A Classic Study:
The Value of a Good Name
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A Classic Study by Richard Greenham (1531–1591)
[Here we begin a study by the esteemed servant of God, Richard Greenham.]—Ed.
Of a Good Name, pt. 1
A good name is to be desired above great riches, and loving favour above silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1, AV).
All that is to be desired of a man is this, that he be virtuous, godly, and truly religious. Because it is in itself most excellent and most contrary to our nature, therefore the Scripture uses many arguments and reasons to persuade us thereunto: as in this place where the Wiseman would stir us up to the love of virtue, by setting before our eyes two principal effects and fruits, which we may receive by it. The first of these is a good name; the second is loving favour: both which as they do proceed for virtue and godliness, so they do maintain and increase one another. For as a man finds favor with those that do speak and report well of him, so those that will show a man loving favor will, or at least ought to show it in this, that they may willingly afford him a good report. Now both these are preferred before great riches, both these are accounted better than gold and much silver: and surely whoever is truly wise will make this account of them.
Whosoever doth rightly know to discern what is good, he will first and especially labor for them, for a good name doth commend us to God and to His holy angels, in whose eyes those virtues whereof a good name doth arise, are most acceptable. But riches are not able to do this. No, the abundance of silver and gold is often an occasion of sin, whereby we are most out of favour of God. Again, whereas riches (especially if they be evil gotten) do cause men many times to hate us, this good name and loving favour doth win the hearts of many, yea it does sometimes cause our enemies to be at peace with us. And this even hath been and ever will be most certain and true, whether we look to prosperity or adversity, whether we look to the common callings of this life, or the calling of the church. For such is the corruption of man’s nature, that naturally do not love the Magistrates, that God has placed over them: but when the Magistrates hath gotten a good report by the due execution of justice, by his pitiful dealing with the poor, and by his fatherly favor to all that be good, then will his subjects love him, then will they embrace him, then will they willingly commit their matters into his hands, and then will they with faithful and friendly hearts cleave and stick fast with him. To be short, that Lawyer that has the most clients, that Physician hath the most patients, and that Merchant that has the most customers, whose virtuous and godly dealings have gotten them from a good report.
In the callings of the Church this also is true: for if any preacher by the faithful discharge of his duty, and by his godly life, have once gotten the favour and friendship of men, how gladly will men hear him, how quietly will they be ruled by him, in what simplicity will they make known their griefs unto him, and careful will they be to procure his good. The schoolmaster also that hath the name of learning to teach, of discretion to rule, of godliness to train up his followers in the fear of God, he never wants scholars, but the most and best men of all will flock to him. Contrary, if any of those be discredited through any evil name, if the Magistrate be named an oppressor or a tyrant, the Lawyer be reported to deal deceitfully, if the Minister be corrupted either in doctrine or life, if the Schoolmaster be once known to be insufficient in learning, unwise in government, profane and of no religion, then will all men be afraid to have any dealing with them.
Those things are often found true in peace or prosperity: but in adversity, as in the time of war, in the time of sickness, and in the time of want and poverity, then be found most true. Will not all the poor community in the time of war, seek some aide at their Magistrate, who in the time of peace did good unto them? Nay rather will they not all with one consent come together, to help and defend them even with all their might, and with life itself, seeing that he hath used all good means to save and defend their lives? Contrary, how many Kings, how many Captains, how many Magistrates, have even in their greatest need been left and forsaken of their subjects and soldiers, because they have too sharply and unmercifully ruled them? And which is more than this, the subjects have even procured the death of their princes, the soldiers have laid violent hands upon their captains, and the tenants have been the first that have fought the death of their landlords, because no pity, no compassion, no freindship and loving favor have been shown to them. Again, if Magistrate, minister, master, or any other man by executing the duties of love, have won the hearts of the people, and gotten a good name among them, then in his sickness they will pray for him, they will visit him, they will bear with him a part of his grief. Again, what can be more comfortable to a man then this is?
This will glad him at the heart, and this will turn his bed in his sickness. In poverty also his is soonest and most helped which has the best name, and has obtained through virtue most favor with men. For good men do consider their own case in him, and therefore are most ready to help him: yea even the evil and ungodly men, although they bear him no great good will, yet they are forced to help him, partly because his godly life doth witness to their souls, that he doth deserve to be helped, and partly because the Lord doth turn their hearts to favor him. The widow therefore that came to Elijah for help, used this argument to persuade Elijah, “O man of God, my husband is dead, and died in debt, yet he feared God, therefore help I pray thee” (see II Kings 4:1), seeing the creditors that come and immediately Elijah helped her.
On the other side, if a man be evil reported of, if he be an adulterer, an Atheist, an idolator, a riotous person, or a man of hard dealing, and if such a one be once brought into some low estate, if he once fall into poverty, and need, then the hearts of men will shut up against him, no man will pity him, and all men will see and say his own sin is brought upon him. And this hath the testimony of the Prophets, who did often threaten such kind of punishments to ungodly men, so that no man should say, “Ah my father” or “Ah my mother”: but the whole city should be glad of their departure. This did the heathen people see in some part, and therefore all of them did greatly desire a good name: and as every one of them did excel in strength and courage, or in wit, or any kind of knowledge, so they did labor by that thing to get some credit to themselves.
And to conclude this point, though many great things in him, though a Magistrate do fear God greatly, though a minister be excellent in many points, though a Physician or Lawyer be skillful in their professions, yet if they have not a good name, they can do little good with their gifts. All this does teach us that indeed to be true which Solomon here says, that “a good name is to be chosen above great riches, and loving favor above silver and gold.”
(This study will continue in the next issue, D.V.)