A Classic Study:
The Value of a Good Name
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A Classic Study by Richard Greenham (1531–1591)
[Here we continue a study by the esteemed servant of God, Richard Greenham. In this issue, he speaks of ways that lead to a good name.]—Ed.
Of a Good Name, pt. 3
A good name is to be desired above great riches, and loving favour above silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1, AV).
Then to return to our purposes, if we will avoid an evil name, we must avoid all evil surmises and devices against others. And thus the Scriptures does also forbid us: for the Wiseman from the mouth of God does forbid us to think evil of the king in our bedchambers, because birds and other dumb creatures shall disclose the thing rather than it kept close (see Eccl. 10:20). This then must make us afraid to do evil, or to imagine ill in our beds, or to declare our deep counsels even to them that lie in our bosoms. And this as it is a good means to provide for a good name, so it is a special rule of all godliness, not when we be afraid of open sins alone, but of secret evils: not of acts alone, but even of the secret cogitations and thoughts of our hearts. Thus we have heard the first step that leads to a good name.
The second remains to be declared: and that is a godly jealously over a man’s own doings, that they may not breed suspicion of evil. For it does sometimes come to pass, that albeit a man does not that which is simply evil, he may justly be suspected and suffer some blemish of his good name. And for this cause does the Apostle charge us to procure honest things in the sight of God and man. For this cause he commands us, that if there be anything of good report, that we must follow it, and that we must embrace it. It is not therefore that men did say, ‘I did think no evil, I did mean no harm’: for if through want of care or discretion you have ventured upon the occasion, you have given a great number to your great discredit. If then we will avoid this evil name, as our proverb says, we must avoid all things that bring it. For when men will care little to give occasion, then the Lord causes an evil name to be raised upon them, that those which indeed are desperate may suffer just discredit, and they that are otherwise, may be reclaimed for the fame. And surely such is the crookedness of man's nature, that if the Lord should not take this course, even his children would fall into many sins. Therefore it is most requisite that men be mindful to avoid occasions, and so much the rather, because it is commonly said, either God or the devil stands at their elbow to work upon them.
Let us see this in some example of our common life. You are accustomed to walk abroad at inconvenient times, at that time some thing is stolen, and you are burdened and charged with it. Again, you used to deal too familiarly and lightly with a maid, she is gotten with child, and the fault is laid on you. Hereof you have given suspicion, because you have been a night goer, and such a one who has dealt wantonly with the maid, albeit you be free from the very act. Now if you be the child of God, and if you be guided by His Holy Spirit, then will He teach thee to take profit by this false report, and to say with the self, “Lord you know that I am free from this very act: yet it was my sin to give any such occasion whereby men might suspect me: this sin O Lord I am guilty of, and I know You for this sin has justly afflicted me. Yet, dear father, I see the mercy in this, that whereas indeed I have committed many sins Thou has passed over them and take this whereof I am not so much guilty: so that now (most merciful Father), I do rather suffer for righteousness, than for my transgressions and sin. Yea dear Father I do behold Your tender mercies in this towards me, that by this evil report, You go about to stay me from that sin, and to prevent me that I may never fall into the same. Wherefore seeing it had been Thy good pleasure to deal thus with me, behold Lord I do repent me of my former sin, and promise before thee even in the fear never to do this or the like sin ever hereafter.”
See here, I beseech you the good profit which a good child of God, through God's Spirit, will take of this slanderous reproach, after he hath received some godly sorrow for giving the occasion of that report. But behold the contrary work of Satan in the heart of unbelievers, for he will soon teach them this lesson, and cause them to say this: “What does the church accuse me of without a cause? Does he father such a villainous act upon me, who never deferred it at his hands? Surely he shall not say so for naught, I will make his sayings true, and will do the thing indeed.” Consider then this you that fear the Lord, and see in how fickle a state they do stand which have given occasion, and in what great dander they be to be brought to commit the same or the like sin afterward. Therefore if any will be sure to keep his good name, then must he be sure to avoid all such occasions as might impair and hinder it. And thus much for the second step whereby we arise to a good name. Thus we have heard of two degrees towards a good name, in the avoiding of evil and the occasions thereof. And these indeed have a great force to stay an evil name, but sure they be not able to build up a good name and credit among men.
