1873 St John Speech

The Saints John have long been at the center of Masonic teachings and symbolism. For centuries, Masonic Lodges held grand celebrations on the feast days of each St John. These celebrations were typically open to the public and included remarkable speeches, awards, and toasts. Waco Lodge participated in this Masonic tradition for several decades, from 1851 until the practice became less common fraternity-wide in the 1970s and 1980s. During one of our celebrations, our member, Judge Joab Hamilton Banton gave the speech below in 1873. Thankfully, the local newspaper printed the speech in full, preserving it so that we could find it now. Banton, a wildly popular judge whose son achieved his own fame as District Attorney of New York during the Roaring 20s, was known in Texas as having been a close friend of Sam Houston. In fact, he was the last person to visit Houston before the Texas legend’s death and gave a stirring speech at the old general’s funeral.

Speech given on December 27, 1873 by Judge Joab Banton on the downtown Waco Square

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we welcome you here today, to witness the exercises of this occasion. So anxious have Masons ever been that those who come into our fraternity should do so solely from attachment to the institution itself, and wholly uninfluenced by mercenary, or other unworthy motives, that it has ever been a cardinal principle with us not to urge our friends to join us, or to engage in controversy with our opponents and assailants. Without these instrumentalities which have been most powerful aids in the upbuilding and perpetuating of other institutions, Masonry has grown and constantly acquired a stronger and stronger hold on the affections of the better portion of our society. But while we will not under any circumstances resort to these modes of advancing the interests of Masonry, we are nevertheless not unmindful of any friendly token or demonstration of popular favor. Our object and highest ambition is to do good; and we therefore hail with delight every expression of sympathy, and every indication of approval, whereby our facilities for doing good are increased. We recognize in your presence here today, those indications of warm approval of the noble work in which we are engaged, which give us good cheer, and therefore most heartily welcome you. Especially is this true of the ladies.

We recognize the power of your influence on the success of any enterprise having for its object the amelioration of the condition of mankind. With you, Masonry needs no advocate but its own simple record, written in deeds of love and peace. Time was when your gender looked with suspicion – even with enmity on our institution because you were not admittable to its mysteries. But fortunately for you, and for masonry, you have learned that the Lodges into which you are not invited are merely the fields of labor. That there are to be found the plumb, the level, the square, the trowel, the mallet, the pick, the shovel , and the crowbar, for use there. We resort to the Lodge, never for pleasure, amusement or refreshment. They are enjoyed out of the Lodge, only when not at labor, in public and not in secret. How like savages and heathens, and how unworthy of noble and chivalrous men, would it be to invite you to be partakers of our toil, with us to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, and to bear the heat and burden of the day! We impart to you enough of our mysteries to enable you anywhere and under any circumstances, to prove your relationship to the institution, and identify yourself, if need be, as dependents on its charity and kind offices. In this, the grand and paramount objects of the institution are met and fully satisfied.

 

As I am unable to gather from the fresh fields of eloquence, choice flowers with which to weave garlands for your brows, or to lead you through the amaranthine bowers of oratory, that usually constitute the peroration of addresses on occasions like the present, I have as some compensation for this deficiency given you my first attention with the hope of impressing upon you my high appreciation of your presence, at the same time indulging the anticipation that the consideration of the theme chosen more especially for the benefit of the craft will not prove wholly uninteresting to you.

 

The first sounds that greet the ears of the candidate for Masonry, as he gropes his way in darkness to the portals of our Order; the first impression on his sense of feeling and the first objects that break upon his enraptured vision when the scales fall from his eyes, are all full of the symbolism that through all ages has characterized this ancient and honorable fraternity. Nor does it stop here, but at every step and in every advance until he reaches the highest round, and realizes its sublimest conception, is he confronted by symbol after symbol, and as each in its order is unfolded and its rich treasures of truth and knowledge brought out, the enlightened mind not only contemplates with wonder and admiration the beauties of Masonry, but also recognizes in this primitive mode of imparting knowledge its boasted antiquity. And when the Holy Bible, the greatest of the great lights in Masonry, pours on these symbols its flood of light, the mind is carried from the contemplation of its antiquity to its higher claim of a divine origin, and forced to admit if not of divine origin, that, at least, it was itself founded, and each degree added, and every symbol introduced, by men versed in divine revelation and guided by a strong and enduring faith in deity. What a beautiful, instructive and inspiring theme then is the symbolism of Masonry!

