Dear Mr. Franklin

I recently took the time to read an e-book I’ve had in my library for some time, but never seemed to find the time to read, up until now: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Since he is one of the men often recognized as the ‘Founding Fathers’ of this country, and since he is known for his words of wisdom and his creative thinking that led to many profitable endeavors, I thought it would be good to hear from him about his way of life, his thought process, and what was behind it all. I was not disappointed in the fact I learned a lot about him, but disappointed in the fact that I learned his thinking led him away from Christ and trusting too much in his own ability to live a ‘righteous’ life.

      Don’t get me wrong: Franklin had the right idea that making good choices and forgoing this world’s vices are most certainly beneficial to the individual — in the immediate sense and in the long run. But Franklin’s rejection of the God of the Bible [he settled on being a deist — one who believes God created all things, but then has no further dealing with mankind, including no interest in our salvation] landed him in an odd position. He admitted in the compilation of a pseudo creed, that he believes God rules over His creation by Providence [contrary to true desim], but he also believed

 “That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.

But that the most acceptable service to God is doing good to man.

That the soul is immortal.

And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice either here or hereafter.”

      It is interesting to note that Franklin acknowledged the worthiness of God to receive our worship, but then declared “the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.” From where does he get this information? As a deist, he rejects the idea of Divine revelation [of Himself or His will], so the only logical conclusion is that Franklin arbitrarily decided this was true, without any evidence to support the claim.

      Franklin also had the idea that God will punish vice and reward virtue, “either here or hereafter,” so he admits to believing in some sort of Judgment after this life, and reward or punishment based on how our earthly life was lived. He is correct in noting God will reward or punish based on our earthly lives, for the Scriptures teach that very point (2 Cor. 5:10). But his beliefs did not lead him to the correct conclusion about what he should do about that. Again, having rejected Scripture as God’s revelation to man, Franklin took it upon himself to come up with his own pathway to pleasing God, and even formulated a plan by which he “conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” In so doing, he wrote, “I wish to live without committing any fault at any time.”

      His “project” began with the formulation of 12 [later, 13] virtues he would attempt to perfect in his own life. By his own words, he stated he would not “attempt the whole at once, but fix [his attention] on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then proceed to another, and so on, until I should have gone thro’ the thirteen.” He soon found a problem: “While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another.” Undeterred, he made a book wherein he would daily record his failures and successes. After some time, he acknowledged, “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.” In the end, Franklin concluded, “I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it.” He could only say he felt he was “a better and happier man.”

      Benjamin Franklin was, sadly, not alone in his thinking that one might, by his or her own efforts, achieve moral perfection and, failing that, just be content with being “good,” or even just better than we were before. What Franklin learned, and — more importantly — what he ignored or overlooked, is something each one of us must consider, especially as it relates to our spiritual condition and eternal fate.

      The Value of Honest Self-Examination. As Franklin determined to achieve what he believed would be “moral perfection,” upon his occasional honest self-examination, he found he failed, and failed often. That was surprising to Franklin, and I believe it would be the case for many today, too, for a great many people see themselves as “good.” Quite often, man has such a perception of self simply because he has not taken the time to make an honest self-examination, much less ask someone else to make an examination of one’s life.

      It is for this reason Paul admonished the Christians in Corinth, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5); that [honest] self-examination will help us to see who we really are and how we are actually living and, if we find we are in error, gives us an opportunity for correction. Failing to make such self-examinations, we have no motive to make any corrections, for we feel we are “good” people.

      The Reality of Our Frequent Failings. As noted previously, Franklin was surprised by his frequent failures — how many faults he actually had. This, too, is common to man, for we tend to notice the faults in others much more readily than our own. Hence the warning by Jesus to not make judgments we ourselves are unwilling to apply to self; we see our brother’s mote in his eye, while overlooking the 2 x 4 in our own eye (Matt. 7:1-5). The truth is, we all have faults; we all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), and that cannot be denied.

      We Cannot Atone for Our Sins. In Franklin’s endeavor to achieve “moral perfection,” he admitted he failed, and that he had many more faults than he had previously realized. He only realized what God already knew, but Franklin did not go far enough and recognize those “faults” are sometimes called “sin” by God, which is a transgression of His laws (1 John 3:4), and whose punishment is separation from God (Rom. 6:23) — which means we are lost, spiritually. And though Franklin strove to live a life of “moral perfection,” even if that was achieved, it would not atone for the sins he had already committed.

      The apostle Paul noted that it was “when we were still without strength,…Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). When we were outside of Christ and our sins were still held against us, we had no ability or power to remove the stain of those sins; as noted previously, we all had sinned, so there is not even a question of our guilt. All the good we might have done after committing sin does not change the fact of those already committed; we are still guilty. A man who breaks one law does not erase that fact by merely keeping all the other laws.

      But in Paul’s words that speak of our inability, we also find the solution: Christ died for us, and paid the price for our transgressions. This is the foundation of the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). Christ’s death atoned for our sins in a way no man could, for we had nothing to offer God that would do that. His sacrifice was the sole offering that was sufficient to atone for our sins, and it was sufficient “not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

            It is only when we submit to Christ in belief, and with faith in God, that His blood can atone (Col. 2:11-13).       — Steven Harper