With our minds modelled by virtue and science, the virtue of the First Degree, and the
science, or knowledge, of the Second Degree, we are prepared for the sublime experience
of the Third Degree in Freemasonry.
Man has a triple existence, inasmuch as he has a three-phased nature. He has a physical
existence, as do all other animals, but man differs from other animals in that he has a
mental or intellectual existence. He has also a soul, which though very real is intangible.
Although we cannot see it or touch it, we can hear its voice, which we know as our
conscience, although we often refer to it as our heart. In our ritual it is called the "voice of
Thus, in the Sublime Degree, the degree of the soul, the Lodge is opened on the Centre,
that point from which we cannot err. We may ignore our conscience, we may even try to
stifle it, and a man may become so hardened that its voice is barely audible, but it is still
there, telling us right from wrong, and it will never deceive us, for it is that point within
the centre from which we cannot err.
Seven is the number of completion or perfection; three is the spiritual number and four is
the earthly number, and when the two combine we get Seven, the perfect number, and so
in the Third Degree the candidate advances to the East by seven steps, which are divided
into three and four. The three spiritual steps are taken slowly and reverently; the other
four are bold or marching steps.
Our journey through the Third Degree must necessarily begin, as does the degree itself,
by a retrospect or resume of the degrees which we have already passed, that we may the
better be enabled to distinguish and appreciate the connection of our whole system, and
the relative dependence of its several parts. As we approach to God in each of the three
degrees, representing the three phases of our nature, we are able to view the whole
Masonic structure from each of these three angles, and so gain a complete conception of
the unique Masonic philosophy.
Our first journey is symbolised by Jacob's Ladder, composed of many staves or rounds,
pointing out as many moral virtues. The three principal ones are Faith, Hope and Charity.
Faith must necessarily be the first step in any approach to God, and without Hope our
journey would cease, but Charity, that sublime virtue derived from an emulation of God's
love for man, must be our ultimate aim in the First Degree.
Our Divine Creator so loves man that he accepts love of our fellow man, brotherly love,
as love for himself, a truth beautifully portrayed in a poem by James Leigh Hunt:
"Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold.
Now exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said:
'What writest thou?' The vision raised its head,
And with a look made all of sweet accord,
Answered:'The names of those that love the Lord'.
'And is mine one?' asked Abou.'Nay, not so.
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still and said:'l pray thee then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.
The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo, Ben Adhem's name led all the rest."
Our second journey is symbolized by the Winding Stair, portraying our mental approach
to God. By developing our intellectual faculty, we may the better be enabled to discharge
our duty as Freemasons and to estimate the wonderful works of the Grand Geometrician
of the Universe, knowing that, although we may observe the motions of the heavenly
bodies, measure their distance and calculate their periods and eclipses, we may not even
hope to comprehend the magnitude of God's handiwork.
Aristotle's principles remained unchallenged until Galileo appeared on the scene, but his
findings were outdated by Newton, and when we thought that we had arrived at the
ultimate truth, Einstein recast our thinking with revolutionary discoveries. How can we
know when we have arrived at the ultimate truth? We can never know. Ultimate truth
belongs to God alone. Man's knowledge is much too frail a reed on which to lean,
notwithstanding that the main aim and purpose of knowledge is to enable us to appreciate
the wonderful works of the Almighty Creator.
We know from archaeological discoveries that the ancient Egyptians had worked out the
relationship between the radius and circumference, and used it in their calculations; that
they had an accurate knowledge not only of the motion of the earth in relation to the sun
and moon, but of all the planetary system; that they had compiled a correct calendar,
based on a full knowledge of the motion of the earth; in fact, nothing is more astonishing
to those who study the records of the past than the knowledge of science which these
ancient Egyptian priests possessed.
Most of this knowledge, of course, was lost with the fall of Egypt, but much of it has been
rediscovered, though only in the last few hundred years, and even then the world little
knew that it had all been known so long ago by these ancient Egyptian astronomers and
left written in signs and symbols on stones and papyri, which we are now enabled to
decipher and read.
