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Seeking for that which is Lost

by W.Bro. R. A. L. Harland, P.M. No. 1679
The Freemasons Chronicle - July 1955

Presidential Address at Third Annual Festival of Dormer Masonic Study Circle London, 5th March, 1955. 

"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip." (Hebrews, chapter 2, verse 1). 

We may observe in the Craft nowadays clear signs of the advent of a higher Masonic consciousness. There is indeed, a marked forward trend which is evinced by the desire of an increasing number of Brethren to realise for themselves the significance of truths hitherto but imperfectly apprehended. Despite many improvements in method, in dignity and reverence, the Craft, however, regarded as a whole, has not yet outgrown the Apprentice stage, or modelled the Rough Ashlar of the "intended structure" into due form; much less found the central Spirit resident within the perfect Cube of our "peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Nevertheless the spiritual vitality that has animated the Craft since its inception, that kept it in being during the early troubled years of the eighteenth century, and that has maintained it thereafter in vigorous expansion, is now expressing itself daily more openly. Herein, then, lies the great opportunity, as well as the crucial test, for all genuine Masonic students. In the life of mind and spirit we cannot afford to display a mood of provincialism. It is written: " Quench not the Spirit " (1st Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 19); but to deny the difficulties today presented to the emerging Masonic consciousness is to forget this command. The world finds it easy to despise and reject every form of spiritual activity, every aspiration of the mind, and every degree of higher knowledge. It readily asserts that such things are a clog upon the progress of mankind towards complete scientific organisation, and that on this account they can safely be put on one side until universal economic prosperity is assured. 

In the course of the long struggle which is being waged in the natural world on behalf of the spirit, and in the name of God, of love and liberty, the means employed to secure these eternal verities invariably become ends in themselves. We have here the origin of the greatest of all tragedies in the problem of the spiritual life; it is that God is forgotten in favour of the approach designed to lead men to Him. Accordingly, men have been deluded to hate in the cause of love, to use compulsion in the service of freedom, and to become practising materialists for the vindication of spiritual principles. The material world, the kingdom of Caesar, has triumphed over the spiritual world, the Kingdom of God, by reason of acts of physical violence, internal dissensions, and barbaric methods of warfare. We have reaped as we have sown; in our own generation we have twice been thrown into international conditions of horror; and once again mutual antagonisms and reciprocal incomprehensions are proving most dangerous in a closely knit world armed with diabolical weapons of destruction' We had proposed to enter the Promised Land not by spiritual but by material agencies, and in the process we have now come to the pass of forgetting it altogether; by ceasing to be interested in the "paths of heavenly science" we have lost even the faculty of mental perception. Truth, however, can never be enforced; the seed must grow until it urges fulfilment from within. Truth is as much a quality of the mind that seeks it as of the things in which it is found; the search for "that which is lost" is as important as the discovery. Only, we must in our seeking not forget that the "New Commandment to love one another" is itself a part of Truth which must be held at all costs. At the present time the barriers which divide and restrict men are crumbling, everything is changing and dissolving in the historic world, and we stand upon the threshold of a new Age. It is therefore a propitious moment to put the Masonic way of living into serious practice, and to thereby assist in bringing about a new relation between means and ends, between symbols and the realities which lies behind them. 

Etymologically speaking the word "symbol" conveys the sense of something intermediary which has the character of a sign, and at the same time it suggests a relationship between the sign and the thing signified. Symbols presuppose the existence of two worlds and two orders of beings; they show us that the meaning of the natural world is to be found in the spiritual world; and they thus constitute the bridge which links the two worlds together. The qualities of the natural world are dependent upon the extent to which it functions as a symbol of the spiritual world. Only symbolism is capable of expressing the infinite depth and mystery of the spiritual world, while also maintaining both the distinction from, and close alliance with, the natural world. The identity of contraries is an antinomy for the rational faculty; our human reason is not adapted to a form of reality in which contraries are compatible with one another. They are subject to the laws of logic governing identity and contradiction, but these rules of logic can never express the nature of divinity. We know God as a in mirror, in an obscure, that is to say, a symbolic fashion; a definite knowledge of God, a vision of Him face to face, belongs to another sphere, to the supreme degree of the mystical life in God. St. Paul has given us an unforgettable description of what true symbolism in the knowledge of the divine does involve: "For now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as also I am known (1st Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12). The symbolic knowledge of God is deeply rooted in the soil of Masonic tradition. We are likewise to love God with all our minds, but we must do so freely and no limit can be imposed upon from without. The spiritual life, as the Craft system truly teaches, is revealed by degrees, and in a diversity of qualities. All the intellectual, moral, and artistic life of humanity, all fellowship in love, form part of it. Truth is revealed in the way and in the life: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine" (St. John, chapter 7, verse 17). It can be demonstrated only by a life which is itself full of meaning, and through a symbolic attitude of mind which imparts significance to nature as an active uniting principle. In the natural world, which is the result of all separation and division the knowing subject is disunited from the known object; it is separated from being Symbolism alone, by a delimination of the realms assigned to spirit and nature by putting a barrier to the competency of rational knowledge, and by opening new modes of perception, safeguards the inalienable rights and eternal truths of spiritual life. 

