No, Really: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves!

Yes, I know the proposition is not found in Scripture.

And, yes, I know that Benjamin Franklin was not a Christian.

And I agree the aphorism might be used to justify unchristian attitudes toward success or poor people, etc.

But plenty of genuine Bible verses can be used to justify unchristian attitudes and behavior. Many of them have been.

And Benjamin Franklin being wrong about orthodox Christianity doesn’t prove he was wrong about everything. It doesn’t even prove he was less influenced by the Bible on a particular topic than are his Christian critics.

The fact that a proposition is not found in Scripture does not prove it is not derived from Scriptural teaching!

The report that some people think that “God helps those who help themselves,” is found in the Bible shows a lamentable level of ignorance. It also shows a hopeful level of awareness of what the Bible sounds like.

Some Christians in the Reformed tradition are the worst since they accuse the statement of teaching Pelagianism. But it does not do so. All we have to do is look at the context:

COURTEOUS READER,

I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure, as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse, lately, where a great number of people were collected at an auction of merchants’ goods. The hour of the sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times; and one of the company called to a plain, clean, old man, with white locks, ‘Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not those heavy taxes quite ruin the country! How shall we be ever able to pay them? What would you advise us to?’——Father Abraham stood up, and replied, ‘If you would have my advice, I will give it you in short; “for a word to the wise is enough,” as Poor Richard says.’ They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and, gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:

‘Friends,’ says he, ‘the taxes are indeed very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us; “God helps them that help themselves,” as Poor Richard says.

Benjamin Franklin, The Way Of Wealth

Obviously, this wasn’t a discussion of eternal salvation or of why some respond to the Gospel and others don’t. This was a frank challenge to people who wanted to blame others for their financial woes. For this reason, they were also prone to think that only others could make their financial lives any better. All that Father Abraham and Poor Richard can do for them is offer advice. It is up to them (humanly speaking) to follow it. He ends on the same note:

‘And now to conclude, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other,” as Poor Richard says, and scarce in that; for it is true, “We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct.” However, remember this, “They that will not be counselled cannot be helped;” and farther, that “If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles,” as Poor Richard says.’

And Solomon agrees,

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,

and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;

reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;

teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,

and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

For by me your days will be multiplied,

and years will be added to your life.

If you are wise, you are wise for yourself;

if you scoff, you alone will bear it.

Proverbs 9:7–12; ESV

I’ll try to write more about “Poor Richard” soon. But my advice is to read him for yourself.

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