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By W. Bion Adkins
On April 26, 1819, Thomas Wildey, the English carriage-spring maker, together with John Welch, John Duncan, John Cheatham and Richard Rushworth, instituted the first lodge of Odd-Fellows at the Seven Stars Tavern in Baltimore, and it was given the name of Washington Lodge No. 1. From this feeble beginning has grown the immense organization of today. The Odd-Fellows claim a venerable antiquity for their order, the most common account of its origin ascribing it to the Jewish legend under Titus, who, it is said, received from that Emperor the first chapter, written on a golden tablet. The earliest mention made of the lodge is in 1745, when one was organized in England. There were at that time several lodges independent of each other, but in a few years they formed a union. Toward the end of the century many of them were broken up by state prosecutions, on suspicion that their purposes were seditious. The name was changed from the Patriotic Order to that of the Union Order of Odd-Fellows. In Manchester, England, in 1813, some of the lodges seceded from the order, and formed the Independent Order of Odd-Fellows.
The order's first appearance in America was in 1819. The purposes of the order were so changed by the founders here, that it is said to be almost purely an American organization. It was based on the Manchester Unity, which was really the parent institution. In 1842, this country severed its connection with that of England.
Lodges connected with either those of England or America are established in all parts of the world. The real estate held by the organization exceeds in value $20,000,000, and there is scarcely a town in the country that has not its Odd-Fellows Building. The total revenue of the order is nearly $10,000,000 per annum. Yearly relief amounts to nearly $4,000,000 a year.
"A traveler passed down the Jericho road,
He carried of cash a pretty fair load
(The savings of many a toilsome day),
On his Jericho home a mortgage to pay.
"At a turn of the road, in a lonely place,
Two villainous men met him face to face.
'Hands up!' they cried, and they beat him sore,
Then off to the desert his money they bore.
"Soon a priest came by who had a fold;
He sheared his sheep of silver and gold.
He saw the man lie bruised and bare,
But he passed on by to his place of prayer.
"Then a Levite, temple bound, drew nigh;
He saw the man, but let him lie,
And clad in silk, and filled with pride,
He passed him by on the other side.
"Next on the way a Samaritan came
(To priest and Levite a hated name);
The wounded man he would not pass,
He tenderly placed him on his ass.
"He took him to an inn hard by;
He dressed his wounds and bathed his eye;
He paid the landlord his full score;
If more was needed would pay him more.
"Ah! many travel the Jericho way,
And many are robbed and beaten each day;
And many there be on the way in need,
Whom Priest or Levite never heed;
And who to fate would yield, alas!
If some Samaritan did not pass."
We are taught that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth," and when we say mutual relief and assistance is a leading office in our affiliation, and that Odd-Fellowship is systematically endeavoring to improve and elevate the character of man, to imbue him with a proper conception of his capabilities for good, to enlighten his mind, to enlarge the sphere of his affections and to redeem him from the thralldom of ignorance and prejudice, and teach him to recognize the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men, we have epitomized the objects, purposes and basic principles of our order. Odd-Fellowship is broad and comprehensive. It is founded upon that eternal principle which teaches that all the world is one family and all mankind are brothers. Unheralded and unsung, it was born and went forth, a breath of love, a sweet song that has filled thousands of hearts with joy and gladness. To the rich and the poor, the old and the young, at all times, comes the rich, sweet melody of this song of humanity to comfort and to cheer. For eighty years the light of Odd-Fellowship has burned before the world, a beacon to the lost, a comfort to the wanderer and a protection to the thoughtless. Eighty years of work for humanity's sake; eighty years devoted to teaching men to love mankind; eighty years of earnest labor, consecrated by friendship, cemented with love and beautified by truth. In ancient times men sought glory and renown in gladiatorial combat, though the victor's laurel was wet with human blood. In modern times men seek the plaudits of the world by achievements for human good, and by striving to elevate and ennoble men. Looking back through nineteen centuries we behold a cross, and on it the crucified Christ, with nail-pierced hands, and wounded, bleeding side, but whose heart was so full of love and pity that even in His dying agonies He had compassion upon His persecutors, and cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
