"Chapter Six" The Star in the East 1825 : Rev. George Oliver "Chapter Six"
I ENTER on the subject matter of this chapter with extreme circumspection; aware that the nature of our peculiar ceremonies cannot he exhibited in a printed form. The meagre outline only of masonic mechanism can be described, and that with the utmost care and delicacy; and therefore if this division of my subject should fail to produce the same degree of conviction which I flatter myself must have attended the preceding, it will not be attributable to the inadequacy of its merits, because our mechanism is the sacred fountain whence the stream of its morality flows, hut from the contracted limits by which the argument must be necessarily hounded. I shall perhaps, however, he able to show, even from the scanty use of these forbidden material, that masonry is a religious institution; for each individual ceremony, how insignificant soever it may appear when standing alone, is still a star which sheds its luster on religion, and the 'whole united system is a bright and burning constellation, which blazes amidst the darkness with unfading splendor, and proclaims with the voice of angels, Glory to God, peace On earth, good-will towards men !—So mote it be.
The first important act which takes place at the establishment of a Masonic lodge is the business of dedication and consecration. This act is a solemn appropriation of masonry to God; as the lodge is, at the same time, inscribed to St. John the Evangelist, who finished 'by his learning what the Baptist began by his zeal; and these are the two burning and shining Lights on earth; which illuminate our journey as we travel on to attain the third Great Light in heaven.'
The ceremonies, which are technically termed opening and closing the lodge, come next to be spoken of. These are solemn rites, and derive their excellence from the name of that Being, whose hissing is invoked and whose assistance is humbly supplicated, before we can engage in any of the important business of masonry with a rational hope of success. After the lodge is closed, the brethren are dismissed with a prayer of gratitude, as the incense of an evening sacrifice, for the protection afforded by the great Author of Good, not only to the few individuals present, hut to the fraternity at large, whosesoever dispersed under the wide and lofty canopy of heaven.
The lodge being opened with solemn prayer; and impressed with the conviction that the all Seeing Eye above, observes and notes our actions, we proceed to the initiation of candidates by progressive steps or degrees. This plan of gradual admission to our privileges is sanctioned by the practice of every system of true religion which has flourished in the world. The Patriarchal scheme had its three separate degrees of perfection. The Jews had their three sorts of proselytes, and three orders of the priesthood; and the early Christians their Rulers, Believers and Catechumens, each corresponding with the three degrees of Masonry.
The admission into the First degree is on a certain text of Scripture, sanctified by a firm reliance on the protection of God. 'The reception is by prayer, the candidate is bound by solemn obligations to keep faith with his brethren; and the illumination, is performed in the name of the Divinity. The aspirant, with his face to East, fancies he beholds in succession, the place where Adam enjoyed the happiest period of his existence; the place where Christianity was revealed to man; the place where the star proclaimed the birth of Jesus; the place where Christ was crucified, and the place where he ascended into heaven. The East was always accounted holy; and hence our Savior was termed ORIENTS from au impression of the superior sanctity of his person. A white apron, made of the purest lamb-skin, is presented to him, which, he is told, derives its distinction from the purity of its color, emblematical of innocence; which is an affection of the mind that all human honors are ineffectual to bestow. But it possesses a still higher and more glorious reference: it is a symbol of the innocence and perfection of the Christian life, which makes the, Iamb without spot a model for kits imitation, and looks, to futurity for a crown of glory and a scepter of peace. The early catechumens, when they were admitted to the first degree of Christianity, were, invested with a white garment, accompanied by this solemn charge: "Receive the white and undefiled garment, and produce it without spot before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may obtain eternal life." And this is made a distinguished reward even to the saints in heaven, for their success in combating the three great earthly powers, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The candidate is taken by the right hand, as a proof of friendship and faithfulness; for the right hand was always esteemed an eminent symbol of fidelity. In all compacts and agreements it was usual to take each other by the right hand, that being the manner of plighting faith; and this was done, either out of the respect they had to the number ten, as some say, there being ten fingers in the two hands; or because such a conjunction was a token of amity and concord; whence, at all friendly meetings, they joined hands, as a design of the union of their souls; and the right hand seems to have been used rather than the left, because it was more honorable, as being the instrument by which superiors give commands to those below them; whence Crinagoras in an epigram saint, it was impossible that all the enemies in the world should ever prevail against Rome.
The aspirant is then shewn the three greater and lesser lights of Masonry; the former as rules of faith and practice, and the latter to express the regularity and usefulness of the creatures which God has graciously formed for the use of man. The form and dimensions of the lodge now engage his attention, while he, is taught the invaluable lessons which they inculcate.
