SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.III February, 1925 No.2
The subject of charity, or brotherly aid, may well be illustrated by
a sketch of a condition that developed itself among the Roman people
many centuries ago. In essentials that condition was the same as the
condition in which we now live.
In the early days of the Roman Republic a man grew up in the house in
which he was born; when he married he bought his wife to live with
him under the paternal roof; when he died he left his sons abiding in
the same place. Neighboring families were similarly stabilized, and
all these groups, owing to this perpetual neighborliness and to
intermarriage, became so inwoven with each other that in a community
there would not be one stranger.
In such a community the individual was not left to his own private
resources; he was surrounded by others ever ready to aid him in
misfortune, nurse him in illness and mourn him in death.
But, there came a time when this stability of life was broken up. By
degrees the Romans conquered adjoining territory. A great military
system was organized. Whole nations were brought into the Roman
Empire. Great cities arose; travel was made possible; and a feverish
restlessness took the place of the old stability. The old calm
neighborhood life was destroyed, and in its place there grew up a
fermenting life in town and city. A man no longer lived and died in
the place of his birth, but moved from place to place, becoming a
stranger in his own neighborhood, and scarce knew other persons
living under the same roof. In misfortune and death he was thrown
back on his own, unaided, individual resources.
In this situation men set out about the creating of a bond that would
take the place of the lost neighborhood ties. They organized
themselves into "Collegia " - groups formed of men in the same trade -
which in the early days of their history were principally devoted to
securing for a man a becoming burial service, the lack of which so
filled a Roman with dread.
In the course of time these organizations - we could rightly call
them lodges - assumed more and more functions until a last a man
found in them charities, social life, business aid, religious
influences, friendships and other features of general protection.
To live a stranger in a city was no longer a thing to dread, to a man
who could find in such a fellowship, the same friendship and support
that his forefather had secured in the oldtime neighborhood.
We men of today are living under just such conditions as brought
Collegia into existence. The great majority of us are living in
towns and cities; many of us are subject to conditions that shuttle
us about from place to place, and from situation to situation, so
that life has lost its firmness and security. Our next-door neighbor
is a stranger; we may live in an apartment house, where even with
dwellers on the same floor we have no ties at all.
In the midst of such conditions the individual is often thrown
entirely upon his own resources. It is here that the lodge comes in,
for the lodge, from this present point of view, is nothing other than
a substitute for the old-fashioned small community life, wherein
neighbor was so tied to neighbor that there was no need of charities,
social centers or employment bureaus. In a lodge a man need no
longer be a stranger; he finds there other men who, like himself, are
eager to establish friendships, engage in social intercourse, and
pool the resources of all in behalf of the needs of each.
From all this one can see at a glance what brotherly aid really is.
It is the substitution of the friend for the stranger. It is a
spirit which throws round a man the comforts and securities of love.
When a worthy brother in distress, or his family, is helped, it is
not as a pauper, as in the fashion of public charity, but the kindly
help which one neighbor is always so glad to lend to another.
Masonic charity is strong, kindly, beautiful and tender; and not
charity at all in the narrow sense of the word. Nay, it does not
wait until a brother is in distress, but throws about him in his
strength and prosperity the affectionate arm of friendship, without
which life is cold and harsh. Friendship, Fraternity and Fellowship -
this is the soul of Freemasonry, of which charity is but one gesture
with a thousand meanings.
Freemasonry not only inculcates the principals of love and
benevolence, it seeks to give them actual and living presence in all
occupations and intercourse of life. It not only feels, it acts! It
not only pities human suffering, it relieves it! Nowhere in the
world can a good Mason feel himself alone, friendless or forsaken.
The invisible but helpful arms of our Order surround him, wherever he
Mythic story tells us that the ancient gods invisibly and secretly
followed their favorites in all their wanderings, and when these were
exposed to danger or threatened with destruction, would unveil
themselves in their awful beauty and power, and stand forth to
preserve them from harm, or to avenge their wrongs. So Freemasonry
surrounds all her children with her preserving presence, revealing
herself only in the hour of peril, sickness or distress.
It is an erroneous idea, but one widely prevalent, that Freemasonry
is a benefit society; that persons join it that they may be cared for
in their periods of adversity. Nothing could be further from the
truth; at least theoretically one units with our Fraternity that he
may serve and minister to the needs of others.
