"Chapter One" The Star in the East 1825 : Rev. George Oliver "Chapter One"
Before we enter on this discussion, it will be proper to determine precisely what religion is, in the common and most correct acceptation of the word. According to Cicero, the ancients believed religion to be “the study and practice of divine worship." The Christian differs from the heathen world in the interpretation for religion. Bishop Wilkins defines religion to be “that general habit of reverence towards the divine nature, whereby we are enabled and inclined to worship and serve God, after such a manner as we conceive most agreeable to His divine will." And Dr. Watts says, that “religion or virtue, in a large sense, includes duty to God and our neighbor." Religion, then, is a system of practical duties, and thus stands opposed to theology, which is a system of speculative truths. The moral duties, which man commits to practice in this probationary state, with a view of pleasing his Creator, are acts of pure religion, which produce a corresponding influence on the mind and manners, and display his nature, as superior to the rest of the creation. They shew that man has a rational soul, and from his unrestrained freedom of will, by choosing evil or pursuing good, his personal responsibility is demonstrated; whence, at some distant period, he will be brought to an account for his actions, whether they be good or whether they be evil, and receive an equitable recompense from the even hand of impartial justice.
Freemasonry was revealed by God him-self to the first man. But a wise and good being would reveal nothing but what had a tendency to encourage the practice of those precepts, which were given to preserve the newly created man in the strict line of moral duty; therefore masonry must be closely interwoven with the practice of religion. Its operative portion proceeded from the effects of human ingenuity stimulated by human necessity after the fall. It was merely an application of its principles to the benefit of man, as far as was conducive to his comfort and convenience in this life, without any reference to a future state, Hence, originated the two great divisions of masonry : operative masonry was of human institution; speculative masonry of divine.
Masonry, in the first ages of the world, was therefore a system of pure religion; and when men degenerated into idolatry, and in their migrations carried with them the principles of the order, it was, in every nation, applied to the same purpose, more or less perverted, in proportion as the inhabitants adhered to, or swerved from, the rites of true worship. In India, Egypt, and other nations, which very early became addicted to Polytheism; it branched out into pompous ceremonial observances, shrouded in mystery and withheld from the profane, but still applied to the national religion, and the worship of those gods which had been erected into objects of adoration, and placed on the foundation which Jehovah himself had laid. Nor is there a single instance on record, in which the mysterious institutions of any ancient nation, in any part of the world, having the least resemblance to freemasonry, excluded religion from a share in their solemn pursuits. On the contrary, religion was the main object of them all. Whether the Orphic or the Eleusian, the Gothic or the Dionysian; whether the rites of Mithras or Bramha, of Pythagoras or the Druids; the Essenian or the Kasidean; all were instituted in honour of religion, and all enforced the practice of those duties which religion recommends. Shall we then he told that masonry, the very origin and foundation of all these systems, has no connection with religion, and least of all with Christianity, the perfection of religion? It is a fact, which I shall endeavour to prove, that every creditable writer on the subject of freemasonry has publicly avowed his conviction that the most intimate alliance subsists between the two sister institutions; and has left behind him ample testimonies to repel this novel and very extraordinary opinion.
Freemasonry, as practiced at the present day, commemorates particularly five great events in the history of the world, each typical of the Messiah, These are, the vision of Jacob, where he beheld the celebrated ladder, reaching from earth to heaven; the Bering of Isaac upon Mount Moriah, when it pleased the Lord to substitute a more agreeable victim in his stead; the miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage under the conduct of Moses; the offering of David on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite; and the building of Solomon's Temple. Now these extraordinary events, which unequivocally point to our Saviour Jesus Christ, are the principal historical events contained in our lectures. This coincidence could not have been accidental, and must, therefore, have been designed. It follows, then, that masonry was intended to perpetuate in the mind of man that most important fact, the salvation of his soul through the sacrifice of Christ. To accomplish this design more perfectly, the most prominent types, as they arose, were incorporated by wise and pious brethren into the original system, until it contained a perfect chain of evidence, which could neither be effaced nor misunderstood, illustrative of this fact, so essential to the future welfare of mankind.
I presume not to say that masonry is exclusively Christian, because many are daily initiated into its mysteries whose religious opinions are inimical to Christianity; I only contend, and shall endeavour to prove, that being a system of ethics, and inculcating the morality of every religion under the sun, it is more particularly adapted to the Christian religion, because Christian ethics approach nearest to the standard of absolute perfection ; and because the genius of masonry can assimilate with no other religion so completely as with Christianity, The historical part of its lectures hears an undoubted reference to our pure religion ; and this coincidence is so remarkably striking, that it would almost convince an unprejudiced mind, that masonry was formed as an exclusive companion for Christianity. The strength of this testimony is increased by the nature and tendency of its symbolical instruction, by the peculiar east of its morality, and by the fiery extraordinary nature of its allegorical mechanism; extraordinary on any other principle than with a reference to Christianity.