1863 tracing board, including point within circle just right of center

If, as these symbols are exemplified and explained to the candidate passing through the several degrees, we could learn to forget the ceremony and ourselves catch the lessons and imbibe the refreshing streams of knowledge flowing from them, what strength and vigor of Masonic manhood would we attain to and exhibit! If time and the circumstances would permit, I feel that I could not do my brethren a greater or better service than to invite them to the contemplation of many of these symbols with the important lessons they teach, but I must content myself with the consideration of but one, and that one suggested by the occasion that calls us together. On the Masonic Tracing Board, we see a point within a circle supplanted by two vertical parallel lines. This symbol, in some of our ancient lectures, is thus illustrated:

“There is represented in every regular and well governed Lodges, a certain point within a circle. The point represents an individual brother, while the circle portrays the boundary line of his duty to God and Man; beyond which he is not to suffer his passions, prejudices, or interests to betray him. The circle is embroidered by two perpendicular, parallel lines, representing St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, who were perfect parallels in Christianity as well as Masonry, and upon the vortex rests the Holy Bible which points out the whole duty of man. In going round this circle we necessarily touch upon these two lines as well as upon the sacred volume; and while a Mason keeps himself thus circumscribed, it is impossible that he should materially err.”

As further illustration of this symbol, the lectures still used in some of the old provincial Lodges were thus:

‘From the building of the first temple at Jerusalem to the Babylonian captivity, the Lodges of Freemasons were dedicated to King Solomon; from thence to the advent of Christ, they were dedicated to Zerubabel, who built the second temple, and from that time to the final destruction of the temple by Titus, they were dedicated to St. John the Baptist. But, owing to the losses which were sustained by that memorable occurrence, Freemasonry declined, many Lodges were broken up, and the brethren were afraid to meet without an acknowledged head. At a secret meeting of the craft, held in the city of Benjamin, this circumstance was much regretted; and they deputized seven brethren to solicit St. John the Evangelist, who was at that time Bishop of Ephesus, to accept the office of Grand Master. He replied to the election that, though well stricken in years, having been in his youth initiated into Masonry, he would acquiesce in their request; thus completing by his learning what the other St. John had begun by his zeal; and thus drew what Freemasons call a line – parallel; ever since which the Lodges in all Christian countries have been dedicated to the two St. Johns.’

New York Masonic St John Celebration December 27, 1850

Today is the festival of St. John the Evangelist, on which the Lodges all over the country hold stated meetings for the installation of their officers for the ensuing masonic year; and while congratulating you, my brethren, on the recurrence of this anniversary, let me invite your attention to the symbol in which the patron saint of this day is so conspicuous and important a figure. Although there are other and somewhat different illustrations of this symbol to be found in other lectures, still I accept the illustration given in the lectures already quoted which is adopted in this country, and draw from it as thus illustrated, the following lessons which can best benefit every Mason who will give them a listening and heeding ear:

 

