Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Franklin and the Benevolent Deity

In responding to Bill Fortenberry, I carefully reread portions of Ben Franklin's "A Defense of Mr. Hemphill’s Observations."

Let me note, with Tom Van Dyke, I'm not even certain that Franklin's statements in this "Defense" represent his true beliefs, or whether he's merely acting as an advocate. I do believe Franklin found some expressions of the Christian faith more preferable to others. And that Arminianism and unitarianism were preferable to the hard core Calvinism that sought to railroad Samuel Hemphill.

This part is interesting (I have added paragraph breaks for clarity; what is italicized is in the original; the boldface is mine):
Hemphill is condemn’d for advancing this Piece of Heresy, viz. They who have no other Knowledge of God and their Duty, but what the Light of Nature teaches them; no Law for the Government of their Actions, but the Law of Reason and Conscience; will be accepted, if they live up to the Light which they have, and govern their Actions accordingly.

To this our stern Authors answer, Will the Heathen be accepted of God, by living up to the Light which they have, and governing their Actions accordingly? then, say they, there is no need of Christ’s Merits and Satisfaction, in order to our Acceptance with God.

[...]

... The Holy Scriptures represent his Mission as a general Benefit, a Benefit which Regards all Men, and in Fact, tell us that Christ dyed for all.

And can any imagine that our good God, as is here suppos’d, will eternally damn the Heathen World for not obeying a Law they never heard of; that is, damn them for not doing an Impossibility. Surely none can imagine such a thing; except such as form their Ideas of the great Governor of the Universe, by reflecting upon their own cruel, unjust and barbarous Tempers, as our Authors seem to do.

If God requir’d Obedience to an unknown Law, Obedience to the Gospel from those that never heard of it, or who never were in a Capacity or Circumstances of being reasonably convinc’d of it, it would be in the first Place manifest Injustice; for surely, Promulgation or Publishing of a Law must be allow’d necessary, before Disobedience to it can be accounted criminal.

It is utterly impossible to reconcile the contrary Notion with the Idea of a good and just God; and is a most dreadful and shocking Reflection upon the Almighty. In the next Place, we should find the Mission of our Saviour so far from being a general Benefit, as the Scripture teaches, that on the contrary it would be but a particular one, distributed only to the smallest Part of Mankind: But, which is more, this Mission of our Saviour wou’d be a very great Misfortune and Unhappiness to the greatest Part (three Fourths) of Mankind.

For it is probable, that without this Necessity of Obedience to an unknown Law, many would be able to save themselves by a good Use of their Reason and the Light of Nature; whereas by the Mission of our Redeemer, and the Imposition of an unknown Law, a Law which they could not observe (I mean what is peculiar to Christianity) they are reduc’d to an utter Impossibility of being sav’d.

I do not think that these Observations can be contradicted without saying Things very injurious to the Deity, and therefore erroneous. Agreable to the general Notion here advanc’d are the Sentiments of St. Paul in Rom. 4:15 where he says, For where no Law is there is no Transgression. And Rom. 5:13 Sin is not imputed when there is no Law. See also Rom. 2:14, 15.

I know that some Passages of Scripture are adduc’d by the Maintainers of this Notion to prove the Truth of it. ... And give me leave to remark here by the by, that if after all requisite Care and Pains, Reason clearly teaches the Truth of such or such a Proposition, and that we find in the holy Scriptures some Passage that seems to contradict the clear Decisions of Reason, we ought not, for we really cannot, admit that Sense of the Passage that does so, altho’ it shou’d be receiv’d by all the Divines, that call themselves orthodox, upon Earth; So that any Man must be altogether in the right to look out for another Sense of the Passage in Question, which will not contradict the clear Decisions of Reason.

This Principle is to be extenden only to Propositions, which evidently contradict the clear and manifestly well-founded Decisions of Reason in general (as in the Case before us;) and I say that such Propositions, such Doctrines cannot be contain’d in divine Revelation; so that we must look for another Sense of the Passages, by which they wou’d pretend to establish these Propositions or Doctrines; we must, I say, look for a Sense agreeable to Reason and the known Perfections of God; and it is absolutely impossible to reconcile the Opinion here contradicted to either; and if this Notion be not to represent the Almighty, as stern, arbitrary, inexorable, & pray what is? 
As for those Passages of Scripture, which are often adduc’d to prove the absolute Necessity of all Men’s believing in Jesus Christ without Distinction, in order to Salvation; Reason, common Sense, Equity and Goodness oblige us to understand and apply them only to those to whom infinite Wisdom has thought proper to send the Gospel.
These Gentlemen can hardly take it amiss to be advis’d to take the utmost Care of saying any thing, or interpreting Scripture after a Manner injurious to the infinite Justice, Goodness and Mercy of God, and contradictory to Reason. If the christian Scheme of Religion be not a reasonable one, they wou’d make but a dull Piece of Work on’t in attempting to vindicate the Truth of it.
This passage contains a number of notable theologically liberal, heterodox for the time sentiments.

