character of the one being of all human history of whom this question is pertinent, "What manner of man is this?" And I do this solely for the purpose of instituting a contrast to show that what this world of ours needs most is not measures, but men. Of measures there is abundance possessed and proposed. The cry of the modern progressive is legislation, but the need of this age is regeneration. We may want more law--we need more love.
Now history gives us at least one instance of an ideal man. The story of his life, four-fold, is that of a flawless character. Believe it or not, criticism has never been able to reverse this statement, "Never man spake like this man." The world still unanimously declares of him while living, "He went about doing good," and that when he died, he died unjustly. A being born humbly, living in retirement, without means of ordinary education, who leads the world, has taught it love, and established its worthiest civilization, whose birth has changed the calendar, and whose teachings are acknowledged by this world's greatest men to be the noblest and the best, is a person to be reckoned with, of whom we make inquiry, "What manner of man is this?" and to which reasonable inquiry men of intelligence must be ready to reply. To all men Jesus Christ is good-to some, aye, to many, incapable of distinguishing degrees of absolute and flawless goodness, he is the completest revelation of God.
No system of education can be complete that ignores the person, and says nothing of appreciation, of admiration, also, and of adoration of the character of the Man of Nazareth.
Masonry, as a system of instruction in morality by means of symbol and story takes account of this fact, and in its advanced courses, its post-graduate curriculum, so to speak, devotes considerable attention to the cross, and the Rose of Sharon, who died upon it.
Now, my Masonic brothers, there is one thought I want to leave with you respecting this inquiry, "What manner of man is this?" and, leaving it with you, I ask you to let it work.
We live in times when the whole world is open to us. The libraries of the ages are all accessible. Quick communication has brought the ends of continents together. Seas are traversed with speed as of lightning. The air has become a field for possible travel and transportation. By the click of the wire, or without it, by the vibration of the film, correspondence and conference are almost instantaneous. Nature is interpreted, the earth and sea and sky are all understood, measured, weighed, with nothing left that is unexplained. Ours is certainly the time when, were it possible, the conditions are here to create the Christ, to give us the ideal man. The best man who ever lived ought to be the product of this age, aye, of this country. If in any country the world could give us the Christ, we feel sure that were he now to come he would be an American. Yet where is the man so insane as to believe that historical conditions can create Christ, and give us our exemplar, our ideal man? The ideal man of history is not a product, but a creation; not an evolution, but an incarnation.
The supremest religious genius, the best man that ever lived, both unapproached and unapproachable, is the Nazarene. He must be reckoned with by every other man. Here or hereafter we will have to give answer to the question, "What manner of man is this?" I submit, as I close this portion of my sermon, to you men and Masons that it is not likely that a simple Jewish peasant maid, without any Divine intervention, could have conceived and given birth to one who challenges the world to convince him of a sin, and leads the world today in ways of love.
And now I turn to the consideration of the third and last division of my discourse: "What manner of men ought ye to be?" Has it ever occurred to you that, with all the beautiful lessons reiterated so many times in the working of our beautiful degrees, the results are out of all proportion to our reasonable expectations? That this is true of other institutions, the church not excepted, only confirms the conclusion, and fails to give comfort.
The truth is that the mere rehearsal of truths, however sublime, has no force, aside from personal acceptance and utilization, to work any permanent good in character. Indeed, mere rehearsal, by encouraging a listless hearing without intention to heed, may work harm.
Any thoughtful Mason must at times feel sad, even to the extent of feeling despondent, when he realizes the amazing difference between the significance of the words on the lips and the deeds of men's lives. A comparison between the influence that ought and might be exerted in any community by men who are Masons, and the indifference in most communities of men to those who are Masons, gives food for reflection. In large cities like this a knowledge of history that goes back to days when to wear a Mason's apron was a distinction, when members were well and deliberately selected, and lodges numbered less but counted more than now, makes some of us wonder if making men is not the work of Masonry rather than making Masons.
Masonry is a democratic institution. It ought always to represent the people. Its only aristocracy ought to be an aristocracy of honorable conduct. Of all men, Masons ought to be conspicuous workers in social service, progressive in every measure that makes men better, active in every agency that promotes genuine prosperity. The manner of men we ought to be would make us marked men, picked men, men chosen because worthy, and honored because honorable.
The Vice-President of our country, Mr. Marshall, said recently on a public occasion in Philadelphia, "Masons ought to be God's men, and God's men ought to be Masons."
It is our experience that there are myriads of Masons living worthily, and honorably exemplifying our ideals. In the instances where the real belies the ideal, the flagrant exception makes more conspicuous the genuine product.
