Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XLIII.

“When ranting round in pleasures ring,

Religion may be blinded,
Or if she give a random string,

Tis oft but little minded.

“But when on life we're tempest driv'ı,

A conscience but a canker,
A correspondence fix'd with heav'ı,
Is sure a noble anchor.”

THE time is now at hand that Franklin must die. When that time approaches; or when only the chilling thought of it strikes the heart, how happy is he who in looking on the withered face or snowy locks of a dear friend, can enjoy the exulting hope that he is prepared for the awful change. This lead us to speak of doctor Franklin on a much higher subject than has yet engaged our attention. I mean his religion.

I have met with nothing in the life of any great man in our country about “which there bas been such universal inquiry, as about the Religion OF DR. FRANKLIN.

Sorne, who in despite of Christ and all his apostles, will "judge their brother;" and judge him too by the letter which killeth, will not allow that Dr. Franklin had any religion at all, because, forsooth, he did not believe and “confess Christ before men,” in the manner they did. But others, construing the Gospel, as Christ himself commands, by "the spirit;" which teaches that, "with the heart man believeth unto salvation, through love and good works;" and that the right way of "con. fessing Christ before men" is by a good life. These gentlemen tell us that Dr. Franklin not only had religion, but had it in an eminent degree.

Most people seem inclined to judge of Dr. Franklin by these latter commentators, and wind up with the words of our great moral poet.

"For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;
His can't be wrong, whose LIFE is in the right.as

For my part, after all that I have heard on this subject; and I have heard a great deal, I do not know that I have met with any thing that expresses my opinion of Dr. Franklin's religion more happily than the following laconic remark by one of our most distinguished senators, I mean the honourable Rufus King. Knowing that this gentleman was a compatriot of Dr Franklin during the revolution, and also sat by his side, a member of the grand Convention in 1788, I took the greater pleasure in asking his opinion of that great man in resp:ct of his RELIGION •Why, sir," replied be, "my opinion of doctor Franklin has always been, that, although he was not perhaps. quite so orthodox in some of his ntions he was very much a Christian in his

pruc: tice. Nor is it indeed to be wondered at," continued this able critic, “that a man of doctor Franklin's extraordinary sagacity, born and brought up under the light of the Gospel should have imbibed its spirit, and got his whole soul enriched, and as it were interlarded, with its benevolent affections."

And I have since found from conversation with many of our most enlightened and evangelical divines, that they all agree, with Mr. King, that doctor Franklin's extraordinary benevolence aniuseful life were imbibed, even unconsciously, from the Gospel. For whence but from the luminous and sublime doctrines of that blessed book could he have gained such pure and worthy itleas of God-his Glorious unity, and most adora. ble benevolence: always, himself, loving and doing good to his creatures; and constantly seeking such to worship himn? Whence, we ask, could he have got all these exalted truths-truths, so honourable to the Deity--so consolatory to man--so auxiliary of human virtue and happiness-whence could he have got them, but from the light of the Gospel? Certainly, you will not say that he might have got them from the light af nature. For, look around you among all the mighty nations of antiquity. Look among the Egyptians—the Greeks--the Romans, equal to him? Two thousand years have rolled between them and us, and yet the immorial monuments of their arts--their poetry-their painting--their statuary--their architecture--their eloquence. All triumphant over the wreck of time, have

come down to our days, boldly challenging the pride of modern genius to produce their parallels. Evidently then, they had among them prodigies of mind equal to our Franklin. And yet how has it yet come to pass, that, with all their astonishing talents, and the light of nature besides, they were so stupidly bliud and igno. rant of God, while he entertained such exalted ideas of him? That while they, like the modern idolaters of Juggernaut, were disgracing human reason by worshipping not only four-footed beasts and creeping things, but even thieves, murderers, &c. deified, doctor Frank lin was elevating his devotions to the one all perfect God, MOST GLORIOUS IN ALL MORAL EX., CELLENCE.

