Brethren; Being this day, by your choice, exalted into the chair, it is the fervent wish of my heart to render myself as little undeserving as possible of this distinguished honour: many important has a Master of the Lodge to perform.
To give instruction is one: I do not, however, presume upon any special abilities to dictate to my brethren; yet I think it incumbent upon me, whilst I have the honour to sit in this chair, on this and all other occasional festivities, and indeed my office requires it of me, to exhort you to consider the nature of our institution, and to remind you of the duties it prescribes.
These duties are very various and important, and have this day, I doubt not, been expatiated upon in many places by reverend brethren in the solemn Temple.
Our order instructs us in our duty to the great Artificer of the Universe; directs us to behave as becomes the creatures of their Creator; to be satisfied with his dispensations, and always to rely upon Him, whose wisdom cannot mistake our happiness, whose goodness cannot contradict it.
It directs us to be peaceable subjects, to give no umbrage to the civil powers, and never to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against the well being of the nation; and as political matters have sown the seeds of discord among the nearest and relations and most intimate friends, we are wisely enjoined, in our assemblies, never to speak of them.
It instructs us in our duties to our neighbour; teaches us not to injure him an any of his connections, and, in all our dealings with him, to act with justice & impartiality. It discourages defamation; it bids us not to circulate any whisper of infamy, improve any hint of suspicion, or publish any failure of conduct. It orders us to be faithful to our trusts; not to deceive him who relies on upon us ; to be above the meanness of dissimulation ; to let the words of our mouths express the thoughts of our hearts ; and whatsoever we promise religiously to perform.
It teaches inviolable secrecy; bids us never to discover our mystic rites to the unenlightened, nor betray the confidence a brother has placed in us. It warms our hearts with true philanthropy, which directs us never to permit a wretched fellow-creature to pass unnoticed. It makes us stifle enmity, wrath and dissension; and nourishes love, peace, friendship, and every social virtue. It tells us to seek our happiness in the happiness we bestow on others and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
It informs us that we are children of one Father; that man is an infirm, short lived creature, who passes away like a shadow; that he is hastening to that place where human titles & distinctions are not considered; where the trappings of pride will be taken away, and virtue alone will have pre-eminence; and, thus instructed, we profess that merit is the only proper distinction. We are not to vaunt ourselves upon our riches or our honours, but to clothe ourselves with humility; to condescend to men of low estate; to be friends of merit, in whatever rank we find it. We are connected with men of the most indigent circumstances, and, in the Lodge (though our order deprives no man of the honour due to his dignity or character), we rank as brethren on a level; and, out of a Lodge, we consider the most abject wretch as belonging to the great fraternity of Mankind: and therefore, when it is in our power, it is our duty to support the distressed and patronize the neglected.
It directs us to divest ourselves of confined and bigoted notions, and teaches us that humanity is the soul of Religion. We never suffer any religious disputes in our Lodges; and , as Masons , we only pursue the Universal Religion, the religion of Nature.
Worshipers of God of Mercy, we believe that, in every nation, he that fears Him and works righteousness, is accepted by Him. All Masons, therefore, whether Christians, Jews, or Mohammedans, who violate not the Rule of Right, written by the Almighty upon the tables of the heart, who do not fear Him and work righteousness, we are to acknowledge as brethren; and, though we take different roads, we are not to be angry with or persecute each other on that account. We mean to travel to the same place; and we all affectionately hope to meet in the Lodge of Perfect Happiness.
It instructs us likewise, in our duty to ourselves. It teaches us to set bounds to our desires; to curb our sensual appetites; to walk uprightly.
Our order excludes women; not that it refuses to pay a proper regard to that lovely part of the creation, or that it imagines they would not politely obey the strictest laws of secrecy; but we know, if they were admitted to our assemblies, that our bosoms must often be inflamed by Love; that jealousy would sometimes be the consequence; that we should be no longer be kind brethren but detestable rivals; and that our harmonious institution would by that means be weakened, if not subverted. But, though our order excludes women, it does not forbid us enjoy them in such a manner as the laws of conscience, society, and temperance permit. It commands us, for momentary gratification, not to destroy the peace of families; nor to take away the happiness (a happiness with which grandeur and riches are not to be compared) which those experience whose hearts are united by Love- not to profane the first and most holy institution of nature. To enjoy the blessings sent by divine beneficence, it tells us, is virtue & obedience; but it bids us to avoid the allurements of intemperance, whose short hours of jollity are followed by tedious pain and reflection; whose joys turn to madness, and lead to disease, and to death. Such are the duties which our Order teaches us:-
“The order I have established in every part of it, shows consummate wisdom, founded on moral and social virtue; it is supported by strength, an adorned by beauty; for everything is found in it that can make society agreeable. In the most striking manner, I teach you to act with propriety in every station of life; the tools and implements or architecture, and every thing about you, I have contrived to be the most expressive symbols to convey to you the strongest moral truths. Let your improvement be proportional to your instructions. Be not content with the name only of Freemason; invested with my ancient and honourable badge, be Masons indeed. Think not that it consists only in meeting, and going through the ceremonies, which I have appointed; these ceremonies in such an order as mine, are necessary, but they are the most immaterial part of it, and there are weightier matters, which you must not omit. To be Masons indeed, is to put into practice the lessons of wisdom and mortality.
