Thirteen Virtues in Today’s World

My copy of Poor Richard’s Almanack (Benjamin Franklin) arrived in the mail today. The chapter “On Virtue, Vice, God, and Faith” caught my attention fairly quickly, unsurprisingly. In it, Franklin said this:

He is ill clothed that is bare of virtue.

Perhaps my first thought shouldn’t have been “good for me,” and on the next page, a larger passage jumped out:

The Thirteen Virtues:

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation.

  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

  3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

  6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; if you speak, speak accordingly.

  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.

  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring—never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

This is not the first time I’ve been introduced to Franklin’s thirteen virtues, and they have been mentioned here in the past, and I paired each up to several Bible verses which are relevant to the virtue.

It’s been a few years, and it’s difficult to look at that list and find any area within which I feel I’ve grown. From a worldly standpoint, are the virtues even relevant these days?

We as a culture uplift as role models those who live extravagant life styles, who are loose in their sexuality or at least the talk of it, who have no clue what Jesus was actually like (let alone Socrates), who gossip, backbite, and otherwise relish in idle conversation (hello, social networking), and much more.

I realize that there is nothing new under the sun. Franklin likely observed many who lived lives antithetical to the listed virtues. As time goes on, that divide between the virtuous and the wicked has become more stark. The entertainment industry is doing its absolute best to encourage the idolatry of any and everything which hinders virtuosity, sinners of all stripes are becoming increasingly flagrant (some go so far as to have “pride parades”), and malls and discount stores are tirelessly working to get you to waste your money on trifles.

And there are those in the world who would have us to believe that imitating Jesus is as absurd as imitating Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

Franklin, like the Christ, taught that fingers should not be pointed if the pointed finger is itself unclean, and so the discussion of virtuosity is ultimately a very personal one. It is “How can I grow in virtue?” and not “How can I get them to grow?”

But by embracing virtue and growing in it, perhaps the happiness which is virtue’s daughter (as Franklin put it) would be seen by others, nay pursued by others.

We serve a God who is concerned with even the smallest sparrow, who has numbered even the hairs your head. Even the smallest obedience is better than sacrifice, and He will notice it.

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