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Benjamin Franklin and a Word About Wisdom


For the past half-dozen years and in the midst of debating issues such as NSA spying, Obamacare, and other examples of liberal governmental overreach, many people on the right have appealed to the wisdom of one of America’s foremost founders, Benjamin Franklin. In these debates, Christians and conservatives have frequently used Ben Franklin’s famous quote, “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” in order to bolster their opposition.

This is a shrewd tactic in debates with liberals who will reflexively reject any appeal to sacred wisdom in a secular argument, simply because they have no personal respect for anything that smacks of religion. As expected, our liberal friends at the Brookings Institute and National Public Radio (NPR) have twisted themselves in knots attempting to discredit the wisdom of Franklin’s words in arguments against their ultra-left policies. They will undoubtedly do so again.

In an article written by Benjamin Wittes of Brookings, the author protests the application of Franklin’s quote to these debates. But Mr. Wittes fails to make his own case. He simply explains the original context in which Franklin applied them, and, as liberals often do, rejects the application of Franklin’s quote as anachronistic to any modern issue. This argument, so often employed by the left, is illegitimate.

As every Christian knows, genuine wisdom is precious because of the wide range of its utility. If something is genuinely true, it will be equally appropriate to every situation and in every era. Contrary to the disputations of the left, wisdom has no expiration date.

America’s founders were zealous proponents of individual liberty and none more so than Benjamin Franklin. The fact that Franklin’s famous quote was delivered in another context in no way discredits its use today. On the contrary, it can be argued that there is no better illustration of an essential liberty than securing one’s freedom to make fundamental decisions about healthcare or personal privacy.

Scripture tells us, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov. 23:23). From God’s perspective, wisdom is the most valuable asset any man can possess and He freely gives it to all who would ask Him. Wisdom was the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and it can be tested according to the same standard as any mathematical equality. If true, it must always be true. If it fails once, it is false or, at best, only conditionally true.

The thoughtful Christian realizes the utter folly in discounting wisdom simply because it comes from a secular source and will consider whether it is valid. After all, if God can speak to Balaam through a donkey, He can certainly speak to any of us through a demon-possessed unbeliever or even a secular liberal. The challenge is to test everything against known truth.

While the context of any statement is important to understand, context does not limit the applicability of wisdom. Listening to secularists attempt to discredit such a renowned secular historic authority on American liberty as Benjamin Franklin on the basis of context is a peculiar and even amusing spectacle. Especially so, because one of the left’s favorite and most widely-used tactics is to excise well known and respected quotes from their original contexts and misapplying them to circumstances in which they are not effective. Consider how they misapply Jefferson’s “wall of separation of Church and State,” for example, and over-extend its reach.

America’s founders knew that an informed and knowledgeable populace would be imperative to the survival of the United States as a free republic. The disgrace of our time is that our public education system has failed to inform two successive generations of citizens about their rights and responsibilities and the limits of their government’s lawful power and influence.

For thousands of years and up until the beginning of the 20th century, the sacred texts of scripture were universally regarded as the primary source of reliable truth and timeless wisdom. The further our society strays from seeking after wisdom, the more dangerous and miserable it will become, and anarchy will replace liberty.

Radical liberalism, devoid of wisdom, must be regarded as the most dangerous and pervasive threat to liberty of our time. The most effective defense against this threat consists of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.


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