That event was the dividing line between the ancient and the modern era; between the rule of "brute force" and the "mild dominion of love and charity." The mission of Odd-Fellowship, like that of the lowly Nazarene, is to replace the rule of might with the gentle influence of love, and to teach a universal fraternity in the family of man. To meet and satisfy and better keep alive the nobler elements of man's nature. Many orders have been instituted, but none can challenge greater admiration from men, or deserve more blessings from heaven, than the Independent Order of Odd-Fellows. Looking back along the pathway of the century behind us we behold the wrecks of many orders. The morning of their life was beautiful and full of glorious promise, but the evening came and they had perished. Rich costumes, impressive ceremonies, beautiful degrees and magnificent effects, all lie buried and forgotten. It was not because their founders lacked energy or enthusiasm, not because their members were less susceptible to the beauty and poetry of tradition and ceremony, but because success and perpetuity come not from human effort, but are the outgrowth of a life-giving principle. The sculptor fashions from the marble a form of surpassing loveliness, its lines are those of grace and beauty. We stand before it charmed, whispering our admiration, but the impression on the heart is only passing. The poet sings of home, of mother and of love; the meter may be faulty and the words may charm not, but the sentiment is true and touches our hearts. The experience it recites is common to humanity, and wherever its sweet tones are heard it softens men's natures and makes them better, truer and nobler. Who among us would be willing to exchange the influence of the immortal song "Home Sweet Home," or be willing to forget the Christian's "Nearer My God to Thee," for all the inanimate beauty of art? One charms the eye, the other touches and calls to life the best and sweetest emotions of the human heart. So it is with fraternal societies. Flashing swords, glittering helmets, jeweled regalias and beautiful degrees may touch the vanity and excite the admiration, but to win the heart we must satisfy its longings, feed its hopes and lift it above the narrowness and selfishness of its daily experience. Odd-Fellowship strives to touch the heart and better feelings, rather than feed the vanity of man or arouse his admiration for gorgeous displays. Its work is an exemplification of the living, practical Christianity of today. In almost every state in this fair land of ours can be found Odd-Fellows' homes, within whose walls the orphan is no longer motherless. For each and every little one within these homes, one million Odd-Fellows feel a father's love and pledge a parent's care.
Add to all this great work the little deeds of love, the little acts of kindness that make life beautiful; add kind words of cheer and friendly help and tender consolation, and add again the benefit of union, the strength that comes from hearts united in God's work among mankind, and you have caught a glimpse of the life-giving principle that has made Odd-Fellowship one of the grandest fraternal and beneficiary institutions the world has ever known. The work it has done can not be fully estimated until the record is read in the bright light of eternity. In that glad day the tears that have been wiped away will become jewels in somebody's crown, and the sobs that have been hushed will be heard again in hosannas of welcome.
Onward! is the ringing, pregnant watchword of the world. The vast, complicated, ponderous machinery of life is kept in motion by tireless and irresistible forces. The multiform and magnificent affairs of men and of nations are all impelled forward with an energy and a velocity as wonderful as glorious to behold.
Not retrogressive, but progressive—not enervating, but energizing—not ephemeral, but substantial—not from bad to worse, but from the imperfect to the consummate, are the characteristics by which are so prominently distinguished the tidal waves of the world's progress today.
Activity and achievement came with creation, and constitute an inflexible, irrepealable law of the universe. In stir and push we have light and life, but in idleness, and superstitious clinging to fossilized ideas and bygones, we have demoralization, decay and death.
Fortunately for the world, and agreeably with infinite design, man plods his way in harmony with the law alluded to. Not all men, but the great masses of them, wherever "The true light shineth," especially when accompanied by rays and helps from one of the noblest and grandest of confraternities our world has known, "The Independent Order of Odd-Fellows." When the huge planet which we call our world had been tossed into being from the furnace fires of Omnipotence, and the maternal lullaby began to gather force on hill top and in valley, the discovery was naturally enough made that association and co-operation were preferable to isolation and unrelieved dependence; and from that hour forward, this principle has been interwoven into the very framework of human society. The purpose has been the elevation and improvement of mankind. For, though the first product was pronounced "good," it quickly degenerated; and there came an emphasized demand for reform.
