An Address (Condensed) by Joseph Fort Newton.
Fort Newton delivered on 17 th November 1926, a beautiful and thought
provoking address at Annual Meeting of the Masonic Service Association
in Chicago. We are posting hereunder a condensed version of that
Three times in my life I have had a very wonderful dream;
each time it has come back with an amazing vividness, born, on each
occasion, of an hour of inner struggle and crisis.
Always it is a
vision of a great cathedral, built in the ancient form of a cross,
stately, imposing, piteous; an old great home of the human soul, the
shrine of faith, fellowship and hope.
It is Gothic in
its architecture, that form of architecture created and glorified by the
genius and history of Freemasonry, its achievement and its monument; the
most eloquent of all forms as embodying our own spirit and attempting to
make God eloquent among men. I can see in my dream, or my vision, the
lift of its pillars and the leap of its arches and its great, glorious
dome, and in that framework always this vision has come.
I have never
been able to see the Altar or the Chancel distinctly, because of a very
blinding light. No face, but only the sweep of a garment, vast, white,
but I know who is there at the Altar, and the Chancel.
I do not hear a
voice, but somehow know what is being said. Once again, in that
framework of Gothic glory, He is speaking the words that He spoke of
old, on the mountain and by the sea. Somehow, I do not know, how, I
know, who it is and
what he is saying.
Next to the
Temple and the speaker is the audience gathered there, the most
extraordinary of which any man ever dreamed. All the great minds and
prophets of the older world are there. Moses, the mighty law giver, the
great legislator of the human race is there.
his slant eyes and his queue, who dreamed of the superior man, the
ideal, to which all good men labor! Buddha, all pitiful, whose religion
is the most majestic symphony of melancholy in the whole compass of
human history are all there..
Plato, a man of
angel mind, idealist, father of philosophy and of the theology, with the
greatest, sweetest and most luminous spirit that have ever crossed our
human pathway; by his side Aristotle, father of science, patient, exact
investigator, who anticipated, in flashes of insight, so many things
that have been verified both in science and philosophy. The company of
prophets, from the days of Isaiah, with his golden voice, on down;
and all of them are there;
I know them and
see them, on into our own time, and they are very vivid to me. Very
distinct is the face of Emerson. I see it only in profile, a finely
chiseled face, in which the genius of New England took form. What a
company it is! I could not name all of them, but Voltaire, who built a
little Temple over which he inscribes, "To the Glory of
God," is there. And while the speaker utters once more, with
that voiceless voice, the truths which are the Magna Carta of the
spiritual life of mankind, I see all those in that Temple nodding assent
and saying, each in his own heart, Amen.
Such is my
dream, my brethren. It came, by the mercy of God, when I was only a lad
in Texas, and again, in an hour of crisis in Iowa, blessed to me and
never-to-be-forgotten, for the friendships of a lifetime formed there,
and for the confidence of Grand Lodge of Iowa; and once in London, in
the wild, dark, confused and
terrifying days of World War. Always with increasing vividness
that dream has blessed my life. It is a vision of unity, as you will
It leads to the
ends of the earth and the limits of human history. It includes all
religions and all races in its embrace. Out of that vision have grown
certain great convictions which,
like the rock ribs that hold the earth together, hold my life.
First, that all
just men, all devout men, all spiritually minded men, are everywhere of
one religion. They are trying to say the same thing, each in his own
tongue, with his own accent and emphasis, speech that each has colored
by his own environment, the degree of his own spiritual development. All
are fundamental participators in one common spiritual life, which they
seek to interpret.
is so fundamental in my life that it makes me utterly indifferent to
small things that seem to divide men into different religions of
different sects. Some of my brethren in the lodge and in the church, not
knowing what I am telling you, misunderstand many things. They call me
an "Ecclesiastical polygamist,"
for example, meaning one who belongs to many churches. Yes,
exactly; because, in the light of this vision,
to me there is only one church,
universal and eternal. All good men belong to it.
religious orders to me are
like the different rooms in one house and the doors are all open. I walk
from room to room in my Father's House. I hold fellowship with all
alike. Perhaps I may live long enough to belong officially to every
church, on principle, even long enough to have my vision understood.
