Masonic Teaching, Bible Truth
"To the Law and to the Testimony;
A Sermon preached to Naphthali Lodge, No. 752,
By R∴ W∴ and the Rev. Geo. R. Van De Water, D.D.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
Text courtesy of Leigh C. Eckmair, Historian/Archivist
the Gilbertsville Free Library, Gilbertsville, New York
This pamphlet is Presented in the hope that in order to gain the widest circulation possible for it, you will have it read at some communication of your lodge.
FREDERICK MILLER, Master. December, 17, 1908.
In the church, the first established in this country, the first Bishop of which, both in the land, Seabury, and in this city, Provoost was a Free Mason, there is eminent fitness in an invitation given to the Rector of St. Andrew’s, by Naphthali Lodge in the vicinity, to preach a sermon to its members, and other invited masons of this jurisdiction.
That this invitation has been so generally accepted, and that this assembly to-night is fairly representative of the most distinguished officers of the Grand Lodge, and prominent officers and members of many of our subordinate Lodges, is most gratifying. That we have here representatives from Lodges of the native place of your preacher, as well as of the three places where he has been a minister, is to him personally a source of special satisfaction. We have listened to a service of the ancient church, in which the psalm chosen was the one used aforetime, when on feast days the people assembled, and marched to the temple. Our lesson was that which has preserved to us the prayers used on the occasion of the Temple dedication. Escorted here by Knights Templar, Christian Masons, we have enjoyed witnessing the renewal of the Medieval custom of drawing sword at the recital of the ancient creed of the church.
And now, after prayer, and the singing of our patriotic hymn, we are to give our attention to thoughts that certainly are appropriate to this occasion.
Masonry is misunderstood only by those who do not know it. To one, who understands its sublime principles, it seems strange, if not impossible, that any one could ever so far pervert its intention as to assume that it is in any way whatever antagonistic to anything that is good. It is natural enough for any one knowing nothing about it to have prejudice against it. Ignorance is always more or less prejudiced, and not infrequently assertive of error. But where one understands Masonry and is not more interested in the propagation of an organization than in the perpetuation of the truth, he comprehends Free Masonry in the aspect of a handmaid to religion, as in all respects religious, and in no respect whatever harmful to any interest of man.
I want, to-night, to preach about Masonry, about the teaching of Masonry, and to show that this is a proper theme for a Christian pulpit. I propose to show nothing less than this, namely, that Masonic Teaching is, the Bible Truth.
If it were anything in any way antagonistic to Bible Truth, you can depend upon it that the 150,000 men and masons, in this state, representative men in their communities, would forswear their allegiance to the Craft.
Masonic Teaching, Bible Truth
For reasons entirely satisfactory to itself, Free Masonry not only encourages but enforces secrecy in its work. What is called its work is nothing but imparting instruction by the conferring of what are called degrees. These reasons, satisfactory to us, do not appear so reasonable to those who are not acquainted with the work. They not infrequently suggest that if the instruction imparted by such secret methods be of worth, why not give it to the world and let everyone share its benefits? You cannot always answer a question as briefly as it is proposed. But my answer to the question, why does Masonry impart its instruction by secret methods, is that it not only imparts the instruction better by such methods, but that it preserves its own integrity as an organization by such action.
It is true, however, of a secret society, as of one however open, that by its fruits it must be judged. Masonry is not only willing thus to be judged, but it courts the test. It is easy to make charges. It may be difficult to refute them. To the determinedly prejudiced this may indeed be impossible. But given sufficient time any organization will be known by what we call its fruits, or by the influence it exerts upon those who belong to it. If Masonry does not help a man to be good, it has no right to exist. Masonry is in no need of an advocate. It asks for neither advocate nor apologist. It is an ancient and a venerable institution among men. Best men in all ages have belonged to it. All nations possess it. All languages are utilized in bestowing its benefits. Men are not solicited for its membership. In large, and ever increasing numbers, they are knocking at its doors for admission. While it discriminates, it prohibits none who is worthy. It knows that by some it is misunderstood, by others it is misrepresented, and by not a few, it is miserably, clandestinely and dishonorably imitated. It is held responsible by some for not being religious at all, and by others is blamed for seeking to become a substitute for religion, and especially by some Christians, who are mistaken, it is thought to be a rival of the church by offering itself as a substitute.
