by Mary E. Stephens
Benjamin Franklin is an iconic figure in American history. As one of the "Founding Father" of the United States as well as the publisher of Poor Richard's Almanac and a "man of science" in the amateur sense he created a rather expansive reputation for himself. But, is he worthy to be raised as a "hero" to children? Even more, should he be called a "Christian" as some have boldly proclaimed in recent times? The answer to these questions is an absolute "no." In fact, it is beyond my understanding how some people can claim these things for him when history is so unavoidably clear on the subject and so readily available in this day. Even in his own day his less-than-stellar reputation was generally known. He was neither a God-honoring hero nor a Christian.
Benjamin Franklin was a deist, at best, in his religious views.
Very simply put, deists believe there is a God or Creator in a general sort of way, but think that He is not interested in the affairs of men and cannot be known by revelation. They rely on their own reasoning to understand creation and the laws of God. So, in other words, they deny the Bible as being the word of God and rely only upon their own reasoning to define God and determine right and wrong. They also, of necessity, deny the deity of Christ because His very existence would declare that God is, in fact, interested in the affairs of men and desires a personal relationship with them.
Benjamin Franklin, however, was not actually a strict deist. His views were influenced by his Puritan upbringing, deism, and his own convoluted ideas about deity, including the thought that there were multiple lesser gods (pantheism). He basically held to his own changeable, homemade religion which is completely contrary to scripture and is not compatible with a saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. It is reminiscent of Romans 1:25 - Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (See footnote 1.)
In His mercy and willingness for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), God gave Benjamin Franklin the opportunity to hear and understand true salvation through his friendship with George Whitefield. That great minister had a burden for Franklin's soul. Whitefield wrote to him:
"I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, "we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven"...My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir..." (2)
This witness and the preaching for which Whitefield was so well known, Franklin rejected, stating 10 years after Whitefield's physical death,
"Mr. Whitefield used, indeed, to pray for my conversion, but he never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard. Ours was a mere civil friendship, sincere on both sides, and lasted to his death." (3)
Of course, Franklin had no concept of the fact that a Christian's prayers are always heard whether the answer is "yes," "no," or "wait." Whitefield's desire for Franklin's salvation was thwarted by Franklin's own rejection of the Gospel. He exercised his free will, which incidentally Franklin himself did not generally believe in, and he refused to be believe the truth of the gospel.
Franklin expressed his personal belief in doing good works to please God quite plainly in his autobiography:
"... Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world, and governed it by His providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter."
Is the most acceptable service to God doing good to our fellow man? Mark 12:30-31 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. Notice here that the second command is to love your neighbor as yourself. The first is to love the Lord your God. And how can we love Him and please Him? By putting our faith in Him. Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. How do we come to God? John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. The most acceptable service to God according to scripture must start by coming to Him in faith through Jesus Christ. And yet, Franklin admittedly was not converted - saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
He also details in his autobiography his method of attaining goodness or "moral perfection.". He writes:
"It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ'd in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method."
Notice that while his efforts lead to failure and some realization of his own limitations, it did not lead him to Christ. It lead him to his own plan or method of salvation.
"In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name...I propos'd to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex'd to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning."
He lists his chosen virtues as follows:
In 1786, Franklin encouraged the speaking of a man named Benjamin Rush at the American Philosophical Association's Annual Oration. (4) This Benjamin Rush "...endeavored to show that physical causes such as size of the brain, heredity, disease, fever, climate, diet, drink, and medicines among others can affect the exercise of the moral faculty." (5) Benjamin Franklin had reason to want to hear these doctrines of devils (1 Tim. 4:1), because it excused him in his mind from the responsibility of his sin (Rom. 2:15). He was also a vegetarian and perhaps wanted to connect that with his perceived superior character.