“With reverential gratitude. Therefore, cheerfully worship the Eternal Providence; bow down yourselves in filial and submissive obedience to the unerring direction of the Mighty Builder; work by his perfect plans, and your edifices shall be beautiful and everlasting.
“I command you to love your neighbours; stretch forth the hand of relief to him, if he be in necessity; if he be in danger, run to his assistance; tell him the truth, if he be deceived; if he be unjustly reproached and neglected, comfort his soul, and sooth it to tranquility. You cannot show gratitude to your Creator in a more amiable light than in your mutual regard for each other.
“Pride not yourselves on your Birth (it is of no consequence of what parents any man is born, provided he be a man of merit); or your honours (they are the objects of envy and intemperance, and must, ere long, be laid in the dust) ; or your riches (they cannot gratify the wants they create) ; but be meek and lowly of heart. I reduce all conditions to a pleasing and rational equality; pride was not made for man; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.
“I am not gloomy and austere; I am a preacher of morality, but not cruel and severe; for I strive to render it lovely to you by the charm of the pleasures that leave no string behind; by moral music, rational joy, and harmless gaiety. I bid you not to abstain from the pleasures of society, or, do the thing which is right, and the innocent enjoyments of love and wine; to abstain from them is to frustrate the intentions of Providence. I enjoin you to consecrate your hours to solitude; society is the true sphere of human virtue; and no life can be pleasing to God but what is useful to man. On this Festival, in which well pleased, my sons, I see you assemble to honour me, be happy; let no pensive looks profane the general joy, let sorrow cease, let none be wretched; and let pleasure and her bosom friends attend the social board. Pleasure is a stranger to every malignant & unsocial passion; is formed to expand, to exhilarate, and to humanise the heart. But pleasure is not to be met at the table of turbulent festivity; at such meetings there is often the vociferation of merriment, but very seldom the tranquillity of cheerfulness, the company inflame their imaginations to a kind of momentary jollity by the help of wine and riot; and consider it as the first business of the night to stupefy recollection, and lay that reason asleep which disturbs their gaiety, and calls upon them to retreat from ruin. True pleasure disclaims all connection with indecency & excess, and declines the society of riot-roaring in the jollity of heart.
“A sense of the dignity of human nature always accompanies it, and it admits not of any thing that is degrading. Temperance & cheerfulness are its constant attendants at the social board; but the too lively sallies of the latter are always restrained by the moderation of the former. Any yet, my sons, to what do these restraints of Masonry, and the instruction I give you with respect to pleasure amount?. They may all be comprised in a few words, not to hurt yourselves, and not to hurt others, by a wrong pursuit of pleasure. Within these bounds pleasure is lawful; beyond them it is criminal, because it is ruinous. Are these restraints any other than a Masons would choose to impose on himself? I call you not to renounce pleasure, but to enjoy it with safety. Instead of abridging it, I exhort you to pursue it on an extensive plan. I propose measures for securing its possession, and for prolonging its duration.
On this Festival Day, I say, Be Happy BUT, remember now, and always remember, you are MASONS; and act in such a manner, that the eyes of the curious may see nothing in your conduct worthy of reproof, and that the tongue of slander may have nothing to censure, but be put to silence. Be models of virtue to mankind, (examples profits more than precepts), lead uncorrupt lives, and speak the truth from your heart; for truth is always consistent with itself, and needs nothing to help it out. It is always near at hand, and sits upon our lips, and is ready to drop out before you are aware: whereas a lie is troublesome, and sets a man’s invention upon the rack; and one falsehood needs a great many more to support it. Slander not your neighbour, nor do him any other evil; but let your good actions convince the World of the wisdom and advantages of my institution.’
Oh, my sons!! the unworthiness of some of those who have been initiated into my Order, but who have not made themselves acquainted with me, and who, because I am a friend to rational gaiety, have ignorantly thought excesses might be indulged in, have been disgraceful to themselves and discredited me.
“I therefore warn you to be particularly cautious not to initiate any but such as are worthy; be well assured that their conduct is regulated by virtue, and their bosoms inflamed with the love of knowledge. All are not proper to be initiated into Masonry, whose influence ought to be Universal, but whose privileges should not be made too common; and you are well convinced that there are some amongst us who take the shadow for the substance, who are acquainted with the ceremonies, but catch not the spirit of the profession.
“At the initiation of a candidate, you ought to explain to him to nature and advantages of the order, that his mind may be early and agreeably impressed with its great importance.
“With the different lectures it is your duty to be well acquainted, and you should constantly endeavour to display the beauties, and to illustrate the difficult parts of them in the most agreeable manner. Then will the man of genius and liberal education associate with you, and contribute to your mutual pleasure and improvement.
“Ye are connected, my sons, by sacred ties, I will warn you never to weaken. Never to be forgetful of them.
“I have only to add that I wish you happy.
“Virtue, my sons, confers peace of mind here, and happiness in the regions of immortality!”
From The Spirit of Masonry by William Hutchinson (1775)