My Voice & Testimony

From the life of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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Benjamin Franklin: Biography by John Stevens Cabot Abbott

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I am completely inspired by Benjamin Franklin.  His life, character, and patriotic values are what has established the country we live in today.  Other figures played some key roles in the development of the Declaration of Independence, but Benjamin Franklin was so admirably impactful.

It is a novel thing to think that he only had 10 years of education (which was all his family could afford) and spent his career in life with writing and printing- which he excelled at.  He read books continuously throughout his childhood and adult life.

What I adore about Ben personally is the level of character he obtained by his sheer will.  He had general beliefs in God, but when it came to values, principles and behaviors – he focused on them one by one until he himself said that he felt he mastered them all – except for humility.  Which speaking of that he said, that he supposes that even if he mastered humility he would be proud of being humble.

He in fact ventured to start his own religion named, “The Society of the Free and Easy.”  The members were to be Free from vice and consequently, Easy in mind.  It seemed to downplay the idea of faith and focus on the works of man, particularly the virtues:  Temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, charity, and humility. His ritual consisted in devoting one week to the cultivation of each of these virtues.  This exerted a powerful influence upon his own mind, even though he had no candidates apply to join his ‘religion’.  Soon this new church was forgotten.  Hower, as mentioned the impact of this goal was life changing:

“I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.  But I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.  After a while I went through one course only in a year, and afterwards only one in several years; till at length I omitted them entirely, being employed in voyages and business abroad with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered.”

However even in his travels to Europe as he stayed in England for years away from his family, he had an unyielding ability to exhort patience, and to desist from anger.  Periodically while waiting for England’s response he would spend the year or so traveling – simply waiting for England to contact him.  On one account he waited for 3 years in England awaiting a delayed response.  his philosophy taught him that when he absolutely could not do anything but wait, it was best to wait in the most agreeable and profitable manner.  Later, though the disrespect and accusations England continued to make against him, he always held his head high and remained poised in every way.  When accused in a British court for ” stealing private letters, of misrepresenting their contents, that he might excite hostility against the loyal officers of the king.  He was also accused of doing this that he might eject them from office, so as to obtain the positions for himself and his friends.  Still more, he was accused of having in an unexampled spirit of meanness, availed himself of his skill as a printer, to publish the letters, and that he sold them far and wide, that he might enrich himself.  Charges better calculated to ruin a man, in the view of these proud lords, can scarcely be conceived.

During all this really terrific assailment, Franklin stood with his head resting on his left hand apparently unmoved.  At the close, he declined answering any questions.  The committee reported to the king, that said petition is founded upon false and erroneous allegations, calculated only for the seditious purpose of keeping up a spirit of clamor and discontent in said province.  Franklin went home alone – free.  Afterwards the king released him from  Postmaster General in America as an ambassador.  This outrage was one of the most atrocious acts ever perpetrated by men above the rank of vagabonds in their drunken carousals – says the author.  In noble restrain Franklin wrote to America:

“When I see that all petitions and complaints of grievances, I am at a loss to know how peace and union are to be maintained, and restored between the different parts of the empire.”

Even with the distresses of British troops harming the American people, burning homes and assaulting civilians- he remained focus, with an incredible strength of character, despite his remorse.

His general routine in each day:

5am: awake, pray to to God, or as he referred to, “Powerful Goodness.”

The he laid out the business of the day, and directed his mind to the virtue which he intended that day and week to cherish.

He devoted himself to books for an hour and a half.

8am: Breakfast

He commenced work in his printing shop.

12pm: Dinner and rest

He then returned to the arduous labors of his shop.

6pm: He finished his labors and took supper.

He then commonly read and studied.

10pm: He retired to bed.

Around 1785 at age 79 when Ben made it back from the voyage to France, he was immediately elected Supreme Executive and chairman of the body voted in by 76 of 77 votes. Though worn-out in life, he humorously said,

“I had not firmness enough to resist the unanimous desire of my country folk; and I find myself harnessed again in their service for another year. They engrossed the prime of my life.  They have eaten my flesh and seem resolved now to pick my bones.”

