A Classic Study:
The Value of a Good Name
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A Classic Study by Richard Greenham (1531–1591)
[Here we conclude a study by the esteemed servant of God, Richard Greenham.]—Ed.
Of a Good Name, pt. 4
A good name is to be desired above great riches, and loving favour above silver and gold. (Prov. 22:1, AV).
Now because men do suffer very much discredit, and are very ill reported of among men, it shall be good to consider what profit and use we may make up such reproaches and evil reports. And this shall we do the better, if we know upon what grounds those reproaches do arise. First therefore we must learn, that men may be evil reported of, either for evil, or for well doing. When men therefore are ill spoken of, they must first consider whether it be for good or evil: and if it be for evil, then must they go a degree further, to find whether it be for some evil work which they have committed, or for some occasion which they have given. When a man is evil reported of for some evil deed which he hath done, that evil deed of his is either manifestly known, or else is it unknown. And surely it is a thing most common among men to suffer discredit for open and gross sins, yet very few do right profit by it: for some are shameless, and care not about what men say of them, and therefore indeed they are unfit to receive any profit by such reproaches. Therefore after the most sharp and secure censor of the church, they must be committed to the hand of the Magistrate, to be punished in the purse and in the body. And yet surely such is their sinful attitude, that there is small hope of their amendments: for it does often come to pass, that they which will not profit by the Church cannot receive profit by the Magistrate. Therefore after all this they must be left unto the Lord, to work if it be His will by some extraordinary means upon their hearts which are exceedingly hardened.
There are others who, being put to open shame, are sorrowful indeed: but this is because they have sustained open shame, rather than because they have sinned against the Lord. These are in some degree better than the former, and yet they go not so far as they ought to do. For the devil having bewitched them, does persuade them it is no such matter as men would make them believe it is, and that as a wonder lasts but nine days, so this shall be of no long continuance. Thus they are freed, so that the shame cannot enter into their hearts, there to work godly sorrow, which may bring forth unfeigned repentance.
This is the daily scene in unrepentant malefactors, who although they make large promises of amendment, yet the punishment being passed, they fall into the like filthiness again. Some think that they do dissemble when they seem to repent, and deal deceitfully, but I think that they think as they speak, and speak with sorrow and grief. For will a thief purpose to steal again when he is ready to be hanged? Will a child purpose to play the wanton when he is being disciplined? I grant indeed there is hypocrisy in them, yet the gross hypocrisy whereby men labor to deceive others, is not in them, but the close and most dangerous hypocrisy whereby the devil has beguiled their own hearts through his subtlety. This witchery of the devil (I say) is the cause why many promising amendment, do not perform the same. Thus, we see how men do miss of that profit which ought to reaped of the open shame: we therefore are to take a better course, and to labor, that as our faces do blush before men, so our souls may be confounded before the Lord, that being thoroughly humbled under his hand be godly sorrow, it may please Him in mercy to raise us up.
Now if we doubt in this case whether our sorrow be found or not, let us try it by these two rules. First whether we can with contented minds take the punishment as a correction from the Lord, and yet mourn and be grieved for the sin, and yet in such a manner, as giving place to God’s justice in punishing, we labor for mercy in the forgiveness of sins. Secondly, whether when we could keep the sin close, we can yet with David freely confess and say, “Against thee O Lord have I sinned?” (Ps. 51:4). This if we can do, it is a sure argument that our sorrow is godly, and that we have well profited by that reproach which our sin did bring upon us.
As the sin is sometime so evident that it cannot be covered, so indeed the sin may be committed, and yet either not be known nor suspected at all, or else by probable suspicions. When the sin is in this case, the Lord may cause a man that has so sinned, to be accused or evil spoken of for that sin. Here the party offending must first learn to deal wisely and in such manner, as the sin may be kept close still, if it may be done without another sin. But if an oath of the Lord be required, then we ought to give God the glory, though it be with our own shame, and confess the fault. Secondly, for the profits which may be made by such reports, we must learn with thankful hearts to receive this merciful chastisement of the Lord, and acknowledge it to His praise: for He might have punished us for those sins which were manifest, yet He has passed over them. He might have made these known, but He spared our name and our credit. Therefore for a second fruit, this mercy of the Lord must lead us to repentance, and to an earnest sorrow for all our sins. For it is too gross that we should continue in sin because we cannot be convicted of sin: for if the Lord did not dislike my sin, why should He raise such a report of you? Why should He save your good name, if He were not minded to show you mercy? And if He would not have you with all your heart to repent you of your sin, why does He whip your naked conscience for sin? Therefore if by this loving kindness we be not lead unto repentance, verily it will be a sin that shall not escape unpunished. Thus we have heard how an evil name does arise of sin committed, and what profit must be taken thereof.
Now let us further consider how a man must profit by an evil name, not when he hath by some sin deserved it, but when he has only failed in this: that he has given occasion to be suspected of evil. This occasion is of the two sorts. First, when good duties are either altogether omitted, or do with a grudging mind. This report must teach thee, that although you be not so evil as men would make thee, yet you are not so good as you should be. Therefore by this you must learn, as to be careful of doing good, so to do it with greater and better courage: for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.
The second occasion is inward, which although no man can find out, yet the Lord for thy good does cause men to speak evil of you for it. This inward occasion is when thy heart hath given some full consent to do evil, or at the least hath much wandered in thinking of it. Here the Lord does take thee betime, and suffers men to report of you that you have done that, which indeed you have not done, yet in thy heart you have taken pleasure in it. Then the way to profit by this is to confess the goodness of the Lord, who will not have you to fall into such sin, as might deserve discredit. For such is the nature of man, that if any evil thought do long tarry in the mind, it will hardly be restrained before it comes to the outward act. Again, by this report raised on us, we must take occasion to call back ourselves, if we have consented to evil, and with grief to be sorrowful for it: or if we have not as yet consented, we must labor to repress the hear of our affections, and quench them by the moisture of the word. And this much shall be sufficient for those reports which arise of some just ground and occasion.
The last point to be handled, is to see what use must be made of those reports which be altogether false, and have neither ground nor good beginning. For it may come to pass, when a man has avoided evil, and done good; when he has shunned the occasion of evil, and done all good with a cheerful heart, yet he may be ill reported of, and his good name hindered. Now if this does befall any man, he must know that it is the Lord’s doings, and that the Lord does it either to correct sin, or else to prevent it. The Lord (I say) does by this means correct sin sometimes, either in the same kind, or in some other. In the same kind He deals thus, He suffers thee to be counted an adulterer, yet you do not live chastely, and hate filthy sin: but then He sees that you have either been an adulterer and have not repented at all (or if you have suddenly repented, yet now you begin to fail, and to cool in the hatred of that sin).
And to say all in one word, we shall never make true use of reports, until we have been brought to see and repent of some particular sin, which either we saw not before, or else had not thoroughly repented of. Furthermore, it may come to pass, that we having done all good duties, avoided all evil, and examined our repentance even for particular sins, yet shall we be evil spoken of among men. Here we must know that the Lord by reports do forewarn us of the evil to come. We are reported of to be of the family of love: hereby we are forewarned to take heed that we fall not into that sin, and so forth of other reports. When any such reports are carried about of us, we must be made so much the more wary, that we fall not into that sin. And according to the Apostles rule, we must labor to finish the course of our salutation in fear: which that we may do, The Lord grant for His Christ’s sake, to Whom be praise forever in the church, Amen.