Project Canterbury


The Latent Power of Masonry

At 8 o'clock P. M.
F. & A. M.

Grand Chaplain Grand Lodge State of New York


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



To that without which Freemasonry is not, the foundation upon which all that is admired or cherished in the superstructure is firmly builded, the first three degrees, on which hang all the teachings and traditions of our venerable order, the science, the philosophy, and the religion of a society hoary with antiquity yet youthful in its capacity for social service.

This sermon is dedicated
By a

Compliments of
JAMES B. WILSON, Master Republic Lodge, 690, F. & A. M.
WILLIAM R. LAWSON, Master Naphthali Lodge, 752, F. & A. M.
A∴ L∴ 5914

TEXT: “Thou Art a Great People and Hast Great Power.”

[5] Now for several successive years we have had in this church a service like this with an annual sermon by your Grand Chaplain. The service is under the auspices of the two lodges in this metropolitan jurisdiction, in which I happen to have membership, active and honorary. For the arrangement of the service, and the subsequent publication with extensive and generous distribution of the sermon, we are indebted to the interest and the generosity of Republic and Naphthali lodges. The invitation to this service is a general one to Masons and their friends. It is more than an annual Masonic service for one or for several lodges. The real truth is that a Mason of many years’ experience in Masonry, for a long period one of the Grand Chaplains of this State, enthusiastic in his devotion both to the teaching and the influence of Freemasonry, conscious of its great power for good in the world, finds that at least once each year, in the course of his professional work which requires study of books and a knowledge of men, he has a message to deliver to Masons. The two lodges I have named courteously provide the opportunity. Recognizing also the cordial concurrence in this effort by the authorities of this parish, I shall have no hesitation in requesting of my brothers and friends, when the offertory is made, what material help you choose to give me in the prosecution of my work right here in this community where I have stood at the helm for nearly twenty-seven years, and to the astonishment of many as well as myself, as St. Paul says, “And yet do minister.”

For many acts of kindness and tokens of sympathy by my brother Masons during this last year, an all too large portion of which I was compelled to be absent from my home and my church, you will pardon this personal intrusion of a very heartfelt expression of my gratitude and esteem.

My subject for this sermon is the latent power of Masonry. Latent comes from a Latin root, which means merely to lurk, or to seem hidden, to be concealed from open vision. The word applied to power is in no sense derogatory to its force, but means merely that it is not openly manifested as cause, though always apparent as effect. Two elements concurred in the formation of the first man. There was a body taken from the ground and there was a Divine breath infused into it which gave that body life.

Two elements combine to give form and strength to every organism or organization. There is the outward and visible manifestation which is its corporate existence, and then there is an inward and spiritual life which gives to it its influence and power.

A musician is limited for expression by his instrument, but the music of any musician is an animating force within himself. Wagner has succeeded in ravishing a world by his exquisite close harmonies, but one can imagine Wagner almost in despair and angry with his [5/6] instrument which at its best failed to express those still finer tones which maddened him with an indefinable joy.

St. Paul, who wrote so incomparably of love in his famous thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, was conscious of thoughts which he could not utter.

One’s ideas become ideals that cannot find expression. The spirit of a man is greater than the man’s power to display it. Wherever there is power manifested, there is still latent power inexhaustible.

In the matter of inspiration we must remember our houses of clay. Bad as any man seems there is good in him undeveloped, and good as the best of our race has ever been, he had it in him to be better. A correct judgment of a man or a mechanism must take into account the latent as well as the patent power, and must regard the influences that lie hidden from open vision as well as those that are apparent and manifest.

Water springing up through the earth’s strata tastes of the various ingredients of the soil through which it has passed and percolated. The Holy Spirit, although using men as agents, allows the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of each to remain. The saints either of the Old or the New Testament were not perfect men. The best of them might have been better. The Bible is not an immaculate book, though it is the word of God, a rule and guide infallible to man’s faith and practise. The churches have all erred, yet God has inhabited them, inspired them, and used them for His glory.

Nations are necessary. They who have authority over us art ordained of God, yet neither Nations nor Rulers are ever wholly blessed or beneficent.