My second great
conviction is that all just men, all devout men, are not only trying to
say the same thing, but they are trying to do the same things, to define
faith, to refine and purify the mind of
build it up into
righteousness and moral
intelligence, and honest good will. They have the same ideals.
speaks of the Superior man, he means what we mean by the Christian man,
Christ. It is the one ideal that God has planted in the dream and hope
of mankind; the one great moral and spiritual enterprise going in the
world. It is a great consolation, it
is a great reinforcement, to realize that fact. It falls over one like a
consecration, and gives strength.
conviction is, since men are trying to say the same thing, and trying to
do the same thing, the greatest things they must finally learn to do
together. You can see, then, the philosophy of my interest in The
Masonic Service Association and the Federal Council of Churches. I have
the honor to be a member of the committee on direction of the Federal
Council on Churches of America, and also to be Educational Director of
The Masonic Service Association.
It is extremely
interesting to see the same thing going on among the religious orders
and the Grand Lodges. They are trying to learn how to do the same things
together, things which can only be done together. The same objection,
the same criticism, the same fears and misgivings are expressed in the
Federal Council as in this Association. Some of
the great religious orders will not belong at all to the Federal
Council of Churches.
brilliant member of a great church said in an address a few weeks ago;
"The Federal Council will either collapse or become a Super
Church." It sounded very familiar to me! Somewhere I have heard a
rumor of that kind said about this Association - that it would either
collapse or become a Super Grand Lodge! Well, there is no more idea of a
Super Grand Lodge in our minds than there is in the Federal Council of
Churches to make a Super-Church. One is as undesirable as the other.
interesting that some of our churches are in it with one foot. My
Church, for example, is with one foot, tentatively, experimentally. The
Episcopal Communion will cooperate on International Affairs and with the
Committee of International Good Will, but no further than that. So there
are some lodges in America, who will cooperate with us, and use all our
literature, and all our material and all our machinery, but they won't
use them in a common undertaking.
It is amusing.
To watch this practice and procedure going on adds to the joy of
life. "But it is going on!" It is just as inevitable as
anything can be. The very necessities of the situation demand a
united religious communion, in fellowship, at least, and in work, for
the things that need to be done can be done in no other way. War cannot
be abolished by stupid sectarianism.
famine, war! These three are the greatest evils, and the worst of these
is war. Science has killed one pestilence after another. They lie like
dead snakes by the side of the road.
intercommunication make it possible to send relief from one part of the
world to the other very quickly. Only a renewed spiritual life can kill
the spirit of strife in the hearts of men and so purify them as to make
war impossible. It will take the whole religion, united, purified and
renewed to do that.
afternoon I am thinking of that
Gothic Cathedral which Freemasonry built, as the framework, the shrine,
the home of the religious life. For we are builders. This is what we are
here to build, a Temple, a House not made with human hands. It will
tower into the heavens, but it is a Temple. It is the great landmark of
Freemasonry, that Temple.
What are the
foundations of it? There are three things that I know about Freemasonry,
not much else. I studied upon it many years, starting my study in the
great library of the Grand Lodge of Iowa. But there are three
fundamental things that I do positively know.
The first is
that man was made for righteousness. He can never be a man, he can
never be happy until he is a righteous man. The mystery of moral
life comes back again and again as the profoundest mystery of all life.
I find it here written in my own heart; what the dear Quakers call
"A Stop In The Mind," something that arrests men and compels
them to pass a moral judgment upon my acts and my thoughts. Where it
came from I do not know.
I have my
beliefs. It is upon what I know that I build my beliefs. But I do know I
have this mystery of the moral sense in my own being. It is here. I did
not create it. I commands me. The profoundest mystery to me is not that
I do wrong, as all of us do wrong, but that there is something that
brings me to judgment for doing wrong, something within myself, that
awful whisper of moral law. I understand what the Great thinker meant
when he said that there were two things that overwhelmed him, the still
depth of a starlit night, and the awful moral law within.
