Did Benjamin Franklin’s Personal Religion Help Him Achieve “Moral Perfection”?

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As a founding father, Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in winning America’s independence and shaping our constitution.

He was also an inventor. He did not invent electricity, but he invented the lightning rod. His other inventions included the bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the $ 100 bill, not really.

You might not realize it, but Ben Franklin even invented his own personal religion.

The personal religion of Benjamin Franklin

Franklin grew up in a Presbyterian Puritan family and was baptized at a young age. From his writings it is clear that he was a God-fearing man. However, as an adult, he rarely attended church, and he considered Jesus to be a great moral teacher, like Socrates. But he didn’t believe that Jesus was God in the flesh.

When Benjamin Franklin was a young adult, he established his own religious system to be a good corporate body. In his autobiography, he writes: “It was around this time [age twenty] I conceived the daring and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wanted to live without making any mistakes at any time. . . . Since I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t always do one and avoid the other. But I soon discovered that I had taken on a more difficult task than I had imagined.

Franklin’s Thirteen “Moral Habits”

Franklin listed thirteen moral qualities he tried to achieve. He called them his “moral habits” (a cross between a habit and an attitude). They included temperance, silence, order, resolve, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.

Franklin took his personal religion seriously. He had a little book with his thirteen moral qualities written on the left side. Then he had seven columns for the seven days of the week. He would judge himself and, if he failed or needed improvement, he would make a mark in that column. Every week he erased the marks and started over. He quickly realized that there were so many marks that erasing them made a hole in the page! He had a new book, and when a page filled with notes against his plan, he tore it up and started over.

Fail to perfection

Later in his life, when he wrote his autobiography, he reflects on the failure of his system: “I have never achieved the perfection that I had so much ambition to achieve, but I was far from achieving it. . . . In fact, perhaps none of our natural passions are as difficult to master as Pride. Disguise it, fight with it, shoot it down, suffocate it, mortify it at will, it is still alive, and from time to time it will arise and show itself. . . . Because, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility.

Ben Franklin was a wise and powerful individual. However, he admitted that he failed to live a life of perfect moral purity. He could have saved himself a lot of frustration and paper if he had applied Galatians 2:20 to his life. Paul wrote: “I was crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life that I now live in the body, I live it by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

We can never achieve moral perfection ourselves. There is only one person who has ever lived a perfect life: his name is Jesus, and he lives in those who have placed their faith in him.

Instead of inventing thirteen moral habits, we already have God’s list. Galatians 5:22 describes nine qualities of character that Jesus was to experience through us: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, kindness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.

But you don’t need to create a checklist and make a daily mark when trying to live up to these qualities of character. These nine words simply describe the personality of Jesus.

When you surrender to the living Jesus in you, he energizes these qualities in your life.

Dr. David O. Dykes was pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, before retiring on September 1, 2021. He is the author of 21 books, including three action-packed novels, written under the name of David Orlo; all are available on Amazon. He is currently booking speaking engagements and can be reached at dod75701[at]gmail.com.

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