Monday, August 22, 2011

George Washington - The Christian Mason

Members of the Masonic Lodges in George Washington's time explicitly rejected Deism. Episcopal clergyman, Reverend Dr. William Smith of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania presented the Masonic Constitution. The Masonic Constitution, chapter I, Section I, "concerning God and Religion" declared:

“…A Mason is also obliged to observe the moral law, as a true Noachida (Sons of Noah: the first name for Free Masons); and if he rightly understands the Royal Art, he cannot tread in the irreligious paths of the unhappy Libertine, the deist, nor the stupid Atheist; nor in any case, act against the inward light of his own conscience. He will likewise shun the gross errors of Bigotry and Superstition; making a due use of his own reason according to that liberty wherewith a Mason is made free." 

Masons were not to “tread in the irreligious paths of the unhappy Libertine, the Deist, nor stupid Atheist” and were by-and-large orthodox Trinitarian Christians before the eighteen hundreds. The Masons of George Washington’s time called themselves “Christian Masons”. Presbyterian clergyman Reverend Samuel Miller added an explanatory note to one of his sermons for publication. He wrote about the relationship between men of Christian faith and Masons of his day.

“The Author [Reverend Miller speaking of himself] has said, that the ‘principles of Masonry so far as they go, coincide with the Christian religion.’ He would here explain himself. Masonry, as such, and according to its original plan, appears to be founded on natural religion. Hence the institution is found among all nations, who believe in one God, and the accountableness of man to him, as a moral Agent, and an immortal being. But none need to be informed that all the genuine principles of natural religion, are adopted in the Christian system, and are inculcated throughout every page of the sacred volume. – But farther, it is to be remembered that this discourse [Miller’s sermon] was addressed to Christian Masons, or in other words, to Masons professing a belief in Christianity. It was addressed to a fraternity, who introduce the sacred scriptures into all their lodges; who frequently inculcate even the peculiar doctrines contained therein; and who profess, as a society, to make revelation their constant guide.”

Washington had in his collection a Masonic sermon that Reverend Dr. William Smith preached on December 28, 1779. Reverend Smith declared in the sermon that Masonry, in effect, was a form of non-denominational 

"Looking far beyond the little distinctions of sect or party (by which too many seek to know, and be known by, each other) we should labor to imitate the great Creature, in regarding those of every Nation Religion, and tongue, who “fear Him, and work righteousness. 
Such conduct becomes those who profess to believe that when our Master Christ shall come again to reward his faithful workmen and servants; he will not ask whether we were of Luther or of Calvin? Where we prayed to him in white, black, or grey, in purple, or in rags, in fine linen, or in sackcloth; in a woolen frock, or peradventure in a Leather – Apron? Whatever is considered as most convenient, most in character most for edification, and infringes least on Spiritual Liberty, will be admitted as good in this case. 
But although we may believe that none of these things will be asked in that great day; let us remember that it will be assuredly asked – were we of CHRIST JESUS? “Did we pray to him with the Spirit and with understanding?” Had we the true Marks of his Gospel in our lives? Were we “meek and lowly of heart?” did we nail our rebellious affections to his Cross, and strive to subdue our spirits to the Rule of his Spirit? But above all, it will be asked us – Were we clothed with the Wedding-garment of love? Did we recognize our HEAVENLY MASTER in the Sufferings of those whom he died to save? Did we, for his sake, open our souls wide, to the cries of HIS DISTRESSED POOR? “When they were hungry, did we give them meat? When thirsty, did we give them drink? When strangers, did we take them in? When naked, did we clothe them? When sick, did we visit them? When in prison, did we come unto them,” with Comfort and Relief?

One of Washington’s Masonic brothers was his biographer the itinerant Parson Mason Weems. His Anglican faith was not destroyed by entering into the Masonic brotherhood. His Christianity did not come to an end upon entering the Masons. Nor did he refrain from participating in Communion.

It was Christianity’s inherent power that Christianized colonial Masonry in America. I neither suggest that all Masons were Christians nor do I encourage Christians to become Masons.

Historic evidence clearly indicates that Masonry of Washington’s era was committed to the Holy Scriptures, openly Christian and anti-Deist! Membership in Masonry is more evidence that Washington was a Christian rather than being an alleged Deist. Consequently, membership in the Masonic Order is clear evidence that Washington believed in immortality.

It is historically accurate to declare that George Washington was a Mason. His personal correspondence and letters to Masonic lodges attest to this fact. As a Mason, he participated in laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol Building. Washington’s Masonic life is summarized by historian Paul Johnson.

