Scriptures, Reading of The
By an ancient usage of the Craft, the Book of the Law is always spread open in the Lodge. There is in this, as in everything else that is Masonic, an appropriate symbolism. The Book of the Law is the Great Light of Freemasonry. To close it would be to intercept the rays of divine light which emanate from it, and hence it is spread open, to indicate that the Lodge is not in darkness, but under the influence of its illuminating power. Freemasons in this respect obey the suggestion of the Divine Founder of the Christian religion, "Neither do men light a Candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."
A closed book, a sealed book, indicates that its contents are secret; and a ,book or roll folded up was the symbol, says Wemyss, of a law abrogated, or of a thing of no further use. Hence, as the reverse of all this, the Book of the Law is opened in our Lodges, to teach us that its contents are to be studied, that the laxv which it ineuleates is still in force, and is to be "the rule and guide of our conduct."
But the Book of the Law is not opened at random. In each Degree there are appropriate passages, whose allusion to the design of the Degree, or to some part of its ritual, makes it expedient that the book should be opened upon those passages. Masonic usage has not always been constant, nor is it now universal in relation to what particular passages shall be unfolded in each Degree. The custom in the United States of America, at least since the publication of Webb's Monitor, has been fairly uniform, and in general is as follows:
In the First Degree the Bible is opened at Psalm cxxxiii, an eloquent description of the beauty of brotherly love, and hence most appropriate as the illustration of a society whose existence is dependent on that noble principle.
In the Second Degree the passage adopted is Amos vii, 7 and 8, in which the allusion is evidently to the plumb line, an important emblem of that Degree.
In the Third Degree the Bible is opened at Ecclesiastes xii, 1-7, in which the description of old age and death is appropriately applied to the sacred object of this Degree. But, as has been said, the choice of these passages has not always been the same. At different periods various passages have been selected, but always with great appropriateness, as may be seen from the following brief sketch. Formerly, the Book of the Law was opened in the First Degree at the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, which gives an account of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaae.
As this event constituted the first grand offering commemorated by our ancient Brethren, by which the ground floor of the Apprentice's Lodge was consecrated, it seems to have been very appropriately selected as the passage for this Degree. That part of the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis which records the vision of Jacob's ladder was also, with equal appositeness, selected as the passage for the First Degree. The following passage from First Kings vi, 8, was, during one part of the eighteenth century, used in the Second Degree: "The door of the middle chamber was in the right side of the house, and they went up with grinding stairs into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third." The appositeness of this passage to the Fellow Craft's Degree will hardly be disputed.
At another time the following passage from Second Chronicles iii, 17, was selected for the Second Degree its appropriateness will be equally evident: "And he reared up the pillars before the Temple, one on the right hand, and the other on the left; and he called the name of that on the right hand Jachin, and the name of that on the left Boaz."
The words of Amos v, 25 and 26, were sometimes adopted as the passage for the Third Degree: "Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves." The allusions in this paragraph are not so evident as the others. They refer to historical matters, which were once embodied in the ancient lectures of Freemasonry. In them the sacrifices of the Israelites to Moloch were fully described, and a tradition, belonging to the Third Degree, informs us that Hiram Abif did much to extirpate this idolatrous worship from the religious system of Tyre.
The sixth chapter of Second Chronicles, which contains the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, was also used at one time for the Third Degree. Perhaps, however, this was with less fitness than any other of the passages quoted, since the events commemorated in the Third Degree took place at a somewhat earlier period than the dedication. Such a passage might more appropriately be annexed to the ceremonies of the Most Excellent Master as practiced in the United States.
At present the usage in England differs in respect to the choice of passages from that adopted in the United States of America. There the Bible is opened, in the First Degree, at Ruth iv, 7: "Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel."
In the Second Degree the passage is opened at Judges xii, 6: "Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth; for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan. And there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand. " Let not the reader hastily assume that there is but one meaning to be given these figures. The suggestion is offered that the reference may be taken as readily for two thousand and forty as forty-two thousand. We must not overlook the probable size of the population nor for that matter, the tendency in the East for exuberance of expression.
In the Third Degree the passage is opened at First Kings vii, 13 and 14: "And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow's son of the Tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon, and wrought all his work." While from the force of habit, as well as from the extrinsic excellence of the passages themselves, the American Freemason will, perhaps, prefer the selections made in the Lodges of the United States, especially for the First and Third Degrees, he at the same time will not fail to admire the taste and ingenuity of the English Brethren in the selections that they have made. In the Second Degree the passage from Judges is undoubtedly preferable to that used in the United States.
In conclusion it may be observed, that to give these passages their due Masonic importance it is essential that they should be covered by the Square and Compasses. The Bible, square, and compasses are significant symbols of Freemasonry. They are said to allude to the peculiar characteristics of our ancient Grand Masters. The Bible is emblematic of the wisdom of King Solomon; the Square, of the power of Hiram; and the Compasses, of the skill of the Chief Builder. Some Masonic writers have still further spiritualized these symbols by supposing them to symbolize the wisdom, truth, and justice of the Great Architect of the Universe. In any view they become instructive and inseparably connected portions of the true Masonic Ritual, which, to be under stood, must be studied together (see Bible).
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