Another thing I admire is how he handled the question of religion – particularly Christianity of which many of his colleagues, friends and family continued to question him on.  Throughout his life, he wavered in general regards to religion, but he always maintained a liberal stand – which is very respectful.  Toward the end of his life, his vigor and faith in God seemed to escalate.  There was a particular period as the congress began to re-evaluate the representation between smaller and larger states near 1780 and he spoke to the men, exhorting them to pray and recognize the hand of God.  He recounted what God had done for them in enabling America to separate from England.  As the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, he pointed out they continued in prayer and supplication on a regular basis, imploring the Lord for guidance.  So he simply stated – do we no longer need our friend? Let us pray each day as we go about our business.  Everyone but 3 in congress felt it necessary to pray.

From the biography  by John Stevens Cabot Abbott, I quote: It is evident that Franklin, as he approached the grave, became more devout, and he lost all confidence in the powers of philosophical speculations to reform or regenerate fallen man.  He saw that the interposition of a divine power was needed to allay the intense excitement in the convention, and to lead the impassioned members to act under the conviction that they were responsible to God.  On the 28th of June, this venerable, partriarchal man offered the following memorable resolve:

“Resolved, that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in the Assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”

“Mr. President! The small progress we have made, after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other; our different sentiments on almost every question, is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.

In this situation of this Assembly groping, as it were, in the dark, to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not yet hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings?

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers, in this room, for divine protection!  Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.  All of us, who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor.  To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting, in peace, on the means of establishing our future national felicity.  And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

I have lived, sir, a long time.  And the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth; That God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his aid?  We have been assured, sir, in the sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’  I firmly believe this.  And I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building, no better than the building of Babel.”

Afterwards, when a colleague made contact with Ben to show him a book he had written and lure him into denying any sign of God towards the end of his life, he said,

“I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasoning are subtile, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject; and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a  great deal of odium drawn upon yourself; mischief to you and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face. I would advise you therefore not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance.  If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it.”

Benjamin Franklin also had a difficult time acknowledging Jesus as a Christ and Savior.  He admired and even admitted later in life what Jesus had done on this earth, and responded to friends in this regard:

“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is like to see.  But I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity;  though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon having never studied it.  And I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.”

On his death bed, he had his maid Sarah place a painting of the Jesus on the cross, and placed it in front of Ben to easily view.  He said,

“Ay Sarah; there is a picture worth looking at.  That is the picture of him who came into this world to teach men to love one another.”

After looking at it wistfully for some time, he said, ‘Sarah, set this picture up over the mantel-piece, right before me as I lie.  I look to look at it.’

Sarah said, “When I fixed it up he looked at it very much; and indeed died with his eyes fixed upon it.”

Those who say that in this country one’s religion should be relegated to his private life alone and never be allowed to “intrude” on his public activities should study the Founding Fathers. This nation has a spiritual foundation. Its wellsprings are themselves religious. Its life is deeply rooted in faith. Ezra Taft Benson

President Wilford Woodruff performs temple work for Benjamin Franklin (1880s – late 1890s)

It is an exciting thing to think about Franklin’s comment above when he said, “And I think it needless to busy myself with it now (Jesus’ divinity), when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” As I described, Franklin always remained liberal in his view of God.  In fact he even said that he felt the idea of Christianity “has received various corrupting changes,” in which he was absolutely correct.  Every religion in his day in regards to Christianity had interpreted the scriptures so differently – the reality was there was no governing prophet on the earth, divinely called by God.  Everyone did their best to understand and apply the scriptures, but Franklin felt they were missing the mark- and so concluded that he would not spend his time trying to unravel the mystery of Christ’s divinity.  Joseph Smith (the prophet of the restoration) also felt the same dilemma I imagine, as his only interest was to seek God’s answer. You can read about Joseph Smith’s experience here.  On Franklin’s deathbed he had his maid place the painting of Jesus on the cross and wistfully observed it until he passed away.

100 years later, President Wilford Woodruff spoke of a very special experience in regards to temple service in these words: “Before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, `You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.'”

After he became President of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff declared that “those men who laid the foundation of this American government were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits [and] were inspired of the Lord.”

The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff’s journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it. Yes, with Lincoln I say: “To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is . . . impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name and in its deathless splendor, leave it shining on.”

Source: Benson, Ezra Taft, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 198

Written by marshsned

September 11, 2010 at 1:23 am