Project Canterbury

The Truth about Freemasonry

A Sermon Preached by invitation of the Naphthali Lodge, No. 752, No. F. and A. M., to them and many Invited Masons, Sunday evening, November 26, 1911, at St. Andrew's Church, by Its Rector.

By the Right Honorable George R. Van De Water, D.D.
Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York.

New York: no publisher, 1911.

Before I commence my text and begin the sermon, I want to avail myself of the very first opportunity I have had to express my profound appreciation of and gratitude for the sympathy and help of my Brethren, the Masons of the State of New York, during a somewhat trying personal experience this last year. You, Brethren, can never know what a support I felt as I heard, in various and many ways, of your kind interest in me, and the restoration of my sight. Nor can I possibly express my gratitude to God for my recovery, and, no less, for the consciousness of so many true friends to rejoice with me for it. Prayer is easy: anybody can beg. Praise is a higher form of service. Nobody can praise aright until he gets to Heaven, where worship shall be endless praise, because it is not in the possibility of human language to express all the human heart can feel.

And so, with the customary phrase, "Thank you, Brethren," I but partially express my feelings in this regard. It is so nice to see you all here; and I am grateful, my dear Brethren in this craft of Freemasonry, which we all delight to honor and love because it is worthy of our love, that I have the privilege of addressing such a large assemblage of men and Masons. If one should come in here to-night, not having heard of this service, and should ask in the words of the ancient question put at the time of the Passover commemoration, "What mean ye by this service?" I would say that, primarily, it is simply a Lodge in this community by the name of Naphthali,--of which I count it a privilege to be an Honorary Member,--which has invited me, at the usual evening service held in this Church, to preach a sermon to Masons, and that, due to my long association with Masonry, others have joined with the members of that Lodge in attendance at this service. It would be unworthy of me if I did not mention at this time with especial appreciation the attendance of our Grand Master, our Deputy Grand Master, who has come evidently from a distance to be with us, and many members of the Grand Lodge. It is a distinctly characteristic assembly of Masons of this eminent jurisdiction.

We have come, my Brethren. to a Christian Church: that we all understand. You have come to a Church which, by its canons, gives its Rector the exclusive use of its property for any service he may desire and I desire to use this Church to-night for a Masonic service.

I need not tell anybody to whom I have ministered in this place. almost on this spot, for nearly twenty-five years, that as a priest of this Church and Rector of this Parish, I would not utilize this service to preach to Masons if I did not myself know what Masonry means, and that its significance is in every way congruous and appropriate to a service in a Christian Church.

I want also to give an especial welcome to my Hebrew Brethren, good, true, loyal Masons and faithful friends, whose friendship I sincerely appreciate. Masonry numbers many Hebrews in its fellowship, and in some way or other, I cannot but believe that, in the providence of God, Masonry will be one of the means used for the bringing together into closer communion and religious fellowship, in the ages to come, those who believe in God, and in the immortality of the soul of every man.


A good many of you will understand why I choose these words for my text,


It is always a pleasure for me to have somebody else select my text. This must be a good text, my Brethren because I observed when I returned home from abroad, in reading the proceedings of the Grand Lodge, that the Grand Master had suggested that this text be used at Masonic services. If there should be any good Brother here to-night to whom it might possibly occur that this text is not wholly appropriate to what I shall say to Masons, I will give him another text, that may seem more appropriate to my sermon in its entirety.

"Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein." (Jeremiah, VI, 16.)

You will observe that I have arranged this service with reference to the revelation of God in His two Testaments. You heard the Ten words of the Decalogue read, and following those words the Eight Beatitudes for the appointed lesson. You have for texts extracts from the Prophet Jeremiah, and also from the Apostle Saint Peter. Masonry is associated with both testaments, though historically associated more intimately with the elder one.

The first thing I want to say in now beginning my sermon, is that Masonry is Ancient and Honorable.