Man is an organ on which the spirit of God would discourse sweetest music. But in an organ there are many stops, and numerous parts, and one little rift within the lute may make all its music mute. To judge of power we must estimate principles. Of man or anything made by man, of organism or of organization, there is in any being or thing of any work or worth whatever an influence that is operative, or capable of becoming operative, that cannot be summarized by statistics, yet very real, that as cause may be concealed, yet in effect powerfully operative.

Who can begin to estimate, for example, the good a church is in a community? Somebody looks in at some service and may see but the two or three gathered together in His name, and estimating what he can see of material structure, land, buildings, men employed, and money expended may think he is telling the truth when he says of it all, what waste, and asks Cui bono? Or, looking into the matter a little more deeply he may scan the statistics required in an annual report, and figuring the manual acts or the labial utterances, the Baptisms and Burials, Services held and Scholars instructed, may again this time more charitably exclaim, good what there is of it, but for the expenditure, pray why not more? Ah! could such but know, but none can know the suffering soothed by gentle words and [6/7] kindly deeds, the aching hearts healed by affectionate counsel and priestly guidance, the doubts dissolved by public utterance or private talks, the homes made happier because their inmates are made holier, the children who will become the future citizens of real worth who but for such agencies in this city would be left to run riot, and run straight to their own and others’ destruction. All this and much more than this constitutes that hidden, lurking, latent power of a church in any community, of which careless people take no heed, but thoughtful people carefully observe.

It is because Churches, and their Sunday Schools, with all the myriad organizations for all sorts and conditions of men and women and children are doing preventive as well as pursuing work, work that not only will make people pious, but will make unnecessary the agencies of policemen and prisons, at least make these less necessary that the civil authorities, not without good reason, free them from the burden of taxation.

If it be true that in all time of prosperity men forget this, and either decry, minimize or ignore the Church’s power and influence for good, you will observe that from the president to the humblest citizen, not hopelessly infidel, in any time of tribulation or world-wide calamity, the appeal is made for men to go to the places of public worship, and there pray, then listen to their duty with attentive ears, the better to practise it.

The final test of the worth of a man, or of anything made by man is its ability to impart permanent good. Immortality cannot be affirmed of anything not inherently good. Goodness is the only thing that can live forever. The catastrophe which we call death may not end life, but not until the catastrophe which we call sin has been overcome, eliminated, purged and done away can anybody living or dying continue to live forever. Whether beyond this life we may have opportunity to repent and be saved, I do not know. Neither does any other man. I hope so—but only the good can lastingly survive. And of this I feel sure that only a good-for-nothing will ever be a dead one.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither an evil tree good fruit. By their fruits ye shall know them. The sun does not shine for its own glory. It is the beneficent agent of the Creator in diffusing benefits upon all who come within its rays of light and life and blessing.

True power, patent or latent, observed or hidden, manifested or concealed, is vivifying, productive, builds up, gives strength, has lasting force.

It is as true of any organization as it is true of any man that the exercise of power or influence over others for self-glorification is mere selfishness, and that the employment of it for their good is true benevolence.

What has all this, conceding it all to be true, to do with Masonry? Much, and in every way. Let me tell you, and when you representatives of so many different lodges who have honored me by coming here to-night to receive the annual message of your [7/8] Grand Chaplain have heard the message, go forth prepared and resolutely determined to declare the message yourselves to others needing it.

Too much cannot be deduced from numbers, though it is significantly true that in New York State alone there are this moment more than one hundred and eighty-six thousand affiliated Masons, while in the world, the statistics confessedly inaccurate, since to number all is not possible at any one time, there are more than several millions.

It is possible that for a short period a large number of men might organize and conspire for the prosecution of ideas that are ignoble, and with motives that are sinister. It is utterly impossible that an organization of this sort should be ever long lived. Masonry is hoary with antiquity. While some of its work is secret, good and sufficient reasons readily furnished for this, there is much both of its work and teaching that is as an open book to anyone interested and desirous of knowing it.

The quality and character of its membership in every town and hamlet of any size or importance in this country ought to be sufficient warrant of its absolute integrity and genuine worth.

It is the most democratic society known among men. It teaches no form of government as necessary or even desirable, it has comfortable existence under Monarchs, and in republics. It numbers Kings, Czars, Emperors, Pashas and Presidents in its membership, and tells them all, their subjects and their citizens, that a good Mason must love his country and be loyal to Rulers. It is too old a social fraternity to be confined to the company of those who profess and call themselves Christians. For many years, for all the wisest know, for centuries, all Masons were Hebrews. To this day these are our brethren, and first among our best. It teaches religion, it practices religion, it recites the scriptures, and prays at every stated communication. It leaves every member free to choose his church, and, finding God, to worship Him where and as he thinks best. It compels a man to confess his belief in God and in a future life, and finds no fault with those who find benefit in further confession to man.

