"...whereby we find a part for the service of God and a distressed worthy Brother, a part for our usual vocations, and a part for refreshment and sleep"
The Twenty-four Inch Gauge represents the twenty-four hours of the day, part to be spent in prayer to Almighty God, part in labor and refreshment and part in serving a friend or brother in time of need, without detriment to ourselves or connections. This is a reminder to the Initiate that he is mortal, that he has so many years of life, with so many days to each year, and so many hours to each day. It is only the immortals that do not have to concern themselves with time, for to them it no longer exists; for us mortals each day has twenty-four hours. Later we may learn the secrets of immortality, but first we must make full use of our mortality. In other words, time and space are given to us with all their limitations to prepare ourselves for the ampler freedom of after life. Time is but the gateway to eternity, and by learning to use our time, we prepare ourselves for eternity.
The first lesson for the Initiate is time, and how to use it, and that time is divided into three parts: for God, for our neighbor and for ourselves. The first is emphasized throughout our ritual; we put our trust in God, our Lodge opens and closes with prayer. Prayer is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, but we must not stop at prayer, the definite act of homage to the Great Architect, but carry out His will through the whole day.
The second is our duty to our neighbor, and that does not mean to take good care of ourselves and if we have a few crumbs left over to scatter them to the poor. It means that we give and go on giving to our neighbor, but do not make our own family suffer in consequence of that giving. In other words, remember our neighbor, but do not neglect our own family in the process. The words "without detriment to yourself or connections" have been quite a stumbling block, and the cause of deprecation among superficial thinkers. It is, however, only superficial thought that is scandalized. There must be some order in the fulfillment of our obligations, and a man has no right to neglect his family in order to wear a jewel, even of Masonic charity. And giving does not mean just giving cash out of a large superfluity. There is no real gift without the giver feeling it. There are many different kinds of gifts; some have cash from their pocket, others have advice, encouragement and sympathy from the heart, and others again may provide help in some sort of practical work or service.
Our duty to ourselves has two parts: Work and refreshment. Without work the gifts that we have been given are wasted -- the great gifts of talent of mind and body, which have been entrusted to our keeping. The finest steel will rust and lose its temper if it is not used, and the finest intellect will become dulled, and the finest muscles waste, if neither are put to use as planned by our Maker. Excess never yet spelled efficiency. So refreshment is enjoyed. Refreshment, like recreation, means nothing if not renewal. The very word "recreation" means creating again; or, in other words, a renewal of our strength and power.
In the twenty-four-inch gauge is a symbol of time well employed, following as best we can the example of the lines told to us by Longfellow in the Psalm of Life,
Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.
The Masonic essence of the lesson is ability, preparedness and readiness, recalling the suggestion of William Shakespeare to the workman in Julius Caesar (act I, scene I, line 5):
Where is thy leather apron and thy rule? What dost thou with thy best apparel on?