Freemasonry is not, in itself, a charitable organization. That is,
the primary purpose of the Order is not charitable relief to its
Masonic charity is a great fact; it is an inherent part of the
Masonic system; but it is not the primary purpose or function of
The fundamental creed of Masonry is and ever must be, the study of
Masonic philosophy. As Freemasons come together for the discussion
of Masonic truth, a strong feeling of brotherhood naturally results.
The friendships formed in this work carry in themselves a desire to
relive the necessities of unfortunate brothers.
The real Masonic charity (or assistance) that is afforded by one
brother to another is assistance in the learning and understanding of
We are not taught that we shall afford one another political,
business or social assistance. Masonic lodges are not political
organizations; they are no business syndicates; they are not social
cliques. The average Freemason looks askance at the brother who
seems to seek assistance of such sort. However, it is not to be
denied that the strong and enduring friendships formed in the lodge
are a real assistance to a man in all of his legitimate endeavors.
But we must not forget that if we assist a brother Freemason in his
endeavors, we assist him as a friend, and not because there is
anything in Masonry that teaches us to discriminate in favor of
Freemasons in the ordinary relationships of life.
It is a common error to regard charity as that sentiment which
prompts us to extend assistance to the unfortunate. Charity is a
Masonic sense has a much broader meaning, and embraces affection and
goodwill toward all mankind, but more especially our brethren in
Freemasonry. It is this sentiment which prompts a Freemason to
suffer long and be kind, to control his temper, forgive the erring,
reach forth his hand to stay a falling brother, to warn him of his
error and whisper in his ear that correction which his fault may
demand, to close his ear to slander and his lips to reproach; in
short, to do unto others as he would be done by.
Charity as applied to Freemasonry is different from the usual and
accepted meaning. All true Masons meet upon the same level,
regardless of wealth or station. In giving assistance we strive to
avoid the too common error of considering charity only as that
sentiment of commensuration which leads us to assist the poor and
unfortunate with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic application is
more noble and more extensive. We are taught not only to relieve a
brother's material wants, the cry of hunger, etc., but to fellowship
with him upon our own level, stripped of worldly titles and honors.
When we thus appeal to him, giving spiritual advice, lifting him up
morally and spiritually with no sense of humiliation to him, we set
him free from his passion and wants. To such charity there is a
reciprocity rich in brotherly love and sincere appreciation.
Divinity has wisely divided the act of charity into many branches,
and has taught us many paths to goodness. As many ways as we may do
good, so many ways we may be charitable. There are infirmities not
only of the body, but of the soul, which require the merciful hand of
our abilities. I cannot condemn a man for ignorance, but must behold
him with pity. It is no greater charity to clothe his body than to
apparel the nakedness of his soul.
It is an honorable object to see the reason of other men wear our
liveries, and their borrowed understanding do homage to the bounty of
ours. It is like the natural charity of the sun, which illuminates
another without obscuring itself. To be reserved in this part of
goodness is the most sordid piece of covetousness, and more
contemptible than pecuniary avarice.
Benevolence is absolute and real. So much benevolence as a man has,
so much life has he; for all good things proceed out of this same
spirit, which is differently named love, justice and temperance in
its different applications, just as the ocean receives different
names on the several shores which it washes. True benevolence,
indeed, extends itself through the whole compass of existence, and
sympathizes with the distress of every creature of sensation. Little
minds may be apt to consider a compassion of this inferior kind as an
instance of weakness; but it is undoubtedly the evidence of a noble
nature. Homer thought it not unbecoming the character even of a hero
to melt into tears at a distress of this sort, and has given us a
most amiable and affecting picture of Ulysses weeping over his
faithful dog, Argos, when he expires at his feet.
Freemasonry has no place for the little, selfish side of man. Its
secrets are as the dead to him who looks at life that way. It looks
for the man with the bigger soul, with the more universal spirit; it
stops and stay with him only who sees man's mission in the betterment
of the human race, who can take by the hand the fellow who is down
and out, and put him on his feet and send him on his way a better
man. Its teachings are wonderfully practical and godlike when once
we recognize them.
It gives the individual a higher conception of a more definite
mission; but while this is the spirit of Freemasonry, do we all
recognize it? For no man can understand and appreciate it until he
has pondered long and faithfully upon its teachings. Too many,
alas,! fail to understand or get that broader vision which our
obligations are intended to give. To them Freemasonry is a failure;
they are neither active nor practical Masons, but merely hangers-on.
Such is not the fault of Freemasonry, but is due to the fact that
they have failed to mix thought and action.