How ancient, nobody knows. That it is not modern, everybody can assert. Its origin is so lost in tradition that it is impossible for anyone to tell how old Freemasonry is. To prove that it is not so archaic that it has ceased to adapt itself to modern needs, I have only to tell you that in every age where it is found, it is found in different form, preserving just enough of ancient truth to identify it, with what is true, and adding just enough of modern accretion to make it fit to its immediate use. Every one who knows anything at all about Masonry knows that it extends so far back in the ages that it is absolutely impossible to determine its origin. But this much is known in history, that long before education became universal, the professions, as such, were more or less secret; they could not be learned 'as they are now learned in academies and universities and special professional schools, but such knowledge was imparted, largely, by word of mouth, long before the printing press and the printed book were in use, in such a way that architects, as well as lawyers and physicians, were not only members of a chosen profession, but were members of a society of their profession that maintained and perpetuated the secrets of its knowledge. Temple Builders ranked with the most learned professions in ancient times. We can now by excavations show that not only were there skilled Architects in desgning the temples, but that even the Builders must have been admitted in some way, and by certain degrees to a portion of the knowledge in order that they could construct the temples, the very art of whose construction has been largely lost to us. There are also certain signs and symbols that are universal in these ancient buildings, found as they are in Egypt, or in Jerusalem, or in Greece, or in Rome, or in more modern and medieval times in the northern countries on the Continent of Europe and also in Great Britain. These signs and symbols, familiar to us; have also been found in peculiarly constructed buildings in ancient Mexico, showing that there was something corresponding to the art of Masonry at a time when the art was more practical than it is now.

Masonry did not mean then, nor has it ever meant since, that which modern language applies to the term: Masons are Architects; Masons are Builders: Masons are not merely a class of builders that do a specific kind of work with the stone structure, cementing parts together; but Masons are those who contrive and plan and in their mind construct a building before one foundation stone is laid.

Such is the antiquity of Masonry that though it be impossible to trace it back as a constituted organization beyond three or four centuries at the most, it is impossible for any man to find the time when temples were constructed when there will not be found these indications of a body of learned men closely allied together in their professional pursuits with secrets of their profession known only to them. Such is the antiquity of Masonry!

Was Solomon a Freemason? I don't know; nor do you. It is just as intelligent for me to say, "I think he was," as for you-to say, "He was not."


Masonry is not only Ancient--there are a good many things that are old that are not true--but Masonry is Honorable. Masonry has always been Honorable. It is honorable in its teachings; it is honorable in its membership. At all times in which we can find any record whatever of Masonry, medieval or modern, we find men prominent in public life pursuing the knowledge of this craft. If we come down to modern times, we find the greatest Kings and Emperors of Europe leading the craft, governing their respective grand bodies. Some of the rites of Masonry originated with great Emperors and Kings.

Down to the present day, and for a long time, the King of Great Britain, or some one by his appointment, of royal blood, has been the Grand Master of the Masons of England and its dependencies.

In this country, the Father of our Country was a Freemason. The cornerstone of our Capitol at Washington was laid by George Washington with Masonic ceremonies. A large number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. Masons have been prominent among our Presidents. It is really exceptional to mention a President of the United States who has not been a Freemason. Masons are numerous among our legislators, among our justices--some of whom I am glad to see here with us tonight,--among men prominent in every walk of life, and no less among ministers than among those of other professions. So that its antiquity and its honorable character are assured.

Again, Masonry is both Operative and Speculative. Speculative Masonry is modern, Operative Masonry is old. Operative Masonry I have already described to you as it must have existed in time past. Speculative Masonry came into being when free education and opportunities for learning and culture were introduced in the world. Then it was no longer necessary for the secrets of a profession, like that of architecture, to be maintained by the profession, because books would tell all that was to be known about it, and anybody could read and study the books. Those who had up to that time maintained their guilds on the Continent, or their fellowships in Great Britain, or in larger numbers in Scotland, came together at this time and changed Operative Masonry, or the actual building of Temples, into Speculative Masonry, and adapted their degrees to the symbolic raising of the Temple of Human Character. Ever since that time Masonry has been what we call Speculative. It has its esoteric side, its secret degrees; and it has its exoteric side, its outward form. This teaching anybody can learn who is interested at all in knowing it. The two esoteric and exoteric instructions taken together, constitute what we know now in our country as Free and Accepted Masonry.