Human isolation is an unnatural condition. It antagonizes the highest and best interests of the world. Its influence is never beneficent, but always and necessarily harmful. If the truest well being of the universe, and the supremest glory of Jehovah could have been attained by conditions of solitude, it is not impossible that the good All-Father would have given to every man a continent, and so have made him monarch of all he surveyed.
Physically regarded, there is no limit to Omnipotent power. A continent, and even a world, was therefore within the pale of divine possibilities. Jehovah, however, is not only great, but he is the Greatness of Goodness. High and holy ends were to be accomplished, and happy purposes to be secured, by means of human instrumentalities, and be jointly shared by Creator and creature.
Among the earliest of Deific utterances, therefore, we have this: "It is not good that man should be alone." I concede that, primarily, the companionship of woman is here intended. But the declaration is not only good in this, but equally so in other regards. A lifetime of solitude with no incentives to action—nothing to draw out, exercise and expand the latent powers of the soul—no interchange of thought—no clashing of opinion—no towering resolves to stimulate—no difficulties to surmount! What imagination so fertile that it could picture a more hateful or intolerable Hades than would be such a condition of affairs?
Hence, in the early days of the world's history we discern the principle of association and co-operation, with plans and systems embodying its practical application. Organizations came into being, obedient to the summons of necessity. How well the various organizations have wrought along the pathway of centuries, and how great or small may have been the measure of their success, I am not here to discuss, much less to determine. Each has done its work in its own way, and pockets responsibility for results. Common courtesy and candor suggest that each has been largely animated by highest and worthiest of motives.
Reared upon the broad catholic principle of brotherhood, extending its helpful hand from nation to nation, and from continent to continent, linking its votaries together with the golden triple chain of Friendship, Love and Truth, can afford to be friendly with each, and have a kindly word for all societies that reach down after and raise up a fallen brother, and if possible make him wiser, better and happier. Should a like courtesy be extended to this order, while it would certainly constitute a new departure, it would prove none the less gratifying. But, from certain sources, the order has been the recipient of a peculiar kind of consideration, so long that "the memory of man scarce runneth to the contrary." Inflamed appeals and bristling denunciations have gone out against it, "while great, swelling words"—swollen with hatred, bigotry, prejudice and superstition—have assailed it relentlessly and almost uninterruptedly. Mainly, these assaults have been met with the terse and pointed invocation, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."
That this great and potent brotherhood may not, in all its parts and jurisdictions, have so deported itself, and so carried forward its work, as to be justly free from unfavorable criticism and merited censure, is probably true. As with organizations, there is sometimes too much haste displayed in gathering, and too little discrimination exercised in selecting, the materials that are brought as component parts of the great superstructure of Odd-Fellowship. Too much daubing with untempered mortar—too great a desire for the exhibition of numerical force, and the multiplication of lodges—too much regard for the outward trappings and paraphernalia, and too little regard for the internal qualities of those seeking membership in the fraternity. Such deplorable departures, as well from the primary as the ultimate objects had in view, are not fairly attributable to anything that may be reasonably considered as an outgrowth of the order, but come despite its constant teachings and warnings. Bad work they of course make, and so at times and to a limited extent bring the fraternity under the ban of popular displeasure, but shall the world predicate unfavorable judgment upon a few and unfair tests? If so, and the principle logically becomes general, pray who shall be appointed administrator of the effects of other social and moral organizations, and even of the church itself? For in these regards all offend, if offense it be. When the principles of Odd-Fellowship are carefully studied it is apparent to every candid mind that it is founded upon that eternal principle which recognizes man as a constituent of one universal brotherhood, and teaches him that as he came from the hand of a common parent, he is in duty bound to cherish and protect his fellow-man. Viewed in this light, Odd-Fellowship becomes one of the noblest institutions organized by man in the world. If the beauty and grandeur of universal brotherhood could be impressed upon the minds of all the people, how very different