1. It's undeniable that works are at least part of the Franklin's justification scheme as he admits that some folks, even without Jesus coming would be able to save themselves "by a good Use of their Reason and the Light of Nature." Note, he's not saying just the Jews living according to the law of the Old Testament, though they might qualify under such. He's more generally applying the principle to all men (Ancient Greeks, Romans, the other noble pagans) who by their reason live lives of virtue according to the light of nature.

2. So why did Christ come? To save more people. To streamline the process of getting into Heaven. According to a theory prevalent among fellow Christian-Deists at the time, Jesus perfectly typified the law of nature, determinable from reason. Though, Jesus' example is clearer than what a typical man's reason could determine for himself. If men are saved in some way by their virtue (and such saving virtues can be determined from reason and the senses alone) and Jesus perfectly modeled such, knowing Jesus' clearer example would lead to greater levels of salvation, accordingly.

3. Franklin doesn't seem comfortable with the notion that a large percentage of humanity are destined for or will go to damnation. I do see in Franklin's overall work, an endorsement of the notion of a future state of rewards and punishments. And in one letter, purgatory where imperfect souls are prepared for Heaven. It's doubtful he believed in an eternal Hell for anyone.

Benjamin Rush once noted how his newly found Arminian principles of the universality of Christ's Atonement led to a belief in the eventual salvation of all mankind. Franklin repeats the Arminian tenet that "Christ dyed for all."

The overall tenor of the passages seem to indicate more than Jesus just dying for all, but that a great deal of humanity (perhaps all?) would benefit,  some kind of hopeful universalism.

4. Franklin also concedes there are different ways to interpret the Bible and that he endorsed injecting a sense of "Reason, common Sense, Equity and Goodness ... infinite Wisdom ... infinite Justice, Goodness and Mercy of God" into his interpretation of the texts. And he would reject implications that made God look "as stern, arbitrary, inexorable." Further he called out the understanding of the Bible of "the Divines, that call themselves orthodox,..."

In other words, Franklin rejected the understanding of Christianity that holds "this is what the Bible teaches, and if you don't like it, tough luck, take it up with God." 

29 comments:

Bill Fortenberry said...

You forgot one, Jon. Let me add it for you:

5. For all of those who have heard the Gospel, it is absolutely necessary that they believe in Jesus in order to obtain salvation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"5. For all of those who have heard the Gospel, it is absolutely necessary that they believe in Jesus in order to obtain salvation."

Your words not his. Where does Franklin ever speak in such terms as "absolutely necessary."

It's not even clear -- looking at the entire picture of Franklin's life -- that the writings of the Hemphill affair reflect his true personal beliefs, but rather him acting as an advocate.

The "big picture" of Franklin's life and beliefs clearly and unequivocally demonstrates he believed in good works as a necessary component to get in God's good graces.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's not even clear -- looking at the entire picture of Franklin's life -- that the writings of the Hemphill affair reflect his true personal beliefs, but rather him acting as an advocate.

FTR, these particular passages seem to reflect Franklin's own thought. I would expect him to lean toward some sort of universalism, getting to know the old softie through his writings over the years.






Bill Fortenberry said...

Did you not see it, Jon. Right there in the quote which you provided, Franklin said:

"As for those Passages of Scripture, which are often adduc’d to prove the absolute Necessity of all Men’s believing in Jesus Christ without Distinction, in order to Salvation; Reason, common Sense, Equity and Goodness oblige us to understand and apply them only to those to whom infinite Wisdom has thought proper to send the Gospel."

Here, he admits that there are passages of Scripture cited by those claiming that people who have never heard the Gospel can only receive salvation by believing in Jesus Christ. Then, he explains that the reasonable interpretation of these verses is to conclude that they only apply to those who have heard the Gospel. Franklin did not in any way deny that these verses spoke of the absolute necessity of believing in Jesus Christ. He simply argued that these verses only apply to those who have heard the Gospel. Thus, one of the notable theological points that we can see in this portion of Franklin's pamphlet is the fact that Franklin recognized the absolute necessity of belief in Jesus Christ for salvation among all of those who have heard the Gospel.

