Benjamin Franklin on Republican Government in the Bible

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, May 1, 2018 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

One of the most fascinating things that I discovered in writing my book Franklin on Faith was a short discourse between Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Cooper. Cooper was a Congregational minister who served as pastor of Battle Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and on May 15, 1781, Franklin penned a letter to Cooper with this somewhat cryptic paragraph:

“Your excellent Sermon gave me abundance of Pleasure, and is much admired by several of my Friends who understand English. I purpose to get it translated & printed at Geneva at the End of a Translation of your new Constitution. Nothing could be happier than your Choice of a Text, & your Application of it. It was not necessary in New England where every body reads the Bible, and is acquainted with Scripture Phrases, that you should note the Texts from which you took them; but I have observed in England as well as in France, that Verses and Expressions taken from the sacred Writings, and not known to be such, appear very strange and awkward to some Readers; and I shall therefore in my Edition take the Liberty of marking the quoted Texts in the Margin.”

The sermon that Franklin references here was a sermon preached by Samuel Cooper to which he gave the very lengthy and descriptive title of:

“A Sermon Preached Before His Excellency John Hancock, Esq; Governor, The Honourable Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, October 25th, 1780. Being the day of the Commencement of the Constitution and Inauguration of the New Government.”

This was one of the most widely read sermons in America, and it presented a theme that was commonly acknowledged in our nation at that time. Cooper preached that:

“The form of government originally established in the Hebrew nation by a charter from heaven, was that of a free republic, over which God himself, in peculiar favour to that people, was pleased to preside. It consisted of three parts; a chief magistrate who was called judge or leader, such as Joshua and others, a council of seventy chosen men, and the general assemblies of the people. Of these the two last were the most essential and permanent, and the first more occasional, according to the particular circumstances of the nation. Their council or Sanhedrim, remained with but little suspension, through all the vicissitudes they experienced, till after the commencement of the christian æra. And as to the assemblies of the people, that they were frequently held by divine appointment, and considered as the fountain of civil power, which they exerted by their own decrees, or distributed into various channels as they judged most conducive to their own security, order, and happiness, is evident beyond contradiction from the sacred history. Even the law of Moses, though framed by God himself, was not imposed upon that people against their will; it was laid open before the whole congregation of Israel; they freely adopted it, and it became their law, not only by divine appointment, but by their own voluntary and express consent. Upon this account it is called in the sacred writings a covenant, compact, or mutual stipulation...

“To mention all the passages in sacred writ which prove that the Hebrew government, tho’ a theocracy, was yet as to the outward part of it, a free republic, and that the sovereignty resided in the people, would be to recite a large part of its history...

“Such a constitution, twice established by the hand of heaven in that nation, so far as it respects civil and religious liberty in general, ought to be regarded as a solemn recognition from the Supreme Ruler himself of the rights of human nature. Abstracted from those appendages and formalities which were peculiar to the Jews, and designed to answer some particular purposes of divine Providence, it points out in general what kind of government infinite wisdom and goodness would establish among mankind.”

Franklin heartily agreed with Cooper’s claim that God had established a republican form of government in ancient Israel, and that the Americans should model their government after the government of the Old Testament. In fact, Franklin was so convinced of the supremacy of government patterned after the doctrines of the Bible that he sought to have Cooper’s sermon published throughout Europe as well as in America.

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