Notwithstanding all these misapprehensions of its claims, its teaching, and its effect, Masonry goes right along with its work, condemns nobody who is trying to do right, is entirely oblivious to censure, criticism or even anathema, just merely believes in itself, is conscious of its beneficent mission, and continues to thrive.
Any organization with good ethical principles has a right to propagate its teaching by methods that are secret. The only harm that can ever come from a secret society must ensue from wrong principles which it inculcates.
If what the popes have said is true of Masonry, then their edicts are justified, but what they have said is not true. If what they thought were true, Masonry would long ago have ceased to exist. On the contrary, it grows, and by those who know it best, it increases in the estimation and approval of good men.
The theme I have chosen to-night for my sermon to a representative assemblage of Masons of this city is, "Masonic Teaching the Bible Truth." By this I mean exactly what the words declare, namely, that the teaching of Masonry, in all of its degrees, is exactly in accord with the truth of Holy Scriptures. In not a single instance does the one contravene the other, while their teachings not infrequently run on parallel lines. Masonry does not make any such foolish pretension as this, that it teaches as much as the Bible, or teaches everything that the Bible teaches, but I make the claim for Masonry that every word of its degrees, every exhortation given, every lesson imparted, every admonition pronounced, every influence that can be directly traced to itself, is for the betterment of mankind, and the advancement of the glory of God.
Masons very properly assemble occasionally in a christian church. It is very natural that from time to time a clergyman should be invited to address them. They owe it to themselves, and to their lodges, even were their attendance to have influence only by way of example, to go occasionally in a body to attend Divine Service, either in church or in synagogue. Ministers and Rabbis, in large numbers, belong to Masonry, and they would not retain their membership one moment did they not believe in it, and like it, and feel free to commend it. Bishops, and highest rulers of the state, join hands with simplest, plainest citizens in both admiration and commendation of Masonry.
In the last letter I received from the great and good Bishop Potter, written not long before his death, a letter I value very highly, he asked me to preach a sermon in Trinity Church, which had been offered for the occasion by the then rector, Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, since deceased. Of Dr. Dix's kindness, Bishop Potter wrote, "such an act by one so thoughtful, not himself a free-mason, in placing this church and its convenience at our service, shows plainly, on the part of the late Dr. Dix, a recognition of the historic value of Free Masonry to the cause of the Kingdom of God, and to the safeguarding of human society." In a few suggestions for the sermon I was asked by Bishop Potter to preach, the eminent prelate said this of the order, which now for the first time, is given to the public. It almost seems to me, as I now quote his words, that "he, being dead, yet speaketh."
"In making the address I would, if I were you, dwell," he writes,
"(a) Upon the popular estimate of Masonry as a purely decorative, or ornamental fellowship, and show how truly ceremonial has preserved, in connection with it, some very precious ideas;
"(b) I would also point out that the popular disposition to regard it as simply a mutual insurance company has underneath it a note of real value as indicating the care of the strong for the weak.
"(c) And then I would bring well to the fore the tremendous significance of the fact that Masonry is the only order, society, institution, or fellowship on earth which binds together different races. A Master Mason may be a Christian, a Jew, or a Mohammedan. And from all these fellowships there is disclosed, today, some potential element in the construction of that new and larger Society which is not to be racial, nor ecclesiastical, but human."
And then, with characteristic modesty, the eminent prelate closed his letter thus, "These suggestions are only for your possible assistance. Disregard them unreservedly if you are so minded. Affectionately yours,
"(Signed) HENRY CODMAN POTTER."
Never had man a more faithful friend, and never a clergyman a better Bishop, than your preacher to-night had in this distinguished man and Mason, the seventh Bishop of New York.
I am sure that were he here with us he would cordially subscribe to my subject "Masonic Teaching is the Bible Truth."
Let me now proceed to justify the statement. This is not difficult, or if difficult, difficult only in the judicious selection from a mass of proofs of those that are most cogent.
And first, let me tell you, as briefly as I can, what is the Bible truth. This seems like a large subject to treat in one sermon. The Bible is a collection of thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, and twenty-seven books of the new, sixty-six in all. The word "Bible" means books, not book. There were at least forty authors of these writings, and probably more than this number. All of the books of the Old Testament were written at least three hundred years before Christ, and most of them at least five hundred years before Christ. Some of them, or parts of them were written from a thousand to fifteen hundred years before Christ. All of the books of the Old Testament, and all of the books of the Apocrypha also, which are not ordinarily bound in our familiar editions of the Bible, were customarily read in the services of synagogue and temple by the Jews before the time of Christ, and have been reverently read both in public and privately by the Jews and by Christians ever since the time of Christ.