And how has it come to pass that while they, imitat. ing their bloody idols, could take pleasure in sacrificing their prisoners of war! beholding murderous fights of gladiators! and even giving up their oun children to be burnt alive! Franklin, by imitating the moral charac. ter of God, attained to all that gentle wisdom and af. fectionate goodness that we fancy when we think of an angel? To what, I ask, can we ascribe all this, but to the very rational cause assigned by Mr. King, viz, his having been born and brought up in a land of Gospel light and love? Indeed, who can read the life of doce tor Franklin, attentively, without tracing in it, throughout, that true Christian charity which bound him, as by the heart strings, to his fellow men--on every occasion going out of self to take an interest in them. “Rejoica ing with them, when they acted wisely and attained to honour."—Weeping with them when they acted foolishly and came to shame." Never meeting with any good fortune, through wise doings of his own, but he made it known to them for their encouragement in simi. lar doings--never falling into misfortunes, by his own folly, but he was sure to publish that too, to deter others from falling into the like sufferings.

Now what was it but this amiable oneness of heart, with his fellow men; this sweet Christian sensibility to their interests and consequent generous delight in doing them good, that filled his life with such noble charities. Where love is,” said the great William Penn, "there is no labour; or if there be, the labour is

sweet." And what was it but this, that bore him up so bravely under his many toils and hardships for bis selfish brother James?

What made him so liberal of his money and services to the base Collins and Ralph?

What made him so patient and forgiving of the injuries done him by the worthless Keimer and Keith?

What made him so importunate with bis young acquaintance in London, to divert them from their brutalizing and fatal intemperance?

What set him so vehemently against pride and extravagance, which which besides starving all justice and hospitality among neighbours, tend to make them demons of fraud and cruelty to one another?

What made him, through life, such a powerful orator for industry, frugality, and honesty, which multiplied riches and reciprocal esteem and usefulness among men, and would make them all loving and happy as brothers?

In short, all those labours which doctor Franklin took under the sun-abours so various and unending, for public and private good, such as his fire engines; his lightning rods; his public libraries; his free schools; his hospitals; his legacies for encouragement of learning and helping hundreds of indigent young mechanics with money to carry on their trades after his death whence originated all this but from that love which is stronger than death, subdued all obstacles, and overleaped the narrow limits of this mortal life?

What but the ingenuity of love, eager to swell the widow's mite of charity into the rich man's talent could have suggested the following curious method of making a little do a great deal of good?

“Received of Benjamin Franklin, ten guineaș, which I hereby promise, soon as I get out of my present embarrassments, to lend to some other honest and industrious man, as near as I can guess, he giving his obligation to act in the same way by the next needy honest man; so that by, thus going around it may in time though a small sum, do much good, unless stopped by a thief.

JAMES HOPEWELL Passy, Aug. 10, 1733,

What but the noble spirit of that religion whose sole aim is to overcome evil with good” could have dietated the following instructions to Paul Jones, and his squadron, who after scouring the British channel, was about to make a descént on their coasts.

"As many of your officers and people have lately escaped from English prisons, you are to be particularly attentive to their conduct towards the prisoners you take, lest resentment of the more than barbarous usage which they have received from the English, should occasion a retaliation, and an imitation of what ought rather to be detested and avoided for the sake of humanity and the honour of our country.

B. FRANKLIN. To Commodore P. Jones,

April 28, 1779.”

What but the spirit of that benevolent religion which is the firm patroness of all discoveries for human benefit, could have dictated the ensuing letter "to the commanders of American ships of war," in favour of captain Cook.

GENTLEMEN,

“A ship having been fitted out from England, before the commencement of this war, to make discoveries of new countries in unknown seas, under the conduct of that celebrated navigator, captain Cook-an undertaking truly laudable in itself, as the increase of geographical knowledge facilitates the communication between distant nations, and the exchange of useful pro. ducts and manufactures, and the extension of arts, whereby the common enjoyments of human life are mula tiplied and augmented, and science of other kinds increased, to the benefit of mankind in general.

“This is, therefore, most earnestly to recommend to every one of you, that in case the said ship, which is now expected to be soon in the European seas, on her return, should happen to fall into your hands, you would not consider her as an enemy, but that you treat the said captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindaess, affording them, as common friends to man

« PreviousContinue »