Stacks Image 268
Stacks Image 272
"The spiritualizing of the temple of Solomon is the first, the most prominent and most pervading of all the symbolic instructions of Freemasonry.

The construction of an earthly and material temple, to be dedicated to the service and worship of God—a house in which Jehovah was to dwell visibly by his Shekinah, and whence he was, by the Urim and Thummim, to send forth his oracles for the government and direction of his chosen people.

Now, the operative art having, for us, ceased, we, as speculative Masons, symbolize the labors of our predecessors by engaging in the construction of a spiritual temple in our hearts, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity—where God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and whence every evil thought and unruly passion is to be banished, as the sinner and the Gentile were excluded from the sanctuary of the Jewish temple.

It is the link that binds the operative and speculative divisions of the order. It is this which gives it its religious character. Take from Freemasonry its dependence on the temple, leave out of its ritual all reference to that sacred edifice, and to the legends connected with it, and the system itself must at once decay and die, or at best remain only as some fossilized bone, imperfectly to show the nature of the living body to which it once belonged.

Temple worship is in itself an ancient type of the religious sentiment in its progress towards spiritual elevation. As soon as a nation emerged, in the world's progress, out of Fetichism, or the worship of visible objects,—the most degraded form of idolatry,—its people began to establish a priesthood and to erect temples. The Scandinavians, the Celts, the Egyptians, and the Greeks, however much they may have differed in the ritual and the objects of their polytheistic worship, all were possessed of priests and temples.

The Jews first constructed their tabernacle, or portable temple, and then, when time and opportunity permitted, transferred their monotheistic worship to that more permanent edifice which is now the subject of our contemplation. The mosque of the Mohammedan and the church or the chapel of the Christian are but embodiments of the same idea of temple worship in a simpler form.

The adaptation, therefore, of the material temple to a science of symbolism would be an easy, and by no means a novel task, to both the Jewish and the Tyrian mind. Doubtless, at its original conception, the idea was rude and unembellished, to be perfected and polished only by future aggregations of succeeding intellects. There was, in the mode of building, and in all the circumstances connected with the construction of King Solomon's temple, an apparent design to establish a foundation for symbolism.

The method in which the speculative Masons have appropriated this design of King Solomon to construct his earthly temple, the operative mason followed the architectural designs laid down on the trestle-board, or tracing-board, or book of plans of the architect. By these he hewed and squared his materials; by these he raised his walls; by these he constructed his arches; and by these strength and durability, combined with grace and beauty, were bestowed upon the edifice which he was constructing.

The trestle-board becomes, therefore, one of our elementary symbols. For in the masonic ritual the speculative Mason is reminded that, as the operative artist erects his temporal building, in accordance with the rules and designs laid down on the trestle-board of the master-workman, so should he erect that spiritual building, of which the material is a type, in obedience to the rules and designs, the precepts and commands, laid down by the GAOTU, in those great books of nature and revelation, which constitute the spiritual trestle-board of every Freemason.

The trestle-board is, then, the symbol of the natural and moral law. Like every other symbol of the order, it is universal and tolerant in its application; and while, as Christian Masons, we cling with unfaltering integrity to that explanation which makes the Scriptures of both dispensations our trestle-board, we permit our Jewish and Mohammedan brethren to content themselves with the books of the Old Testament, or the Koran.

Masonry does not interfere with the peculiar form or development of any one's religious faith. All that it asks is, that the interpretation of the symbol shall be according to what each one supposes to be the revealed will of his Creator. But so rigidly exacting is it that the symbol shall be preserved, and, in some rational way, interpreted, that it peremptorily excludes the Atheist from its communion, because, believing in no Supreme Being, no Divine Architect, he must necessarily be without a spiritual trestle-board on which the designs of that Being may be inscribed for his direction.

But the operative mason required materials wherewith to construct his temple. There was, for instance, the rough ashlar—the stone in its rude and natural state—unformed and unpolished, as it had been lying in the quarries of Tyre from the foundation of the earth. This stone was to be hewed and squared, to be fitted and adjusted, by simple, but appropriate implements, until it became a perfect ashlar, or well-finished stone, ready to take its destined place in the building.

The rough and unpolished stone is a symbol of man's natural state—ignorant, uncultivated, and, grovelling to the earth, like the beasts of the field, and obedient to every sordid appetite; but when education has exerted its salutary influences in expanding his intellect, in restraining his hitherto unruly passions, and purifying his life, he is then represented by the perfect ashlar, or finished stone, which, under the skilful hands of the workman, has been smoothed, and squared, and fitted for its appropriate place in the building.

We learn from the account of the temple, contained in the First Book of Kings, that 'The house, when it was in building, was built of stone, made ready before it was brought thither, so that there was neither hammer nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house while it was in building.'

This mode of construction, undoubtedly adopted to avoid confusion and discord among so many thousand workmen, has been selected as an elementary symbol of concord and harmony—virtues which are not more essential to the preservation and perpetuity of our own society than they are to that of every human association.

The perfect ashlar, therefore,—the stone thus fitted for its appropriate position in the temple,—becomes not only a symbol of human perfection (in itself, of course, only a comparative term), but also, when we refer to the mode in which it was prepared, of that species of perfection which results from the concord and union of men in society. It is, in fact, a symbol of the social character of the institution.

Both Scripture and tradition inform us that, at the building of King Solomon's temple, the masons were divided into different classes, each engaged in different tasks. We learn, from the Second Book of Chronicles, that these classes were the bearers of burdens, the hewers of stones, and the overseers, called by the old masonic writers the Ish sabal, the Ish chotzeb, and the Menatzchim. We certainly find a similarity in these divisions to the Apprentices, Fellow Crafts and Master Masons of our own day.

At all events, the three divisions made by King Solomon, in the workmen at Jerusalem, have been adopted as the types of the three degrees now practised in speculative Masonry; and as such are the mode in which these three divisions of workmen labored in constructing the temple, has been beautifully symbolized in speculative Masonry.

The implements used in the quarries were few and simple, the work there requiring necessarily, indeed, but two tools, namely, the twenty-four inch gauge, or two foot rule, and the common gavel, or stone-cutter's hammer. With the former implement, the operative mason took the necessary dimensions of the stone he was about to prepare, and with the latter, by repeated blows, skilfully applied, he broke off every unnecessary protuberance, and rendered it smooth and square, and fit to take its place in the building.

Thus, in the degrees of speculative Masonry, the Initiate receives these simple implements, as the emblematic working tools of his profession, with their appropriate symbolical instruction. To the operative mason their mechanical and practical use alone is signified, and nothing more of value does their presence convey to his mind.

To the speculative Mason the sight of them is suggestive of far nobler and sublimer thoughts; they teach him to measure, not stones, but time; not to smooth and polish the marble for the builder's use, but to purify and cleanse his heart from every vice and imperfection that would render it unfit for a place in the spiritual temple of his body."

- Albert Mackey, The Symbolism of Solomon's Temple
Stacks Image 270
Stacks Image 276