What Franklin is actually endorsing here is not universalism as you claim, but rather a form of inclusivism which has been endorsed by many Christian (and even evangelical) leaders both past and present. This form of inclusivism teaches that everyone who hears the Gospel must believe the Gospel in order to obtain salvation, but those who never hear the Gospel will be saved by faithfully following whatever amount of truth God sends their way. This type of inclusivism was famously advocated by C. S. Lewis in the final book of the Chronicles of Narnia, and it has always received wide support among evangelical Christians.

A. H. Strong, for example, made this statement in his 1907 Systematic Theology:

"Since Christ is the Word of God and the Truth of God, he may be received even by those who have not heard of his manifestation in the flesh. A proud and self-righteous morality is inconsistent with saving faith; but a humble and penitent reliance upon God, as a Savior from sin and a guide of conduct, is an implicit faith in Christ; for such reliance casts itself upon God, so far as God has revealed himself, -- and the only Revealer of God is Christ. We have, therefore, the hope that even among the heathen there may be some, like Socrates, who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through the truth of nature and conscience, have found the way of life and salvation."

John Wesley was preaching this same view in the 18th century. He once said:

"It cannot be doubted, but this plea will avail for millions of modern Heathens. Inasmuch as to them little is given, of them little will be required. As to the ancient Heathens, millions of them, likewise were savages. No more therefore will be expected of them, than the living up to the light they had. But many of them, especially in the civilized nations, we have great reason to hope, although they lived among Heathens, yet were quite of another spirit; being taught of God, by His inward voice, all the essentials of true religion."

Bill Fortenberry said...

And among modern Christian apologists, Josh McDowel claims that:

"Although the Scriptures never explicitly teach that someone who has never heard of Jesus can be saved, we do believe that it infers this. We do believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God will not exclude anyone because he happened to be born at the wrong place and at the wrong time."

And William Lane Craig similarly teaches:

"the Bible says that the unreached will be judged on a quite different basis than those who have heard the gospel. God will judge the unreached on the basis of their response to His self-revelation in nature and conscience. The Bible says that from the created order alone, all persons can know that a Creator God exists and that God has implanted His moral law in the hearts of all persons so that they are held morally accountable to God (Rom. 1.20; 2.14-15). The Bible promises salvation to anyone who responds affirmatively to this self-revelation of God (Rom. 2.7).

"Now this does not mean that they can be saved apart from Christ. Rather it means that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice can be applied to them without their conscious knowledge of Christ. They would be like people in the Old Testament before Jesus came who had no conscious knowledge of Christ but who were saved on the basis of his sacrifice through their response to the information that God had revealed to them."

It should be noted, however, that none of these men claim that people who have heard the Gospel can receive salvation apart from believing the Gospel. Like Franklin, each of these men claims that salvation apart from belief in the Gospel is only possible for those who have never heard the Gospel. These men are not universalists; they are inclusivists arguing against the restictivism. Franklin and Hemphill were also inclusivists arguing against the restictivist view of the Philadelphia Synod.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Franklin did not in any way deny that these verses spoke of the absolute necessity of believing in Jesus Christ."

The problem is Franklin never AFFIRMS the absolute necessity of believing in Jesus Christ or else be damned to even those who might have heard it.

In the very passages I've reproduced Franklin REJECTS the kind of "loophole" Christianity that would assert something like "if Jesus didn't come and you lived up to the law of nature, you can save yourself, but now that Jesus has come, you must accept him or be damned."

Franklin was not your kind of theologian. Franklin rejects the method that says, "since the Bible says X it must mean Y." If Y was a result that disturbed him as being too unfair, Franklin would "look out for another Sense of the Passage in Question, which will not contradict the clear Decisions of Reason." [Bold Face Mine.]

Rather everything about Franklin's opinions of Jesus you ever see is Franklin affirming Jesus as the perfect moral model, someone who typified the law of nature so men could better ensure their chances in an afterlife by modeling him and practicing good works.

Franklin also says that there are those who might hear the gospel message but "or who never were in a Capacity or Circumstances of being reasonably convinc’d of it,..."

He could be referring to folks whose minds were of a peculiar structure (like his own!) that might cause doubt or disbelief in certain religious messages that some might view as fundamental to the faith.

But if that person behaved in a Jesus like manner, it would not matter if they denied, for instance the Trinity or salvation through faith alone.

jimmiraybob said...

