BUILDERS:, The Basis and Spirit of Freemasonry.
BY: JOSEPH FORT NEWTON (Litt.D.)
THE LEVEL AND PLUMB.
LIKE the Square and the Compasses, the Level and the
Plumb are nearly always united in our Ritual. They really
belong together, as much in moral teaching as in practical
building. The one is used to lay horizontals, the other to try
perpendiculars, and their use suggests their symbolism. By
reason of their use, both are special working tools of the
Fellowcraft, along with the Square; and they are also worn
as jewels by two of the principal officers of the Lodge.
Among the Craft Masons of olden time the actual work of
building was done by Fellowcrafts, using materials gathered
and rough hewn by Apprentices, all working under the
guidance of the Master. In our symbolism, as the Apprentice
is youth, so the Fellowcraft is manhood, the time when the
actual work of life must be done on the Level, by the Plumb
and Square. Next to the Square and Compasses, the Level
and Plumb are among the noblest and simplest symbols of
the Craft, and their meaning is so plain that it hardly needs to
be pointed out. Yet they are so important, in use and
meaning, that they might almost be numbered among the
Lesser Lights of the Lodge.
The Level, so the newly made Mason is taught, is for the
purpose of proving horizontals. An English writer finds a
lesson in the structure of the Level, in the fact that we know
that a surface is level when the fluid is poised and at rest.
>From the use of the Level he bids us seek to attain a
peaceful, balanced poise of mind, undisturbed by the
passions which upset and sway us one way or the other. It is
a counsel of perfection, he admits, but he insists that one of
the best services of Masonry is to keep before us high
ideals, and, what is more, a constantly receding ideal,
otherwise we should tire of it.
Of course, the great meaning of the Level is that it teaches
equality, and that is a truth that needs to be carefully
understood. There is no little confusion of mind about it. Our
Declaration of American Independence tells us that all men
are "created equal," but not many have tried to think out
what the words really mean. With most of us it is a vague
sentiment, a glittering generality born of the fact that all are
made of the same dust, are sharers of the common human
lot, moved by the same great faith and fears, hopes and
loves - walking on the Level of time until Death, by its grim
democracy, erases all distinctions and reduces all to the
Anyone who faces the facts knows well enough that all men
are not equal, either by nature or by grace. Our humanity
resembles the surface of the natural world in its hills and
valleys. Men are very unequal in physical power, in mental
ability, in moral quality. No two men are equal; no two are
alike. One man towers above his fellows, as a mountain
above the hills. Some can do what others can never do.
Some have five talents, some two, and some but one. A
genius can do with effortless ease what it is futile for others
to attempt, and a poet may be unequal to a hod-carrier in
strength and sagacity. When there is inequality of gift it is
idle to talk of equality of opportunity, no matter how fine the
phrase may sound. It does not exist.
By no glib theory can humanity be reduced to a dead level.
The iron wrinkles of fact are stubborn realities. Manifestly it
is better to have it so, because it would make a dull world if
all men were equal in a literal sense. As it is, wherein one
lacks another excels, and men are drawn together by the
fact that they are unequal and unlike. The world has different
tasks demanding different powers, brains to devise, seers to
see, hands to execute, prophets to lead. We need poets to
inspire, scientists to teach, pioneers to blaze the path into
new lands. No doubt this was what Goethe meant when he
said that it takes all men to make one man, and the work of
each is the glory of all.
What, then, is the equality of which the Level is the symbol ?
Clearly it is not identity or even similarity of gift and
endowment. No, it is something better; it is the equal right of
each man to the full use and development of such power as
he has, whatever it may be, unhindered by injustice or
oppression. As our Declaration of Independence puts it,
every man has an equal and inalienable right to "life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness," with due regard for the rights
of others in the same quest. Or, as a famous slogan
summed it up: "Equal rights for all; special privileges to
none!" That is to say, before the law every man has an equal
right to equal justice, as before God, in whose presence all
men are one in their littleness, each receives equally and
impartially the blessing of the Eternal Love, even as the sun
shines and the rain falls on all with equal benediction.