The phenomenon of revelation requires the phenomenon of faith. Revelation is adapted to the structure of consciousness and is proportional to the degree of development which it has reached. It follows therefore that there are degrees also in revelation. Faith is always directed towards the mysterious and hidden world. It is not a clog upon reality; it is, according to the immortal definition of Paul, "the substance of things hoped the evidence of things not seen" Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1); but which does not compel recognition on our part. The knowledge of reality which is revealed to the ordinary mind is a demonstration of things invisible. This world of visible things which is displayed in daily events persists within the domain of scientific experience and leaves us no freedom of choice. Faith, however, the first rung of the Craft symbolic ladder, is a free act of the spirit, and is the work of free election and love. No visible and objective reality can compel us in an act of faith, for faith is an appeal to the intimate world of spirit which is conditioned by freedom and not by necessity. Faith knows nothing of external authority; it is free and "requires a perfect freedom of inclination on the part of every candidate for its mysteries"; and it prefers folly to the wisdom of this world. Hence St. Paul writes: "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise" (1st Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 18). Faith is the acquiring of grace which knows nothing of necessity in the logical or juridical sense. We cannot rebuild the Kingdom of God by force; it I can only be reconstructed in freedom. To demand guarantees is to admit that we have failed even to understand the substance of faith by denying the heroic act which it inspires. None of us can claim to possess Truth in fullness while, we will persist in regarding our neighbours as being completely in error. Creative life is impossible under the dominant influence of an authoritarian mentality. Proofs are essential in the case of treaties drawn up by opponents; with friends unity is achieved by the contemplation of Truth, and it is this vital experience of the liberty of the subject which creates fresh possibilities of revelation. " Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity " (Psalm 133, verse 1). Furthermore, when two or three are gathered together in the name of Love it begins to permeate them, to break down their isolation, to confer new powers, and finally to deliver them into the unity of a spiritual fellowship as real as their former separation. This creative enlightenment is the final goal of all aspiration; in it life and action are fulfilled in meaning, and the gulf between faith and knowledge is closed. Faith does not strive after certainty, but adores the mystery in which it rests, and realises continually the Truth in which it trusts. 

Man comes to God by many arduous ways, by "repeated trials and approbations," and through much tribulation and suffering. In revelation man is born anew; he is shown that "divine and human affairs are interwoven so awfully and minutely"; degrees of revelation imply also degrees in the development of man. Truth gives us freedom, but freedom is necessary for the acceptance of this truth: " Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (St. John, chapter 8, verse 32). It is not enough to accept Truth, that is to say God; the solemn obligation of the novice is to serve " without evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation of any kind "; parallel to the exoteric there is always the esoteric. Goodness and the perfecting rites must likewise be freely received, for it is just the fact that they are so accepted and achieved which gives the religious and moral life the quality of originality and true dignity. Truth, therefore, must correspond to our spiritual nature; there must be an intimate kinship between ourselves and the mystery which is to be apprehended. The rationalistic mind of modern man considers the existence of evil and suffering as the principal obstacle to his belief in God, and as the most important argument in favour of agnosticism. This argument has become classic. Man losses faith in God because he finds evil is apparently victorious in the world; but in the historical development of the human consciousness faith in the divine arose precisely because man observed great suffering, and felt acutely the need of freeing himself from the power of evil. Paradoxically, if the evil which now confounds the world had not come into existence man would have been content with this " sublunary abode," and his deliverance would not have been indispensable. The sufferings of life which attest to the existence of evil are a great school through which mankind has to pass. We are protected by our insensibility and lack of perception from much that might prove dangerous to us, and for the revelation of which we are as yet quite unprepared. God 'is revealed and triumphs through " that last and greatest trial," the ordeal of the "valley of the shadow of death"; for without darkness there is no light. Thus the spiritual development of man proceeds amidst contradiction and opposition; both man and the world have to pass through times of great testing; such is the prescribed method of their progress. The one incontrovertible fact is this; whatever our experience may have been whether good or bad, it is never useless; and it always forms part of the next stage of advancement. 