These two terms "Free and Accepted" are exceedingly interesting, not only to Masons, but to all others interested in Masonry. The Order having originated in a time when slavery was largely prevalent in the world, Masons being men who were superior to other men in their knowledge, also in their position in life, were prominent in their communities from the very beginning. "That no man who is a serf can belong to the Order" was the original and expressed idea of the freedom of a Mason. This is the reason why, to a very limited extent, if at all, those of a color associated with serfdom have been admitted to Masonry. It has been taught from the beginning that a man to understand and to exemplify its teachings must be a free man.

You will find that, while Masonry has never been officially associated in any way with political teaching or partisan discussion,--Masonry is the only body that I belong to or know anything about where you never hear a discussion on religion or politics,--still men have been so influenced by its teachings of freedom that, to a very large extent, Masons were found in the ranks of the Army fighting that men should be free, and Masons everywhere were loud in proclaiming that it was wrong for any man to be in bondage.

The term "Accepted," referred originally to a man's position in the community. It meant primarily, that he was accepted as an architect, that he was accepted because he knew enough to be accepted. In other words, he was a leader among men.

Think of that, Brother Masons! Your ancestors understood that a Mason, in the community, stood for something. He was something more than an average man; he was a free man, and, by his behavior as well as by his intellect and influence, he had standing in his community. To be a Mason was not only to be "free" among his brethren, but it was to be "accepted" among his brethren. The standard of Masonry has ever been high, and is expressed in nothing more than those old terms of the Craft, "Free" and "Accepted."

Masonry was Cradled in Judaism.

There is no doubt about that. It was not the outcome or the product of Christianity. Nor was it the offspring of Mohammedanism. It could not have been an outcome of Paganism, because Masonry can never have a polytheist in its ranks; it has always been understood that a man, to be a free and accepted Mason, must believe in One God: Polytheism, like Polygamy, corrupts a man, deprives him of the right of proper judgment, and degrades him. A man must believe in one God and Father of All Men, to be a sound man. Historically, Masonry was cradled in Judaism; because Judaism of all the religions of the world has emphasized that one fundamental, true idea of all religions, that Almighty God is One. It was cradled, also, in Judaism, we know, because everything in the teaching of its ancient degrees has to do with the Temple that King Solomon erected on Mount Moriah's Heights in the City of Jerusalem. All of the symbolic work rallies around that Temple, and everything that is taught in the degrees of Masonry is taught in such a way that, first learning the facts of the Temple, a man learns to construe those facts, symbolically, as to the rearing of "The Temple not made with hands, Eternal in the Heavens," the Temple not of a perfect stone building, but the Temple of a Perfect Human Character.

But though Masonry was nourished in Judaism, Masonry adapted itself to what was believed to be a fuller revelation of Almighty God in the newer Testament; and so Masonry, not changing any whit of the old teachings that have come down to us, has adapted and accommodated itself to Christian teachings, having named two eminent Saints of the early Christian Church, each named John, in the dedication of its Lodges, and has placed its Bible with its two Testaments upon its Altar. Masonry teaches the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, which are also the fundamental doctrines of Judaism, belief in God and immortality. Masonry, though cradled in Judaism, has been nourished among Christians to such an extent that as far back as we can find anything of Masonry we find Masonry prominent and eminent among Christian men.