Every good Mason is a world's benefactor. Every bad one is a world's hinderer, and himself a traitor.
Had Masonry always been faithful to its own ideals it would never have had an enemy, and this world would have today been a better world than it is, and all men acknowledging gratitude to its helper.
A great door opens to us in this generation in the abundant opportunities for social service. For this Masonry is abundantly endowed. The demand of this age is the betterment of men. It is currently believed that much of sin is the result of unfavorable conditions, and that man's feeling for his fellow is the cure of many if not most of human woes. We are far from any millennium, I know. Sin still holds a fast place in the hearts of many who care nothing for salvation, and will not seek a Savior. Nevertheless, the wicked world grows better. Many agencies minister to this increasing betterment. Masonry is one, an important one, and it derogates nothing from the importance of religion, the agency of the church, the blessedness of the ministry, the supremacy of Christianity or the glory of the church, for anybody from humblest layman to the loftiest ecclesiastic to recognize this and acknowledge it. Indeed, it savors of superciliousness and arrogance for anyone, however gifted and endowed, to deny gifts and endowments to others.
He who claimed the right to bid the world come to him to find rest and peace declared that those not against him were for him. Wherever good is in this world there is God. No man, no organization, no religion, no church has any monopoly either of God or goodness. It is only by the willing and glad recognition of good wherever found that any man or any religion or any church can prove its right to work for God.
My brothers, the age is too multifold of activities, the times too plenteous of opportunities, the world too wicked still for us, to waste our time finding fault with those who misunderstood ifs, or complimenting ourselves upon our conscious heritage. If we are here for anything worth while, it must be to make the world better, the men, women and children in it happier, our day and generation worthier, and God Almighty better pleased with us, the children of his family, home and household.
I bid you go from this church tonight determined to be better men, worthier men, Master Masons, masters first of all of yourselves. That sin that doth so easily beset and hinder, cut it out, cast it from you. Playing with sin does not pay. Handling fire is dangerous. The time for us is short. The men you honor are good men. Be one of them. This world needs such, more such, and needs you, and you, and you, one of such. A happiness unknown to a wilful, careless sinner awaits you, the moment you cease to be selfish, care more for others, become a man, follow the Man of Men, be a real Mason, concerning yourself with the cement of brotherly love, binding the stones that fitted together constitute the temple of character, a temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
I indulge in no jeremiad of the wickedness of the world when I ask you to fulfill your oath, and live lives that will make you holier, your fellows happier, and the whole world more like Heaven.
The recent Balkan war is a revelation of what beasts men can become when men are wilfully bad and determinedly cruel.
The psychology of the mob and the maudlin sentimentalism of thoughtless females are scarcely sufficient explanations of lawyers aiding, judges abetting, and communities clamoring for the release of a notably bestial man and criminal, whose sole attraction is his wealth.
The biggest funeral New York has seen in years witnessed 50,000 East Side people paying tribute of intended honor to a man whose millions were made by forty years of methods that will not bear publicity. A governor was recently impeached, not because he was bad, but because he was not bad enough to please his persecutor. The call for men to be good, and to exert their influence for the good of others, comes from minors compelled to work too many hours, from tear-stained faces of parents and brothers and sisters of a hundred girls burned in a factory ill-provided with fire-escapes and exits, from victims of tuberculosis in crowded tenements, aye, from girls, white and slaves, whose penury tempted them to sin, whose virtue was robbed by the deception of beastly men. What men need most today as an incentive is a sense of manliness and honor.
What manner of men ought ye to be? Honorable men, men who will say "no" to the lure of a passing pleasure or a pleasing bribe, and will do without the thing they want rather than damn a soul, destroy a body, poison offspring, or rob a brother of what he prizes most, the virtue of his wife.
I sometimes wonder if there is not something lacking in much of our present Christianity when it cannot restrain its professed followers from Balkan atrocities, sympathy with crime, secret vices, gross inhumanities, and political corruption.
Yes, it may even be that both Hebrew and Christian may be rebuked and reinvigorated by the moral forces of societies and organizations, historic and righteous, if not professedly religious.
Brother men and brother Masons, here is our opportunity. If we live and make nobody better, if we pass through the world and do it no good, we live in vain.
The test of the value of our order is the good it does, not the good it is capable of doing, but the good it does. Ye are the children of light. Let not the light that is in thee become darkness--if you do, how great is that darkness!
"Not every one that saith Lord! Lord! shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven."
"To him that knoweth to do right, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
You people who once sat in darkness have seen a great light. Upon you hath light shined.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your works, may glorify your Father in Heaven, the father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
You are a MASON? Then be a Man!