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THE DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTIC OF MASONS.
CHARITY is the chief of every social virtue, and the distinguishing characteristic of our order. This virtue includes a supreme degree of love to the great Creator and Governor of the Universe, and an unlimited affection to the beings of his creation, of all characters and of every denomination. This last duty is forcibly inculcated by the example of the Deity himself, who liberally dispenses his beneficence to unnumbered worlds.
It is not particularly our province to enter into a disqui ́sition of every branch of this amiable virtue; we shall only briefly state the happy effects of a benevolent disposition towards mankind, and show that charity exerted on proper objects, is the greatest pleasure man can possibly enjoy.
The bounds of the greatest nation, or the most extensive empire, cannot circumscribe the generosity of a liberal mind. Men, in whatever situation they are placed, are still, in great measure, the same. They are exposed to similar dangers and misfortunes. They have not always wisdom to foresee, nor power to prevent, the evils incident to human nature. They hang, as it were, in a perpetual suspense, between hope and fear, sickness and health, plenty and want. A mutual chain of dependence subsists throughout the animal creation. The whole human species are, therefore, proper objects for the exercise of human charity. Beings who partake of one common nature, ought ever to be actuated by the same motives and interests. Hence, to soothe the unhappy by sympathising with their misfortunes, and to restore peace and tranquillity to agitated minds, constitute the general and great ends of our institution. This humane, this generous disposition, fires the breast with the
most manly feelings, and enlivens that spirit of compassion, which is the glory of the human frame, and which not only rivals, but outshines every other pleasure the mind is capable of enjoying. Charity is here represented to be the principal step by which we are to arrive at the summit of Masonry.
Hail! brightest attribute of God above,
And bid the heart of gall with friendship glow;
To smooth the paths of thorny life,
And still the voice of dissonance and strife:
Nor stand the awful menace of that eye;
See meek forgiveness bless the hostile mind,
In what character Charity is, and should be received among Masons, is now my purpose to define, as it stands limited to our own society.
As being so limited, we are not through that subject to be imposed on by false pretences; but ought to be certain
* Composed by the Rev. H. C. C. Newman.
of the proper and merited administration of it. It is hence to be hoped, that Charity exists with us without dissembling or hypocrisy, and lives in sincerity and truth; that benefits received impress a lively degree of gratitude and affection on the minds of Masons, as their bounties should be received with cheerfulness, and unacquainted with the frozen finger of reluctance; the benevolence of our society should be so mutual and brotherly, that each ought to endeavour to render good offices, as ready as he would receive them, "For blessed be him whom giveth, as well as him who receiveth."
In order to exercise this heavenly virtue, both in the character of Masons and in common life, with propriety, and agreeable to such principles, we should forget every obligation but affection; for otherwise it were to confound charity with duty. The feelings of the heart ought to direct the hand of charity. To this purpose we should be divested of every idea of superiority, and estimate ourselves as beings of the same rank and race of men; in this disposition of mind we may be susceptible of those sentiments which charity delighteth in, to feel the woes and miseries of others with a genuine and true sympathy of soul, and exclaim with Pope,
Teach me to feel another's woe,
Compassion is of heavenly birth: it is one of the first characteristics of humanity, peculiar to our race, and our noble order, it distinguishes us from the rest of the creation.
That Mason whose bosom is locked up against compassion is a barbarian; his manners must be brutal, his mind gloomy and morose, and his passions as savage as the beasts of the forest.
What kind of Mason is he, who, loaded with opulence, and in whose hand abundance overflows, can look on virtue in distress, and merit in misery, without pity? Who could behold without tears, the desolate and forlorn state of a widow, who in early life, having been brought up in the bosom of a tender mother, without knowing care, and without tasting of necessity, was not fitted to adversity; whose soul was pure as innocence, and full of honour; whose mind had been brightened by erudition under an indulgent father; whose youth, untutored in the school of sorrow, had been flattered with the prospect of days of prosperity and plenty; one, who at length by the cruel adversity of winds and seas, with her dying husband, is wrecked in total destruction and beggary; driven by ill fortune from peace and plenty, and from the bed of ease, changes her lot to a miserable pallet, for the relief of her weariness and pain; grown meagre with necessity, and sick with woe; at her bosom hanging her famished infant, draining off the dregs of parental life for sustenance, bestowed from maternal love, yielding existence to support the babe. Hard hearted covetousness, can you behold such an object dry eyed? Can avarice grasp the mite which should sustain such virtue? Can high life lift its supercilious brow above such scenes in human life, above such miseries sustained by a fellow creature? If perchance the voice of the unfortunate and wretched widow is heard in complainings, when wearying patience and relaxed resignation breathes a sigh, whilst modesty forbids her supplication: is not the groan, the sigh, more pathetic to your ear, you rich ones, than all the flattering petitions of a cringing knave, who touches your vanity and tickles your follies, extorting from your weaknesses the prostituted portion of Charity.
I have heard it often remarked, where is the boasted charity of Free Masons? we never hear of any of their acts. So much the better. A Mason's charity should be
his greatest secret. No worthy object who is in want that does not obtain relief. We assuage their grief and cheerfully alleviate their distress. If he is in want, every heart is moved; when he is hungry, we feed him; when he is naked, we clothe him; and when in trouble, we fly to his relief. Our ears are always open to the distresses of the deserving poor; yet our charity is not dispensed with a profuse liberality on impostors; and because we relieve distress without making a boast of our acts, our enemies have the hardihood to say, we preach more charity than we actually do.
A few instances of Masonic charity will convince the world that a Mason's charity is as expansive as the canopy of heaven, and knows no bounds save those of Prudence.
During the Emperor Ferdinand's reign in Germany, fifty pounds sterling were distributed among those prisoners of war who were Masons. Can there be a greater generosity exercised than to relieve your enemies.
One hundred pounds sterling were sent to such of the brethren as had suffered during the rebellion in Canada; and a like sum was sent to Barbadoes to relieve the sufferers by the great fire in that Island.
The lodges La bien Aimee and La Charite, in Holland, relieved a foreign brother with one hundred and fifty gold ducats, upwards of two hundred dollars, besides redeeming his clothing, discharging his lodgings, and defraying his expenses on his journey to Mietau, in Courland. Gratitude did not permit him to retain such a noble gift. Six months afterwards the money was returned, accompanied with a letter of thanks, couched in the most polite terms, and in such pathetic language that the most obdurate and inflexible heart must have burst into tears on hearing the letter read.
In Portugal, where Masonry is prohibited, although Masons at the risk of their lives meet to dispense the good