From the book "Illustrations of Masonry"
by William Preston 1895
If the secrets of Masonry are replete with such advantage to mankind, it may be asked, why are they not divulged for the general good of society? To this may be answered; Were the privileges of Masonry to be indiscriminately dispensed, the institution would be subverted; and being familiar, like other important matters, would lose their value, and sink into disregard.
Is is a weakness in human nature, that men are generally more charmed with novelty, than with the intrinsic value of things. Innumerable testimonies might be adduced to confirm this truth. The most wonderful operations of the Divine Artificer, however, beautiful, magnificent and useful, are overlooked, because common and familiar. The sun rises and sets, the sea flows and reflows, rivers glide along their channels, trees and plants vegetate, men and beasts act, yet this is unnoticed. The most astonishing productions of Nature on the same account escape observation, and excite no emotion, either in admiration of the great cause, or of gratitude for the blessing conferred. Even Virtue herself is not exempted from this unhappy bias in the human frame. Novelty influences all our actions and determinations. What is new, or difficult in the acquisition, however, trifling or insignificant, readily captures the imagination, and ensures a temporary admiration; while what is familiar, or easily attained, however, noble or eminent, is sure to be disregarded by the giddy and the unthinking.
Did the essence of masonry consist in the knowledge of particular secrets or peculiar forms, it might be alleged that our amusements were trifling and superficial. But this is not the case. These are the keys to our treasure and having their use are preserved, while from the recollection of the lessons they inculcate, the well informed Mason derives instruction; he draws them to a near inspection; he views them through a proper medium; he adverts to the circumference which gave them rise; and he dwells upon the tenets they convey. Finding them replete with useful information, he prizes them as sacred; and convinced of their propriety, he estimates their value from their utility.
Many persons are deluded by the vague supposition that our mysteries are merely nominal; that the practices established among us are frivolous; and that our ceremonies may be adopted, or waved, at pleasure. On this false foundation, we find them hurrying through all the degrees of the Order, without adverting to the propriety of one step they persue, or possessing a single qualification requisite for advancement. Passing through the usual formalities, they consider themselves entitled to rank as master of the art, solicit and accept offices, and assume the government of lodges, equally and assume the government of lodges, equally unacquainted with the rules of the institution they pretend to support, or the nature of the trust reposed in them. The consequences is obvious; anarchy and confusion ensue, and the substance is left in shadow. Hence men eminent for ability, rank , and fortune, are often led to view the honours of Masonry with such indifference, that when their patronage is solicited, they accept offices with reluctance, or reject them with disdain.
Masonry has long laboured under these disadvantages, and every zealous friend to the Order must earnestly wish for a correction of the abuse. Of late years it must be acknowledged, that Lodges are in general better regulated, and the good effects of such government are sufficiently displayed in the proper observance of the general regulations.
Were brethren who preside over Lodges, properly instructed previous to their appointment, and regularly apprized of the importance of their respective offices, a general reformation would speedily take place. This would establish the propriety of our government, and lead men to acknowledge; that our hours were deservedly conferred. Till prudent actions shall distinguish our title to the honours of Masonry, and our regular deportment display the influence and utility of our rules, the world in general will not be led to reconcile our proceedings with the tenets of the profession.