When I try to
think, when I try to interpret the meaning of that great fact in the
life of my fellow man, then I have the cornerstone of all theology, of
all understanding of life. You can push it back just as far as you
please. You can say, as some will want to say, that this whisper within
me is the echo of an old racial memory and experience. No doubt!. But
whence came the first bias of man towards righteousness, the first sense
and command within himself that he must be a righteous man? Whence did
the voice of that command come?
What is true of
humanity is true of myself. It can never be happy until it attains
righteousness. He has a choice and an ability to choose the right and
refuse the wrong; or to choose the wrong and refuse the right. One
involves the other.
I am aware that
there prevails in our time the fatalistic philosophy which tells us that
we are no more responsible for our thoughts and acts than we are for the
shape of our heads and the color of our eyes. That philosophy is
plausible, but in my heart I know it to be false. I am not a machine. I
am no organism.
That is the
first fundamental thing that I know about Freemasonry. And the second
thing, that not only is man made for righteousness, but man is made for
man. He cannot attain the richest character, the moral personality apart
from his fellow man.Talent may develop in solitude Character is the
creation of fellowship and of fraternity. This ancient and honorable
fraternity is built upon this fact, that we are made one for the other;
that our lives fit one into another and are woven together to make a
Divine fabric, a cloth of gold.
This fact unites us in a temple of vision. We are made one for another.
Muhammad was right when he said if man would not help man the end of the
world had come. The end of the human world has certainly arrived when
man refuses to aid and assist his fellow man.
Here is the
basis of our beautiful doctrine of brotherly love, relief and truth
because we can never know the truth until we know it together. There are
some things we may know in isolation, but we cannot know the highest
truth alone. We can only learn it together. It is by practicing
brotherhood that we learn to know God.
third thing. Not only is man made for righteousness and man made for
man, but man is made for God. His spirit is formless and alone, even in
the warmest fellowship, until at last together we find the source from
whence we come, the light from whence flashes that spark of moral law
and spiritual vision within us, the veiled kindness of the Father of all
men. One of the greatest minds of any time put it in an unforgettable
way when he said; "Lord,
Thou Hast Made Us For Thyself, And Our Hearts Are Restless Until
They Rest In Thee." I am speaking about God, in a Fraternity,
the first great universal landmark of which is God!
which appeal to me in Masonry are, first, its simplicity. All supremely
great things, like all supremely great men, are simple. Turn the pages
of history and call the names of Martin Van Buren, of Benjamin Disraeli,
You feel that
you are in the presence of great men, but something arrests you and
prevents you from believing those men are supremely great. They had
great characteristics. They were past masters of the art and wise in the
manipulations of diplomacy. But turn another page and read the names of
Washington and Lincoln, and instantly you feel that those two belonged
to a different order of men. They are supremely great, in the open and
in the sunlight; and sublimely simple.
So it is with
Masonry. There are many fraternities in the world. They have great
characteristics. But to me the outstanding glory of Masonry is the
simplicity of its symbolism, of its faith and of its philosophy.
As I have tried to state it, man is made for righteousness, man is made
for man, and man is made for God. You cannot go beyond that, or above
it. It is something to think about through a whole lifetime, as a scheme
of philosophy and of faith.
Second, in all
my Masonic life, as a student or a teacher of Masonry, and a worker in
its behalf; it has been always in my heart to use Masonry as a wand of
blessing and never as a weapon of battle. It is intended to make men
friends, to bring men of all types of temperament, antecedents and
training together; to discover their brotherhood and make them builders
of a purer world. The temptation is very great sometimes, for good men
and true, to use Masonry as a weapon of battle. But we must never do it.
I refuse to do it. It is too great. It is too beautiful. It is too Holy!
Third, to me
Masonry is one of the forms of the Divine life among men. It has come to
us from a long, long past; bringing symbolisms to understand which is to
understand the meaning of life; what it is to be a man and how to be a
righteous man; how best to serve our fellow-man and, therefore, best
serve God. It is not a religion, but it is religion in its very essence,
genius and spirit.
then, its dignity, and its spirituality; these things, with the vision I
have told you, sustain me in all that try to do, and permit me to forget
the incredible pettiness of mind that we sometimes encounter, enabling
me to join hands with my brethren everywhere to do something, if it be
only a little, before the end of the day, to make a gentler, kinder and
wiser world in which to live!