Our next postulate is that Freemasonry, Ancient and Honorable, Free and Accepted, Operative and Speculative, that was cradled in Judaism and nourished among Christians, teaches the Truth. If it had not taught the Truth it would not have lasted, because Truth is the only thing that endures. I do not say that Masonry teaches the whole Truth,--I do not believe that; but that which it teaches, it teaches true. It teaches nothing but the Truth. First of all it proclaims, "Fear God!" Masonry teaches the Truth about God. When a man enters a Lodge, almost the first word he hears is "God." When a man opens his eyes in a Lodge, the first thing he sees is God's Book, and the next thing he sees, as he looks up, is the symbol of God. Masonry teaches, above all things else the Fatherhood of God. It teaches that God made all things, and that God loves every man He has made, and that if there is any trouble between man and God it is because man has run away from God and hid himself, or tried to, not because God has ever withdrawn himself from man. It teaches the loving kindness and continual care and protection of God. All its symbolism proclaims this truth. Throughout all the work of the various degrees, every man must learn the lesson that God is, and that God is good.

No less does Masonry teach the Truth about Man. "Love the Brotherhood!" It teaches reverence to God, no more than it teaches love to fellow men. It tells a man that he is a tripartite being; that the Temple he is to build is built in three compartrnents; that the first has to do with things physical, with rightangles, horizontals, and perpendiculars, if you please. With this fundamental knowledge of the things of this world, the Middle Chamber symbolism reminds one that man is endowed with a mind, that he is to use his mind to learn the various arts and sciences which contribute to his further and superior knowledge. The Third Degree is, primarily, to teach him that besides having a body, and a mind, he has an Immortal Soul with which to love and worship God.

Masonry teaches this Truth emphatically and distinctly. This is why it is easy for a Minister to talk about Masonry in the pulpit of a Christian Church, as well as in the pulpit of a synagogue. Masonry is so truthful.

Masonry also teaches the Truth about Inspiration. If it teaches man to Fear God and to Love the Brotherhood, it teaches man to hear God. God is not some silent sphinx Who never has opened. His Mouth, nor given an utterance to His children. God has through His Holy Word given all things needful for us in our pilgrimage here and everything necessary for the assurance of our happiness hereafter. Masonry teaches that Truth. It puts that Book, in its Old Testament in Hebrew Lodges, and in both the Old and the New Testaments in Christian Lodges, and it tells men to seek there for the Inspiration that God has given to man. It tells man, if he is open minded and will listen to learn, that he will learn God's will concerning him, and that there is no duty in life which he cannot learn there how well to perform, nor any trouble or harm confronting one in his earthly career, without abundant resources to overcome it. Again, Masonry teaches the Truth, not only about God, and about Man, and about Inspirations, but it teaches the Truth about Patriotism. Masonry has always taught the Truth about Patriotism. Surrounding the Altar of Masonic Lodges one sees the Flag of His Country. In every country, be it governed by King, or Emperor, or President, the man is told to be loyal to the State. Patriotism is a part of Masonic teaching. "Honor the King; Fear God; Love the Brotherhood."

And Masonry also teaches the Truth about Charity. And what is the Truth about Charity? It is not only giving to the poor, though Masonry does that too. I will tell you what Masonry teaches about Charity. It teaches what the Being, Whom I honor as my God, exemplified in His own human life, that Charity is just as much leniency to the Brother when he goes wrong, as it is to be generous to the Brother when he is in need.

Masonry does not pretend to be a congregation .of perfect men. Masonry upholds the ideal before men and urges them to try to reach it. But if a Brother falls, if a Brother goes-wrong, Masonry knows what it is to put a hand to the back, mouth to the ear, and with heart to heart, talk truth to him. This Charity, Masonry inculcates constantly and thoroughly.

Now, an organization that teaches the Truth about these things is bound to survive. That is the reason why Masons are never disturbed about the prosperity of their organization. No matter whatever you may hear of others' comments or criticisms about Masonry, you never hear a Mason answer those comments or criticisms unless he is asked to do so in the interests of True Masonry. Masonry is bound to live, because Truth lives. Truth is the only thing that can last.

I would like to call your attention to an interesting piece of ancient literature, not in the Old Testament, as you know it, or in the New Testament, but in what we are wont to call the Apocryphal Books. In the Third Chapter of the First Book of Esdras, I have found this interesting story of something that happened in the interests of Truth more than twenty centuries ago, and I believe that you men will be interested to hear a brief recital of it. The literature of it is so perfect, the teaching of it is so sublime. It illustrates the power of truth, the endless power of truth.