The dangers with which we are threatened today are not those which confronted former generations. Their danger lay in the very strength of their convictions; ours in the fact that we have no genuine convictions at all. There never was an age with a greater passion for critical analysis, or a sublimer belief in vague schemes and generalities. What is the cause of the conflicting theories of our time? We do not know what we want; we are bewildered. The present age has produced an unprecedented dualism between things sacred and things secular, between religion and the world; we are aware of the emptiness and the profaneness of our life, but not of the means of escape from it. Herein lies the fundamental antimony with which it is associated; it is impossible for us to conceive the mystery of redemption rationally any more than other mystery of the divine life. Truth is not something merely to study and discuss; it is something to be realised in ourselves, in spirit as well as intellectually. Our longing for perfection; our sense of lack; and our insistent urge towards the highest ideal, these are the sources of revelation. Truth, then, the Masonic third grand principle, is also the Way and the Life, and carries its own warrants; but it is silent like the Sphinx, and there still seems to be no reply to the age-old question: "What is Truth?" (St. John, chapter 18, verse 38). There is no life, in so far as it is human, which is not at the same time an enquiry into Truth; a struggle with forces inward and outward; and a practical adaptation of Truth to the conditions of the transitory life and the service of society. While, however, from the spiritual standpoint, all work has in it the power to lead us onwards to perfection, a natural hierarchy binding the position in society with the cultural development of the individual arises. Life, as we learn from the Tracing Board of the First Degree, is a ladder with steps leading upwards to the goal, and no man can rest satisfied until he reaches the summit. Nevertheless, not the stage reached but the movement onwards and upwards is of importance; the road is better than the resting place; and the way to the higher life is normally through the world. 

We are at a gloomy moment in history; never before has the future seemed so incalculable. With a dreary fatality the tragedy drags on; what, we may well ask, are the " prospects of futurity"? As it happens our society, today is, reaching an exhaustion point; our, way of, thinking is giving out. The analytic method, of which we were so proud and which appeared to have made us irresistibly powerful, almost omnipotent, has betrayed us. It has given us powers but not vision, means but not meaning, strength but not sanction. The world is paying a high price for the benefits of mechanical and industrial progress, and that price is the surrender of peace and happiness. The internal combustion engine, jets and rockets, the motor car and the aeroplane, might possibly have helped mankind to live more happily and usefully, but, instead, they have been used for destructive purposes, to rob man of his freedom and to enslave him, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The modem system is not to sell people into slavery; they are conscripted or regimented. We can trace this bondage in all current tendencies which are characteristic of our age; in contemporary science, philosophy, and morality; in the manners and customs of human relations; and in technical research and productivity. The solution of this urgent problem depends upon man himself. In his extremity man must turn to God, and with Him again "unite in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness"; he must submit with "humility and resignation," praying for wisdom to do his duty. The course being set, man must now "steer the barque of life o'er the rough sea of passion without quitting the helm of rectitude"; ever remembering that a smooth sea never made a skilful mariner, and neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager. 

We live too close to the momentous changes in the world, and are too weighted down by events in our individual lives, to realise the full significance of the transformation this twentieth century is bringing to humanity. We are entering upon a period of new spirituality which will be the counterpart of the present materialism of our world. The old order changes, but the Universal God is eternal and unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Truth can never vary although our knowledge or understanding may evolve with our outlook, and as we probe into the outer fringe with our searching minds. Man, however, remains poised between the opposites; each experience in life becomes either a stepping stone or a stumbling block: "And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient" (1st Peter, chapter 2, verse 8). It is a necessary law of life that no man should prevent another against his will from seizing opportunities to learn, and from exercising his potentialities. However, once a man makes the choice, and of his "own free will and accord" elects to gain instruction, then and then only, does the spiritual law permit him to be helped. It is decreed that man himself must take the " first regular step"; here the law is laid down: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you " (St. Matthew, chapter 7, verse 7). Finally, all the help and the direction that we can ever need can be found abundantly within the divine nature; from Him do all things come forth; unto Him do all things return. This is proclaimed by the great voice out of heaven, which the revelator heard in his vision: - 

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. 

I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." 

(Revelation, chapter 21, verses 6-7.) 

In concluding this address, I would once more gratefully acknowledge the debt we in this Circle owe to that great Masonic teacher, the late W. Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst, whose writings have been extensively used in the preparation of our own work.

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