Masonry is confessedly an universal system, and teaches the relative and social duties of man on the broad and extensive basis of general philanthropy. A Jew, a Mahometan, or a Pagan may attend our lodges without fear of hearing his peculiar doctrines or mode of faith called in question, by a comparison with others which are repugnant to his creed, because a permanent and unalterable landmark of masonry is, the total absence and exclusion of religious or political controversy. Each of these professors practices a system of morality suited to the sanctions of his own religion; which, as it emanated from the primitive system of divine worship, bears some resemblance to it; and consequently he can hear moral precepts inculcated, without imputing a designed reference to any peculiar mode of faith. But can it be concluded from these premises that masonry contains no religion? The whole compass of the world's experience refutes this bold and unqualified assertion. All our charges, all our regulations, assume, as a foundation which cannot he moved, a belief in the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and inculcate the necessity of moral purity, as a qualification for future happiness; and this, according to our definitions, forms the sum and substance of religion in its most universal acceptation.
How can any brother considerately urge that masonry contains no reference to religion, when the very first step which a candidate makes in advancing to the floor of the lodge, is attended with an acknowledgment that he believes in an omnipresent Deity, and that he puts his trust in that great and omnipotent Being to shield him from danger and to remove his apprehensions of evil? What is the ground of his solemn obligations? What is the sacred subject of the first charge delivered to him immediately subsequent to his initiation? Religion, if Watts' definition be correct, what can he the intended effect of our obligations, if they he not grounded on these fundamental truths? The progress of masonic knowledge moves step by step on these universally acknowledged principles. The first lesson which masonry, teaches, is to persevere in the constant study of the Holy Bible as the sacred source of our faith, and containing the only certain information on a subject the most interesting to a responsible agent in this probationary state; and the next is an admonition to practice the three great duties of morality, one of which is the duty to God. As its instructions proceed, we learn that our ground-work is sanctified by the efficacy of Three Religions Offerings, which are typical of the great sacrifice of atonement by Jesus Christ; and that our splendid canopy contains a Letter of the most extensive reference, and the most comprehensive meaning. The elevation in the Third Degree refers to the resurrection from the dead; and this is a clear admission of the reality of a future state, because, if there he no future state, there can be no resurrection.
Our solemn dedications and consecrations speak the same language, and they are irrefragable evidences of the intimate connection which subsists between masonry and religion. If we proceed another step, the evidence becomes stronger. The order of the Royal Arch is founded exclusively on religion. The degree is purely religious, and includes little but what is connected with the love and worship of God, and the wise and genial regulations of Divine Providence for the benefits of man. The very tests are founded on the fall of Adam, and the consequent degradation of the human race, enforced by the salutary promise of their future restoration through the intercession of a Mediator. If this be not religion, if this be not Christianity, what is it?
The Military Degrees, though indeed they possess only a remote connection with masonry, will however testify that it is very closely allied to religion. They date their origin from them Crusades, and have Christianity for their basis and support. The whole system is exclusively Christian. Their banner was a RED CROSS, inscribed “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES," which was considered a safeguard and protection against all assailing dangers; for the cross was regarded as a sacred symbol, which alone could convey safety in their holy career. The tests and paraphernalia of these degrees hear the same exclusive reference to Christianity. It is true they were grafted upon masonry at the above period, and consequently form no part of primitive Lux: but still they hear on the point in question ; for every knight was necessarily a mason, and no one was eligible for the dignity of the golden spur, but he who had been prepared by a previous Initiation into the three degrees of masonry. This is a strong collateral proof of the ancient alliance between masonry and religion; for these high-minded men, who had nothing in view but the extension of Christianity evinced their reverence for masonry as a religious system, by making it a sine qua non with all who aspired to admission into their honorable body. Amidst the enthusiastic spirit and sacred feelings which animated these champions of Christianity, they would scarcely have shewn such a distinguished predilection for any system founded on a basis which excluded religion.
The admission, on the part of certain mistaken brethren, who are surely unacquainted with the true nature of our constitution, that the science we profess does not inculcate the practice of religious duties, has given rise to an opinion amongst the uninitiated, very naturally resulting from the concession of a point of such vast importance, that we are infidels, if not atheists, and consequently friends to revolution and disorder. I grant that infidelity and atheism are inseparably connected with anarchy and demoralization ; but it can by no means he inferred that we are atheists, except the proof be founded on stronger data than the fact of our being masons, joined with the assumption that masonry contains no religion ; except it he shewn by undeniable reasoning that we have literally renounced our allegiance to God, that we inculcate doctrines which tend to the subversion of religion, and that we are guilty of insubordination and contempt of the laws which are ordained for the preservation of peace and order in society.