Every day one meets the so-called Freemason. He is in evidence
everywhere. Perhaps he has been Master, or even Grand Master.
Perhaps the Fraternity has bestowed upon him every possible honor.
He knows he has reached the highest rung in the ladder of his
personal ambition. There he halts. There he comes to a dead stop.
He throws Freemasonry aside as he would an old shoe or a sucked
lemon. He ceases to attend lodge meetings. He has no more interest
in the Fraternity. There is not enough Masonic spirit left in him
even to subscribe to a Masonic paper. To all intents and purposes,
so far as Freemasonry is concerned, he is dead. He professes, but he
does not possess, and really never did possess, the real Masonic
The real Freemason is the man in whose everyday life one sees an
exemplification of true Freemasonry. The real Mason may be as poor
as a church mouse, or he may be the richest man on earth. But poor
or rich, destitute or otherwise, the real Freemason demonstrates the
teachings of the Fraternity in his daily life, in his business and
social dealings with his fellow-men, in his religion and in his
politics. The real Mason does not lose his interest in Freemasonry
of his interest in his brethren. Age, position, wealth - these do
not deaden his Masonic ardor. The real Freemason never says: "I am
not interested in Freemasonry; I have lost my brotherly feelings; I
have gone to seed. "
Unless a man has the right kind of a heart you cannot make him the
right kind of a Freemason. You can fill his brain full of
obligations and teach him by symbols, and send him forth from the
lodge room loaded to the guards with good intentions, and if his
heart is not right he will walk a block out of his way to keep from
giving a poor beggar a nickel, and then hasten back again, circulate
a scandal, or interfere in matters that do not concern him. Charity,
that God Given part of a man, and the foundation of Freemasonry, is
lacking in his composition, and therefore he can be a Freemason only
Charity or friendship, as it may well be called - is just the habit
of giving our life to others; when we give our life away we possess
more of it; the more we give, the more we receive.
To serve and do good to as many as possible - there is nothing
greater in your fortune than that you should be able, and nothing
finer in your nature than that you should be desirous to do this.
The true Freemason must be and must have a right to be content with
himself; and he can be so only when he lives not for himself alone,
but for others also, who need his assistance and have a claim upon
Charity presupposes Justice, He who truly loves his brother respects
the rights of his brother; but he does more - he forgets his own.
Egoism sells or takes. Love delights in giving. In God, love is
what it is in us, but in an infinite degree. God is inexhaustible in
His Charity, as He is inexhaustible in His essence. That infinite
omnipotence and infinite charity which, by an admirable good-will,
draws from the bosom of its immense love the favors which it
incessantly bestows on the world and on humanity, teaches us that the
more we give, the more we possess.
Buddha said: "The Charitable man is loved by all; his friendship is
prized highly; in death his heart is at rest and full of joy, for he
suffers not from repentance; he receives the opening flower of his
reward and the fruit that ripens from it. The charitable man has
found the path of salvation. He is like the man who plants a
sapling, securing thereby the shade, the flowers and the fruit in
future years. Even so is the result of charity; even so is the joy
of him who helps those who are in need of assistance. "
Confucius said: "Love is to conquer self and turn to courtesy. Could
we conquer self and turn to courtesy for but one day, all mankind
would turn to love. The signs of love are ever courteous of eye and
ever courteous of ear; to be ever courteous in word and ever
courteous in deed. Without the door to behave as though a great
guest were come; to treat the people as though we tendered the high
sacrifice; not to do unto others what we would not they should do
unto us; to breed no wrongs in the home. To be respectful at home,
painstaking at work, faithful to all. Love is to mete out five
things to all below heaven - modesty and bounty, truth, earnestness
and kindness. Modesty escapes insult; bounty wins the many; truth
gains men's trust; earnestness brings success; kindness is the key to
men's work. "
There are two principles which divide the wills of men; covetousness
and charity, Covetousness uses God and enjoys the world; charity is
Charity should be a distinguishing characteristic of every Freemason.
It is in the practice of this virtue that man most nearly reveals his
kinship to God.
The doctrines of Freemasonry are the most beautiful that it is
possible to imagine. They breath the simplicity of the earliest
ages, animated by the love of a martyred God. That word which the
Puritans translated "Charity, " but which is truly "Love, " is the
keystone which supports the entire edifice of this mystic science.
