FREEMASONRY AS A FACTOR IN EDUCATION

By George Atkinson

 

I do not purpose dealing with Masonic research in the sense in which it is usually used by members of this association. I have not been engaged in ploughing up the past, I have not been pondering over dusty and musty tomes, examined old charters, or speculated on Masonic symbolism or mysticism. All of these are undoubtedly interesting and profitable subjects for the Masonic student, but to-night I intend to deal with the practical rather than the philosophical, with the educational rather than the ethical. In short, it is my endeavour to indicate that “Freemasonry is a factor in Education," and prove, as I believe I shall prove, that Freemasonry is a factor in Education and Character Development.

Some of our critics, either through ignorance, ignorance due to the fact that they are too lackadaisical to enquire into the truth, or ignorance due to a wilful neglect of the truth, or acting on the principle that the grapes on the Masonic vine are sour, state that Freemasonry is purely an organisation of dining clubs. They base their opinions on casual remarks heard in the tram or train, chance paragraphs in the press reporting an annual dinner or banquet, and, being always on the look out for errors and shortcomings in their fellow men, they credit, or rather discredit, us with indulgence in selfish pleasures. They forget, if they ever knew, that: "

Errors like straws on the surface flow,

He who would search for pearls must dive below."

Our critics look only on the surface; they refuse to dive for pearls, it is so easy to find fault, it is troublesome to find good, and to some it is extremely painful, painful to their shallow pride to have to admit that they have found good. We are concerned in diving deeply in search of pearls; it is our endeavour to obtain knowledge, and from that knowledge acquire wisdom.

Bacon wrote, “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider." If we substitute “search "for” read " then these words do in a great measure describe the aims of the brethren of this association. Let us then to-night search for some of the pearls of Freemasonry, pearls of education, of mental and moral discipline, of character development, all of which add lustre to the true freemason.

Education is more than the giving of instruction, its true test lies not in the passing of examinations or the gaining of diplomas, it is more than the instilling into the mind the principles of religion and morals, of the arts and sciences, it is not the teaching of the selfish principles of the philosophy of Mr. Smiles, or the imparting of a narrow, cramped, straight-laced view of life such as is portrayed in that ridiculous production "Sandford and Merton" which so delighted some of our ancestors. Education is, as the derivation of the word implies, a leading out; the development of all that goes to build up character, to promote true manliness, self-respect, and love of fellow men.

I do not for one moment imply that our lodges should take the place of our schools and universities; but what I mean is, that to nearly all who enter our Masonic brotherhood, Freemasonry has been an important factor in their education, that influences which otherwise they would have missed have developed portions of their character which might never have been developed. Freemasonry has helped to beautify and adorn the inward man, it has encouraged unselfishness, it has helped to widen one's outlook, to broaden one's sympathies, to make every man mentally and morally a better man for being a Mason.

“I am part of all that I have met," are words ascribed by Tennyson to Ulysses, and they are applicable to every freemason. The Freemason is part of all that he has met in Freemasonry, because he has imbibed its precepts, has followed its examples, and these being part of himself he carries them with him always, with the result that they must influence in like manner all with whom he comes in contact. Many men but for Freemasonry would have reached the age when it is found

“How dull it is to pause, to make an end.

To rest unburnished, not to shine in use."

The man who becomes a Freemason finds

“Some work of noble note, may yet be done."

and that at whatever age he enters its ranks

" 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world."

Ruskin wrote in one of those admirable essays of his: “The man who will not work and who has no means of intellectual pleasure, is as sure to become an instrument of evil as if he had sold himself bodily to Satan." When a man enters Freemasonry he enters a new world, and there finds new scope for his talents, new outlets for his energies; he finds good and useful work to do, he finds intellectual pleasures just at the period when he is in danger of becoming a purely dub man, a dilettante, or man about town. His dying soul is revivified, his dormant talents are stimulated, his lethargic mind is aroused, he is cheered and brightened by the new beauties unveiled to eyes previously dim and unseeing. He is encouraged by what he sees and learns to continue in the new paths opened to him, paths in which he can prove an instrument for good.

The Freemason is one of a band of brothers who not only delight in being happy, but in conveying happiness to others, and whenever he thinks of that peculiar moment when he stood before his brethren, poor and penniless in many mentally and morally beautiful ideals, he must have thoughts with respect to Freemasonry similar to those which can be well expressed by the words George Eliot puts in the mouth of Daniel Deronda :—

“It is better, it shall be better with me because I have known you."

