There has been a needless expenditure of ingenuity and talent, by a large number of Masonic orators and essayists, in the endeavor to prove that Freemasonry is not a religion. This has usually arisen from a well-intended but erroneous view that has been assumed of the connection between religion and Freemasonry, and from a fear that if the complete disseverance of the two was not made manifest, the opponents of Freemasonry would be enabled successfully to establish a theory which they have been fond of advancing, that the Freemasons were disposed to substitute the teachings of their Order for the truths of Christianity.
Now we have never for a moment believed that any such unwarrantable assumption, as that Freemasonry is intended to be a substitute for Christianity, could ever obtain admission into any well-regulated mind, and, therefore, us are not disposed to yield on the subject of the religious character of FreemasonrY, quite so much as has been yielded by more timid Brethren. On the contrary, we contend, without any sort of hesitation, that Freemasonry is, in every sense of the word, except one, and that its least philosophical, an eminently religious institution—that it is indebted solely to the religious element it contains for its origin as well as its continued existence, and that without this religious element it would scarcely be worthy of cultivate on by the wise and good. But, that we may be truly understood, it will be well first to agree upon the true definition of religion. There is nothing more illogical than to reason upon undefined terms. Webster has given four distinct definitions of religion:
1. Religion, in a comprehensive sense, includes, he says a belief in the being and perfections of God—in the revelation of His will to man—in man's obligation to obey His commands—in a state of reward and punishment, and in man's accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practise of all moral duties.
2. His second definition is, that religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practise, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow-men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to food and His law.
3. Again, he says that religion, as distinct from virtue or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to His will.
4. Lastly, he defines religion to be any system of faith or worship and in this sense, he says, religion comprehends the belief and worship of Pagans and Mohammedans as well as of Christians—any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power, or powers, governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. It is in this sense that we speak of the Turkish religion, or the Jewish religion, as well as of the Christian.
[...] But it must be confessed that the fourth definition does not appear to be strictly applicable to Freemasonry. It has no pretension to assume a place among the religions of the world as a sectarian "system of faith and worship," in the sense in which we distinguish Christianity from Judaism, or Judaism from Mohammedanism. In this meaning of the word we do not and can not speak of the Masonic religion, nor say of a man that he is not a Christian, but a Freemason. Here it is that the opponents of Freemasonry have assumed mistaken ground in confounding the idea of a religious Institution with that of the Christian religion as a peculiar form of worship, and in supposing, because Freemasonry teaches religious truth, that it is offered as a substitute for Christian truth and Christian obligation. Its warmest and most enlightened friends have never advanced nor supported such a claim.
Freemasonry is not Christianity, nor a substitute for it. It is not intended to supersede it nor any other form of worship or system of faith. It does not meddle with sectarian creeds or doctrines, but teaches fundamental religious truth— not enough to do away with the necessity of the Christian scheme of salvation, but more than enough to show, to demonstrate, that it is, in every philosophical sense of the word, a religious Institution, and one, too, in which the true Christian Freemason will find if he earnestly seeks for them, abundant types and shadows of his own exalted and divinely inspired faith.
In the Christian Discussion Forums, here.