Each Degree of Freemasonry contains a course of instruction, in which the ceremonies, traditions, and moral instruction appertaining to the Degree are set forth. This arrangement is called a Lecture. Each lecture, for the sake of convenience, and for the purpose of conforming to certain divisions in the ceremonies, is divided into sections, the number of which have varied at different periods, although the substance remains the same. According to Preston, the lecture of the first Degree contains six sections; that of the second, four; and that of the third, twelve. But according to the arrangement adopted in this country, commonly known as the Webb lectures, there are three sections in the first Degree, two in the second, and three in the third.
In the Entered Apprentice's Degree, the first section is almost entirely devoted to a recapitulation of the ceremonies of initiation. The initiatory portion, however, supplies certain modes of recognition. The second section is occupied with an explanation of the ceremonies that had been detailed in the first the two together furnishing the interpretation of ritualistic symbolism. The third is exclusively occupied in explaining the signification of the symbols peculiar to the Degree.
In the Fellow Craft's Degree, the first section, like the first section of the Entered Apprentice, is merely a recapitulation of ceremonies, with a passing commentary on some of them. The second section introduces the neophyte for the first time to the differences between Operative and Speculative Freemasonry and to the Temple of King Solomon as a Masonic symbol, while the candidate is ingeniously deputed as a seeker after knowledge.
In the Master's Degree the first section is again only a detail of ceremonies. The second section is the most important and impressive portion of all the lectures, for it contains the legend on which the whole symbolic character of the Institution is founded. The third section is an interpretation of the symbols of the Degree, and is, of all the sections, the one least creditable to the composer.
In fact, it must be confessed that many of the interpretations given in these lectures are unsatisfactory to the cultivated mind, and seem to have been adopted on the principle of the old Egyptians, who made use of symbols to conceal rather than to express all their thoughts. Learned Freemasons have been, therefore, always disposed to go beyond the mere technicalities and stereotyped phrases of the lectures, and to look in the history and the philosophy of the ancient religions, and the organization of the ancient mysteries, for a true explanation of most of the symbols of Freemasonry, and there they have always been enabled to find this true interpretation. The lectures, however, serve as an introduction or preliminary essay, enabling the student, as he advances in his initiation, to become acquainted with the symbolic character of the Institution. But if he ever expects to become a learned Freemason, he must seek in other sources for the true development of Masonic symbolism. The lectures alone are but the Primer of the Science.