  1. It teaches that every Mason, as a point within a circle, is within a circumscribed sphere; that this sphere my be small or great, and whether the one or the other he is to keep within it. A circle, whether it merely circumscribes a point, an infinitesimal dot, or whether it expands till it takes in, if possible, the whole of the grand universe of God, is still a circle and measured by four right angles, or three hundred and sixty degrees. And so, the sphere of a man, whether confined to the humblest pursuits of life, or extending to the highest and most exalted places in society, in the state or religion, is the same. While his duties and responsibilities may be less or greater as his sphere is small or large, there is a bound in every station beyond which you cannot go, and there is a bound in every station to which he must go. There is, then, in the Masonic sphere as in the natural, two forces, the centrifugal and the centripetal – the first tending from, and the latter to the center; the one calling to duty stern and high, leads to expansion and extension of every power; to the qualification of every natural but noble desire and aspiration. The other holds to a common and sure center, saves expansion from expulsion; extension of power from exhaustion, and the qualification of desires and aspirations from lust, and that ‘Vaunting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and fall on the other side.’ The lines on which these two forces meet is at every point equidistant from the center and forms the circle within which there is always sure and unerring safety.
  2. While every point on the circle indicates a bound to which the Mason ambitious of success out to go, there are three in particular to which his attention is direct. The one touching the parallel line representing St John the Baptist, indicates the proper measure of his fervency and zeal. These are highly commended Masonic virtues, and the Mason who is wanting in them, is a stupid drone in our hive. On the other hand, he who exercises these virtues to excess becomes an impractical, unprofitable fanatic. To avoid these extremes then, let the earnest Mason always imagine himself within or on the circle, and there let his zeal move him forward til he reaches that point in the circle representing the Baptist. Let him not rest til he reaches it. That accomplished, let him realize that his zeal should lead him no further. In other words, take this worthy patron as an example and endeavor to attain to the full measure of his zeal, and that accomplished to go no further. In this respect, at least you will stand an upright man. ‘Spread out earth’s holiest record here, of days and deeds to reverence dear, a zeal like this what pious legends tell!’
  3. We turn from the line of zeal to another on the opposite side of the circle, representing St John the Evangelist who is the embodiment of that God given virtue, brotherly love. We are frequently called on to prove that St John was a Mason. This, we cannot do, and I do not propose to attempt it today. But this I do know, in addition to our traditions on this point, that no man from Adam down to the present has so forcibly illustrated in word and in deed the first, the highest, the noblest of Masonic virtues – that virtue called in one of our ancient charges, ‘the foundation and capstone, the cement and glory of this ancient fraternity.’ With that modesty that so truly bespeaks its own merit, he styles himself, in his own writings, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loves.’ Just such a character would naturally find and embrace Masonry. His heart would turn to it as the needle to the pole. He whose constant theme was brotherly love – a theme which brought forth his most sublime strains, which seemed to dig his pen anew in the fires of inspiration – would not likely overlook a band of brothers indissolubly banded together by that golden chain whose links were brotherly love, relief, and truth. To that end, I would urge every brother from the EA in the NE corner of the Lodge Room to the WM in the East. Whatever be your sphere, that line is on its circumference. No matter how large, from any point within that circle, to that line is the length of your cable tow. Indeed and in truth is brotherly love the ‘foundation and capstone, the cement and glory of this ancient fraternity’ – lying deep and broad at its base, rising with and strengthening and adorning the whole grand structure, and crowning the highest pinnacle with the touching glasiers and fadeless beauties of the sun-bright clime. It gives Masonry its hold on mankind, and makes it second only to religion in alleviating the sorrows and wants of the afflicted and unfortunate, and in establishing peace on earth and good will among men. ‘O, he whom Jesus loved has truly spoken! The holier worship which God designs to bless, Restores the lost, and heals the spirit broken And feed the widow and the fatherless. Then, brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother! For, where love dwells, the peace of God is there; To worship rightly is to love each other; Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer. Follow with reverend steps the great example of Him whose holy work was doing good; So shall the wide earth seem our father’s example Each loving life a psalm of gratitude. Thus shall all shackles falls; the stormy clangor of wild war music o’er the earth shall cease; Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger, And in its ashes plant the tree of peace.’
