Benjamin Franklin is well known for his list of thirteen virtues which he wrote on developing character. (Click on thirteenvirtues.com). Toward the end of his life, he began writing a book about each of these virtues but was never able to complete it.
A few months ago, I purchased and read the book, The Art of Virtue, by George L. Rogers which was his humble attempt to complete Benjamin Franklin’s work. It consists of a collection of Franklin’s ideas and writings about his beliefs about virtues such as: setting goals, accomplishment, acquiring wealth, maintaining health, getting along with people, family living, religion, morality, aging, dying, and much more which are all included in what Ben Franklin described as a formula for a fulfilled and successful life.
It is this book, The Art Of Virtue, that this blog post is all about.
Benjamin Franklin, was a signer of Declaration of Independence which birthed the Republic of the United States.1 He realized that in order to maintain a healthy and free society, important virtues need to be understood and practiced by its citizens.
Has America, and western civilization lost the meaning of the word, virtue, today? I do not hear much about virtue nowadays. The Webster Dictionary defines it as: moral excellence, integrity of character, and purity of soul. Synonyms include: goodness, righteousness, morality, integrity, dignity, rectitude, honor, decency, purity, and ethics.
Having and practicing virtues is important for Christians. Why? Because the Bible says much about them. It is full of them. They are very much about God’s character and how He wants man to develop and grow using them. Virtues such as: faith, hope, love, patience, seeking wisdom, courage, excellence and justice meander throughout the Bible.
What does the apostle Peter mean by virtue in 2 Peter 1:5 -7?
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. (King James Version)
Virtue translated in other versions of the Bible on this passage in 2 Peter 1 are:
1) New International Version: goodness
2) New American Standard: moral excellence
3) The Message: good character
4) Phillip’s New Testament: real goodness
5) Amplified Bible: excellence, resolution, Christian energy
Therefore, the virtue Peter wrote about is mostly referring to moral excellence and goodness.
The apostle Paul wrote about it in Philippians 4:8 when he said:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.
Anyway, this book by Mr. Rogers is interesting reading. It is basically a collection of Ben Franklin’s thinking on his system for developing character. It also recounts information on the life of Benjamin Franklin, his struggles and successes.
One portion of the book I found very interesting was his religious beliefs. Ben Franklin, although raised and educated a Presbyterian (his father was a Puritan and his mother was one of the Pilgrims to flee to Massachusetts for religious freedom2), later in his life did not fully agree with its teachings. As many of you Christians already know, Presbyterianism has as its theology, Calvinism, which, for the most part, states that only a few people, out of all humanity, were predestined by God to be saved – to be the Elect, the Church – before they were ever even born. The rest of man, according to this doctrine, was destined by God for destruction – before they were ever even born.
I do not agree with this view of God’s redemption of the world. And apparently so did Mr. Franklin. Mr. Roger’s book quotes Franklin’s disagreement with how God interacts with men – His creation – in world affairs.
Below is the quotation of Mr. Franklin’s four arguments regarding predestination and providence. This passage left a huge impression on me which, to this day, has influenced my thinking on what I believe is God ‘s plan of salvation. I will write more about this in future blog posts.
Here is the excerpt found on page 58 of the book (paperback) quoting another work about Benjamin Franklin:
Agreeing, then, that the world was at first made by a being of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, which being we call God, the state of things existing at this time must be in one of these four following manners, namely:
1. Either he unchangeably decreed and appointed every thing that comes to pass, and left nothing to the course of nature, or allowed any creature free agency.
2. Without decreeing any thing, he left all to general nature and the events of free agency in his creatures, which he never alters or interrupts: or,
3. He decreed some things unchangeably, and left others to general nature and the events of free agency, which also he never alters or interrupts: or,
4. He sometimes interferes by his particular providence, and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by any of the above causes.
I shall endeavor to show the first three suppositions to be inconsistent with the common light of reason, and that the fourth is most agreeable to, and therefore most probably true.3
I believe, to a large extent, Mr. Franklin’s fourth point above. If God has full sovereignty over man to the point where humanity has no free will, then what is the point of developing virtue? Is each person a robot under God, only performing what God wants him to do? I do not believe so. God does, however, in order to fulfill His plan, at times, interferes in the course of human events. What God wants overall is faith and the development of virtues from those He predetermined to receive His revelation in this lifetime before Christ returns. AND He wants, after Christ returns, faith and the development of virtues from all people who has ever lived and will have eventually chosen to accept Christ’s sacrifice.
Anyway, I have digressed somewhat here and plan to get into this topic in future blogs.
But please, do give this book a chance. Read it. Let it help you meditate on areas you have probably never thought about. And let it help you begin a journey of mastering this art called, virtue.
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3. Bigelow, John, The Works Of Benjamin Franklin, New York: G.P Putman’s Sons, 1904, vol. 9, 243.