« PreviousContinue »
injurious treatment of their names on earth. But why may they not enjoy pleasure from a just regard shewn them? especially as this pleasure comprehends in it rejoicing that others do their duty, and that too such a part of their duty, as must singularly encourage the general practice of virtue. Besides, the good influence of their memory is one way, amongst others, by which they have faithfully endeavoured to be useful amongst men; and why should not the knowledge, that they have in some degree at least succeeded, be one ingredient in their reward ?
No wonder then, if we rejoice now in the prospect of what we may hope will give us joy to all eternity; no wonder if the wise son of Sirach directs us ;Have regard to thy name ; for that shall continue with thee above a thousand great treasures of gold. A good life hath but a few days ; but a good name endureth for ever*.
Still it is extremely evident, (and yet very needful to remind men, who are strangely forgetful of it) that all this must be cautiously understood of such reputation only, as is truly good; sought from proper motives, and pursued by proper means. For if
people affect to be admired for excellencies, which they have not, their attempt of cheating mankind will probably be as vain, as it is certainly unjust: if they court fame by qualifications of little or no value ; all they can gain by it, will be of little or no use to the world or themselves : and if they aim at it by methods, that do harm amongst men; the higher their ambition rises, and the more fully it succeeds, the greater misery they will bring down, not only on others, but on their own heads too. Yet how dread
* Ecclus. xli. 12, 13.
fully large are the numbers of those, who have aspired to reputation by the most insignificant accomplishments; either not from knowing them to be such, or from despair of acquiring better : of those, who, unwilling to labour honestly for a character, have thought to purchase it cheaper by falsehood and fraud : nay of those also, who not distinguishing between a great fame and a good one, or however preferring the former before the latter, have chosen rather to be talked of, and wondered at, for the surprising things which they have done, (however mischievous) than esteemed and loved for such beneficent actions, as they had in their power. And every one of these not only goes wrong himself, but contributes to lead others into the same mistake; or to prevent their discerning it when once made.
The happiness of men therefore is greatly concerned in avoiding such errors : and, as we are so very apt to fall into them, the goodness of God is very conspicuous in pointing them out so clearly in Scripture: not only stigmatizing those, whose glory is in their shame *, but warning us against so excessive an admiration even of things in themselves valuable, as interferes with the superior regard we owe to real piety and virtue. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise lovingkindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth : for in these things I delight, saith the Lord t. And though the word of God most frequently and chiefly insists on other and nobler motives to a due regulation of our love of fame, yet is it far from either Phil. üi, 19.
+ Jer, ix. 23, 24.
forgetting or slighting this inferior one; that by a worthy conduct we shall obtain our desire, and by a criminal one fail of it entirely. For the memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot. Let us therefore proceed to examine,
II. What care the goodness and justice of God have taken that both these things shall be so.
Now two methods, which he hath employed, have been mentioned already. He hath formed the hearts of men to esteem virtue, and abhor wickedness, wherever they see or remember it. And he hath made the happiness of men, private and public, greatly depend on the encouraging right actions by as durable honours as they can, and discountenancing wrong ones by as lasting infamy. So that if people will act suitably either to their best inward principles, or their evident interest, God hath made it secure, that the assertion laid down in the text shall be verified. And that, besides this general provision founded in our nature, there is also a particular providence, causing the memory of the just and good to flourish out of their ashes, and blasting that of the wicked; not only may be concluded, with very probable reason, from the divine attributes, but collected from express declarations of Scripture on this head. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance : his horn shall be exalted with honour. The ungodly shall see it and it shall grieve him ; he shall gnash with his teeth and consume away : the desire of the ungodly shall perish *, and the candle of the wicked shall be put out t.
Undoubtedly it would be a more pleasing consideration to worthy men, and seemingly a more efficacious one, if they could always hope that present * Psalm cxii, 6. 9, 10.
+ Prov. xxiv. 20.
respect would be paid to their characters whilst living, as well as future to their memories when dead. And for the most part it is paid in a good measure; at least by such persons, as they chiefly desire should approve their conduct; and in such proportions, as are sufficient to give them sensible comfort and spirit to go on.
But still the deficiencies in this respect are great, and the causes of those deficiencies many. Sometimes the imperfection of their goodness; sometimes the strictness of those rules, which they find necessary to preserve it; and sometimes also, for it must be owned, unnecessary peculiarities and imprudences which obscure it (as little faults will frequently hide great excellencies); these things, I say, often hinder very valuable men, though it is pity they should, from being esteemed in any tolerable degree like what they ought to be. And there are other yet greater hindrances, arising from other quarters : from the madness and wickedness of party zeal; from the hatred of the vicious and irreligious to those who often must oppose them, and always by their example at least put them to shame; from the envy of moderately good people, to such as one way or other come in competition with them; and from the inattention of most people to present merit, seen familiarly by them every day.
But still neither ought these things to be any discouragement to us, nor are they any objection to the wisdom of Providence. For, on the whole, it would probably not be to the advantage of good persons, but far from it, to have all the debt, which mankind owes them, paid immediately. It might endanger their humility: lead them to an uncharitable contempt of others, and a hazardous confidence in themselves. Both their virtue and their peace would be the less secure, the higher their reputation was raised: and the more they were influenced to what is good by the present applause of men ; the less proof they would give, to their own hearts, as well as to the world, of seeking the future approbation of God; and of acting from that faith in things unseen, which ought to be the main principle of their conduct, and shall be the main foundation of their reward. Therefore, instead of being so angry as we commonly are, when any one fails of doing our character justice ; were they to do it ever so much injustice, we should throw resentment out of our thoughts, and look upon every outrage of this sort as a means of improving ourselves; and indeed as one good mark, that we are in some degree such as we ought. For it is our Saviour's rule: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own : but because ye are not of the world, but. I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you *. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven : for so persecuted they the prophets, which were before you t. Woe outo you, when all men shall speak well of you : for so did their fathers to the false prophets I.
But when once good men are removed to another state, all the reasons, which made it unsafe for them to receive praise in this, are over; and most of the reasons, that made others unwilling to bestow it, are over too. Oppositions of interests are then usually at an end; party animosities cool, unjust imputations disperse and clear up; some begin to recollect, that they have been too vehement against those
* John xv. 19. + Matth. v, 11, 12. 1 Luke vi. 26.