“Washington became familiar with the externals of Masonry as a boy, and in 1752, when he reached the age of twenty, he was inducted as an Entered Apprentice Mason in the Fredericksburg Lodge. Thereafter, Masonry plays an important, if discreet part in his life, as it did among many of the Founding Fathers. Indeed, it is true to say that Masonry was one of the intellectual building blocks of the Revolution. Washington allowed lodges to flourish in several of his war camps. It was a link with advanced thinking in France: when Lafayette visited him in 1784, he gave him a Masonic apron of white satin, which the marquise had embroidered. Washington swore the oath of office as president on the Masonic Bible and when he laid the cornerstone of the capitol in 1793 he invoked the lodges of Maryland and Virginia. Indeed at his funeral all six pallbearers were Masons and the service followed the Masonic rite.”

It is legitimate to ask the question “What influence did Masonry have upon Washington’s view of God and Christianity?”

Critics of Washington’s Christianity claim that his names for God were Deistic while other critics claim the names were Masonic. One professor claimed that Washington was unsure of the reality of immortality. Eternal life is symbolized in the Masonic ritual of burial by a sprig of Acacia tree. Eternal life is a foundational precept and claim of Masonry.

Washington collected Masonic sermons in his personal library which he had bound. These sermons were written by orthodox evangelical Christian clergymen of his era who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These evangelical sermons were preached to the Mason at their invitation.

Furthermore, the alleged Masonic titles for Deity were the actual names for God used by evangelical orthodox Christians in Washington’s time.  Honorific titles for Deity were in the vocabulary of orthodox Christian pulpit of the eighteenth century and were neither Deistic nor Masonic.

Washington’s writings clearly reveal that he never ceased using the word God and continued to use the term in his writings throughout his life.  Actually, he utilized the word God some 140 times. Every known example of his use of the word God in his writings outside of school papers happened after he joined the Masons in 1752. His earliest use of the word God occurred in a letter he penned on June 12, 1754 which was two years after joining the Masons. He did not avoid the use of the word God nor did he hide his personal faith in God.

Washington was required by the Constitution of the United States to swear or affirm the presidential prescribed oath of office. Washington asked for a Holy Bible upon which he placed his hand making an oath to God. At his inauguration in New York City, he established the precedent of adding to the Constitutional presidential oath of office the phrase, “So help me God.” Furthermore, after taking the oath, he bowed his head and kissed the Bible as a sign of his respect for God’s Word. He specifically offered a prayer to God for the nation before delivering his inaugural address. The body of his inaugural address was highly religious in nature. After he finished his address, the entire Congress as a body paraded to a church where they listened to a sermon and clergymen offering prayers. It is important to note that Congress went into session before attending church and after the sermon Congress was adjourned.

The presumed link between Deism and the Masonic Order of Washington’s era is false and historically inaccurate. The historic evidence clearly indicates that the Masonic Order of Washington’s era rejected Deism!

The writing of Washington’s own pen indicates that he was less active in Masonry later in life. A careful examination of his writing at literal face value indicates that he went to the Masonic lodge only once or twice in thirty years of his adult life.

Washington received a letter from Reverend G. W. Snyder on September 25, 1798. Reverend Snyder sent a copy of the book Proofs of a Conspiracy written by John Robinson to Washington. The book presented an argument that indicates the Illuminati, an anti-religious, anti-government subversive organization founded by Adam Weishaupt penetrated America infiltrating the Masonic Order.

Washington, in his response, indicated that he had been very busy and wasn’t aware of this book until Reverend Snyder brought the work to his attention. It was his ‘busy-ness’ that prevented him from attending most of the Masonic meetings. He clearly indicates that to his knowledge the Illuminati had not made inroads into Masonry in America.

“I have heard much of the nefarious, and dangerous plan, and doctrines of the Illuminati, but never saw the Book until you were pleased to send it to me. The same causes which have prevented my acknowledging the receipt of your letter have prevented my reading the Book, hitherto; namely the multiplicity of matters which pressed upon me before, and the debilitated state in which I was left after, a severe fever had been removed. And which allows me to add little more now, than thanks for your kind wishes and favorable sentiments, except to correct an error you have run into, of my Presiding over the English lodges in this Country. The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstanding, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of Illuminati.”

By Washington’s admission, his active years in Masonry were from 1752, when he joined the Order at the age of twenty, to 1768. He wrote to Reverend Snyder in 1798 that he had not been active in the Masonic Order for thirty years which would be in 1768. Consequently, he stopped being an active member of the Order at the age of thirty-six when his attendance ended. Therefore, he was an active Mason from the beginning of his military career to the start of the disagreement in the colonies with Great Britain concerning taxation through means such as the Stamp Act. This era was also when he was an active vestryman and church warden.

