Recently I was reading a book entitled "The Men's House" by Brother Joseph Fort Newton. This particular chapter,
shown here in its entirety, made an impression on me, so much so that I thought I should give all who peruse this web site
the opportunity to read it if they so choose. If you do decide to read it, pay particular attention to the third and fourth
paragraphs, the ones I found most impressive.
Hear now the history of a word as it has come down to us from days of old. In the ancient Guilds of artisans,
the skilled metalsmiths of the Middle Ages, an Apprentice toiled for seven years at his tasks. When at last his hand was
trained, and he had wrought some beautiful thing, perhaps in beaten silver, he brought it to the Master of the Guild and
said, "Behold my experience!" Having worked for seven long years, the sum of all his impassioned patience and aspiration
was in that tiny bit of shining metal; it was a symbol of his character which, as the word tell us, is something carved.
Like every man who achieves a delicate and difficult task, he had made many mistakes, had spoiled many a piece of metal,
had dulled the edge of many a tool. He had spent painful days and nights in labor, and his Masterpiece, his Experience, was
the sum and reward of all his Experiments. He had given himself to his task with enthusiasm; he had obeyed his Master; his
faith had made him faithful—and the whole was in that tiny bit of silver. He might now take his kit of tools and go out as
a journeyman, a Master of his Craft.
Which story is a parable of how a man becomes a Master Mason, not by receiving a Degree, but by the attainment of a
habitual mastery of his appetites and passions by the Reason and the Moral Sense; a habitual mastery, as Pike reminds us,
not of a never-failing mastery—for that is a trophy which few mortals win in this world. The task of every man is to take
the raw material of his life, with whatever of glowing passion or hard heredity it may hold; take it as it is, and by
patience in spite of blunders, by perseverance in face of failures, by loyalty to an Ideal and fidelity to a noble Life-plan,
shape it into a constant beauty and enduring worth.
No man who has tried it needs to be told that this is no easy task, albeit for some it is easier than for others—it was
easier for Emerson than for Burns, who tried so hard and failed so much. By the same token, since every man fights a hard
fight, no one can boast over his fellow; and if, by reason of rare power or a sweeter ancestry he is unhampered by the
failures of his fathers, it is the more reason why he should be an inspiration and aid to his fellow men. No man wins this
victory all at once, or once for all. Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall, for the enemies of Mansoul
are many and exceeding cunning.
As Huxley said, "It does not take much of a man to be a Christian, but it takes all there is of him," and he might have
added that it takes all of his time. Just so, if one would be a Master Mason in every truth, and not in name only or the
wearing of a pin, he will find that it asks for all that he has of wisdom and of wit, the while he divides his time into
labor, rest and the service of his kind. How well Wordsworth knew when he wrote:
" 'Tis the most difficult of tasks to keep
Heights which his soul is competent to gain:
Man is of dust;"
and as all are made of the selfsame dust, it becomes us to be gentle as it behooves us to be just. More and more, as we grow older, and learn the perils of the road, and remember how often we have failed and how far we have wandered, the words of Goethe come to mind:
"If during our lifetime we see that performed by others to which we ourselves felt an earlier call, but had been obliged to give up, with much besides, then the beautiful feeling enters the mind, that only mankind together is the true man, and that the individual can only be joyous and happy when he has the courage to feel himself in the whole."
Here is the great Fraternity in whose heroic and inspiring fellowship we live, and by whose inspiration we may win victory—man in God, and God in Man willing the God to be! Yet in each soul there is something unique, something not to be found anywhere else, a beauty peculiar, particular, precious, as no two leaves on a tree are alike, and no two sunsets the same. Each man must make Research to find that hidden Pearl of Eternity within his own soul; that star which shines for him alone—"My Star," as Browning called it; and having found it, let him follow it and he will find himself, his Brother, and his God. Even so, each of us, by mastery of himself, may add a pearl of great price to the common wealth; each may set a new star in that sky which arches over our human world.
"Oh! The cedars of Lebanon grow at our door,
And the quarry is sunk at our gate;
And the ships out of Ophir, with golden ore,
For our summoning mandate wait;
And the word of a Master Mason
May the house of our soul create!
While the day hath light let the light be used,
For no man shall the night control!
Or ever the silver cord be loosed,
Or broken the golden bowl,
May we build King Solomon's Temple
In the true Masonic soul!"
What though a man win wealth and the applause of fame, and have Charity, it is nothing; what though he sway the world with his eloquence and miss the high prize of "self-knowledge, self-reverence, and self-control," even if men erect an obelisk of gold above his grave it is a monument to a failure. He only is wise who lives a simple, sincere, faithful life, building on the Square by the Plumb, toiling in the light of Eternity; as Browning would say, did we alter one word in his lines—
"Masonry is all or nothing; it's no mere smile
Of contentment, sigh of aspiration, sir!
No quality of the finelier tempered clay
Like its whiteness or its lightness; rather, stuff
Of the very stuff; life of life and self of self."
Joseph Fort Newton