Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Founding Fathers


Historical revisionists have gone to great lengths to assert that most
of the founders were deists, agnostics or atheists.  While researching
another subject this week, I stumbled onto something that challenges
this claim. The two founding fathers considered to be most
influenced by “rational thought” are Benjamin Franklin and Thomas
Jefferson.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed these men, along
with John Adams, to design a national seal for our new, freshly declared
independent nation.  Their personal notes, held in the Library of
Congress, indicate that Franklin wanted a depiction of the Biblical
story of the crossing of the Red Sea, while Jefferson thought that the
pillar of fire and the cloud that led Israel through the desert was a
more fitting symbol.  It wasn't a heated debate.  As a matter of fact,
they agreed to show the crossing of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army
being carried away by the sea and the pillar of fire in the background.
The first great seal of the United States of America had the
inscription: "REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD."   Not bad for a couple of agnostics and deists.
It seems the truth, which sets people free, can also ruin a lot of unsubstantiated claims. One thing is obvious; these great fathers of our Republic knew the Bible and its clear message that God does intervene in the affairs of men.  Maybe all fathers should be founding fathers who create symbols for their children that recall the faithfulness of God and give a vision of Him moving in our lives.

Rebellion to tyrannical ideas is still obedience to God!
Ed Litton

1 comment:

Joshua said...

Hi Bro. Ed:
Interesting post. It’s good to see you’ve entered the blogosphere. You’re dead on about historical revisionism among those who wish to rewrite the story. Theological liberals, of course, do the same thing with the Biblical text by allowing the text to have various ‘meanings’.
Though it is quite a stretch to classify Jefferson and Franklin as Deist, Atheist, or Agnostic, is there evidence showing they were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? Based on the personal confession of Ben Franklin in particular, sadly, the answer is probably not. Both men were indeed friends of ‘religion’ in early America. Franklin in particular was fascinated with the most popular evangelist and preacher of his time, the great George Whitefield. The entrepreneurial mind of Franklin saw fit to publish Whitefield’s sermons and journals. Also, apparently Whitefield was a friend of the entire Franklin family. One would think that to spend such time and effort with the young preacher boy, that Franklin and Whitefield would share a common faith. Though Whitefield would often plead with Franklin to come to Christ, there is no indication he ever did. Whitefield wrote to him in a letter dated Aug. 17, 1752,

“As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent and unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new birth.”

Through their personal correspondence, we can clearly see that though Franklin was a friend of the Great Awakening in colonial America and was intrigued by Whitefield’s oratory, he did not share in the urgency of what Whitefield so often proclaimed; the necessity of the new birth in Christ.

In his autobiography, in the context of supporting Whitefield as an “honest” man, Franklin writes,

“. . . but I, who was intimately acquainted with him, never had the least suspicion of his (referring to Whitefield) integrity, but am to this day decidedly of the opinion that he was in all his conduct a perfectly honest man; and methinks my testimony in his favour ought to have the more weight, as we had no religious connection. He 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.”

It seems more accurate that Franklin’s belief was in a broader and vaguer understanding of “God”, not the Trinitarian God as revealed in Scripture. Franklin of course, as you stated, was not a Deist. He was very aware of “God’s” preservation and providence. Perhaps Franklin would even affirm with us as you noted that “God does intervene in the affairs of men”.
Franklin, in his continued correspondence with Whitefield writes,

“I have no doubts that I shall enjoy as much of both as is proper for me. That Being who gave me Existence, and thro` almost threescore Years has been continually showering his Favours upon me, whose very Chastisements have been Blessings to me, can I doubt that he loves? And if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me not only here but hereafter?”

This simply is not the gospel. It is very difficult to find Christ in the confessions of Mr. Franklin.
I do think Franklin is an important figure for us to study, since he and his contemporaries (Jefferson, etc…) were champions of religious liberty of which we today are heirs.
Franklin lived 20 years after Whitefield died. Perhaps something happened in Franklin’s life during those 20 years. . . Is there any evidence I may be unaware of that would lend support to the contrary of what I’ve been arguing, namely, that sadly, Benjamin Franklin was an unconverted man . . .?

In honest curiosity and pursuit of the truth,
Joshua Chavers