“When we look into a Mason's lodge, we behold it extending from the heavens - to the center of the earth. High as the heavens, we behold Him who is the manager of all creation, in the exercise of his wisdom and power. Deeper than hell, we see Him carrying on redemption beyond the narrow limits of all human philanthropy, saving not only a part; but the whole: saying unto death, I will be thy plagues,' and unto hell, I will be thy destruction, breaking all its massy doors, and setting its despairing prisoners free. Look we from the East to the West, from the North to the South, we see the seasons roll their usual round of uninterrupted variety. First comes smiling Spring in all her tender softness; the fostering sun, the moistening shower, and all the pleasing promises of plenty. Next shoots the Summer's sun in full perfection, to bless the ripening year ; which Autumn, with her full fed fatness, showers upon the earth for man's enjoyment; and even when surly Winter blows, we lose its essence of intention, if, even in that inclement moment, we ever lose sight of a God of Love."
There are innumerable ceremonies attached to this degree which have a similar reference, but I am withheld from introducing them here for obvious reasons; but it will be plainly perceived that they are calculated, to promote the glory of God, as well as the happiness. of man, from the specimen already given; for they leave an impression of peculiar solemnity on the candidate's mind, which is seldom effaced to the latest hour of his existence. Our ceremonies embrace such a wide extent of illustration, that their full import cannot be wholly developed within the limits of a single lecture; much appropriation of talent, and much deliberate investigation must be used by the Mason who would become master of the science, or eves elucidate the hidden meaning of all our forms, symbols, and ceremonies. The comprehensive nature of Masonry affords full scope to exercise the abilities of any friend of scientific research; while all its illustrations are accompanied with a warm glow of devotion which will penetrate the most indolent, and make him feel and acknowledge his dependence on the gracious Author of his being.
Masonry, like all other sciences, cannot he attained without assiduous and diligent labor ; for the signs and tokens of external communication are but the keys of the cabinet in which all our valuable knowledge is stored up. Without initiation, this knowledge is unattainable; and initiation, without subsequent research, is an acquisition which can scarcely be pronounced desirable; but he who uses the keys of our treasure with freedom, fervency, and seal ; or, in the language of Masonry, he who keeps them highly polished with chalk, charcoal, and clay, will find a precious jewel at every step he takes ; and while he presses on with ardour in the pursuit of knowledge and virtue, he may be certain of attaining the rich prize he has in view.
The Fellow craft, like the entered apprentice, is admitted in the name of God; and is received and consecrated by prayer. He enters between the two great pillars; which are emblems of the strength of mind and stability of disposition, which he must display in his new character as a Mason; not only to promote his own ultimate benefit, but that the order in which he has enrolled himself may not be exposed to public censure from the licentiousness of his propensities, or the irregularity of his conduct. Before he can participate in the privileges of this degree, the candidate must ascend a winding staircase, after having safely passed the pillars of strength and stability. This staircase consists of eleven steps, and five divisions. As he ascends the first step he is taught the unity of the Godhead, who created the world by his power, and governs it by his wisdom and justice. At the third step he is reminded that this one sacred Being comprehends three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He is instructed also in the nature of the three dispensations, the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian. At the fifth step his progress is again arrested to explain the goodness of Providence in man's behalf, by the distribution of the five external senses; hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, and smelling; all of which he has also bestowed on the brutes; but to stamp a decided ascendancy on the Lord of the creation, he, endowed him with the attribute of reason, that he might be enabled to convert the gifts of heaven to his own eternal welfare. Hence the necessity of a diligent application of thins inestimable present, to the service equally of such human sciences as are placed by the Almighty within the reach of his capacity, and of the study of religion, and the worship of God. To keep the reasoning faculty in exercised, the five noble orders of architecture are proposed as subjects of contemplation and research; and this being a progressive study, if carried to perfection, will fill the mind with lofty and comprehensive ideas of God and his works. Here, too, the candidate is reminded of the five remarkable points in the ever blessed career of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A regular series of consequences, affecting our temporal and eternal welfare, are deduced from his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Bending in reverence before the awful subject, the candidate proceeds to the seventh* step, where his instructor points out the seven liberal sciences as objects of his rational ambition; and acquaints him that a perfect knowledge of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, will lead him "through natured up to nature's God," and elevate his mind to the contemplation of heavenly things; preparing him by gradual approaches to perfection here, for a full display of light and knowledge in a future state. When the candidate has arrived at the summit of the winding staircase, by ascending the eleventh step, he is reminded of the miraculous preservation of Joseph, who preceded his eleven brethren into Egypt under the direction of God, that he might be the means of preserving his whole race from the effects of the seven years' famine, which raged with unaccustomed violence throughout all the East. He is further put in mind of the treachery of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his master; and being seized with an agonizing remorse of conscience, which rendered life insupportable he violently terminated his own existence, and reduced the number of Apostles to eleven. The closely tyled door of the middle chamber then gives way at his word, and he enters to behold the superb illumination of that blazing central star, which refers to the God of his creation ; and, the mystical application of the successive numbers of 3, 5, 7, and 11, is explained 'to signify the GREAT JEHOVAH, who is so brilliantly represented in the chamber to which that staircase leads ; for in the Hebrew notation, 1 represents 10, the sum of 7+3, A 5, and H 11.
