« PreviousContinue »
PROV. X. 7.
The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the
wicked shall rot.
FROM these words I shall endeavour to shew,
I. How great a concern men naturally have to leave an honourable memory behind them.
II. What care God hath taken, that both the good and the bad shall be esteemed after death, as they deserve.
III. What care we ought to take of the same thing.
I. That men have naturally an earnest solicitude, to leave an honourable memory behind them.
This indeed is not expressed, but evidently implied in the text : which being doubtless intended as a motive to good actions, and a discouragement from bad, can yet be neither, unless mankind are influenced by regard to future fame: which indeed they are to a very high degree. All men in all ages, with extremely few exceptions, if any, have both desired and endeavoured, that others should entertain a good opinion of them; and if possible, a great one. suit, multitudes have sacrificed their ease, their interest, the dearest of their other passions, and their lives themselves. They who have failed in it, have
To this pur
given the strongest, and sometimes the most shocking and fatal proofs of their uneasiness : they who have succeeded, have always expressed the highest joy in the acquisition ; and been celebrated and envied, as happy persons. Even the lowest part of the world have thought the esteem of their acquaintance, were the circle of them ever so narrow or mean, well worth having: and the most destitute of any considerable advantage or accomplishment to be valued for, have still set up some claim to reputation, were it a trifling, were it a groundless, were it an absurd one, rather than have none. They, who know they have forfeited their title to a good character, labour hard however, by concealing and palliating matters, to retain as much as they can of it. And even the abandoned to wickedness, who know their fellow-creatures in general must abhor them, still aim at a little comfort from the wretched applauses of their accomplices. They who take pains to get over the love of reputation, manifest, in spite of themselves, the utmost fondness for it, whenever they can have it ; and often grievous longings after it, in those very cases, where they have destroyed it irrecoverably with their own hands. Even they who affect to ridicule it as a folly and a cheat, have usually nothing else in view than to obtain it, for a pretended sagacity in detecting the cheat. Nay, such as think their duty binds them to extirpate it from their breasts, as a frailty and a sin, certainly think they deserve, and almost constantly shew they expect, much the more of it on that account. A truly good person, indeed, will always, in the first place, seek the honour, which cometh
from God only*. For if we love the praise of men, more than his t; our Saviour hath warned us, by the example John v. 44.
† John xii. 43.
of the Jews, who were highly guilty of this weakness, that we shall neither judge nor act as we ought. And it would be a justly ruinous mistake, either to do bad things for the favourable opinion of those around us, or good things to be seen of them only, and have that for our reward *, instead of setting God always before us t, and seeking for glory, honour, and immortality I, by approving our hearts and lives to him. But still, desire of being esteemed by our fellow creatures, consistently with, and in subordination to, our Maker's approbation, is a natural, and therefore an innocent passion; prompts us to what is right, and supports us in it; and surely we have need of every support. Nor doth reason only, but Revelation recommend it to us, even in the more perfect dispensation of the New Testament itself: exhorting us to the practice of righteousness and peace from this motive: For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men Ş.
But we not only all desire an honourable repute, each according to his notion of it, in our life-time; whilst it may be serviceable to us, to be thought well of; and must at least be pleasing, to be told that we are : but we have earnest desires also of being remembered, as much to our advantage as possible, after we are gone. Accordingly, influenced by this hope, we both do and suffer a great deal, to accomplish things, the credit of which we shall live but a very little while to enjoy ; nay, which perhaps will never be known, till we are dead: we vindicate ourselves to posterity, with almost as great solicitude, as to those of our own times; and feel it a powerful support under the heaviest censures that lie * Matth. vi. 1. 5.
+ Psalm xvi. 8. * Rom. ii. 7.
§ Rom. xiv. 18.
now, if we can hope, that such as come after us, will judge more impartially, and hold us in esteem.
Yet, all the while, we have little or no imagination, that we shall be then within reach of hearing what is said of us; or, in any manner whatever, benefited by praise, or hurt by reproach. For which reason, some men, who are very sensible of what use a present good character is, have treated all concern for posthumous fame as a mere absurdity; and valued. themselves upon detecting it. Now really if it were one; it would be so palpable a one, that finding it out would be no mighty discovery. But indeed it is a gracious and wise provision of our Maker, for the happiness of his creatures : and the contrary persuasion arises, not from depth of inquiry, but superficialness. In
many, if not most things, Providence hath appointed our pleasure here below, to proceed much more from pursuit and expectation beforehand, than from enjoyment afterwards : by which method we have plainly some happiness both sooner and surer, than if it began only with the attainment of our wishes. It is true, we must also have some disappointment from hence: but this (besides that reason and experience will keep it from being excessive) may by religion be rendered extremely useful : as it shews, that complete and lasting satisfaction is not to be had on earth. Nay, if obtaining our desires were to give us no pleasure, indeed if we were never to obtain them, yet the pleasure we have in the prospect of obtaining them would certainly be valuable, in proportion to the degree of it: only abating for the uneasiness at last, of finding ourselves mistaken. But now in the case before us, though it were allowed that persons do not enjoy, after their deaths, the reputation in which they are then held; yet they enjoy it long before, and that without any abatement to follow at all: for surely they are not uneasy in the other world, for want of knowing how they are honoured in this.
Besides, as virtuous and beneficial actions are by far the most certain way of procuring any durable esteem from mankind, so planting in us a desire of such esteem as may endure when we are gone, is providing no small security for our good behaviour here; and consequently for our own happiness, and that of all with whom we are concerned; but particularly of our children, relations and friends ; who will doubtless be more regarded on account of the fair character that we have left behind us; and incited to imitate that conduct for which they see our memory honoured.
So that this principle, far from being an imposition on mankind, and a prejudice to be rooted out, is an important blessing, conferred on us by Heaven, and diligently to be cherished; even were it absolutely certain, that the dead neither have, nor ever shall have, any knowledge of the respect that is continued to them after their decease. But indeed it is by no means certain, that good persons departed may not in their present intermediate state, or however in that after the last judgment, receive considerable delight from knowing, some way or other, that the characters which they have deserved, have not been denied them, but honourably paid by their survivors. For as the desire of being esteemed is a natural principle, and one which worthy men beyond others cultivate and improve, why should we doubt of its subsisting hereafter, and being gratified ? It is true, the blessed in heaven will be much above feeling pain from any