Jon,

I agree that Franklin's "voice" in the Defense is not a profession of personal belief but that of an advocate having to define the more orthodox in order to contrast the unorthodox.

Has anyone in this on-going dialogue used his memoirs (The Autobiography) - arguably a much more reliable indicator of personal belief - to evaluate his religious persuasions? It seems that he is consciously setting forth his legacy.

In it he does mention trying to improve his virtues through imitating Jesus and Socrates in his chapter "Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection", but lists no explicitly Christian (or otherwise) creeds or dogma.

He does mention deity but with no NT or OT references. And the only reference that I could find to being "saved" wasn't to faith in Jesus Christ but to money.

Or, are there any personal communications where he makes unambiguous assertions of his own Christian faith - presumably regarding Jesus Christ as messiah and savior.

Maybe these references are in Mr. Fortenberry's book that I have not reviewed.

Otherwise, it does seem that Mr. Fortenberry is continuing to force an uncooperative peg into a wrong-sized hole (And, with the peg not here to defend himself).



jimmiraybob said...

Actually, Franklin does explicitly describe a creed that he devised as follows (broken into more bite-sized chunks):

I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and though some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, 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 govern'd 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.

These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serv'd principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induc'd me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increas'd in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused.

This is essentially the same creed that he formulated early on when considering a "United Party for Virtue."

"There seems to me at present to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be govern'd by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to common laws.

Very pragmatic.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Fortenberry argues that the letter to Ezra Stiles uncharacteristic. However, in actuality it's characteristic of Franklin's beliefs during his entire adult life time after he converted from deism to theism (with that brief period in between when he flirted with a proto-Mormon like cosmic henotheism).

Likewise in the letter to Stiles, Franklin stresses Jesus as the greatest moral teacher, not as someone one must put his "faith alone" in lest he be damned.

Likewise we see Franklin endorsing the notion of a future state of rewards and punishments and stressing the importance of "doing good" in order to please God.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I see a forerunner of Stone-Campbell non-creedal Christianity, not necessarily consigned Jesus to merely being a "great moral teacher." To imitate Christ, as he writes here in 1751

The great Author of our Faith, whose Life should be the constant Object of our Imitation, as far as it is not inimitable

is not perfectly possible.

And again, the story he relates of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is more than the product of reason alone, for it speaks of the next world, which cannot be known by reason alone.

I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern'd 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.

These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country


These are still all Christian religions. Unlike Jefferson and esp Adams, he really doesn't speak much of other religions, nor did folks back then know much about them.

"There seems to me at present to be great occasion for raising a United Party for Virtue, by forming the virtuous and good men of all nations into a regular body, to be govern'd by suitable good and wise rules, which good and wise men may probably be more unanimous in their obedience to, than common people are to common laws.

That's rather Barneyistic, if you think about it. Indeed, he wrote it when he was only 25.



Bill Fortenberry said...

I'm sorry, Jon, but your view of Franklin's words just doesn't make any sense. In this section of the "Defense," Franklin is dealing with the Synod's charge that Hemphill's inclusivism leads to the very kind of universalism that you are speaking of. The Synod, not Franklin, claimed that if the heathen could obtain salvation without ever hearing the Gospel, then "there is no need of Christ's Merits and Satisfaction, in order to our Acceptance with God." In other words, the Synod was accusing Hemphill of holding to a position which taught that Christ came merely "To save more people. To streamline the process of getting into Heaven."

If this is what the Synod accused Hemphill of believing, and Franklin disagreed with the Synod, then it cannot follow that Franklin was arguing for this kind of universalism. You are literally claiming that Franklin disagreed with the Synod's accusation against Hemphill by agreeing with the Synod's accusation against Hemphill.

In reality, Hemphill's statement is perfectly consistent with inclusivism. The Synod accused Hemphill of being a universalist. And Franklin responded with an explanation of why Hemphill's statement was only inclusivist and not universalist in nature.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Jim,

Outside of the Hemphill pamphlets, Franklin mentioned Jesus 14 times. In 12 of those occurrences, he identifies Jesus as either the Christ, the Messiah or the Saviour. Of the 2 remaining, one is a reference to the humility of Jesus in Franklin's list of virtues and the other is a case of Franklin quoting someone else referring to Jesus as "Jesus of Nazareth." Some of the most notable of Franklin's references to Jesus other than those found in the Hemphill pamphlets include:

"A sober Diet makes a Man die without Pain; it maintains the Senses in Vigour; it mitigates the Violence of Passions and Affections. It preserves the Memory, it helps the Understanding, it allays the Heat of Lust; it brings a Man to a Consideration of his latter End; it makes the Body a fit Tabernacle for the Lord to dwell in; which makes us happy in this World, and eternally happy in the World to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour."