Albert Pike, and with him many others, have gone so far as
to say that Masonry was the first apostle of equality in the
true sense. One thing we do know: Freemasonry presided
over the birth of our Republic, and by the skill of its leaders
wrote its basic truth, of which the Level is the symbol, into
the organic law of this land. The War for Independence, and
the fight for constitutional liberty, might have had another
issue but for the fact that our leaders were held together by a
mystic tie of obligation, vowed to the service of the rights of
man. Even Thomas Paine, who was not a Mason, wrote an
essay in honour of an Order which stood for government
without tyranny and religion without superstition - two
principles which belong together, like the Level and the
Plumb. Thus, by all that is sacred both in our Country and
our Craft, we are pledged to guard, defend, and practice the
truth taught by the Level.
But it is in the free and friendly air of a Lodge of Masons,
about an altar of obligation and prayer, that the principle of
equality finds its most perfect and beautiful expression.
There, upon the Level, the symbol of equality, rich and poor,
high and low, prince and plain citizen - men of diverse
creeds, parties, interests, and occupations - meet in mutual
respect and real regard, forgetting all differences of rank and
station, and united for the highest good of all. "We meet
upon the Level and part upon the Square"; titles, ranks,
riches, do not pass the Inner Guard; and the humblest
brother is held in sacred regard, equally with the brother who
has attained the highest round of the wheel of fortune.
Every man in the Lodge is equally concerned in the building
of the Temple, and each has his work to do. Because the
task demands different gifts and powers, all are equally
necessary to the work, the architect who draws the plans,
the Apprentice who carries stones or shapes them with
chisel and gavel, the Fellowcraft who polishes and deposits
them in the wall, and the officers who marshal the workmen,
guide their labor, and pay their wages. Every one is equal to
every other so long as he does good work, true work, square
work. None but is necessary to the erection of the edifice;
none but receives the honour of the Craft; and all together
know the joy of seeing the Temple slowly rising in the midst
of their labors. Thus Masonry lifts men to a high level,
making each a fellow-worker in a great enterprise, and if it is
the best brotherhood it is because it is a brotherhood of the
The Plumb is a symbol so simple that it needs no exposition.
As the Level teaches unity in diversity and equality in
difference, so the Plumb is a symbol of rectitude of conduct,
integrity of life, and that uprightness of moral character which
makes a good and just man. In the art of building accuracy is
integrity, and if a wall be not exactly perpendicular, as tested
by the Plumb-line, it is weak and may fall, or else endanger
the strength and stability of the whole. just so, though we
meet upon the Level, we must each build an upright
character, by the test of the Plumb, or we weaken the
Fraternity we seek to serve and imperil 'Its strength and
standing in the community.
As a workman dare not deviate by the breadth of a hair to
the right or to the left if his wall is to be strong and his arch
stable, so Masons must walk erect and live upright lives.
What is meant by an upright life each of us knows, but it has
never been better described than in the 15th Psalm, which
may be called the religion of a gentleman and the design
upon the Trestleboard of every Mason:-
"Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in
Thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh
righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that
backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his
neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is condemned; but he honoureth
them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt,
and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to
usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth
these things shall never be moved."
What is true of a man is equally true of a nation. The
strength of a nation is its integrity, and no nation is stronger
than the moral quality of the men who are citizens. Always it
comes back at last to the individual, who is a living stone in
the wall of society and the state, making it strong or weak.
By every act of injustice, by every lack of integrity, we
weaken society and imperil the security and sanctity of the
common life. By every noble act we make all sacred things
more sacred and secure for ourselves and for those who
come after us. The prophet Amos has a thrilling passage in
which he lets us see how God tested the people which were
of old by the Plumb-line; and by the same test we are tried :-
"Thus He showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a
wall made by plumb-line, with a plumb-line in His hand. And
the Lord said unto me, 'Amos, what seest thou?' And I said,
'A plumb-line.' Then said the Lord, 'Behold, I will set a plumb-
line in the midst of my people of Israel: I will not again pass
them by any more."