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The Master of the Lodge- His Qualifications

by Bro. Andrew McBride, Glasgow

The article following is an excerpt from a lecture by Brother 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 needed.  

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 Master.  

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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Last modified: March 22, 2014