This statement from Poor Richard's Almanac of 1742 identifies Jesus as the Christ, the risen Lord and Savior, and the same being as the Holy Ghost referenced in I Corinthians 6:19.

In his "Appeal for the Hospital" in 1751, Franklin referred to Jesus as "The great Author of our Faith," "our Saviour," and "the great Physician."

And in the 1788 letter "To the Editor of the Federal Gazette," Franklin referred to Jesus by writing:

"It appears farther from the same inestimable History, that when, after many Ages, that Constitution was become old and much abus’d, and an Amendment of it was propos’d, the Populace, as they had accus’d Moses of the Ambition of making himself a Prince, and cry’d out Stone him, stone him, so, excited by their High Priests and Scribes, they exclaim’d against the Messiah, that he aim’d at becoming King of the Jews, and cry’d out Crucify him, Crucify him."

Bill Fortenberry said...

When we include the Hemphill pamphlets in our consideration of Franklin's view of Christ, we find numerous statements referring to Jesus as the Savior. For example, we find Franklin mentioning:

"...our Saviour’s Design in coming into the World..."

"...represent Christianity to be unworthy of its divine Author."

"...they who preach up Christ in this manner, do Dishonour both to the Father and the Son."

"...we are to look upon him in both Characters of Saviour and Lawgiver; that if we expect he has attoned for our Sins, we must sincerely endeavour to obey his Laws."

"It rather appears, that nothing more was required of these new Converts, but that they should acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah promised by the Prophets, the Son of God; and that they should to the best of their Power, act agreeable to his Precepts, and obey his Laws."

And many more.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No Bill,

For all of your reading of the controversy you seemed to have missed the forest for the trees.

Part of Franklin's defense of Hemphill was indeed the synod was right as to its charges, but what Hemphill was being charged with was valid defensible theology!

The Synod were TULIP Calvinists and much of Franklin's defense was slamming such theology as not laudable.

As I demonstrated before one of the charges was that Hemphill denied the necessity of conversion of those raised in Christian cultures and never fell away. And indeed Franklin said Hemphill was guilty of this charge because it's sound theology.

Jonathan Rowe said...

It's also interesting that Bill & I have argued over the portions of the Hemphill affair that deal with the original sin/imputed guilt controversy. Franklin denies imputed guilt and other scholars conclude he's denying its closely related doctrine, "original sin."

He's certainly doesn't affirm the doctrine of "original sin."

But he discusses this -- indeed transitions into his discussion of imputed guilt (or perhaps original sin) -- right after he defends Hemphill for denying the necessity of conversion.

"Hemphill indeed supposes that Persons, who have all along had the Happiness of a christian and virtuous Education, and who have sincerely endeavour’d to practise the Laws of the Gospel, cannot so properly in the Scripture Sense be stil’d new Creatures; ...

"It wou’d be a needless spending of Time to make any farther Remarks upon what they say under this Article, or to take Notice of what little Use the Texts of Scripture, they mention, are to prove the Necessity of inward Pangs and Convulsions to all truly sincere Christians; they are only different Expressions signifying the same Thing; viz. pointing to us the Necessity of Holiness and Virtue, in order to be entitl’d to the glorious Denomination of Christ’s real Disciples, or true Christians."

Franklin is saying if you are a heathen engaged in immoral practice or a wicked Christian who has fallen away, you will be a new creature with "inward Pangs and Convulsions."

But if you were raised in a Christian culture and never fell away, then you've always been a Christian and need no conversion!

To which the synod argued or might argue the imputed guilt/or original sin point.

Franklin point on the lack of necessity of conversion for certain Christians doesn't bode well for any kind of meaningful understanding of original sin.

Jonathan Rowe said...

By the way these are Hemphill's words from the extract that Franklin defends:

"when compar’d with themselves, because they were always what they are, (i.e. Christians) except the Progress which they daily make in Virtue."

No need for you to convert and become a new creature if you've always been a Christian.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "That's rather Barneyistic, if you think about it. Indeed, he wrote it when he was only 25."

He devised it at 25 but later lamented not actually finishing the project (in Autobiography). But then, he may have found a workable substitute in Freemasonry.