All of the books of the New Testament were written within the first one hundred years after the birth of Christ, and have been read by those who profess and call themselves Christians in their churches, and in their homes, ever since the last of the Apostles, St. John the Evangelist died, which was at the beginning of the second century of this Christian dispensation.
I need not tell you that our Bible, both testaments, contains varied kinds of writings, that while it is generally a religious book, all of its contents are not religious. Its contents are historical, prophetical, and poetical. While not a scientific text book, it gives a graphic account of creation, and illustrates teaching otherwise derived, of geology, botany, astronomy, and other departments of knowledge. No one will question that the aim of all the writers is ethical. The Old Testament, with all its varied records, records of sin and shame, as well as of virtue and goodness, with its ten commandments, its magnificent moral utterances of prophets, its pathetic and powerful appeals in the Psalms, is after all a book, the purport of which is to make men righteous.
Similarly, the New Testament, with its four separate stories of the heavenly origin, earthly life, and final glorification of Jesus Christ, with its history of the Christian Church during the lives of the Apostles, with its several letters called Epistles, and its marvellous work of imagery called the Apocalypse or revelation is, to summarize it, a book, the aim of which is to make men holy.
Of the one, this utterance of a prophet might do for a summary, "And what doth God require of thee but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?"
Of the other, this utterance of an apostle might answer for epitome, "To do good and to distribute, forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
I am aware that with many, any consideration of religion, apart from a creed, is impossible. It is difficult, when you come to think of it, wholly to separate duty from doctrine, practise from principle, conduct from creed, life from belief.
Yet, difficult as it may be, impossible even, there is nobody who will dispute that between believing the truth and doing what is right, if difference must be drawn, it must every time favor the latter, and ascribe to it the supremest importance.
It may be true that to be good one must believe in God, and that to develop one's whole being on best lines one must be a man of prayer, and that really to look at things in this life as they ought to be regarded, one must have definite convictions, amounting to assurance, of the reality of the life to come. Yet all the true doctrine ever formulated may be accepted mentally, but until it issues into righteous living, the truth accepted is a dormant, useless thing. Devils believe, and tremble. Nobody will ever be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven, nor will he be kept out of the Kingdom of Heaven, solely on the ground of what he believes, regardless of how he lives. This is not said to deprecate doctrine, but to put it where it belongs, to appreciate it at its real worth.
The Bible truth, to get at the concentrated formula of all its contents, both of Old and New Testaments, is briefly stated and readily understood. You can put it in any language you please. Bible language is preferable, and a score of familiar texts for this purpose could be cited.
"In the beginning, God." "God is the Father of us all, he is above all, through all, and in you all." "In him we live, and move, and have our being" "All we have sinned and come short of the glory of God, in whose image we are created."
"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." "In every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him."
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
Now, if you were to sit down and study your Bible from cover to cover, Old Testament. and New, as a Jew or a Christian, no matter, whatever else you might conclude, I am sure that you would readily and heartily acquiesce in my statement that the most pleasing thing in this world to Almighty God is a good man. He would like to look into the face of every child living, and say, "This is my beloved son, in him I am well pleased." So far as any creed, or doctrine, can help a man to be good they are useful, and not any further. The Bible is not primarily to make men believe right, but to live well. A righteous life is the very best thing in this world, next to the love of God which inspires it. This, I take it, is Bible Truth. Now, what is Masonic Teaching?
What is ordinarily called the work of Masonry is embodied in stereotyped forms of opening and closing a lodge, and prescribed details of administration of the several degrees. Being a secret society, and kept inviolably secret in most of its work, it is impossible publicly, or privately, for any but its members, to describe it. To justify its secrecy it is merely necessary to say that this secrecy is maintained solely for its maintenance and preservation.
But it is competent for any member of the Society to say that its sole aim and purpose is to make men righteous, that its teachings, every one of them, tend in this direction. It has nothing whatever to do with politics save to make men, of whatever country, loyal and patriotic. It dignifies labor, and has no sympathy whatever with any movement that would restrict the opportunities for work. It recognizes the necessity of differences in ability, and in administrations, and rebukes any teaching or practise that looks in the direction of socialism, communism, or anarchy. Recognizing that "above all nations is humanity," it encourages men to love their brother men, and each in the measure of his ability to assist his fellow, whether within or without the Masonic fellowship.