The Latin equivalent for the conclusion of that old Syriac story of 2,500 years ago is familiar to many of you, "magna est veritas, et prevalebit." Great is Truth and it will prevail. Oh; my Brothers, it is because Masonry teaches the Truth, that it has outlived nations, that it has outlasted institutions, that it exists today in all its power and strength, not because of is membership but because of its teachings; because it teaches the Truth, the truth that alone can make men free.

The only objections that are ever offered to Freemasonry are those of Society against its secrecy, those of the State on account of its supposed tendencies to Socialism, and those of the Church on account of what is considered its Atheism. I will dismiss the objection made by Society against Masonry on account of its secrecy by simply saying there are no more secrets in Masonry than are necessary for the preservation of its fellowship, and that its secrets, having been handed down from earliest times, being of the nature of Truth to be perpetuated would lose their value if they were made known and became common property, that the initiation is a necessity to the fellowship of Masonry, and that the secrets of Masonry have done the World good by very reason of their secrecy: That it lives today and is so active an agency in everything that is good, in Family, State, Church, is final proof of the excellence.

The State has sometimes objected to Masonry,--not in our country, because it knows better, but in some countries of Europe,--because it is supposed that advantage is taken of association in the Lodges to encourage Socialism. Now, there are two kinds of Socialism. There is one kind of Socialism that is very good, and it is a good towards which our own country is tending. merely means co-operation. This movement is incident to the times, and makes for the better conduct of commerce and the relations of men. When by proper legislation such co-operation can be brought about for the greater good to the greater number:--that kind of Socialism is Christian, and good. There is a kind of Socialism, however, that is associated with Anarchy, and a disturbance of government. Never have Masons been against any government that was not notably and conspicuously bad. With that statement of history, knowing that I am sound in making it, I dismiss the objection. When a country gets so absolutely corrupt that it over-taxes its people, and gives them no protection whatever, and those people combine in order to secure for themselves a united country with the benefits and blessings that come from such union,--if Masonry has contributed to it. God bless Masonry! Such Socialism is sanctity.

The Church at times has found fault with Masonry because, it says, it contributes to unbelief and Atheism. Lest we should be too hard upon one large body of very earnest, good people, for the most part, and think that Roman Catholics are sinners above all Gallicans, we will do well to recall that some Protestant bodies have been as bitter against Masonry as the Roman Church. It is so absolutely absurd for anybody, either Pope, Bishop, or Lutheran Minister, to suppose for one moment that Masonry encourages unbelief or Atheism, that for one who knows it is scarcely within the bounds of propriety even to discuss such an objection. If there is any Mason that does not believe in God and is not trying to be good and to do good, he is forsworn and he is unworthy. I have myself read in an ancient Constitution, of the fourteenth century, now in the British Museum, these words: "If a Mason rightly understands his Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine."

Some Christians object to Masonry because it does not preach the Gospel. Masonry does not exist for that reason. Masonry does not pretend to be a Church. It is religious, without being a religion. If my Lord and Master Whom I serve, when His Disciples went to Him and said, "Teach us how to pray," taught them to say the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father, Who art in Heaven," a large part of which was already familiar to Jews of that time, it is a good enough prayer for me. Christianity teaches me not to hurt the feelings of my Brethren, and as I ask my Hebrew Brethren to respect my religion, I respect theirs. I can worship God in the language of the Old Testament and believe, as I do believe, in every fundamental teaching of Christianity. But one of the fundamental teachings of Christianity is that I shall not only respect another man's religion but that, as a fellow of an organization with him that is not technically Christian, in my prayers and in my readings of God's Word I will use those words and portions of Scripture which have come down to us by tradition and association with the teachings of that organization.

