A Classic Study:

The Value of a Good Name

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A Classic Study by Richard Greenham (1531Ė1591)


[Here we continue a study by the esteemed servant of God, Richard Greenham, concerning the importance of having a good name in the community.]óEd.


Of a Good Name, pt. 2


A good name is to be desired above great riches, and loving favour above silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1, AV).†


Now the instructions, which we may gather out of this place are chiefly two. The first is, that we ought not to hurt our neighbors, above all things, in their good name: and therefore the Lord in his law hath ordained, that he which does such a thing, should have the same punishment which he purposed to bring on another. Men would be loath to steal the goods of any man from him, and the name of a man is more worth than all things in the world: therefore if any man be raising up false reports do impair his brotherís credit, he does hurt him, and sins more grossly, and more grievously, than if he had taken away his lands or his living, his corn, or his cattle, or any other thing which he has. And though the thing be found to be false which he reports, yet he sins nevertheless: for after that time even good men will be more suspicious, and the wicked will not let it go out of their minds.

The second instruction is, that we must be careful by all good means to get and maintain our good name. For if we be charged to further the good name of our brother, that we are straightly commanded to help forward our own as much as we be able: then it cannot be without great sin that a man should cast off all care of his own credit. The very heathen saw this to be a fault, and they did commonly say, that whosoever regards not the reports of men, he is dissolute indeed, and hath not the nature of man. And therefore we may well say, that he is without all hope of amendment, who is not brought to some remorse and sorrow. As then a shameless face opens doors to all ungodliness, so due care of credit causes a man to be very careful of his wares: whosoever therefore will live godly, he must safely provide for his good name. Seeing these things be so, it shall be profitable to consider how this good name may be gotten and preferred: and again, if we be discredited, what use and profit we must make of it.

For the first, it is certain that seeing fame and honest report are good things, therefore they must needs arise and spring of those things that are good, as of virtue, godliness, and good religion. Now whereas some ungodly men have great favor amongst the people, and be well reported of, this is no good name, because it ariseth not of goodness, it is only a vain applause among the people: nay it is even the great and fierce wrath of God upon them, though they neither see no perceive it, when they be well spoken of for their evil deeds. For, by this means, they be hardened in their sin.† By this means they be hindered and held for repentance, which there is not a greater punishment under the sun. Such a name then is not to be desired. Nay, we ought rather to pray against such a name. And if we will be famous and of good report, then let us take heed that we seek it by goodness and virtue, and then it will be a good name indeed. But let us weigh these things more particularly, and let us know that the first step to a good name is the careful and continual avoidance of evil, both outward and inward.

In outward and gross evils we must first beware of all evils generally: which thing if we be not careful to do, then will out good name be soon impaired. Secondly, we must narrowly look onto some special sins, whereunto† our nature is more inclinable and subject: for as one dead fly corrupteth a whole box of ointment, though it be most precious, so some one sin does crack the credit of a man, though otherwise he hath been very well reported of. And if it behooves every man to look to his ways, then much more is it needful, that every child of God should do. For the world, through the hatred it bears to them, deals with them as it deals with witches and physicians. The witch, though she fails in twenty things, yet she do some one thing right. Though it be but final, the world loves and commends her for a good and wise woman. But the Physician, if he work six hundred cures, yet if through the waywardness of his patients, or for the punishment of his patientís sin, he fails but in one, that one failure does more turn to his discredit, than his manifold goodly and notable cures do get him praise. In this manner does the world deal with men, if a worldly man have but an outward gift of strength, speech, or comeliness, he shall be greatly praised, and counted a godly man, though he be an idolater, or a profane person, and though he swims and flows over in all manner of vices. But let the child of God be truly zealous in true religion, let him be honest and holy in conversation, yet if there be one infirmity in him, or if he have through weakness fallen once into some one sin, that one infirmity against which he straineth, on that one sin for which he is grieved, shall drown all the graces of God in him, be they never so great, and the world will account him a most wicked man.

Seeing then this is the enmity of the world against Godís people, how warily ought they to walk in so crooked and forward a generation? And hereof they must be so much the more careful, because the wicked by such slips and infirmities, will not only take occasion to discredit them, but even to speak of all their profession, yea, and to blaspheme the glorious word of God and His eternal truth.

Then if we be careful of our own name, nay if we have any zeal of Godís glory, if we have any care of the word, if we have any love of the saints, then let us carefully shun all and every infirmity, whereby Godís name is dishonored, His glorious Gospel blasphemed, His children grieved, and we ourselves discredited among the wicked, and thus much for the open and outward sin. As open sin committed in the sight and view of men has always the punishment of an evil name joined with it: so also secret sins which are hidden as it were in the dark corners of our hearts, do bring us out of favor and credit with God: and when we be once out of credit with Him, then does He make our sins further known unto men. For nothing is so hidden, that shall not be brought to the light, and nothing so secret, that shall not be discovered in the sight of the world. And that we may further be persuaded of this, let us all know of a surety, that the Lord has many means to bring such things to light: for He can make the fields to have eyes to see our wickedness, He can make the woods to have ears to hear our ungodly counsels; yea He can cause the walls of our bedchambers to bear witness for the sins committed on our beds. If this will not serve, He can go further, and cause our friends to fall out with us, and the men of our counsels to betray our wickedness. And though he hath not any such purpose when we make him privy to our naughty devils, yet in displeasure the Lord does cause him all at once to lay open all our secrets. Yea rather than thou should bear no reproach for thy secret faults, the Lord will cause thine own mouth to testify against thee, and your own words will give you discredit: for either unawares you shall betray thyself, or in thy sleep by dreams you shall make the thing known, or in sickness thou shall rave of it, or in some frenzy you shall vomit it out, or else the torment of your own conscience shall be so sharp that even to thine own shame you shall confess the fault. Last of all, when you think or devise evil against your neighbor, though it be never so secretly, yet besides all the former, the Lord has another means where He will bring thee to discredit for it.

And this is a very vehement suspicion raised up in the heart of him of whom devises the evil against thine neighbor, for as it comes to pass, that good motions which arise secretly in thy mind for the good of another, do cause the other man to think well of you, though he did never hear of them, no doubt does it often come to pass in evil motions. You devise evil against another. He in some strange manner hath a heart burning in jealousy over thee. You think hardly of another man, and he also is hardly persuaded of thee. Thus the Lord does cause you to be discredited in the hearts of others, as you manage some evil against others in thine heart. True it is, that the party may sin and do very ill if he suspect without just cause, inasmuch as he does thus suspect through an immoderate love of himself. Yet the work of the Lord is here to be considered, who seeing the cause to be so just, does stir up such suspicions in his mind.