Masonry is the auxiliary of every good organization in the world. Not professing to be a religious society, it recognizes religion as the foundation of all true philosophy, the fountain and source of all true ethics, and the cornerstone of the temple of individual upright character. Righteousness is its supreme aim and purpose. Masonry is true not because it is ancient, but is ancient because it is true. It perpetuates a traditional knowledge of the most important events of human history, running in parallel lines with that which we learn of these events in the revealed word of God. Masonry has its creed, which can be read, and known, and may be believed by all men.
In the proposed Constitution of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, the following formula form a preface under the two heads of Masonic Creed and Masonic Teaching.
"There is one God and Father of all men.
"The Holy Bible is a Divine Revelation, the rule and guide for faith and practise.
"Man is immortal.
"Character determines destiny.
"Man's love of man is, next to love of God, man's first duty.
"Prayer, communion of man with God, is helpful."
"Masonry teaches man the practise of charity and benevolence, to protect chastity, to respect the ties of blood and friendship, to adopt the principles, and reverence the Sacraments of religion, assist the feeble, guide the blind, raise up the downtrodden, shelter the orphan, guard the altar, support the government, encourage wisdom, inculcate morality, promote learning, love man, fear God, implore His mercy, and hope for happiness and immortality."
These are its professions. What does it accomplish in the pursuit of them? Without making any boast, real righteousness is unassuming, "charity is not puffed up," it is willing at any time to be tested by its fruits.
In any given community, it points to its members, and while recognizing human weakness everywhere, for lovers of home, protectors of families, reverence for law, promoters of order, inculcators of patriotism, and honest citizenship, and upholders of religion, for whatsoever things are honest, lovely, and of good report, it is not only unashamed, but proud to call its roll in public, and summon forth its membership as upright men and masons. I say nothing of the advantages it offers of good fellowship, of literary culture, and oratorical opportunities, of artistic development and rhetorical attainment, of historic study, and attractive etiquette, important considerations, especially in our large cities, where are congregated multitudes of good young men, without other facilities of this sort, though I submit that these are very important considerations. The advantages of Masonry are to be sought, not urged upon any.
My motive is merely to prove one thing, and I think that what I have said goes to prove it, that Masonic Teaching is Bible Truth. I am preaching now to masons, preaching to masons by their invitation. You have come here to-night, my brothers to attend the regular evening prayer service of this church, and to listen to a sermon especially prepared for, and addressed to masons.
I have not had it in mind to make Masonry attractive to others still less to induce any to seek its light and privileges. This is not necessary. The endeavor of masons everywhere in this jurisdiction is to sift out the numerous postulants, and admit only the best. Masonry does not seek to make bad men good. This it leaves for other agencies. It only seeks good men, to make them better.
I have preached rather that you masons may better understand what Masonry is, and above all, that understanding its intent you would make your coming here, and my preaching to you, of some practical worth, by resolving now, every one of you, more than hitherto you have done, to justify the righteous principles of Masonry by your own righteous lives.
Masonic Teaching is Bible Truth.
But the truth of the Bible is not found so much within the covers of the Book as in the lives of believers in the Book. Plenty of men who never read the Bible itself read what there is of the Bible in you, and in me.
Similarly, Masonry is not so much in its work, as in the characters of the men who do the work, or witness it.
Plenty of men know all they ever will know, or believe of Masonry by what they know of you.
Neither Masonic teaching nor Bible truth is of any real worth until it finds permanent embodiment in a human being.
I attended, a few weeks ago, a session of the Children's Court, and sat beside the Judge, a prominent mason, who in all he said, combined most admirably mercy and justice, discipline and common sense. Of the scores of little boys and girls brought before him, most all were bad because nobody had ever taught or helped them to be good. Every one of them needed, more than all else, more even than punishment, a friend, some big brother to teach him, to make him feel less forlorn, to inspire him with a sense of honor, to help him to be of some real worth. I came away convinced that what this world needs most is Brotherhood, a brotherhood of good men, helpful to their fellows, cheerful and hopeful, and loyal to their God. Any society that teaches this is sure to have the blessing of God. Masonry is such a society. Masonic teaching is Bible Truth.