The Master of the
Lodge- His Qualifications
by Bro. Andrew McBride, Glasgow
THE MASTER MASON - OCTOBER 1925
The article following is an excerpt from a lecture by
MacBride, written from notes left by his distinguished father, the
late Brother A. S. MacBride, whose "Speculative Masonry" is so
widely known in America, in the M.S.A. Library. It was delivered
at a meeting of the Masters' and Past Masters' Association of the
metropolitan district of Lothians and Berwickshire, Scotland. The
late Brother MacBride believed that the success of a lodge depends
largely upon the Master, since his personality and character, as
well as his qualities of leadership, determine the progress and spirit
of the lodge during his administration. He laid great stress on the
importance of selecting a wise and capable Master, and in the notes
which his son here expands he emphasizes the qualifications
THERE are certain points essential to the making of a good Master
of a lodge, and these are:
1st, Upright Character.
2nd, Sound Judgment.
3rd, Knowledge of Masonry.
4th, Mental ability.
The full performance of the duties of a Master demands these
qualities, and the degree of excellency in a Master lies in the
measure in which he possesses them. Let us consider them.
UPRIGHT CHARACTER is the most important qualification.
Without it, knowledge, ability, and even genius are of little value.
It directs these to noble ends, and makes them valuable to the
individual and to humanity. The Mallet and Chisel are not of much
service for the building of the Temple, unless governed by the
Square. Intellect to morality is as the lever to the hand, and as the
pulsating engine to the ship's helm. An upright man so directs his
life that, although his work may not be great, it will be true; and if
his knowledge be limited, he will use what he has for great
purposes. What we call capability is constitutional. Knowledge is
an acquirement. Uprightness is a development, and forms the
beautiful in human character. Beauty is not identified with bulk.
The microscope reveals beauty; the telescope, greatness.
Uprightness is not an appendage to great intellect, and in morals
there is no mensuration. It is from the right use of our faculties that
we gain real development and power; for the upright in heart build
on the eternal rocks, and the infinite power of the Universe works
with them. As a man is true to the little he knows, so is his power
to know more. If he rules himself rightly, he will be able to govern
others wisely, and without this quality, no one can be a good
To the young craftsman, who cherishes the laudable desire of
becoming a Master, I would say that the development of
uprightness, like all human development, can only be attained by
effort, and the first thing needful is the true desire for it. If that be
cherished in the heart, like seed in the earth, it will seek upwards
into the light of day, and grow into flower and fruit. Through
darkness and over all difficulties, it will surely, though often
slowly, work its way upwards. From desire springs action. Without
action, desire burns itself to the dead ashes of vain regret. In
action, it develops new life and a higher existence.
UPRIGHT growth of character is attained by working true to a
higher power than our own. The operative Mason by the plumb-
rule, keeps in perpetual touch with the great power of gravitation.
He cannot deviate from it with impunity. Neither can any one hope
to build an upright life-structure unless in his actions he constantly
strives to keep true to the divine ideal revealed to him. Uprightness
is based on humility - the level line of human dependence on the
divine. It is the evidence of the mortal rising to the immortal plane,
upheld by the infinite power that sustains the universe, just as a
noble pillar, well founded, rises gracefully upwards, upheld by the
force of gravitation. It is attained through earnest aspiration, and by
working true to divine law.
Genius may be a curse to society. Upright character is always a
blessing. Mental ability may see evil: the upright heart alone will
overcome it. The former has no benevolence: the latter is both
benevolent and beneficent. Benevolence is a spirit. You may
measure a body by bulk, but spirit never. To invest our souls in
material things outside of ourselves is poor economy. Our tenure in
such things is, at the best, a short one. We lose them often in life.
and certainly in death. But proprietorship in uprightness is
registered in Heaven. It unites with the just and the true forces,
with the pure and the beautiful of the Universe, and links us with
that Divine Power outside ourselves that makes for righteousness.
SOUND JUDGMENT. - Judgment is that faculty of the mind that
can properly estimate the value of things. It gives true perspective
to our views and just consistency to our actions. It maintains our
balance in life, directs our aspirations, and decides our course.
When it is sound - that is healthy and strong - we have wisdom.
Uprightness of character without sound judgment may sow seed on
stony places, cast pearls before swine, and lose battles gathering
straws. Sound judgment will lose a sprat to catch a whale, will
suffer present loss for future gain, and will boldly sacrifice the
lesser for greater life. The judgment is not sound that listens to
desire more than to conscience, that is influenced by gain rather
than by honor, and has no faith in the ultimate and eternal triumph
of truth and right.
The exercise of sound judgment by a Master has an immense
influence on the well-being of his lodge, and on his personal peace
of mind and happiness in the Chair. An unjust or imprudent
decision will strip him of that moral authority without which no
Master can efficiently rule. Sometimes an unfair decision may be
given in haste, and without any intention of being unfair.
Smartness is often mistaken for ability and the desire to appear
smart may lead to serious mistakes. It is better to be slow and sure
than hasty in judgment. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,"
and the small mind is the most apt to damn the consequences of its
decisions. Careful consideration should always precede a judgment
delivered from the Chair. Where the subject is one with which the
mind is familiar, through knowledge and experience. a prompt
decision is an advantage. But, as a rule, careful consideration gives
thorough knowledge, and thorough knowledge does not often run
with hasty judgment.