His letter indicates that although he had been a member of the Masonic Order in the later years of his life; he had not attended their meetings regularly. Hence, his Masonic activities were essentially symbolic and ceremonial.

Furthermore, his letter clearly indicates that the Masons, of whom he was a member, were not anti-religious as the Deists. He knew of the ‘nefarious and dangerous plan and doctrines of the Illuminati” but to his knowledge he did not believe the lodges in America were ‘contaminated’ by them. Washington insisted that he was a man of candor and honesty. If we take him at his word, Washington was far more involved in the Christian church throughout the last three decades of his life than in the Masonic brotherhood.

To George Washington’s knowledge, the American Masonic Order was not contaminated by the anti-Christian doctrines of the Illuminati. The most radical expression of the Illuminati was found in French Deism. Based upon his own declarations, Washington’s involvement with Masonry does not contradict our understanding of him as a Christian patriot. Masonry was neither against Washington’s Anglican faith nor was it his regular religion.

Episcopal clergyman Reverend Dr. William Smith of Philadelphia was a Mason and wrote the Constitution of the Order. Remember, a Mason “cannot tread in the irreligious paths of the unhappy Libertine, the Deist, nor stupid Atheist…” This clearly indicates how the Episcopalian clergyman, Reverend Parson Weems of Washington’s neighborhood could be a Mason and an advocate of Washington’s Christian faith.

Reverend Timothy Dwight was president of Yale College, an officer in the American Revolution, and leader of the Second Great Awakening in America. In 1798, he delivered the sermon “The Duty of Americans at the Present Crisis.”  Reverend Dwight’s contention was that a decline of American Christianity was that the Masonic Order in America was losing its original purpose. He maintained that the original purpose was one of friendship and fellowship but eroded becoming anti-religious.

“In the meantime, the Masonic societies, which had been originally instituted for convivial and friendly purposes only were…made the professed scenes of debate concerning religion, morality, and government…The secrecy, solemnity, mysticism, and correspondence of Masonry were in this new order preserved and enhanced; while the ardor of innovation, the impatience of civil and moral restraints, and the aims against government, morals, and religion were elevated, expanded and rendered more systematical, malignant, and daring.”

On July 4, 1798, Dwight preached his sermon which confirms the anxieties of Reverend G.W. Snyder’s letter to Washington of September 25, 1798. It is apparent that Washington was not aware of the recent changes which were occurring in the Masonic lodges since he had not been regularly involved with Masonry in the latter years of his life.

The “Christian Masonic lodges” of Washington’s youth had become less Christian while he was no longer attending their meetings in his later years.

Charles Thomson was the first clerk of the Continental Congress and consequently, the only clerk of that illustrious body of patriots. Charles Thomson of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania was a biblical scholar and an outstanding classicist. He was the first scholar to translate the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into English. Washington knew Thomson well and read portions of Thompsons’s translation of the Old Testament. Thomson was invited to become a member of the Masonic Order in order to maintain its Christian witness. Consequently, Thomson refused the invitation to become a member.

“…the Master of the Masonic Order in Baltimore…was ‘determined….to unbosom [his] heart.’ This man urged Thomson to become a Mason to help him bring the order (which had “deviated from the truth”) back to the “first principles” of Christianity. “I am in, you are out,” wrote the Masonic Master. “Will you – can you – deem yourself called upon to lend your aid to do much good?” Thomson stayed out.”

American Masonry began to experience a shift away from orthodox evangelical Christianity in the early 19th Century. American Masonry of Washington’s era was considered compatible with orthodox Christianity. In the minds of the nation’s founders; one could be a Christian and a Mason. Being a Mason and a Christian was not considered antithetical in the world view of American Christianity until the close of the 18th Century.

George Washington believed that both the Masonic Lodge of the early 18th Century and Christianity both taught Christian faith, the moral duties of obeying God, loving Him and our neighbor, and human immortality.

This essay is gleaned from George Washington's Sacred Fire by Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe.  

Chapter Twenty Five "George Washington, Member of the Masonic Order" is the primary source of the information which I've utilized.

1 comment:

Ray Soller said...

Sorry to dissapoint, but in spite of what Pastor Lillback has written, there's no firsthand account describing George Washington as having added a religious codicil to his presidential oath. Without that you can't have a precedent.

Unsubstantiated reports that GW added "So help me God" did surface 65 years after the event, but no elected president is known to have inflated the presidential oath with those four words until the first part of the 20th century. Furthermore, one has to wait until January 20, 1954 before there's a recognizable pronouncement, which attributes this constitutional departure as a precedent that dates back to George Washington.