  4. When we, in the rounds of Masonic duty, have reached the lines parallel, we are placed in a position to realize fully that we have not yet attained the summit of our hopes and aspirations, for we now set above us the very vortex of the circle, the Holy Bible; we realize that zeal and brotherly love can fill only a part of the high demands of our exalted station at the hand of all God’s creatures. We, therefore, pass round and up the circle til we touch on that Holy Book, which points out the whole duty of man. Few of us know our whole duty, still fewer do it. None of us can or do more, and the reckless soul that aspires to more seeks forbidden fruit and will find only an untimely and inglorious death. It not only points out the whole duty of man, but as before stated, it is the great light in Masonry. ‘From the center of the Lodge, it pours forth upon the East, the West and the South its refulgent rays of Divine Truth.’ Says Dr. Mackey, one of our best and most eminent writers: ‘The Bible is used among Masons as the symbol of the will of God, however it may be expressed.’ What more, then, than this can the Mason want? At the center of the Lodge, immovable on the Altar, the place of decoration, crowning the vertex of the circle that circumscribes his sphere, and dedicated to God, it is as infinitely superior to the other great lights in Masonry – the square and compass – as God is superior to the craft, and the master to whom they are dedicated. And let us remember that while it is the principal item of furniture in the Lodge, so it should be in every household. As we cannot work without it in the Lodge, so no work without it out of the Lodge will be acceptable to the Grand Master above who forever reigns, forever presides. Think not, brethren, that it lies upon your altar as an empty unmeaning form. The symbol of the will of God, it is there ever to speak that will. Though no sound proceeds from it audible to the physical ear, in the silence of the night, in the din and hum of the day, in the solemn stillness of the grave, it speaks to the spiritual ear in tones louder than Heaven’s ‘dread artillery.’ Remember when you go counter to the voice it utters, you go counter to the will of God, and that every kiss thereon impressed proclaims you a self-condemned Judas. Prove not false then to its high behests, but follow wherever the splendor of its unfading light may lead you. It will bring you triumphantly out of the darkest mazes and deepest labyrinths of sorrow and misfortune, to which the disappointments of earth and ‘man’s inhumanity to man,’ may subject you and even above the highest and richest glories of earth. When contemplating the enduring grandeur and glory of this resplendent light as it comes from the burning throne of God, and continuing through all times with brighter and intenser ray, I feel the inspiration of the sublime theme and with the poet would exclaim: ‘Almighty Lord! The sun shall fail, The moon forget her mighty tale And deepest silence hush on high The radiant chorus of the sky. But fixed for everlasting year, Unmoved amid the wreck of spheres, Thy word shall shine in cloudless day, When Heaven and earth have passed away.’ But the value of this book is taught in so many of our symbols and enforced in so many of our charges and lectures, I feel that it is unnecessary to say more in its behealf on this occasion and there invite your attention:
  5. Lastly, to the circle itself. This, we have seen, indicates the bound to which our aspirations for all that is noble and laudable in life should lead us, and also, that by it our passions are circumscribed and kept within the bounds it describes, which are appropriately termed ‘due bounds.’ But the circle has a higher signification than this; with Masons, and with universal mankind, it is recognized as an emblem of eternity – without beginning or ending, it points to God and His eternity. Why has God an eternity? It is not for the reasonless and spiritless brutes, nor this earth itself; for it, and all that springs from it, are stamped with decay. Nor is it for the blazing sun that makes day glorious with his golden rays; nor for the stars that bespangle the heavens with their fainter but sweeter glories by night, for these two are material. There is, therefore, that in man which is also immaterial – like thine immortal, and is made for his eternity. Are you not, by this symbol then, as well as another with which you are familiar, reminded of that immortal part which shall live in perpetual verdure, and shall never, never die? Recognize then its demands upon you for your highest exertions in preparing it for that eternity. And if Masonry should aid you and all who come after you in this noble work, then will the blessings of God rest upon it, and keeping pace with time, will it at last with time go down in splendor, leaving the mellow twilight of its departing day tinged with the undying glaciers of the dawning eternity.”

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