Freemasonry: Its Ministry to your Neighbour
from "The Masonic Record" Vol 8, 1928
By W.Bro the Rev. Joseph Johnson
There is a feature of human life that makes all right thinking people sad. It consists in the seeking of selfish ends regardless of others, the shutting of one's heart to the troubles and sorrows of our fellow men and being content so long as, we are prosperous and happy. In the light of Masonic teaching such a phase of human life is under condemnation for in the very forefront of its principles the injunction is given to every member to act with his neighbour on the square, render him every kind office which justice or mercy may require, to relieve his necessities, soothe his afflictions, and to do to him as he would wish others would do to himself. In other words, Freemasonry joins its adherents to be chivalrous, beneficent, and kindly in thought and deed. It is worthy of emphasis, at the grace of chivalry makes for growth towards full and complete manhood. Its cultivation means self-abnegation and the sweetening of the temper of daily life. It enables Brethren to forget self and to place all their gifts at the service of others. Such is the essence of Freemasonry, it is the quality which gives strength and courage to those who practice it.
In its principles and teaching Freemasonry is posed to everything in the nature of cunning, greed or selfishness. It recognises that a man's body is the habitation of the soul, and it teaches that the body would be a worthy Temple of its Creator. It teaches, never to spoil the spirit or lower the dignity of true manhood by seeking personal gain at the expense of someone else, and to scorn any base motive in business or professional conduct that would deprive another man of his rightful claim by securing for ourselves the possession of an advantage to which we were not ultimately entitled. It encourages a man to keep pure the name his father gave him, to keep sweet the love his mother bore him, and to preserve himself from the stain of dishonour. It stimulates a man to bring to every sphere of life those special qualities which mark him out as willing to sink himself in entire self forgetfulness and place himself at the service of others. In all life's contests, competitions and rivalries, a true Freemason should be a good loser, and, in defeat, yield the palm to another with grace and cheerfulness, displaying that spirit which would rather suffer defeat a hundred times than win by unfairness or sharp practice.
"Sticktoitiveness" has often been named as one of qualities that made Abraham Lincoln famous. The same quality is urgently needed in the ranks of Freemasonry. In recent years, a man died of whom it was said "he saved a million lives." Long before most of the present generation was born, he began to puzzle his brain with a great problem that had severely taxed powers of a host of the medical profession, but without success. This man, however, concentrated himself solely on the problem until eventually there came to him the solution which has proved an immense boon to all sufferers who have since been called to pass through surgical operations. His discovery has saved millions of lives and multitudes of every rank and class of society are alive to-day because Lord Lister stuck to his task.
This is a lesson for every man who comes into Freemasonry. The great Fraternity which embraces in its fold all types of men of every class of society and of every nationality, is a great cementing and stimulating force, and in proportion as its adherents stick to it and make its principles operative will be the measure of its influence for good. Freemasons would do well to remember how remarkably life lived on a high plane affects for good those with whom it comes into contact. It is not only your neighbour who feels the impact of such a life, but the influence spreads and expands into the larger life of the world, and the whole atmosphere of society is clarified and rendered purer thereby.
Freemasons, too, should not forget that conversation affects for good or ill those with whom they fraternise. It is on record that the conversation of a stranger was the first thing that arrested the thought of John Bunyan. It was conversation which put him on the path that made his name immortal. It is also on record, that the conversation of a friend brought about the ruin of Scotland's greatest poet - Bro. Robert Burns. In one of his letters there are these memorable words, "His friendship did me a mischief," which directly refers to the influence of the man who by loose conversation led him astray. The result was, that he quickly came to find pleasure in that which would have otherwise given him pain. The lesson in this circumstance for all men, and especially for Masons, is never to forget our better self. There is a danger even in unguarded conversation of which we ought not to be in ignorance. A flippant thought, a careless expression, or an unclean suggestion may speedily set loose in others those thoughts which ultimately play havoc with character. All of us, more or less, have known the depths of a mother's love and the inspiration of a good home; the memory of these should ever lead us to set our faces defiantly against 'everything in the nature of degrading and suggestive stories that expose somebody's mother, sister or daughter to scorn, or belittle their dignity and honour. Conversation that provides no better subject than the slander of a woman's name is unworthy of decent society, and ought to be shunned. Conversation or social fellowship of any kind that leaves behind an unpleasant flavour is calculated to corrupt and spoil character and should be resolutely avoided.
The great thing that makes life worth while is when heart meets heart and they become united in fellowship. One cannot think of anything lovelier amid the cares and struggles of life than that of kindred hearts and hands being linked and bound together in mutual fellowship and service. Such an achievement is as remarkable as it is beautiful, for it means that a bond is woven which time can never break.
Freemasonry has the capacity for making friendships that strengthen and uplift, friendships that inspire in periods of disappointment, that afford guidance in perplexity, and stimulus and encouragement in emergency.
Our ministry to our neighbour can well be shewn by the three moveable jewels found in every Craft Lodge, the, Square, Level, and Plumb Rule, each of which ,is suggestive of fine moral teaching. The Square reminds Brethren to regulate their lives and actions by Masonic rule, to so harmonise their conduct in this life as to render them acceptable to that Divine Being from whence all goodness springs and to whom they must render an account of all their actions. The Level demonstrates that all men spring from the same stock, are partakers of the same nature, and sharers in the same hope: and although distinctions among men are necessary to preserve good government, yet no eminence of situation should lead them to forget that they are Brethren, and that he who is placed on the lowest spoke of Fortune's wheel is entitled to the regard of the Brethren of high degree. The Plumb Rule is the criterion of rectitude and truth enabling Brethren to 'walk justly and uprightly before God and man, never turning from the path of virtue; never becoming a persecutor or slanderer of religion; never pending towards avarice; injustice, malice or revenge, but giving up every selfish propensity which might injure others. It also calls on Brethren to steer the barque of this life over the seas of passion without quitting the helm of rectitude; to observe a due balance between avarice and profusion; to hold evenly the scales of justice, and to pursue their high calling with Eternity in view.
These are features of the teaching of Masonry that make its ministry to our neighbour effective. They provide a standard of moral rectitude that can never fail, a force for good in society that results in the building of a higher type of character. There is therefore scarcely a place to be found in the civilised world where the 'genial' influences of Freemasonry are not seen and felt. Ih the frozen regions of the North and the sunny lands of the South, throughout the broad expanses of East and West, her banner is floating. She has been a great forerunner, fitting the untutored mind for the reception of great truths. By teaching her own pure principles and proclaiming everywhere her mystic rites she has prepared "in the desert a highway for our God."