from the past would the future history of the world read. What a delightful place this old stone-ribbed earth would be if men would look upon each other as brothers, members of one common family; enjoying the many comforts of one home; trusting to the guidance and protection of one Father—God. We are more nearly related than we think. Running through all humanity there is a link of relationship and a bond of sympathy that can not be exterminated. The principle of brotherly love is so great and broad that all mankind could unite in offices of human benefaction. Brother. Oh, how sacred and how sweet when spoken by a true heart! Whether it be in the home circle, lodge-room, or in some distant land, it sends the same soothing thrill of joy to the heart. Let us pause just a moment to think of the time and place when we first learned to call each other brother. Ah! Methinks no Odd-Fellow will ever forget his first lesson. He will always remember how quickly he was changed from the haughty disposition manifested by that one of old, who, when he prayed, went to the public square, or climbed to the house top, and thanked God that he was not like other men, to the humble attitude of that one who stood afar off and bowed his face in the dust, crying aloud, "O Lord! Be merciful unto me a sinner." How very much like this ancient boaster are thousands of the human family today. Sitting in high places, surrounded by wealth and power, they see nothing beyond the narrow circle in which they move. They are deaf to the low, sad wail of sorrow that comes from some breaking heart. Seated by their own comfortable fireside they give no thought to the lonely widow standing outside in the cold. It distresses them not that the keen, wintry blast sends its icy chill to the already broken heart. No thought, no feeling, for this poor creature that must now fight the fierce battles incident to human life, all alone. How sadly these tender duties to suffering humanity are neglected when left to the cold charity of the world.
Odd-Fellowship seeks to lessen sorrow and suffering. It supplies temporal wants; gives encouragement; aids and comforts those who are in distress. In sickness we watch by their bedside and administer to their wants. If death calls, Odd-Fellowship forsakes not its follower, but hovers near, listening attentively to the last words and parting instruction of the dying one. Brothers and friends, let me admonish you to do all the good you can while in health and strength, for at most life is short and we know not how soon the Angel of Death will unfold his broad, shadowy wings over our path and call us to give an account of our stewardship; then all that will remain of us on earth will be the good or evil we have done.
Odd-Fellowship is full of sacred teachings and sublime warnings. It teaches us that we are in a world full of temptations, sin and sorrow. We see the emblems of decay all around us. The strong man of today may stand forth, nerved for toil, with all the bloom of health mantling cheek and brow, seemingly as strong and vigorous as the mighty oak, and yet tomorrow he will fade as the autumn leaf. Then he realizes how foolish it is to be vain; thinks of the instability of wealth and power, and the certain decay of all earthly greatness. Odd-Fellowship teaches us that charity springs from the heart, is not puffed up, seeks not its own. It makes us strong, and encourages us to push on through life, even though we are beset on every side with toil, danger and strife. Brothers, let nothing cause you to turn back or away from the principles of our noble order. Cling closer and closer each day to honesty and truth, and bear in mind that be the road ever so rough and untraveled, narrow and dark, if you follow truth you will find light at the end of the journey.
More common, perhaps, than any other filed against it has been the objection that Odd-Fellowship does its work secretly, this objection being not unfrequently urged by persons of candor and honest impulses. "If," it is demanded, "the aims and purposes of the order be legitimate and praiseworthy, why shroud them in mystery rather than give them the broad sunlight of publicity."
The objection is not new, nor is it urged with any increase of its original force, whatever may be the fact in the matter of vehemence. Answer might be made: The order does not choose to ascend to the house tops for the purpose of heralding its affairs to the world. But that answer would not be satisfactory, nor is any likely to be that may be presented, now or hereafter. It is nevertheless true that there are certain matters pertaining to the order and its works with which the outside world has no sort of concern, even as with those very peculiar secret societies, the individual, the family, the church and the state. If other organizations prefer to resort to the newspapers, the pulpit, the rostrum and other information conduits for the purpose of advertising their wares, their greatness and their goodness, and the vast amount of humanitarian work they are doing and purposing, such is their unquestioned privilege.
