The faith you mention has doubtless its use in the world; I do not desire to see it diminished, nor would I endeavour to lessen it in any man. But I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it: I mean real good works, works of kindness, charity, mercy, and publick spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries or compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the deity. The worship of God is a duty, the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful; but if men rest in hearing and praying, as too many do, it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves, though it never produced any fruit.
Your great Master thought much less of these outward appearances and professions than many of his modern disciples. He preferred the doers of the word to the mere hearers; the son that seemingly refused to obey his Father and yet performed his commands, to him that professed his readiness but neglected the works; the heretical but charitable Samaritan, to the uncharitable though orthodox priest and sanctified Levite; and those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, raiment to the naked, entertainment to the stranger, and relief to the sick, etc. though they never heard of his name, he declares shall in the last day be accepted, when those who cry Lord, Lord; who value themselves on their faith though great enough to perform miracles but have neglected good works shall be rejected.
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 likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.
B = John Bigelow, ed., The Works of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Putnam’s, 1904)
L = Leonard W. Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961)
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