The Master who has sound judgment is distinguished by prudence,
proficiency and progress. His prudence is shown in what he does,
and more in what he does not do. His desires, even when most
laudable, he circumscribes within the compass of his power, and he
measures his power by the desires of his lodge. His proficiency is
manifested by making the heaviest work appear light and pleasant,
and the lightest full of weight and meaning. His progress is rapid,
because his steps are slow and sure, because he measures his speed
by progression and not by motion. He is not the fluttering barn-
fowl full of furious motion, but the soaring eagle, whose almost
motionless pinions carry him swiftly upwards and onwards.
KNOWLEDGE OF MASONRY. - There is a kind of knowledge
of degrees and ceremonies gained by having gone through them.
But this kind is more an exercise of the purse than of the brain, and
scarcely deserves the name of knowledge. You may go through all
the degrees up to the thirty-third, have a lorry load of Diplomas
and more jewels than your coat can carry; and yet, be utterly
ignorant of real Masonry.
Your parchments may be nothing more than the hieroglyphic
wrappings round an Egyptian mummy, and your jewels, the
ornaments of a stage puppet. There is also a kind of knowledge in
being able to repeat the rituals and forms of the Order. This
gramophone ability, however, does not imply any real knowledge
of the truths and principles that underlie its symbols and
ceremonies. A parrot may repeat the proverbs of Solomon, and be
none the wiser thereby.
True knowledge is the perception of the principles underlying
anything; for instance, the craftsman who knows the laws that
govern the art of building, the lines that give strength and stability,
and those that give beauty to a fabric. This kind of knowledge is
power. It makes a man a Master. It gives the power of planning
and working to a given end and purpose. It enables the captain to
direct the ship, and gives him his right to the quarter-deck. It
enables the Master of a lodge to plan his lodge work in perfect
harmony with its constitution and mission, and to work out that
plan successfully. The Master who has not this knowledge is the
blind servant of red tape and mechanical routine. He is full of
ignorant childish fears in his work, and the more conscientious he
is, the more fearful he will be. He must stick to every word and
letter of what he has learned, for he knows merely the words and
letters, and not the spirit. He has no knowledge of how to take his
bearings and shape his course by the sun and stars, and
consequently, he creeps along the shore, ever fearful of losing his
course. He is not a Master of his craft, in the proper sense of the
term. He is a slave to it, and knows it not.
MENTAL ABILITY. - Strength and skill of mind form mental
ability. It is distinguished from genius in being more the product of
cultivation and development than of nature. Genius, like beauty, is
a natural gift more than a development, although, like the diamond,
it may owe much to art. It is also rare like the diamond, and comes
not directly into the ordinary service of life. Ability is different. It
is not uncommon and can be acquired. It can be developed just as
strength and skill of body. The aspiring Master, therefore, should
regularly exercise his mind by a serious study of the symbols and
history of the Craft, and the ceremonies of the several degrees.
This exercise, to be beneficial, should be regular, and not
spasmodic. It should also be systematic, beginning at the work of
initiation and proceeding on step by step. Each point and symbol
should be studied in its relation to the special truth and principle it
teaches, and also in its connection and harmony generally with the
ceremony, or proceeding, of which it forms a part. By this regular
and systematic exercise the mental faculties will be strengthened
and developed, and skill in the craft attained.
But the Master should not only have the mental ability to
understand the craft of Masonry, he should also have the ability of
giving expression to his thoughts and ideas, in suitable and correct
language. Nothing tends more to lower the dignity of the Chair and
lessen the Master's authority than stumbling uncouth utterances. It
often offends the feelings and convictions of the listeners, as well
as their sense of good taste, even when kindly meant.
IN ANY dispute he is apt to add fuel to the flame, even when he
means to be perfectly fair. A few well-chosen words, on the other
hand, will generally restrain ill feeling, and direct the debate into a
channel leading to a harmonious conclusion. It is, therefore, of
importance that a Master should possess the to think clearly, and to
that end the aspirant should study and practice the art of expressing
his thoughts, in words fitted to the occasion.
While the Master ought to be thus able, he should in any debate,
speak as seldom, and as shortly as possible. This is a point that
ought to receive the careful consideration of every Master,
particularly those who think they have "the gift o' the gab." In this,
as in most things, it is quality and not quantity that tells; for clear
expression lies more in the selection than in the volume of words,
and that art can only be obtained by study and practice.
Through the endeavor to formulate our thoughts in words, we
obtain a clearer view of them. When the architect tries to build and
shape his ideas, he realizes their imperfections, as well as their
beauty. The conceptions of the artist are developed and perfected
on the canvas.
The inventor's notion becomes plainer to his own mind as he works
out his plan, or his model; so our thoughts somewhat vague as they
arise in our minds, become more definite and distinct to our vision
as we try to formulate and express them in words. We are told that
at the beginning of creation "the earth was without form and void,
and darkness moved on the face of the deep." Only when He had
worked out his thought in substance and form "God saw
everything that he had made, and behold it was very good."
BY THE effort to express our thoughts and clothe them in the form
of words, or actions, or matter, we not only benefit others, but also,
and even more so, benefit ourselves. Thus the giving of knowledge
does not impoverish, it enriches the giver. The true Master who
makes a careful study of the symbols or ceremonies of Masonry,
and tries to give expression to the truths he finds therein, will find
his ideas of them all the clearer, his mental ability all the stronger,
and will realize in his experience that "it is more blessed to give
than to receive."
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