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ON THE MASONIC APRON.
The chief business of Masonry is to direct and guide the judgment to the practice of virtue; for it is chiefly by being able to distinguish between right and wrong, that depravity is avoided, and purity of mind cherished and ensured. The understanding is the parent of virtue; and by gradually nurturing the genius, and improving the intellect; the brightest fruits of a good life may be reasonably anticipated; for though worldly wisdom may exist in the absence of virtue, the instances are of very rare occurrence where virtue is found in a heart occupied by selfish prejudices, and contracted by sloth and habitual indolence.
In advancing through the different Degrees of Masonry, your stock of information is progressive-, ly increased, and the practice of virtue is enforced by a reference to the symbols in which masonic knowledge lies imbedded. With this illustration. in view, a primary ceremony of the First Degree is, the investiture of the Apron, an unequivocal symbol, which accompanies every step of your progress. And lest any misunderstanding should give an improper bias to the mind respecting its moral application, the candidate is told that it is an emblem of innocence, of high antiquity and unequalled honour.
The great design of the Apron is to point out a figurative division of the human body into two distinct parts; separating the noble portion which contains the head and the heart, as the seat of reason and the affections, from the more base and corporeal parts, which are merely intended to perform the carnal functions of nature; and while the spiritual man stands erect and open to the view, the natural man is veiled in obscurity, that no impediment may interrupt the speculative avocations and pursuits of masonry. The free-mason thus clothed is a striking emblem of truth, innocence, and integrity; for the parts only which are the conservators of these virtues are supposed to be in operation, while exploring the hidden mysteries of the science, in the tiled recesses of the Lodge.
Hence the Apron or Girdle, in ancient times was an universally received emblem of Truth and Passive Duty. The Israelites, when preparing to effect their escape from Egyptian captivity, were enjoined to eat the Passover with their loins girded.* Job is commanded to gird up his loins like a man,f when the Almighty is about to reward his patience and constancy. At the consecration of Aaron, he is invested with this symbolical article of apparel.J And the prophets, on all occasions, before they performed any remarkable act of duty, carefully complied with this important ceremony4 When Samuel was received into the ministry, though but a child, he was girded with a linen ephod.|| David, in the height of his exultation on the recovery of the Ark, danced before it, invested with the same garment.^ Elijah the Tishbite and John the Baptist, were both girded with an Apron of (white) leather." It was said of Jesus Christ, that his Girdle should represent equally Righteousness and Fidelity." And in conformity with these authorities, his principal disciples exhorted the Christian converts to gird up the loins of their mind, to be sober, and hope to the end;JJ and to stand firm in the faith, having their loins girt about with Truth.^
Amongst the primitive Masons, this badge received a characteristic distinction from its peculiar colour and material; and was indeed an unequivocal mark of superior dignity. The investiture of the Apron formed an essential part of the ceremony of initiation, and was attended with rites equally significant and impressive. With the Essenian Masons, it was accomplished by a process bearing a similar tendency, and accompanied by illustrations not less imposing and satisfactory to the newly initiated enquirer. He was clothed in a long White robe, which reached to the ground, bordered with a fringe of blue ribbon* to incite personal holiness; and fastened tightly round the waist with a girdle or zone, to separate the heart from the lower and more impure parts of the body. With feet bare and head uncovered, he was considered a personification of modesty, humility, and the fear of God.
• Exodus xii. 11. t xxxviii. 3.—xl. 7. t Leviticus viii. 7.
§ 2 Kings iv. 29 ix. 1.—Jeremiah i. 17. || 1 Samuel ii. 18.
% 2 Samuel vi. 14. •• 2 Kings i. 8.—Matt. iii. 4.
ft Isaiah Ju. i, tt 1 Peter i, 13. $§ Ephesians vi, 14.
It was the firm opinion of the Essenes, that internal purity and rectitude of conduct, were most strikingly evidenced by a person's outward appearance. This belief was probably derived from that famous precept of king Solomon, who had constantly the same emblematical reference on his lips; "Let thy garments be always WHiTE."f At his investiture the candidate was exhorted to to the practice of moral virtue from the incentive, not merely of happiness in this world, but of an expected recompence in a future state. This exhortation, enforced by the resistless efficacy of good example, produced in the initiated, a practical righteousness, which was " worthy of admiration above all others that pretended to virtue; for they were, in their manners and course of life, the very best of men."' Their chief employment was to learn to rule and govern their passions, to keep a tongue of good report, and to practise secrecy united with universal charity and benevolence. Hence their deviations from moral rectitude were not frequent. But if an instance did occur, in which the purity of the White Garment was sullied by intemperance or excess, the offender was formally excluded from all social intercourse with his former brethren, and declared unworthy of the Robe which he had disgraced by violated vows and shameless profligacy. This exclusion was considered a punishment of such a dreadful nature, that Josephus says, it was commonly followed by a lamentable death.f
* Numbers xv, 38, 38. t Ecclesiastes ix. 8.
Thus also in the institutions of heathen nations, the aspirant was honoured with a similar investiture; and shared in all the benefits and privileges which were accessible to the wearer of this widely celebrated badge of innocence. The garments of initiation were uniformly White, and they bore a common reference to innocence of conduct and purity of heart. When a candidate was initiated into the ancient mysteries, he was esteemed regenerate; for these institutions were the sole vehicles of regeneration amongst idolaters; and he was invested with a White Garment and Apron, as a symbol of his newly attained purity. White
• Jos. Ant. L xviii. c; %. t Jos. de bel. Jud. 1. ii. c. 1.