(Yes, the book pictured at left is actually a collection of essays written by Benjamin Franklin, the title coming from a meant-to-be-humorous essay on that subject. Curiously, to this day, people who appreciate this sort of humor are still considered crude or juvenile in their mentality. Franklin also included various vulgar sayings in his Poor Richard's Almanac which have been generally overlooked in favor of the moralistic ones.)
Benjamin Franklin was also a self-acknowledged fornicator and adulterer.
In his twenties he fathered his son, William, by fornication or adultery. He never clearly revealed the identity of his son's mother. In 1730 he took Deborah Read as his unlawful wife. While some biographers have proposed different origins for William, at least one believed that Deborah was in fact William's mother . She, however, was legally married to another man at the time, "one Rogers." Whether Rogers abandoned her or she abandoned him is unclear as there are conflicting accounts, but he at some point was accused of being previously married to another woman. After the abandonment Rogers had disappeared and it was later known that he had gone the West Indies, presumably to escape his debts. Franklin's marriage to Deborah is described as "common-law" by the Encyclopedia Britannica (1963, p. 692). This was because they could not be legally married since she would have been liable to prosecution for bigamy, having a husband believed to be living at the time. Franklin himself wrote to his son, William, "...there was now great objections to our union. The match was indeed looked upon as invalid, a preceding wife being said to be living in England. But this could not easily be proved, because of the distance and tho' there was a report of his death, it was not certain...We ventured, however, over all these difficulties, and I took her to wife, September 1, 1730." (6) (sic; emphasis original)
While much of his history has been highly sanitized for purposes of hero worship, the facts are there for those who care to look. Although he claimed to be satisfactorily married, his unfaithfulness to Deborah during her lifetime was infamous. Because Deborah did not like to travel by sea, he left her for long periods of time while he was attending to various political things in England and perhaps other places. This apparently caused her a good deal of distress at times and is never a healthy situation for marital faithfulness. Franklin, who himself admitted to failure in controlling his sexual appetite, apparently made no effort at remaining faithful. He is discredited with a long list of women with whom he had sexual and/or emotional relationships. He also wrote an exceedingly vile letter to a young man instructing him to either marry or get a mistress - detailing how and why to choose an older woman as a mistress. Some time after his wife's death (1774) he was sent to France as a representative of the new United States. There he essentially became a sort of elderly sex icon and was fawned over by many young women. Had he not been a talented statesman, writer, and politician, and so interested in various subjects from science to philosophy and religion, he likely would have been known primarily for his disgusting sexual exploits more than anything else. He was, in fact, a very promiscuous philanderer.
Benjamin Franklin was also a Freemason.
He was elected the Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734. While he was in France years later, he is said to have helped with the initiation into the Masons of Voltaire - the bold and arrogant atheist who longed for the destruction of Christianity. Franklin had the dubious honor of being "...elected the Venerable Master of La Loge des Neuf Soeurs.." in France. (7) His private life was obviously in keeping with his high ranking role in the Freemasons, that secret society whose history at the higher levels certainly qualifies as anti-Christ.
So, was Benjamin Franklin a Christian? No. Unless he repented on his deathbed, there is not a chance. Is he worthy of being raised up as a "great man" in the eyes of your children? What saith the scriptures?
Psalms 15:1 Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart...4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD...
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
1. See essay by Pamela Hernandez Chavez for reference material supporting this information. Source.
2. What Hath God Wrought!, William P. Grady, pp.104-105. [Disclaimer on source. I personally believe that Mr. Grady went somewhat overboard in this book in his zeal to put Baptist principles into American history. He may be as guilty of "revisionist" changing of history to fit a Christian world view, which is not helpful. I quote his book here because it is not his words or opinion but actual quotes from the original sources and as they stand they are clear in their intent and meaning.]
3. What Hath God Wrought!, William P. Grady, p. 108.
4. See the dedication here: Source.
5. Source unknown. See previous link for further information.
6. Who Was the Mother of Franklin's Son, by Charles Henry Hart; Source.
7. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1963, p. 692
Painting of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis.
most graphics by Mary Stephens