As to "Barneyistic," here's Gordon Wood;

"Freemasonry more than fulfilled Franklin's Enlightenment dreams of establishing a party for virtue, and he became an enthusiastic and hard-working member of the fraternity."(1)

And, continuing the Freemason connection, BF’s scheme had a wider ranging influence in Europe and the Jewish community(2):

”Published anonymously in 1808, Lefin’s Sefer Heshbon Ha-nefesh (The Book of Spiritual Accounting) built upon the system outlined in Franklin’s Autobiography. Both works present year-long, quarterly-repeated self-reform programs that focus on thirteen character traits. Each trait is allotted a week of close attention, and daily journaling — in a grid chart that has the seven days of the week running horizontally and the thirteen desired traits running vertically— is used to monitor growth and progress.

[…]

”A definitive first-person proof of Franklin’s influence on Spiritual Accounting was uncovered by the scholar Israel Weinlos. As part of his serialized 1925 Hebrew biography of Lefin in the World Zionist Organization’s weekly newspaper, Haolom, Weinlos described his discovery of two hand-written manuscripts of a previously unknown philosophical work by Lefin in a library in Tarnopol (today a city in Ukraine).


[…]


[Quoting BF’s Autobiography] ’It will be remark'd that, tho' my scheme was not wholly without religion, there was in it no mark of any of the distinguishing tenets of any particular sect. I had purposely avoided them; for, being fully persuaded of the utility and excellency of my method, and that it might be serviceable to people in all religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have anything in it that should prejudice anyone, of any sect, against it.’

The article then goes on to say,

”Since Franklin took such an approach, there were no philosophical or religious obstacles preventing the development of his method within a Jewish context. Lefin was thus able to adapt Franklin’s system, to expand upon it, and to fashion a Jewish textfrom it. Spiritual Accounting received the approbation of prominent rabbis — including the great Rabbi Israel Salanter — was embraced byJudaism’s Mussar movement, and became one of the many texts studied in Jewish religious academies, furthering Franklin’s initial goal of making his system for self-examination and character improvement ‘serviceable to People in all Religions.’”

Overall, not a bad “Barneyistic” contribution to the world.

1) Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), 44. Citation found at Benjamin Franklin's influence on Judaism, by Shai Afsai at Archiving Early America (website)

(link available but not posted)

2) Benjamin Franklin and The Book of Spiritual Accounting, by: Brother, Shai Afsai in Rhode Island Freemason (website)


(link available but not posted) (pages 5-6)

Bill Fortenberry said...

Well, Jon, Franklin did say that the Synod was right in some of its charges, but he certainly did not say that about every charge that they made. For example, in regards to one of their charges, Franklin wrote:

"I believe no unprejudiced Person can see a just Foundation of this Censure ... this is sufficient to show the base Conduct of these Men, who to accomplish their wicked Ends, will not only venture to change the Meaning but the very Words Themselves."

Clearly, Franklin did not think that the Synod was right as to all of its charges. With that in mind, perhaps you could explain the evidence that led you to conclude that Franklin thought the Synod was right in this particular charge. I've presented my reasons why I concluded the opposite, and I'd like to see if you can present a better argument than I did.

As for Franklin's position on the necessity of conversion for those raised in Christian homes, let me suggest that you read footnotes 88 and 89 beginning on page 148 of Franklin on Faith.

And in regards to Franklin's view of original sin, let me recommend footnote 90 on page 151 and Franklin's letter to Jane Mecom on page 235.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"As for Franklin's position on the necessity of conversion for those raised in Christian homes, let me suggest that you read footnotes 88 and 89 beginning on page 148 of Franklin on Faith."

I'm not sure if I should even bother as I wonder if I am going to see the same arguments from you that I've already answered.

Right there from Franklin's and Hemphill's own words we see them note, in no uncertain terms, that if you are raised in a Christian home and never fell away from the faith into wicked practice you need no conversion because you have always been a Christian.

I do wonder though, what YOU make of such a doctrine. Is this a doctrine that if believed in takes one out of the realm of the "Christian" label.

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

"Clearly, Franklin did not think that the Synod was right as to all of its charges. With that in mind, perhaps you could explain the evidence that led you to conclude that Franklin thought the Synod was right in this particular charge. I've presented my reasons why I concluded the opposite, and I'd like to see if you can present a better argument than I did."

Well if we are referring to the charges I think we are, the problem is the implications of the charge are manifold.

If I understand it right, the accusers say if heathen can be saved without Jesus because they never heard of him, by for instance, living up to the light of nature, then there is no necessity for Jesus to have come.