But so far from encouraging insubordination, masonry is a perfect system of obedience to superior governors lawfully constituted. And I am happy to, be able to set the plea entirely at rest by a quotation from our statutes: The rulers and governors, supreme and subordinate, of the lodge, are to be obeyed in their respective stations by all the brethren, according to the old charges and regulations, with all humility, reverence, love, and alacrity."
Besides, though political discussions are prohibited in the lodge, our laws unequivocally inculcate loyalty as a primary masonic qualification. " A mason is a peaceable subject to the civil powers wherever he resides, and is never to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation; nor to behave himself undutifully to the inferior magistrates ; for as masonry hath been always injured by war, blood-shed, and confusion, so antient kings and princes have been much disposed to encourage the craftsmen, because of their peaceableness and loyalty ; whereby they practically answered the cavils of their adversaries, and promoted the honour of the fraternity, which ever flourished in times of peace."*
What were the feelings of our best and wisest brethren when this unfounded accusation was first publicly urged? Each worthy brother took up his pen in defense of an order he revered, eager to repel a charge involving our reputation as individuals, and our dearest interests as a public body. One says that “the society of freemasons model their ceremonies upon this foundation, that there is but one God, who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth,"' Another says that " free-masonry is an order whose institutions arise on the most solemn and sacred principles of religion." “The knowledge of the God of Nature forms the first estate of our profession; the worship of the Deity under the Jewish law is described in the second step of masonry; and the Christian dispensation is distinguished in the last and highest order."*
Another respectable writer on masonry is still more explicit. He says," The royal order of masonry, however secret from its most early foundation to the present moment, has nothing belonging to it, but what is so far from giving birth or growth to the commission of any thing inconsistent with the strictest parts of our holy religion, whether it respects our duty to God or man, that every part of it, if duly followed, has a direct tendency to enforce and to encourage the performance of every one of its most holy precepts :" and, " The precepts of the gospel are universally the principles of masonry." But in the ensuing chapter I shall bring forward abundant proofs, from the most celebrated writers on masonry, that this science has in all ages been considered to have religion for its basis and support. Those brethren who contend that religion is excluded from masonry, are admitting for truth a disgraceful imputation, which was founded on the mere gratuitous assertions of strangers to our institution, and who consequently could not be competent judges of the allegations boldly and inconsiderately urged, and which they were altogether unable to prove.
We need only enquire what a system of secrecy, founded on the plan of masonry, but excluding religion, may effect, to be convinced that our science, as practiced under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of England, cannot be that system. Religion being the only restraint on those who set at defiance all human laws, if that be also rejected, and an atheistical creed be substituted in its room—if men can so far succeed in promoting their own infatuation, as to absolve themselves from all apprehensions of retributive justice in a future state, they are prepared for the commission of any crime to which they may be stimulated by the operation of their own passions, or by the artful duplicity of designing men, who have purposes to fulfil which require the expulsion of religion from the heart before they are capable of engaging in conspiracies preliminary to murder and spoliation. The deep-laid plots of Professor Weishaupt are a striking illustration of the ends to which a secret society may be made subservient, if divested of its connection with religion. The system of which he was the inventor held out to the world a promise of superior light and knowledge; enlisted unsuspecting Christians under its banners, by the plausible and delusive theories of emancipating mankind from the shackles of slavish prejudice, of diffusing human science, and fixing the mind firmly in the pursuit of virtue; and, like the serpent at the ear of Eve, led them on by imperceptible degrees, first to doubt, then to cavil, and afterwards to reject; the succeeding degrees of error making them still riper for guilt; and when the demon found his victims prepared for the reception of any doctrine by a renunciation of religion, the latent scheme was fully developed; that horrid scheme, which by its mystic agency and pernicious ramifications struck the whole continent of Europe with terror; which promised unconditional deliverance from the united tyranny of religion and civil government; and which threatened the subversion of all existing moral and religious institutions; to overturn empires, hurl princes from their thrones, level all distinctions, and reduce mankind to ap equality on the broad and latudinatian principle of universal ignorance and impiety; and CRUSH THE WRETCH ! (meaning Jesus Christ) was the infernal watch-word to every species of atrocity and crime! I confess I shudder while engaged in this discussion. I tremble at the simple idea of the application which our adversaries in this country may make of the admitted dogma, that masonry contains no religion.