Modern astronomers have calculated the period of the Sun's orbit to be 25,827 years and
now our archaeologists tell us that these ancient Egyptians could have provided us with
the precise figure.
About 250 years B.C., the ancient Greek mathematician Eratosthenes was in Syene in the
Egyptian province of Assuan at the time of the equinox. Knowing that he was on the
tropic, he decided to measure the angle of the sun at mid-day. He found that it was
exactly ninety degrees as he had expected.
On the same day the following year, when he was back home in Alexandria, he made the
same measurement. He now found that there was a variation of 7.2 degrees, which, of
course, is the fiftieth part of a circle, indicating that the 500 miles between Syene and
Alexandria must be the fiftieth part of the world's circumference. The resultant answer of
25,000 miles differs from our latest calculation by a mere thirty miles.
What happened to this knowledge? The world seems to have known nothing of this some
two thousand years later, when Galileo was thrown into prison by the Inquisition for
claiming that the world was round. One may sometimes wonder whether there are yet
things to rediscover that were known thousands of years ago, and whether the vast wealth
of knowledge that is ours today could too be lost. So much for the retrospect.
Our journey through this degree has hardly started before it seems to come to an abrupt
end, when we arrive at the brink of the grave, but really it is far from finished, for, if our
mind is ready, it is at this point that we should begin the important contemplative stage. If
we will follow that course of contemplation, we will find that it is the greatest journey of
the three. We can well say "if we will", because many who wear the badge of a Master
Mason have yet to make this journey and thus become aware of the potential immortality
of the soul of man.
How do we know that the soul of man can be immortal? We may have learned the lesson
of the First Degree, and live in love and charity with our neighbour, but even so we will
not receive the answer to this question. It will prove a slip. We may have learned the
lesson of the Second Degree, and have developed our intellectual faculty even to
perfection, but all the science and accumulated knowledge of mankind cannot reveal what
awaits us on the other side of the grave. It will prove a slip likewise.
Science may attempt to dissect and analyse, but is forced to lay aside its instruments,
unable to prove even that there is a soul.
Then Reason makes its attempt. Plato and Cicero endeavoured to prove through logic the
immortality of the soul. its doubtful that their arguments convinced either others or
themselves. It is the same with the modern psychologist; with all his fascinating studies
on the workings of the human mind, his feeble light must flicker out on the brink of the
grave. It proves a slip likewise.
There yet remains the sure grip of Faith, that virtue which we confessed at the very outset
of our Masonic career; that virtue which enables us to ascend the first rung of Jacob's
Ladder, the top of which reaches to the heavens. If man's spirit be immortal, then surely
we seek in vain with the light of any earthly beam. Neither the rays of the sun, nor the
light of human knowledge can penetrate that gloom, that darkness, that ignorance, which
veils from our eyes all knowledge of a future life.
The eye of human reason cannot penetrate that mysterious veil unless assisted by that
light which is from above. What is this light which is from above? To try to explain
spiritual light to those who have not experienced it is like trying to explain physical light
to a blind man, and to those who have the experience the explanation is, of course, quite
unnecessary. Let us, therefore, not dwell on that point at this juncture, but attain our
objective, I hope, another way and return to the point later. Suffice to say that spiritual
light must be sought within. Just as the letter "G" is found in the Middle Chamber, we
find God in our own soul -- symbolically speaking, in our own heart.
Just as the First Degree represents the dawn of day with its first gleam of light, and the
Second Degree represents the fullness of day, when we must get all our work done, so we
now find ourselves in the West, where the sun is sinking and we realise that darkness will
soon be upon us.
Thus we stand on the brink of the grave and, peering across, as it were, to the other side,
we realise that all beyond is veiled in darkness. But if this realisation leads us to really
contemplate, then our darkness becomes so visible, that we come face to face with the
mysterious veil. This is when the faith that was born in the First Degree, and developed in
the Second, becomes that glimmering ray which enables us to penetrate the veil, and so,
in contemplation, we pass right through the grave, and begin the most important stage of
This contemplation is our real journey through the Third Degree. If we have mastered the
lessons of the other two degrees, we can make this journey through the Valley of the
Shadow of Death, and discover that we are not afraid to die, and the still, small, but
insistent voice of the soul will not remind us in vain to remember now our Creator and to
perform our allotted task while it is yet day.