Hemphill and Franklin disagree. They both assert yes, those heathens who never heard of Jesus can still, in some way or ways (one of which was saving yourself by living up to the light of nature) be saved.

Then Franklin goes on to explain why Jesus coming to save still makes sense.

Franklin is most concerned with noting that for reasons of common sense, rationality and fairness, God wouldn't send people to Hell for not accepting Jesus if they never had the opportunity to hear of him.

Once Jesus enters the picture, how Jesus saves and who gets saved, from what Franklin has written, and what has been presented, doesn't NECESSARILY accord with the notion that "it is absolutely necessary that they believe in Jesus [whatever that means] in order to obtain salvation."

As we have already shown, Franklin thought ACTIONS or MORALITY are more important to salvation than BELIEFS.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Okay, Jon. Your understanding of the accusation is correct. The Synod claimed that "if heathen can be saved without Jesus because they never heard of him, by for instance, living up to the light of nature, then there is no necessity for Jesus to have come." The question then is this. Did Franklin and Hemphill agree with the conclusion that if the heathen can be saved by the light of nature, then there was no reason for Jesus to have come?

Franklin answered this exact question when he wrote the following about the Synod's conclusion:

"Well concluded! Pray, how came these Rev. Gentlemen to know that the Heathen, living up to the Light of Nature, may not have an Interest in the Merits and Satisfaction of Christ, or that they may not be accepted of God upon account thereof. The Merits of Christ’s Death and Sufferings may be so great as to extend to the Heathen World, they may reap the Advantages of it, tho’ they never had an Opportunity of hearing of him, provided they make a good Use of their Reason, and other Principles of Action within them."

The conclusion of the Synod was that "if heathen can be saved without Jesus because they never heard of him, by for instance, living up to the light of nature, then there is no necessity for Jesus to have come." Franklin's response was to say that even if the heathen can obtain salvation through the light of nature that salvation is still only available to them because of Christ coming into this world to die for them. Therefore, Franklin did not agree with the conclusion of the Synod.

Now, in regards to Franklin and Hemphill's inclusivism, it should be pointed out that they defined which heathens they were referring to in this passage. They were not referring to all heathen but solely to "They who have no other Knowledge of God and their Duty, but what the Light of Nature teaches them; no Law for the Government of their Actions, but the Law of Reason and Conscience." The entire discussion of whether or not the heathen can be saved by the light of nature is limited to this particular class of heathens. No other class of heathens is even mentioned in this part of the discussion much less included in those who could be saved apart from believing the Gospel. Franklin is only speaking of the possibility of salvation for those who have no opportunity to hear the Gospel. Thus, Franklin is only endorsing inclusivism and not universalism.

You have also expressed some doubt as to what Franklin means when he speaks of believing in Jesus. The solution to this doubt is once again given directly by Franklin. In response to another accusation from the Synod, Franklin wrote:

"It rather appears, that nothing more was required of these new Converts, but that they should acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah promised by the Prophets, the Son of God; and that they should to the best of their Power, act agreeable to his Precepts, and obey his Laws."

Thus, when Franklin speaks of believing in Jesus or accepting the Gospel, he is referring to an acknowledgement that Jesus is "the Messiah promised by the Prophets, the Son of God." As I pointed out in my book, this is the same required level of belief that John Locke defended in his Reasonableness of Christianity.

As for the second part of this statement, it is also expressed in Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity, and I explained in my book that it is the very same doctrine that is proclaimed today by John MacArthur under the title of Lordship Salvation. I don't exactly agree with this doctrine myself, but it is widely recognized as falling within the camp of Christianity. This doctrine does not teach that "actions or morality are more important to salvation than beliefs. Rather, it teaches that true belief will always be accompanied by good actions and morals. Under this system, faith and works are inseparable.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Franklin's response was to say that even if the heathen can obtain salvation through the light of nature that salvation is still only available to them because of Christ coming into this world to die for them. Therefore, Franklin did not agree with the conclusion of the Synod."

I think you err when you get to the word ONLY in this clause. Franklin is saying that is a POSSIBLE understanding/explanation for why it makes sense for Jesus still to have come. If you read the larger passage in context he's throwing out a number of possible reasons and ways Jesus coming might connect with the idea that heathens living up to the light of nature could be saved even though they never heard of Jesus.

And the larger picture accords with an unorthodox understanding of Christ's atonement.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"No other class of heathens is even mentioned in this part of the discussion much less included in those who could be saved apart from believing the Gospel. Franklin is only speaking of the possibility of salvation for those who have no opportunity to hear the Gospel. Thus, Franklin is only endorsing inclusivism and not universalism."