We will, however, take a closer view of the doctrines and practices of the illuminati, or masonry without religion; for the system of Weishaupt being a system of secrecy, though not actually of masonry, (for the Professor had not even received initiation into a single degree of our science when he established it,) was capable of being applied successfully to the very worst as well as the best of purposes. Zimmerman says, " Whether this sect be the same with that of the freemasons, or the Jesuits, both of which supposition is improbable, is uncertain; but in 1774 or 1775, a society was undoubtedly established in Bavaria, of which a celebrated Professor at Ingolstadt has been regarded as the founder. This society, under pretext of consulting the happiness of the people, and supposing that happiness to be incompatible with every species of religious and civil establishment at present existing, said with one voice, Let us destroy them all, and raze their very foundations! The secret order of the illuminati included among its mysterious principles, at present exposed to the whole world, the whole of the doctrine which the Jacobins of Paris have since put in practice; and it has been proved by the most irrefragable documents, that they maintained an intimate correspondence together before the French Revolution. The destruction of the Christian religion, and the subversion of every throne and of all governments, have been their aim ever since the year 1716. It was not understood, by the new, associates of this order, that the magic words, the happiness of the people, were the surest means to recruit their numbers with ease, and by which, in fact, the recruits became so numerous and well disciplined. Young men were chiefly pitched upon, who, not having yet formed a strong attachment to any particular opinion, were the more easily led away to embrace whatever was offered to them, and men of literary talents, whom it is, important to secure when the propagation of any new opinion is in agitation. When once a person was enlisted, and fully penetrated with the enticing words, the happiness of the people; let us labour to procure the happiness of the people; he became impatient to know the obstacles which were in the way of this purpose, and the means to be made use of to remove them; these were therefore offered to his view in succession."
"The order has five degrees; in the lower, the mysteries are not unveiled; they are only preparatory, on which the minds of the noviciates are founded and prepared; then by degrees, those who are found worthy are initiated into the higher ranks." The mechanical part of the order bore some faint resemblance to that of masonry, but the principles and doctrines of our science were never introduced, even subsequently to the admission of Weishaupt into a masonic lodge; nor could they, for hearing a character so decidedly hostile to his views, they would have destroyed the very foundation of which the illuminating scheme was erected. The artful Professor adopted our secrecy to sanction his purposes, by screening him from public observation and legislative scrutiny. He used his utmost endeavors, by every means within his reach, not excepting probably his masonic privileges, to extend his doctrines throughout the continental nations; and, as is usual with all innovators, he succeeded in making many proselytes. His lodges were ultimately established all over Europe; they regularly communicated with each other; and their transactions were kept inviolably secret from the rest of the world. Men of all ranks and stations became members of these dark and mysterious assemblies; but their most active emissaries were in the armies of every continental monarch; they guided the councils, they filled up the ranks, and were equally unknown and unsuspected. The facility with which they succeeded in subverting the religious principles of their votaries is a problem which it may be difficult to solve; suffice it to say, that whether the real intentions of Weishaupt were indeed what are generally imputed to him, it is certain that the seeds of impiety and insubordination which he scattered throughout Europe, impelled by other powerful incentives, lent their aid to the production of those rank weeds of savage cruelty and revolutionary bigotry, which swept a monarch from his throne, and produced a twenty years' war, which deluged the continent with the best blood of its inhabitants.
Such are the ends to which a system of secrecy, unguarded by religion, may be made subservient. But under the sober garb and genial protection of a religious and Christian faith, it is capable of producing much unqualified good. If it makes men more strict in the performance of their moral duties; if it conveys firmness under afflictions, and directs them to look beyond the bounds of humanity for relief under the pressure of actual or impending calamity; if it ameliorates the mind, and unites men together in a chain of universal benevolence; if it instructs mankind to rule and govern their passions, to avoid slander and dissimulation, to look upon the Bible as a rule of faith, and to regulate their actions by the precepts it contains ; if it does this, and much, much more than this, it may surely be entitled to the praise of conferring benefits on its professors, by enforcing the duties of religion. And this is the business of masonry. Can it then be a system of Atheism? Can it lend a sanction to the perfidious schemes of revolutionary demagogues? Or the designs of those infatuated men, who would lead us back into the darkest ages of ignorance and infidelity? I answer, without hesitation, no. Masonry is a system of loyalty, which attaches us to the King, our Patron, and to the soil which gave us birth. And though political disquisitions are prohibited in our assemblies, yet an inherent attachment to our native land can never be thus suppressed. If masonry were a system that possessed the most indirect affinity to rebellion, would it he patronized by the monarch? Would it be encouraged by his royal brothers, and the principal nobility of this realm? Would it merit or receive the sanction of a deliberate act of the legislation? The reign of Solomon was a perfect era in masonry: and why was it so glorious? Because of the indissoluble union which our order conveyed to his subjects, and their invincible attachment to his person and government, as king and grand master; which causes his reign to be referred to as the most stupendous specimen of peace and happiness under a monarch, feared for his love of justice, beloved for his munificence, and respected for his piety and virtue.
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