I have previously indicated that the cultivation of mental and moral discipline is part of a man's education. Freemasonry is, I contend, an important factor in their cultivation. The initiate is early reminded of his meek and candid behaviour, and while we may ask ourselves at the time of his Initiation the question, “Will his future conduct always be meek and candid? " yet in our inmost selves we feel that it will be so. We instinctively feel that lodge discipline will not be without its effect. In our boyhood days we, I am afraid, looked on discipline as the enforcement of many harsh and unnecessary laws enacted by a harsh and unsympathetic world, solely for the purpose of depriving us of what we then believed legitimate pleasures. As we grew older we gathered a kind of more or less hazy notion that laws were necessary if they did not cause us inconvenience, and when they did we grumbled and perhaps wrote to the papers, in anything but complimentary terms, about our legislators. We, in short, looked on all laws and regulations from a purely selfish point of view. He begins to look at laws and regulations from a different point of view. He is impressed by the law and order of his lodge, its beautiful and efficient working, the ready acquiescence of its members, and even of visitors, to the master and his wardens at all times. He begins to respect that law and order, for he soon learns that the laws are enacted in the interests of the whole body of which he has become a member. He sees that those laws are not laws made by classes for masses, or by masses for classes ; he learns that there can be discipline without selfishness, and he soon feels the promptings and workings of this new discipline. He refrains from certain actions, not as formerly, because his neighbours might find them subjects for gossip, but for the reason that he might disgrace his lodge and his brethren. He learns that the laws of the Freemason are not harsh nor arbitrary. There is no coercion, no parading of penalties; there is regularity, punctuality, obedience, and a love of decency and order. It may truly be said that masonic discipline is the true discipline, inasmuch as it is natural and unobtrusive, it is impartial yet kind and discriminative.

Such discipline cannot but have a lasting and beneficial effect on the mind and character of all who come under its influence, an effect which grows greater as time rolls on. Repetition makes observance easy and the obvious mental and moral benefits makes them pleasurable. Self-control is developed, leaving the individual abundant freedom, but with a foundation of motives and principles which prevent an abuse of that freedom. The effect then of these disciplinary influences must be prodigiously great and of inestimable value, for they develop and strengthen those habits of order and submission to authority which may have been acquired before but somewhat imperfectly, but without which there cannot be laid the sure foundation of a pure, disciplined, and really useful life, of a life which differs so much from the loose, unstable life of the man who recognizes no law but his own will, no forces but those which pander to his own passions, and whose deity is self, and who contemptuously speaks of the un-selfish as fools.

Habits are of slow growth, but uniform perseverance in good habits, which Freemasonry recommends and teaches, and opportunities for the practice of which it constantly affords, will ensure a strong and vigorous growth.

The actual performance of our various ceremonies and the general working of a Freemasons' lodge create and foster a love of order and method. They help to form habits of industry, perseverance, observation, and reflection, by means which are obvious, and thus are an invaluable aid to growth in moral strength and to mental development. Where we have mental and moral development we have that eminently desirable yet often elusive quality denominated " tone." In all good lodges it is tone that rules, and the good master mason governs by trying to develop and act upon the tone of the lodge. The tone of a lodge cannot be measured by its financial or social standing, nor the numbers who attend its meetings in evening dress, nor by the number of life governors of our great institutions. These are all excellent if considered in their true perspective, but do not constitute Tone.

Tone cannot be bought or sold, nor produced by the recital of homilies, nor the adherence alone to any special form of working, neither can it be specially paraded on great occasions, such as ceremonies of installation, or the visit of the Grand Master or of his deputy. Tone may be defined as those forces which, working in the minds and souls of the brethren, exert a careful and vigilant watchfulness over their words and actions, and which by their persis-tent and permanent appeal to all their higher motives has that ever-growing and everlasting influence on character, the beneficent effects of which on character no man knoweth, and which, spreading from brother to brother, lodge to lodge, in ever-widening circles :—

"The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds.

Another still, and still another spreads;

Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace.

His country next; and next all the human race."

Still following on under the head of discipline, there is another valuable lesson taught the Free-mason. The importance of self-control is early brought to the knowledge of the Freemason. He is taught to be cautious, that is, he must put a guard ever on his tongue, and keep in subjection any previous tendency he may have had to be over-confiding. His temper must be held in subjection, he must—

“Give his thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportion'd thought his act."

For is he not told that if there is a brother with whom he is at variance, or against whom he entertains feelings of animosity, he should invite him to withdraw and amicably settle his differences, and afterwards return and work with that peace and harmony which should at all times characterize Freemasons ? As an individual he is recommended the practice of every domestic as well as public virtue. Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, are brought to his ken, not certainly for the first time in his life, but again when he is just entering on his Masonic life, and probably at a time when the necessity of practising these virtues should again be impressed. Do not these virtues involve self-control, the keeping of all selfish passion in subjection? The Freemason learns that he who would rule others must first learn to rule himself.