Now, I will tell you, Brethren, the only valid objection against Freemasonry that I know of, and I have been a member of it long enough to know. Do you know what is the only valid objection against Freemasonry? It is a bad Mason. Now, that is so, and the more you think about it, you will see that so it is. I tell members of my congregation there are plenty of men in the world who never read Bibles who read them, so I would like to say to you, Brethren, not because I am a Preacher but because for the moment I am here to preach, that the one convincing argument for the Truth of Masonry is a good Mason, and the only valid objection to Freemasonry is a bad one.

Let that teach you to be cautious whom you take in your Lodge. A man ought to have some higher ideal in joining a Lodge than to get something out of it. To be sure, he will get something out of it; he will get fellowship, he will have many an hour of rare enjoyment and intellectual profit. He may even get business, though this is about the lowest motive for becoming, a Mason that I can imagine. But all this is incidental. He should join Masonry to give it something, give it his presence, give it his counsel, give it his character, give it his influence, and all this in a measure proportionate to his responsibilities elsewhere, never neglecting his duties to home and family,--if he does, he is a bad Mason. Nor will a good Mason neglect his Church, his religion, whatever it be. Let us be very cautious in the admission of members, and after they are admitted let them be careful in their conduct to show the world what Masonry is. The world has no Temple now to behold on Moriah's Heights. There is no other way of showing the world how stones were put together without sound of axe, hammer, or any metal tool in the building; there is no way of exhibiting the columns at the entrance, or of showing the beautiful architraves and friezes and cornices, and all the other details that we know about in the structure of that Wonderful Building of which God was the Supreme Architect: the only Temples we can point at now are those Temples of the Living God which temple ye are. By your conduct make Masonry so real and true that the highest authority in Church or State, in the confines of the Vatican, or Councils of Sectarian Churches, or in the parsonage of some country minister, cannot without sacrificing his reputation for intelligence say anything against a body so ancient, so honorable, so true as is Free Masonry.

And now, without discoursing upon several virtues which are emphasized in the work of Masonry, let me refer to one which, if you will observe carefully, you will find to be all comprehensive of others for fundamental to faith is belief in God, and fundamental to right conduct is reverence to God. A Mason, of all other men, ought never to have his mouth polluted with blasphemy or irreverence: "Maintain your rank; vulgarity dispise, to swear is neither brave, polite or wise." Where do you think I got that? Out of an historical lecture that was given some 200 years ago down in Alexandria, where George Washington once was Master. It is worthy of your attention, "Maintain your rank; vulgarity dispise, to swear is neither, brave, polite, or wise."

My Brethren, it has been a great pleasure to preach to you to-night. It was said in the olden days in another country, before this was discovered, by a noted Saint, that no sermon was complete unless it said something about Death. All I need now to say about Death is this: A man who lives the right kind of life needn't concern himself about Death, though there is nothing surer or more truthful than this, "We all must die," and, comparatively speaking, we all will die soon.

There was a man, prominent in his Church, who, in a day of severe illness had a dream which he afterward related. He was known in the community as a man who was strictly moral; he was known in his Church as an officer of judgment and sagacity; he was known by the children in the community, and by others, to be hard, not lenient, not gentle, not particularly courteous. This man, in a severe illness, had a dream, and, with his own consciousness of being a big man in Church, and not having seriously broken any Commandments, he thought, when he entered Heaven, he'd find some mansion there prepared for him. As he afterwards related the dream, he looked about and could not. find anything that seemed to him comparable to his station in earthly life, and, finally, when showed to a little house, not so grand as others that had been apportioned to those who preceded him, he said, "Is this for me?" "Yes," said the Angel. "Why," he said, "I thought that I was to have a mansion." "Well," said the Angel, "we used all the materials you sent us."

This is the kind of Masonic building I commend to you, the kind that some day, that Eternal Day--will be found cemented together in a structure that is worthy of you, and contributing to the Glory of God. My Brethren, mindful of your Masonic privilege and responsibility, I bid you to "Work as if you were to live forever, and live as though you were to die to-night."

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