Benjamin Franklin Could Not – Can You?

Most Americans know all about Benjamin Franklin. His many inventions – the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals as well as organizing the postal system are all well known. Perhaps less well known was his desire to reach moral perfection.

At the age of 20 he decided he would strive to become a perfect moral man.

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”

To achieve that faultlessness, he made a list of thirteen virtues which he thought, if perfected, would make him a perfect man. That list was:

After completing his list, he drew up a chart where he could keep track of his progress each day.

Realizing how hard achieving perfection would be, he chose to tackle only one virtue at a time. He would evaluate his conduct at the end of each day and give himself a black mark for every time he did not succeed at the virtues on his list. After a week he checked his progress. If he had few black marks for the virtue he was working on he would move on to the next. If, however, he had a lot of black marks he would keep working on that virtue. He would continue this until he had completed all 13 virtues – and then start all over again.

It was not long before Franklin realized achieving perfection was not possible. The Apostle Paul years before Franklin had also understood that perfection on our own was not possible.

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway….I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 

This inability to be the good we want to be is a common part of our nature it seems. So what do we do?

Paul had the answer.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. 

It is only when we realize we cannot be good enough on our own and turn to Jesus Christ for help in our struggles that we find the strength we need to be what we desire to be. Perfection is not something we will achieve in this life, but when we stop trying on our own and look to Jesus for help, we can begin the growing process of becoming all that God intended for us to be.

7 thoughts on “Benjamin Franklin Could Not – Can You?

  1. Fun and interesting post! You are right: Faith is our answer. But with our faith, we must continue to try to do good. Many years ago, I read Ben Franklin’s autobiography. I could not finish it as I found him to be such a braggart. I remember a quote of his – something along the lines that if he was humble, he’d have to brag about even that. Time does change us, so if I reread his autobiography now, I might have a different opinion. Maybe. Maybe not.

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  2. I believe in the power of faith, so I do strive for it. (And love, and hope). However, and possibly off topic here, my first husband aimed to be perfect. That marriage was the most miserable 18 years of my life. My current marriage to a ‘good’ man is much much WAY better. Should there ever be a third time and I was offered marriage by a perfectionist – his ideal virtues had best include happiness, contentment, and kindness. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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