Those truly Masonic ornaments Benevolence and Charity are to be maintained in their fullest splen-dour. How easily the young Freemason thinks he can do this. All he expects to be called upon to do is to write his name on a subscription list, and probably he is fired with one ambition, if it can be called an ambition, to let his brethren see that he can give substantially and generously. But as he progresses in the Science he learns that his Benevolence and Charity are not measured by lavish and ostentatious gifts, nor is a Freemason's charity blazoned to the world. The widow's mite is looked at from a different point of view. Charity to him has a wider and fuller meaning; he discovers that there is a satisfaction in administering un-ostentatiously to the wants of the indigent and industrious. He can drop a tear of sympathy over the failings of a brother, and pour the healing balm of consolation into the bosom of the afflicted; he can “do good by stealth and blush to find it fame." The education of the Freemason is like the Science itself, progressive. All sides of his character are influenced, the active as well as the passive. Here I would just draw your attention to the duties of a Freemason, and the order, an order you must have all previously noted, in which they are laid down. Duty to your God, to your neighbour, and yourself. The young Freemason is impressed with the fact that his first duty is to his God, just the lesson one would expect from a Society whose Great Light is the V. of the S.L., and to the serious contemplation of which all its members are recommended, and which they are told to consider as the unerring standard of truth and justice. Then he is reminded of his duty to his neighbour, and lastly of his duty to himself (you will have noticed the almost total abnegation of self) which consists of a prudent and well-regulated course of discipline for the preservation of—what? One's corporeal and mental faculties. Freemasonry has been teaching this great lesson through all the ages of its existence, the great lesson above all others the present great war should drive home to the hearts and souls of all men—the lesson of the subjugation of the selfish in man. Before his initiation the Freemason may often, I fear too often, quoting the words of Bishop Hooper:—

"Have slept and dreamt that life was beauty."

But as he imbibes the principles and tenets of Freemasonry there comes an awakening, a glorious rising, and he can then say with truth:—

“I woke and found that life was duty."

So far I have tried to show that by our ritual and ceremonies, by the principles and tenets of the order, the man who enters our ranks undergoes a course of mental and moral training, receives an education which develops and strengthens his mental and moral fibre, so that, as Samson of old pulled down the pillars at Gaza, the Freemason can hurl down the twin pillars of evil thoughts and evil deeds, and, like a good workman with the level of a blameless life, and the plumb rule of integrity, erect in their stead the pillars of wisdom, strength, and beauty.

But you may rightly ask, granted there is in the principles and tenets of the order much that may do these things, but do your members, especially your older members, practise what they teach? The Methuselahs (pardon the phrase) of the order, do honestly believe that:

“Example is a living law, whose sway

Men more than all the written laws obey."

Example has played, from time immemorial, an important factor on the world's stage. At times we have had bad examples, and a bad example is a moral pestilence, but the good examples have been by far the most numerous and the most effective. The world would indeed have been a poor place but for the spirit which prompted such examples of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty as Caesar's standard bearer of the Toth Legion, General Gordon, Father Damien, John T. Cornwell, and those hosts of heroes now showing to the world how men can fight, suffer, and even die for truth, honour, and justice.

I assert, therefore, that the lives of our grey-beards, of our forefathers in masonry, their lives do have a happy and beneficial effect on all who come within their circle. The examples of the rulers of the craft, supreme and subordinate, remind me of those words of Samuel Smiles:

“The golden words that good men have uttered, the examples they have set, live through all time ; they pass into the thoughts and hearts of their successors, help them on the road of life, and often console them in the hour of death."

I have tried to show that from the day a man enters into Freemasonry a new factor enters into his life, into his education, and the development of his mental and moral character follows as naturally as day follows night. The factors may be small or they may be large; they are never a negative quantity, and they are always present. Their influence is always acting, and will act always for the individual and general good until the Freemason lays down his working tools, those talents where-with God has blessed him, as well to His Glory as the welfare of his fellow creatures, and enters the Grand Lodge above to give an account of his actions through life.

As long as Freemasons continue to believe and act that

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,"

so long will Freemasonry be a living and growing force, growing from strength to strength, acquiring increasing vigour, and spreading its principles and tenets all over the world, educating men by developing their mental and moral character, and through them bring its precepts to bear in their own homes and firesides, and to others who are not Masons.

It is not my province here to-night to prophesy of the future of Freemasonry, nor what the men to-day joining our ranks may do or become in the future, but this I do say—they hold a priceless treasure in the enormous number of opportunities they possess, and which will arise, of influencing the world for good, for educating men to think of other men as brothers, and of making the world a better place than they found it.

The ever-growing numbers of our lodges, the steadily increasing roll of membership, must cause many of us to think seriously of the future. Of the future of Freemasonry I have no fear. I believe it is destined to play a great part in the future, in the development of the human race. I won't prophesy; I leave that to others more gifted than I am. Perhaps such a one may arise and tell us what part Freemasonry will play " while this great world spins down the ringing grooves of change," what the effects of its teachings will be, what part it will play in bringing about the time when, in the words of that most English of English poets:—

“The war drum throbbed no longer, and the battle flags were furled,

In the parliament of man, the federation of the world."

 

Freemasonry as a Factor in Education

By George Atkinson

Extracted by SRA76 from: British Masonic Miscellany, Vol 1

Compiled by George M .Martin P.M., S.C.

Published by David Winter and Son

Shore Terrace, Dundee (Scotland)

Pages 105-116

 

Sourced from British Masonic Miscellany, Vol1.

This lecture was first included on the Lodge 76 website on April 2024.

The Article was extracted and transcribed in this format by Bro. J. Stewart Donaldson.

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