The Masonic Trowel

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by Julius F. Sachse

One of the most impregnable safeguards against the admission of an unworthy applicant into the Masonic Fraternity ought to be the Committee to whom his petition is referred for investigation as to character. It is naturally assumed that none but those whose record will bear the closest scrutiny can emerge unscathed from the Committee's ordeal. This, however, is not always the case. It sometimes happens that the name of a man whose record is tainted, and who may at some time or other have been guilty of acts which would make an honorable and upright citizen blush, is permitted to cross the threshold of Freemasonry and brought on a level with those whose unimpeachable character has given to the Fraternity the dignity and prestige it has always enjoyed among the organized bodies of the community. 

Even in far off New Zealand the necessity for this safeguard has been recognized, that as in other parts of the world, too much care cannot be taken in the admission of candidates for Freemasonry, and that the portals cannot be too carefully guarded. To further this purpose in the Christchurch District, New Zealand, an association has been formed of Past Masters of various Lodges. From this association came a suggestion for the establishment of a United Board of Inquiry which was eventually formed, and has proven a grand success. It was therein agreed that no man should be admitted to membership to any Lodge duly represented in this Board of Inquiry, until his name had been submitted and approved by that body. The plan proved to have been a wise proposal, because whilst it does not question the right of a Lodge to admit any man it pleases, even though he may have been rejected by the Board; minor difficulties, it appears, have arisen; but were met in a truly Masonic spirit. 

This Board of Inquiry has issued a pamphlet, a copy of which is in the Grand Lodge Library of Pennsylvania, setting forth the duties of both proposer and seconder. Many of the suggestions set forth in this paper apply as well here in America as they do in the antipodes, and should be carefully read by every Master or Brother into whose hands this copy may fall. 

The desire for membership should in every case emanate from the candidate and never by suggestion from a Mason. The candidate is called upon to declare that he has not been influenced by solicitations; it therefore behooves us to be extremely careful that no man shall ever be placed in the position of having to give a false answer to the first question put to him in a Masonic Lodge. He should realize that he confers no privilege upon Masonry by joining the Craft, but on the contrary that the privilege is bestowed upon him. 

Freemasonry is made far too mysterious; Masons are too reticent in talking about Masonry to the outside world. Let us examine the facts fairly, and we shall recognize that the only real secrets we hold are those dealing with methods of recognition: all else in Masonry is free to all men and cannot be too widely known. Surely the knowledge of the duty which every man owes to his God, his neighbor and himself is not the sole prerogative of Masons. 

The duties which Masons are taught in the Lodge are not intended to apply to one day per month only; but each day an advancement in Masonic knowledge is enjoined upon every Brother on initiation; and what is Masonic knowledge but a due appreciation of those duties above mentioned? 

Candidates should understand that the basis of Masonry is the practice of the highest principles of piety and virtue and a strict observance of civil law. How many men have joined the Order who afterwards were disappointed in finding that true obedience to the laws of the state were insisted upon; they were surprised to learn that Almighty God was recognized as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and that Masonry was a distinctly religious and not a revolutionary organization. If these great principles were more closely identified with practical Freemasonry, how much more good would have been accomplished. 

Candidates should be further instructed that personal benefits of a social or pecuniary character must not be expected, that the very thought of such is in itself a disqualification, for they are called upon to declare that they are uninfluenced by such motives. Let them understand that no man by reason of his wealth can purchase membership to the Order; that the fee demanded of him at his initiation is not a payment for admission, but simply as an earnest of his desire to give to those requiring aid. He is called upon to publicly declare his sentiment, when placed for a moment in a position of helplessness and utter destitution (a position which unfortunately is occupied in reality by thousands of his fellow-men), and from this trial to learn the duty he owes to those needing assistance. 

These fundamental principles should be explained to, and understood by every candidate. To admit a man without this knowledge might render Masons liable to an accusation for obtaining money under a misapprehension. 

Every Mason should, for the protection of the Craft, maintain proper safeguards against the admission of men who may be unfitted by reason of social or moral disqualifications, and whilst admitting Masonry is a luxury, we do not for one moment infer that the qualifications for membership can be judged by the possession of pounds sterling; on the contrary it must be admitted that very often the cleaner lives are found in the ranks of those who are struggling for existence. 

Still it should be closely understood by every candidate that Masonry is not a benefit society, neither does it undertake to confer pecuniary benefit upon its members. Care must also be taken against proposing or seconding a man for membership whose application is based upon curiosity; it is therefore imperative that more than a passing acquaintance should exist before accepting the responsibility of naming him to the Brethren. Cases have been known where a Brother has seconded a proposal pro forma; this should never be done, because the proposer and seconder occupy equal responsibility. Care should be taken to explain that the benefits of Masonry are purely ethical, that its mission is to raise the moral code, that its principles are based upon the Volume of the Sacred Law. It prepares its members for the great and mysterious future and to this end it insists upon the practice of every social and moral virtue by the exercise of a vigorous personal discipline. It aspires to raise the Order to such an eminence that the great Masonic principles of life may be so reflected in its members that all good men may desire admission to its ranks. If candidates are instructed on these lines and after understanding what Masonry really is, still desire membership, then we may welcome such men and profit by their admission. 

It may here be asked when can a proposer or seconder feel safe in accepting the responsibility of nomination? We cannot lay down any rule, but simply say if the proposer and seconder are fully alive to the importance of the act, conscience governed by prudence will seldom fail them. 

Never allow the financial position of your Lodge to influence you. If your Lodge is strong it may add to its usefulness by the admission of men who will carry on the work of Freemasonry. If your Lodge is weak, tax yourselves and make it strong. If temporary misfortune overtakes you, which your united effort is unable to meet, call upon your Masonic Brethren for assistance and avoid the humiliating position of going outside for capital to enable you to carry on the work of your Lodge. The drowning man will clutch at a straw, but it will not save him; he knows it full well, but the urgency of his position causes him to take hold of the first substance his hand can reach; in like manner we fear many Lodges, for financial reasons, have admitted men into the Order more for their guineas than for their fitness for membership. Consider whether it would not be better to surrender a Charter than to use the power which that charter gives, by admitting men into the privileges of Masonry who may be unworthy. 

In conclusion we wish to make it clear that nothing in this paper is intended as a reflection upon any Brother or upon any particular Lodge, quite the contrary; it is intended to apply to every Mason and to every Lodge not as a direction but simply as a Masonic idea expressed by one Brother to another for the good of Freemasonry in general.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014