To these therefore there must be added a third thing which has most special force for this purpose, and that is that we be plentiful in good works. This does our Savior Christ charge us to be careful of, when he says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16). Many men repine at the good report of another man, and they be greatly grieved, because they themselves be not in the like or some better credit. He that will be commended, must do the things that be commendable. He must do good works, yea he must do good and pursue it. Yea, we must know that it is not one good work, not two, not three that can gain us a good name indeed: but it is required at us that we be rich in well going, and continually give to every good work. For as a precious ointment (whereto a good name is compared) is made of many and most excellent samples: so a good name cannot be gotten but by many and most excellent virtues.
Now when we feel ourselves affected to goodness, then are we warily to see two things: first, that all our works be done with a simple and sincere affection; secondly, that they be done with good discretion. For when a thing is done indiscreetly and without advice, it loses the grace and beauty of the deed; and therefore though the thing be good, yet no great praise does come of it, because it was not done with good discretion.
Likewise when men do things with sinister affections, and to some other end then to the glory of God, they do commonly lose the price of their doings. And here of it comes to pass, that many men which do good works to merit by them, or to win the favor of the superiors, or to be of good report among the people, or to some such other end, when (I say) men do things to this end the Lord punishes them with the contrary, and instead of deserving glory, He powers confusion upon them; instead of honor, He gives contempt; and instead of riches, beggary. And albeit men may pretend the glory of God, and give out their wickedness with a fresh color, yet the Lord will bring their wickedness to light. And truly it is marvelous to see how the Lord lays folly upon such men: so that although in their wisdom they think to blur the eyes of all men, yet the simple soul does see their shifts to their discredit.
Therefore when you have done well, and yet are ill reported of, do not straight away storm against him which has raised up the report against you, neither do you over hastily clear yourself: but rather, before the Lord examine your own heart, and see with what affection you have done it: And if we find wickedness in our hearts, then let us be humbled before the Lord, and know that He has caused us thus to be spoken of: first to correct us, and secondly to try us. For when the Lord does see us like Scribes and Pharisees seeking rewards, then He does punish us with the loss of our labor, and with shame among men, to see if thereby He can bring us into sight of our sins, which before we neither would nor could see. And again when we have thus done, He does try us whether there be any goodness in our hearts which may move us to continue in well-doing, notwithstanding we be evil spoken of.
Here we may see what fruit we must make of such reports: namely, they must bring us to a sight and feeling of our sins: and secondly, they must cause us with greater uprightness to continue in well doing. True, a man may be accused to have this or that purpose in his doings, although he has done the thing in the simplicity of his heart. But when a man through examination does find his heart upright, and he receives great comfort by it: then he may commend himself unto the Lord, and his cause into His hands. For the Lord maintains good tongues and hearts, but he will cut out the tongues of them that speak lies. He will cause the righteousness of the righteous to shine as the noon day, and as the Sun after a cloud; but the wicked shall be covered with their own confusion as with a cloak.
This shall the godly see and rejoice therein, but the mouths of the wicked shall be stopped. Thus we have run through the things whereby a good name may be gotten, and not only that, but also whereby a man may be preserved in a good name and credit: and therefore surely the more to be observed and regarded of us. For first of all we see what force the good continuance of the Churches beyond the seas has to persuade men to embrace the truth, and how soon some men will be moved to continue steadfast, when they see the steadfast countenance of the good men in all kind of godliness. However, we know that the weak commit great offenses, and then whole Churches, or some particular persons of some good place and credit, do not stand in that credit, nor maintain by goodness their good name, which they had gotten by great virtues. The very heathen did see this, and therefore they said that it was as great a praise to keep praise, as to get it: yea, and when they saw what great inconveniences would arise when men did not satisfy the expectation of the people, they thought it much better never to have any good report among men, than to lose it after it had been gotten. Therefore, to shut up this whole matter in one word, if any man, if any household, if any town, if any country, be careful to have a honest report among men, then must they eschew evil and do good, then must they seek peace and pursue it: and if once having gotten a good name they would gladly keep it, then they must use the same means, so shall we have it both of God and man.