Love one another, teach one another, help one another. That is all
our doctrine, all our science, all our law. We have no narrow-minded
prejudices; we do not debar from our society this sect or that sect;
it is sufficient for us that a man worships God, no matter under what
name or in what manner. Ah! Rail against us, bigoted and ignorant
men, if you will. Those who listen to the truths which Freemasonry
inculcates can readily forgive you. It is impossible to be a good
Freemason without being a good man.
The immutable law of God requires that besides respecting the
absolute rights of others, and being merely just, we should do good,
be charitable, and obey the dictates of the generous and noble
sentiments of the soul. Charity is a law because our conscience is
not satisfied nor at ease if we have not relieved the suffering, the
distressed, the destitute. It is to give that which he to whom you
give has no right to take or demand. To be charitable is obligatory
on us. We are the almoners of God's bounties. But the obligation is
not so precise and inflexible as the obligation to be just. Charity
knows neither rule nor limit. It goes beyond all obligations. Its
beauty consists in its liberty. "He that loveth not, knoweth not
God; for God is Love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us,
and His love is perfected in us. God is love; and he that dwelleth
in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. "
To be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; to
relieve the necessities of the needy; and be generous, liberal and
hospitable; to return to no man evil for evil; to rejoice at the good
fortune of others, and sympathize with them in their sorrows and
reverses; to live peaceably with all men, and repay injuries with
benefits and kindness; these are the sublime dictates of the Moral
Law, taught from the infancy of the world by Freemasonry.
Antiquity knew, described and practiced charity; the first feature of
which, so touching - and, thank God! So common - is goodness, as its
loftiest one is heroism. Charity is devotion to another; and it is
ridiculously senseless to pretend that there ever was an age of the
world when the human soul was deprived of that part of its heritage -
the power of devotion. But it is certain that Christianity has
diffused and popularized this virtue, and that before Christ these
words were never spoken:
"LOVE ONE ANOTHER; FOR THAT IS THE WHOLE LAW. "
Love would put a new face on this weary old world, in which we lived
as pagans and enemies too long; and it would warm the heart to see
how fast the vain diplomacy of statesmen, the impotence of armies and
navies, and lines of defense, would be superseded by this unarmed
child. Love will creep where force cannot go, will accomplish that
by imperceptible methods - being its own lever, fulcrum and power -
which force could never achieve.
Have you not seen in the woods, in a late autumn morning, a poor
fungus or mushroom, a plant without any solidity - nay, that seemed
nothing but a soft mush or jelly - by its constant, total and
inconceivably gentle pushing, manage to break its way up through the
frosty ground, and actually to lift a hard crust on its head? It is
the symbol of the power of kindness.
The virtue of this principle in human society in application to great
interests is obsolete and forgotten. Once or twice in history it has
been tried, with signal success. This great, overgrown, dead
Christendom of ours still keeps alive at least the name of a lover of
mankind. But one day all men will be lovers; and every calamity will
be dissolved in the universal sunshine.
The power of gentleness is too little seen in the world; the subduing
influences of pity, the might of love, the control of mildness over
passion, the commanding majesty of that perfect character which
mingles grave displeasure with grief and pity for the offender. So
it is that Freemason should treat his brethren who go astray; not
with bitterness; nor yet with good natured easiness, nor with worldly
indifference, nor with philosophic coldness, nor with laxity of
conscience; that accounts everything well that passes under the seal
of public opinion; but with charity and with pitying loving-kindness.
Charity and loving-kindness are two words that comprehend the whole
political and religious creed of Freemasonry. The law of charity
cannot have been enacted by, nor the spirit of loving-kindness cannot
have emanated from a cruel and ferocious God. It is the expression
of the Divine Will because it is of the Divine Nature.
What of the hour in Freemasonry? Brighter - Stronger - Clearer. We
often become discouraged and are inclined to be pessimistic, but amid
all the errors and stumbling, a better day is dawning when we shall
see the beneficent labors of Freemasonry shining in effulgent
splendor. Freemasonry is growing in power, and as its immortal
principles take root in the fallow soil of the human heart and mind,
it buds and blossoms into foliage of kindness and the fruit of
charity toward all mankind.
Let me be a little kinder;
Let me be a little blinder To the faults of those about me;
Let me praise a little more.
Let me be, when I am weary, Just a little bit more cheery;
Let me serve a little better Those that I am striving for.
Let me be a little braver When temptation bids me waver;
Let me strive a little harder To be all that I should be.
Let me be a little meeker With a brother who is weaker;
Let me think more of my neighbor, And a little less of me.