Featured Article: The Ever-Changing Charge Stays True

By Stuart C. Pool, 32° |Lodge Room Illustration, a detail from Robert Macoy, The Book of the Lodge (1855)
Assistant to the Director of Education |

Known by several names, Most Worshipful Bro. Benjamin Levi Hadley’s poem, “On Yonder Book,” is inspiring fraternal poetry.

Throughout all of Masonry our charges and rituals don’t usually differ too much. Some grand lodge jurisdictions do however have alternate charges used during some of their degrees. One of these charges, as seen here, is used by a traveling degree team within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This charge, because of its use by the RCMP degree team, has come to be known as the Canadian Charge, though it is referred to by the RCMP degree team as the Walking Charge.

Photograph of MWBro. Benjamin L. HadleyHowever, it would seem that this charge has a long history, has changed names, and has been modified throughout the past century and a half. Some of the names this charge has been known by are: On Yonder Book, the Candlelight Charge, the Walking Charge, and the Oklahoma Charge. It was originally believed that this charge only dated back to the 1940s when On Yonder Book was written by MWBro. Benjamin L. Hadley (pictured right), Grand Master of Maine 1942–1943. Upon further research it was found, however, by WBro. Col. Ian M. Donald of Kentucky that the Oklahoma Charge which was found in Oklahoma’s cipher ritual in the 1890s. (http://phoenixmasonry.org/a_charge_by_any_other_name_is_still_a_charge.htm) This older charge that was very similar to On Yonder Book and the Canadian Charge made Bro. Donald dive deeper into finding out the origins of these charges.

Image of MWBro. Rob MorrisThe origins, Donald found out, probably stem from two, even earlier, poems written in 1875 and 1884 and published by Dr. Rob Morris (pictured right) in the 1884 edition of Masonic Odes and Poems. An interesting coincidence of a modified version of Bro. Morris’ poems being used by the RCMP degree team, is that Bro. Morris was elected as the Past Deputy Grand Master of the then newly formed Grand Lodge of Canada in 1858. The poems, A Mason’s Pledge and A Mason’s Vow, respective of the dates above, bear a striking resemblance to the later poems and charges. The first verse of A Mason’s Pledge actually contains the words “on yonder altar,” and the chorus of A Mason’s Vow says, “On yonder book that oath I took, and will I break it never.”

So it is quite clear that these poems inspired some of the writings and charges that came after it. All of these poems and charges put the oath we take very beautifully and you can see that the message in different versions remains the same and true to the original. I will leave you with the chorus of A Mason’s Vow: “On yonder book that oath I took, and break it will I never, but swear by this, and this, and this, forever and forever.”

On Yonder Book
By MWBro. Benjamin Hadley (1940s)

In Masons’ Lodge with darkened eyes,
And cable tow about you,
You swore to keep all mysteries
That Masons keep and Masons prize;
The Brothers’ secret whispered low;
The words they speak, the things they do,
In mystic manner taught you,

On yonder book, that oath you took,
And you should never break it,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and Forever.
{Give DG/S/Step of EA Degree}

You swore to answer and obey
The summons sent you duly,
By Brothers’ hand or Lodge away;
You swore that you would never stray
From ancient laws and rules that bound
Freemasons in the days renowned,
But would observe them truly.

On yonder book, that oath you took,
And you should break it never,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and Forever.
{Give DG/S/Step of FC Degree}

You swore with generous gifts, to care
For those in sorrow stricken,
he Brother on the darkened square,
The mourner with disheveled hair,
The Orphan doomed, alas! to stray,
Along life’s cold and cheerless way,
Whose tears gush forth unhidden.

On yonder book, that oath you took,
and you should break it never,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
{Give DG/S/Step of MM Degree}

You swore with honesty to deal
with each true heart around you;
That “honor bright should ever be
Unbroken bond” ’twixt him and you
Nor wrong, nor guile, nor cruel fraud
Shall ever break that holy cord
With which that vow hath bound you

On yonder book, that oath you took,
And you should break it never,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
{Point to Great Ls, Lesser Ls, & Letter}

You the chastity to keep,
Of woman true and tender,
Of Masons’ widow, wife or child,
His mother, sister, undefiled —
Those pure and innocent, whose love
Make Masons’ home like that above;
You are the sworn defender.

On yonder book, that oath you took,
And you should break it never,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
{GHS Distress is given thrice}

These are our vows, Brethren, our care,
And may such light be given
In answer to our earnest prayer,
That we may do and dare
All that God’s sacred laws enjoin,
So, when evening shades pass o’er us,
We may be found in Heaven.

For on yonder book, that oath we took,
And we will break them never,
But stand by this, and this, and this,
Forever and forever.
{Everyone gives the DG/S/Step of each degree}


The Mason’s Pledge
By MWBro. Dr. Rob Morris (1875)

Brother, hearken, while I tell you,
What we Masons pledged to do,
When, prepared at yonder altar,
We assumed the Mason’s vow!
Foot and knee, breast, hand and cheek
Harken while I make them speak!

Foot to foot, on mercy’s errand,
When we hear a brother’s cry,
Hungry, thirsty, barefooted, naked,
With God’s mercy let us fly.
This of all our thoughts the chief,
How to give him quick relief.
Knee to knee, in earnest praying,
None but God to hear or heed,
All our woes and sins confessing,
Let us for each other plead;
By the spirit of our call,
Let us pray for brothers all.

Hand to back, a brother’s falling,
Look, his burdens are too great.
Stretch the generous hand and hold him

Up before it is too late.
The right arm’s a friendly prop,
Made to hold a brother up.
Breast to breast, in sacred casket,
At life’s center let us seal
Every truth to us entrusted,
Nor one holy thing reveal!
What a Mason vows to shield,
Let him die, but never yield.

Cheek to cheek, in timely whisper
When the tempter strives to win,
Urge the brother’s bounden duty,
Show him the approaching sin,
Point to him the deadly snare,
Save him with a brother’s care.

Brother, let us often ponder
What we Masons pledged to do,
When, prepared at yonder altar,
We assumed the Mason’s vow;
Foot and knee, breast, hand
and cheek,
Let these oft our duties speak.


The Mason’s Vow
By MWBro. Dr. Rob Morris (1884)

(First two stanzas and chorus, only)

Hearken Brothers, while I tell you,
What we Masons pledge to do,
When prepared at yonder Altar,
We assume the Mason’s Vows,
Foot and knee, breast hand and cheek,
Listen while we make them speak:

Foot to foot on mercy’s errand,
When we hear a Brother’s cry,
Hungry, thirsty, barefoot, naked,
In GOD’S mercy let us fly,
This, of all our thoughts the chief,
how to give him quick relief.

Chorus—
On yonder book that oath I took,
And break it will I never,
But swear by this, and this, and this,
For ever and for ever.


The text of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue ofThe Scottish Rite Journalavailable online and via the free app for Apple and Android devices, just visit your preferred app store and search “Scottish Rite Journal.”


Image Captions/Credits:

  • Lodge Room Illustration: Detail from Robert Macoy,The Book of the Lodge (1855)
  • Photograph of Hadley: Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Maine, 1941
  • Photograph of Morris: John H. Brownell, ed., Gems from the Quarry and Sparks from the Gavel