Monday, September 22, 2008

From Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

Benjamin Franklin was a business and political rival of the Christopher Sauers in colonial Pennsylvania. Several times he attempted but failed to develop German-language publications to rival those of the Sauers. There were, however, some instances when the two printing establishments cooperated. In his Autobiography, Franklin has the following good words for the Brethren, in which he commends their prudence, judgment, and modesty:

"Those embarrassments that the Quakers suffered from having established and published it as one of their principles that no kind of war was lawful and which, being once published they could not afterwards, however they might change their minds, easily get rid of, reminds me of, what I think, a more prudent conduct in another sect among us, that of the Dunkers.

"I was acquainted with ... Michael Wohlfahrt. Soon after it appeared he complaine to me that they were grievously calumniated by the zealots of other persuasions, and charged with abominable principles and practices, to which they were utter strangers. I told him this had always been the case with new sects, and that, to put a stop to such abuse, I imagined it might be well to publish the articles of their belief, and the rules of their discipline.

"He said it had been proposed among them, but not agreed to, for this reason:

When we were first drawn together as a society, it had pleased God to enlighten our minds so far as to see that some doctrines, which were esteemed truths, were errors, and that others which we had esteemed errors, were real truths.

From time to time he has been pleased to afford us further light, and our principles have been improving and our errors diminishing.

Now we are not sure that we have arrived at the end of this progression and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge, and we fear that if we should once print our confessions of faith, we should feel ourselves, as if bound and confined by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive further improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving, what their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred - never to be departed from.

"This modesty," wrote Franklin, "in a sect is perhaps a single instance in the history of mankind. Every other sect, supposing itself in possession of all truth and that those who differ are so far in the wrong, like a man traveling in foggy weather, those at some distance before him on the road he sees wrapped up in the fog, as well as those behind him, and also the people in the fields on each side, but near him all appears clear, though in truth he is as much in the fog as any of them."

Source: History of the Brethren, Brumbaugh