But if the preference of Odd-Fellowship be for quieter and less obtrusive methods, pray who shall fairly contest its right of choice?
And then it should be remembered that there are matters in which the right hand is prohibited the privilege of interfering with the prerogatives of the left, and the left with those of the right. Nor should the fact be forgotten that there is Divine example, if not precept, for the established "modus operandi" of the order. Upon a certain occasion the Great Teacher had performed a very humble service for one of his disciples who was sadly at loss for the why and the wherefore, and the answer, received to his inquiry was: "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter."
And in the grand hereafter, when the films of ignorance and the warpings of prejudice and superstition shall have melted away under the bright sunlight of Eternal Day, it is not impossible that our vexed, inquisitive, worrying opponents may be permitted to look back over the pathway this order has traversed, glance at the work that has been wrought and peradventure discover how unreasonable, as well as fruitless, has been the warfare they have been pleased to wage with such persistent fury. A long time to wait, maybe, but then good things do not come rapidly nor all at once. Meanwhile, to encourage them in their waiting, their watching and their worrying, let them take this lesson from the same Great Teacher: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." Ah, no! it will not do, because you can not see and comprehend all of everything, inside as well as outside, to conclude that it must necessarily be bad. Adopt that theory, and you not only fly in the face of reason, but bump your head against almost everything in nature, in art and in science.
Secrets! yes; they are within us and without us, above us and beneath us and all about us, and "what are you going to do about it?" Well might Israel's old and gifted poet king write: "We are fearfully and wonderfully made," soul and body, the mortal and the immortal, the material and the immaterial, strangely and mysteriously conjoined! God's secret, this! Will you denounce Him and withdraw allegiance from Him, for the reason that He fails to make clear to you a clear and satisfying revelation? The same old singer said thousands of years ago, "The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork." And those heavens, with that firmament, are charged and surcharged with mightiest and profoundest secrets. We seize the telescope and "plunge into the vast profound overhead, intent upon mastering the secrets of the revolving spheres."
We travel from star to star, from system to system, until we reach yon lonely star that appears to be performing the Guardian's task, upon the verge of unmeasured and immeasurable space. We may descry and describe the form and outlines of those heavenly bodies, detect their movements and approximately determine their distances and dimensions. But what more? Little that is satisfying. When they had a beginning, what purposes they subserve in the sublime system of God's stupendous universe, and when they shall have a consummation, we may not certainly know. Secrets, these, and such "Secret things belong unto God." We would like to know these secrets, but must wait; for there, "roll those mighty worlds that gem the distant sky," as distantly and dismally as when Chaldean and Egyptian astronomers and astrologers viewed their movements three thousand years ago, rifled meanwhile of but few of their well kept secrets. He that pencils the lily and paints the rose and gives to every blade of grass its own bright drop of dew, has been pleased to say: "Hitherto shalt thou come and no further." And there is great unwisdom in setting up factious opposition to the fiat of Omnipotence. Possess your souls in patience, O friends! wait, as we must wait, before knowing all, or even knowing much. If you can not be Odd-Fellows, you can at least be men, with an effort.
WHAT IS ODD-FELLOWSHIP?
"But, sir," you demand, "can you tell us something more about Odd-Fellowship, its purposes and its Work?" I can, a little. Come with me, then, and we will look into the lodge. Ah! In the most conspicuous place there stands an altar—upon it the open Bible, the world's great word of Life and Light. Upon the principles enunciated by that Book, largely rests the great superstructure of Odd-Fellowship. The Bible is to the order what the sun is to the material universe—its illuminator and vivifier, even as it also is the, guide to faith and practice. A man may neglect his closet, his church, his Bible, but when he enters the lodge he is bound to listen to the voice of his Maker, as it thunders from His word; and while the lodge does by no means lay claim to the possession of religious attributes, yet has it been the means, by the constant use of the Bible, of turning many from the ways of wrong-doing and sin, into paths of pleasantness and peace; and by a unique system of symbolism and a comprehensive and practical application of its sublime truths, the faith of the believer has been strengthened, enlarged and rendered usefully active.