Again, another non-sequitur that reaches too far.

Franklin says if you never had a chance to hear of Jesus. God won't punish you for not accepting Jesus. Period. Nothing more.

There is nothing in Franklin's writing here that say if you have heard Jesus you have to accept a particular doctrine about him -- especially one based on faith alone -- to be "saved."

Jonathan Rowe said...

And it's unfortunately for your understanding that Franklin never says "true belief will always be accompanied by good actions and morals." Rather he says good works are a necessary TERM for salvation itself.

Bill Fortenberry said...

You are mistaken, Jon. Franklin did not present multiple possible explanations for why those who never heard the Gospel could still receive salvation. He only presented one possibility: that "The Merits of Christ’s Death and Sufferings may be so great as to extend to the Heathen World, they may reap the Advantages of it, tho’ they never had an Opportunity of hearing of him, provided they make a good Use of their Reason, and other Principles of Action within them."

You wrote: "Franklin says if you never had a chance to hear of Jesus. God won't punish you for not accepting Jesus. Period. Nothing more."

I'm glad to see that we have come to agree on this. Franklin was not saying that salvation is available "to all men who by their reason live lives of virtue according to the light of nature." He is not saying that Christ came "To streamline the process of getting into Heaven." He is not presenting "some kind of hopeful universalism." All Franklin is saying in this portion of his Defense is that those who die without ever hearing the Gospel will not be punished for their failure to accept the Gospel. "Period. Nothing more." It's very encouraging to see you so convinced of this.

You also wrote: "Rather he says good works are a necessary TERM for salvation itself." But I don't recall reading such a statement in Franklin's writings. Would you mind providing a direct quotation?

Jonathan Rowe said...

No Bill,

You are mistaken, Franklin DID ponder different multiple competing explanations re how those who have never heard of Jesus might be able to save themselves when he said

"Pray, how came these Rev. Gentlemen to know that [1.] the Heathen, living up to the Light of Nature, may not have an Interest in the Merits and Satisfaction of Christ, or [2.] that they may not be accepted of God upon account thereof."

I inserted numbers in brackets to illustrate that Franklin is starting to hypothesize DIFFERENT reasons -- multiple competing explanations -- for how the heathen who have never heard of Christ MIGHT be saved nonetheless.

"The Merits of Christ’s Death and Sufferings may be so great as to extend to the Heathen World, they MAY reap the Advantages of it, tho’ they never had an Opportunity of hearing of him, provided they make a good Use of their Reason, and other Principles of Action within them."

I capitalized the word MAY to demonstrate that Franklin was not sure how the heathen who have never heard Christ could nonetheless be saved which suggests multiple competing explanations.

Indeed, his next explanation entirely distances itself from Christ as a "grace" provider.

"For it is probable, that without this Necessity of Obedience to an unknown Law, many would be able to save themselves by a good Use of their Reason and the Light of Nature;"

The only possible way to connect men saving themselves by using their reason and living according the light of nature to Jesus is through the notion that Jesus typified the law of nature. In other words, they are saving themselves by acting like Jesus even though they never heard of him.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"You also wrote: 'Rather he says good works are a necessary TERM for salvation itself.' But I don't recall reading such a statement in Franklin's writings. Would you mind providing a direct quotation?"

I'd be glad to. Before I do, you mentioned something about men being judged by their works applies to saved believers only in a 2nd judgment. And again, I would repeat that's fine for YOU to believe. But that's not what Franklin believed. And it's not fine for you to project those beliefs onto to Franklin.

It's right there in my other post in his "Appeal for the Hospital" where he synthesizes various parts of Scripture and asserts:

"[A]lso, the rich Man, is represented as being excluded from the Happiness of Heaven, because he fared sumptuously every Day, and had Plenty of all Things, and yet neglected to comfort and assist his poor Neighbour, who was helpless and full of Sores, and might perhaps have been revived and restored with small care, by the Crumbs that fell from his Table, or, as we say, with his loose Corns.—I was Sick, and ye Visited me, is one of the Terms of Admission into Bliss, and the Contrary, a Cause of Exclusion:..."

"I was Sick, and ye Visited me" in other words, behavior or works is a "term" of admission into eternal bliss, and not doing so is a "cause" of exclusion.

That proves that Franklin rejected salvation by faith alone and held good works a necessary even if insufficient TERM for entry into eternal bliss.