If the Lord’s prayer was deemed sufficient by the Saviour when his Disciples asked him to teach them to pray, it is sufficient still in form and doctrine for any follower of Christ.

In a Masonic lodge, Hebrews and Christians pray to the same God, the latter asking “in His name,” since all Christian prayer is in the name of the great Revealer. I rejoice that I am able without a reservation to state in this place and presence that, having had experience in all the acknowledged ancient degrees of Freemasonry, I have never heard any teaching that is not sacred, noble and uplifting, nor have I ever had any experience in any communication that was not to me both helpful and hallowed.

I feel every year, at least once, that as Grand Chaplain of Masons in this State I want to give public utterance to this conviction. Nobody is ever asked to become a Mason. We are in no need of [8/9] reinforcements. At least there is no necessity for pains in recruiting. The thing speaks for itself. My only reason in speaking for it is my love and loyalty.

I know what it is doing for young men, for example, thousands of whom in our large cities especially, apart from family, have no real homes, and who find in their own and other lodges that social intercourse and companionship, without which the best of us are forlorn, and lacking too long all opportunities for these things, become like horses in the open turned out to die.

There are, moreover, many positions and parts both of routine and special work that give rare opportunities to men, and more especially young men for thoughtful study, for memorizing choicest English, for learning best parts of scriptures, and for skill in both rhetoric and elocution, the cultivation of which is fascinating.

Neither is home neglected, nor family overlooked. No Masonic duty is ever to conflict with the acknowledged paramount claims of either. Every virtue is exalted. Every vice condemned.

That with all this there are some bad Masons, not many, but some, only shows God’s omnipotence is shortened by man’s waywardness.

It is no more, but it is as much of an appeal to Masons as it is to churchmen, that the unworthy do so much harm to a worthy cause, and the world that has forgotten Simon and Philip still remembers Judas Iscariot.

Pontius Pilate washed his hands before the multitude, but never having washed his heart clean he cannot obliterate the record of his name every time the creed is said by Christians. The world that knows too well a renegade has no keen observation for the silent forces of the faithful. It has always been so. So it ever will be. Evil has a blatant way of advertising its wares. Good modestly pursues its way and scatters blessings unobserved.

I sometimes think that the latent power of any good man or any good institution in this world is vastly more and more influential than the power that is patent.

It is as true in the church as it is anywhere that the meek inherit. Think for a moment of your ideal Mason, the man whom all delight to honor, one whose crowning years have made him modest, whose life’s labors have helped and never hurt or hindered anybody, to whom the young look with veneration, and older ones with emulation, and tell me, is not his power after all that not of the earthquake, the fire, or the wind, but that rather of the still, small voice that breathes benisons, the unostentatious manner that makes a braggart feel mean, and a proud man little?

Men and Masons, cultivate this latent power, that need not strive nor cry, nor ever advertise its wares, but that silently working operates effectually for human betterment and Divine Glory. What Joshua said to the Sons of Joseph might be said with equal appropriateness to all our brethren--”Thou art a great people and hast great power.”

Not less is this people great, nor any less its power because its [9/10] influence is indirect. The effect of a fundamental religious and moral teaching abundantly repeated and reinforced by a telling ritual ceremony, of social assemblies of men of responsibility and worth in which discussions of questions that provoke dissension and angry discord are forbidden or discouraged, the summons at every communication for information of any brother in sickness or distress, and ready assistance proffered, the meeting on a common platform of privilege of men of every walk and condition of life, the assertion of human rights and resistance to slavery or oppression of any kind whatever, all things constitute a patent power that has told in time past, is telling now, and will continue to tell in no uncertain tones for time to come. The latent power of Masonry is a power of world beneficence.

The influence of Freemasonry is due to the inspirational effect of its work. This, like the sap in the plant, works secretly, silently, unostentatiously, almost invisibly, but works constantly and powerfully. The effects are felt where the causes are or seem occult.

In the three great social centers, the home, the church and the nation, this latent power of Freemasonry is manifested.