A certain part of the mechanism attached to this degree cannot be exposed; in fact, it requires years and experience, patient industry and laborious toil, to become acquainted with all the subjects embraced by this comprehensive step; and he whose various talent shall allow him to conquer all the impediments opposed to his advancement in the knowledge of fellow craft Masonry, will be eminently entitled to the honorable distinction of a master of science, and a perfect moralist.
The ceremonies of the Third degree are introduced by a prayer expressive of the feeble and inefficient nature of man without the blessing of God's assistance; and the duration of that eternity to which death is the avenue, is depicted by circumambulation. The candidate is burdened with ceremonies, to denote the galling nature of the Jewish dispensation, even when at its highest stage of perfection. The surrounding idolaters, envying privileges which appeared to insure the favor of the Deity, determined to become possessed of these invaluable secrets, or to extirpate the Jewish nation. The Jews refusing to abandon their religion to the profanations of idolatry, finally suffered a moral death in the extermination of their polity. The three assassins were the Assyrians, the Chaldean, and the Romans. The first blow which this dispensation received, was inflicted by Shalmanezer, who carried the ten tribes into captivity, from which they never returned. The second blow was still more severe. It was inflicted by Nebuchadnezzar, who utterly destroyed their city and, temple, and carried the two remaining tribes to Babylon. Weakened, but not destroyed by these attacks, they rebuilt their temple, and assumed the semblance of their former system of worship, though much deteriorated, from the loss of many valuable privileges— At length came the ruffian band, more determined than either of the former, under the command of Herod, who gave the death blow to their civil and religious liberties by the conquest of Jerusalem, and the reduction of Judea to the state of a Roman province, over which this tyrant, not of their own regal line, nor even a Jew, was appointed king, The old law was now dead, and was become perfect rottenness ; her tombs was in the rubbish, and filth cast forth of the temple, and acacia wove its branches over her monument. They attempted to raise her from the dead, but she fell from their grasp, a mass of putrefaction; until at length the resurrection of Jesus cemented the bands of Christian fellowship, and formed an indissoluble chain of connexion, of which Christianity was the basis amongst all mankind who were inclined to comply with the terms of initiation into the covenant of grace.
Here then the perfected mason feels and acknowledges the power of Religion over the soul, by a full and striking proof of that resurrection from the dead, which is the precursor to a new accession of light and knowledge, that bursts upon him like an ethereal flood, and leaves him astonished at his own acquisitions.
The symbols, the tokens, the landmarks of the order, are now fully entrusted to his care; but, lest he should be too highly elated by his newly acquired privileges, a most solemn charge is delivered, reminding him, that though he is now ranked with those distinguished few to whom the appellation of master-mason may with propriety be applied, yet he is still, in the sight of God, only a weak and fallible mortal; that death may in an instant deprive him of that knowledge, which it is his province to improve; and that the talent committed to his charge cannot, without danger, he hid in a napkin, but must be profitably and actively employed to the salvation of his soul.
Thus is the mechanism of the three degrees of masonry most admirably constructed to enforce the great truths of morality and religion; and I see not how it can fail to produce that salutary impression on every mind, except it be distorted by innovations, prostituted by a deviation from the antient landmarks, and thus converted into the mere shibboleth of a sect or party. But masonry, in its broad and permanent acceptation, is the handmaid of religion; and if practiced with his fundamental principle in view, may assist us in profitably running our race on earth, that at the final consummation of all things we may receive the reward of our faith, even a joyful exaltation to the blessed mansions of eternal felicity.