This voice of the soul - this voice of nature - so insistently reminds us that it resides
within this perishable frame, that, if we will only listen, it certainly will inspire a holy
confidence, that our Creator will enable us to conquer death, or in the more poetic words
of the ritual "that the Lord of Life will enable us to trample the king of terrors beneath our
feet, and lift our eyes to that bright morning star."
What bright morning star? The universe is composed of solar systems like our own, and
each of these solar systems consists of a central sun with its circle of planets, and each of
these central suns, like our sun, emits light. To us they are so many stars. Our sun is our
star, and when it rises it is the morning star. As an unknown poet has written:
We contemplate when the sun declines
Our death in deep reflection,
And when again it rising shines,
Our day of resurrection.
We watch that sun set with the fullest possible confidence that it will rise again tomorrow,
and if we have been among the faithful and obedient of the human race - if we have been
successful in each of our other two journeys - then we can contemplate our own setting
with that same confidence; that is: "we may lift our eye to that bright morning star, whose
rising brings peace and tranquillity to the faithful and obedient of the human race."
Our contemplation of the Emblems of Mortality reminds us that our dust must return to
the earth whence it came but our faith in the Fatherhood of God insists on the immortality
of the soul, and assures us that our spirit will return to God who gave it. This is to believe
that the soul of man is a tiny spark of the Divine Being, and can therefore never die, and
will be at peace only when in perfect harmony with its divine source.
"Man is the measure of all things," said the ancient sage, Pythagoras, "but man himself in
the higher reaches of his being cannot be measured. He is like an inlet of the sea; looking
landward it is limited; looking seaward it is linked with the infinite.
"I think God's thoughts after Him," said Kepler, the famous German astronomer, several
centuries ago as he looked through his telescope to the stars. This is true of all human
thinking, all noble living, all upleaping aspiration. Truly He that made us set eternity in
our hearts and restless we must remain, until we find reunion with His will, in which is
our only peace.
In his well-known book, The Builders, from which I have already freely quoted, Dr.
Joseph Fort Newton asks us to consider what it means to say that the soul of man is akin
to the Eternal soul of the Universe. It means that we are not just shapes of mud placed
here by chance, but sons of the Most High, citizens of Eternity, deathless as God our
Father is deathless, and that there is placed upon us an abiding obligation to live in a
manner worthy of the dignity of an eternal soul.
And so we see that what a man thinks, the purity of his feelings, and the character of his
activity and career, are of vital and ceaseless concern to the Eternal. Here is a philosophy
that lights up the world like a sunrise, confirming the dim dumb certainties of the soul,
evolving meaning out of mystery and hope out of what would else be endless despair. It
brings out the colours of human life, investing our fleeting mortal years - brief at their
longest and broken at their best - with enduring significance and beauty. It gives to each
of us, however humble and obscure, a place and a part in this stupendous plan; it makes
us fellow workers with the Eternal in his redemptive making of humanity, and it binds us
to seek His will in every phase of our being.
This belief - this philosophy - this simple faith - based on the Fatherhood of God, the
Brotherhood of man, and the immortality of the soul, is that same light which is from
above. It is this belief that enables us to trample the king of terrors beneath our feet, and
make eternal plans for our soul; it is this belief that is the light of a Master Mason.
We will never really complete our journey through the Third Degree until the Almighty
calls us to cease labour; until then we can make the journey only in contemplation. This
very contemplation will teach us that the mysterious power of life that moves us now is an
infinitesimal spark of that infinitely vast and utterly incomprehensible power that impels,
controls, guides and rules the whole universe, in which time, and space - yes, and love -
May we never betray our own soul, so that it may continue in harmony with the Divine
Source whence it sprang; and when it has fulfilled its mission in this life, may it return to
that same source to which it will ever belong. With the aid of this glimmering ray the soul
now sees as through a glass darkly, but in the life to come, it will know, as St. Paul tells
us, even as it is known.