Masonry makes for cordial relations everywhere, and nowhere more than where two souls in pure pledged love prepare their nest for their righteously begotten offspring.

Masons are taught to be honorable, to respect virtue, and to be tender toward the aged, the weak and the young, to listen to others’ opinions and to respect opinions different from their own, to give and to take, to be lenient and forgiving, to respect good wherever found, and to openly oppose nothing but the bad.

In the church Masons are believers and not persecutors, liberal but not lax; they know what they believe, and they are taught that no matter what or how much they believe if they are void of love they are no good to God or man.

In the nation they are loyal. They are taught to reverence their flag, to labor for peace, and, whenever occasion makes it necessary, to fight for protection.

Freemasons are neither militarists nor mercenarists. They believe in the rights of all nations, little ones as well as big ones, and their right to exist unmolested and undisturbed.

In a great international warfare Masons are taught to pray for peace, mind their own business, and take no side but the side of mercy to the oppressed, and ultimate prosperity of whatever is right and best for all mankind.

In family, in church, in country, in home, in state, in religion, these latent influences become potent powers of lasting good.

They are not to be measured by scales or plumb lines, but they are mighty to the pulling down of the strongholds of wrong and injustice, and to the lengthening and strengthening of the cords of the tabernacle of truth and righteousness. Ours is a fraternity of world-wide beneficence. We know no race nor nation, since above all races is man and above all nations is humanity.

Brothers, we have suddenly come upon a world war. While we [10/11] are at peace, we are all praying for peace among our brethren in other lands than ours. Of things about which men differ, this is no place to speak. It is more than likely true that no nation involved in the monstrous conflict is all right, and not one wholly in the wrong. It is also true as every sensible man, not hopelessly partial, must realize that no one man is responsible for the dire disaster. We need to be impartial, and just, even if as individuals we cannot be neutral.

No body of men, no organization, secular or religious, have the facilities or the opportunities as has Freemasonry for the encouragement of this necessary attitude toward public questions, this proper posture with reference to world-stirring events. There confronts us a wholesale slaughter of humanity. Overshadowing all other considerations is this, men are being killed, women made widows, and children orphaned by men, largely men who profess and call themselves Christians, engaged in a struggle for the supremacy of the right, as every combatant presumably sees the right. It is all too dreadful for meditation. Just as we thought the whole world had reached a consciousness of strong social obligation, the effect of careful investigation, and teaching and philanthropic efforts of years, all seems reduced to chaos. It is all to me an inconceivable inconsistency. I had thought that we were bettering conditions under which people live, stopping cruelty to children in our factories, providing old age pensions, and decreasing infant mortality. It seemed to me that we were attacking disease by preventing it, and controlling vice by making it seem hideous, when out of a clear sky came the cataclysm. “GOD SITTETH ABOVE THE WATER FLOODS.” I cannot but believe that out of it all will yet come a new birth into greater freedom, larger liberty, and blessed munificence to the whole world. Meantime, brothers, what is our hope? Where our stay? in whom do you put your trust? In any great emergency, what shall we do? Let us pray!


Almighty God and Father, who hast made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and who has commanded thy children everywhere to remember that they are brethren, accept our petition, we pray thee, in this dark hour of strife and calamity, and cause thy spirit of peace and justice to so animate the hearts of those who are intrusted with the authority of governance, that war shall speedily cease and concord and fraternity be established upon a lasting foundation.

We implore thy blessing upon all our beloved fellow craftsmen of every degree and nationality who are now engaged in battle. May they abound in the good deeds of mercy, charity and forbearance. Let the darkness of the fields of carnage be illumined by the light which comes from thee.

Hear us, O great Consoler, for the widows and orphans, and all [11/12] who are bereft, whether in mind, body or estate. And grant that we who dwell in safety in this dear land may be so guided and inspired by thee that our thoughts, words and actions may promote the truest sympathy and fellowship, and ever exemplify those virtues in which we have been instructed. Regard with thy gracious favor all our lodges within this jurisdiction. Counsel thou with our counsellors. May the altars around which we meet be crowned with the pure radiance of divine love, richly communicated to every faithful breast, expelling all pride, vain glory and railing, fostering all tenderness, pity and service. Hear us, our Father, in these our supplications, and when thou hearest, forgive. Amen.


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