The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.
I. HOW GREAT A CONCERN MEN NATURALLY HAVE TO LEAVE AN HONOURABLE MEMORY BEHIND THEM. This idea is implied in the text, not expressed. All men in all ages have desired and endeavoured that others should entertain a good opinion of them, and if possible a great one. To this pursuit, multitudes have sacrificed their ease, their interest, the dearest of their other passions, and their lives themselves. They who know they have forfeited their title to a good character labour hard, by concealing and palliating matters, to retain as much as they can of it. A truly good person will always, in the first place, "seek the honour which cometh from God only." But still, desire of being esteemed by our fellow-creatures is a natural, and therefore an innocent passion, prompts us to what is right, and supports us in it. And we have also earnest desire of being remembered, as much to our advantage as possible, after we are gone. Though we shall not be within reach of hearing what is said of us, nor shall we be benefited by praise or hurt by reproach. Therefore some treat all concern far posthumous praise and fame as a mere absurdity. But as virtuous and beneficent 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 so this desire becomes an important blessing to us. "A good life hath but a few days; but a good name endureth for ever" (Son of Sirach).All this must be cautiously understood of such reputation only as is truly good; sought from proper motives, and pursued by proper means. If people affect to be admired for excellences, which they have not, their attempt at cheating mankind will probably be as vain as it is certainly unjust. Scripture not only stigmatises those "whose glory is in their shame," but warns against so excessive an admiration, even of things in themselves valuable, as interferes with the superior regard we owe to real piety and virtue.
II. WHAT CARE THE GOODNESS AND JUSTICE OF GOD HAVE TAKEN THAT BY WORTHY CONDUCT WE SHALL OBTAIN OUR DESIRE AND BY A CRIMINAL ONE FAIL OF IT ENTIRELY. There is a particular providence causing the memory of the just and good to flourish out of their ashes, and blasting that of the wicked. Worthy men would be pleased to have present respect paid to their characters, as well as future to their memories. And it is paid in good measure, though the deficiencies in this respect are great: due often to imperfections or eccentricities in the goodness, often to party zeal and to envy. 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. 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. Generally speaking, they who deserve well have at length due acknowledgments paid to their memory. The undeserved regard of the ungodly in this life seldom outlasts them any considerable time; the name of the wicked soon rots.
III. IN WHAT MANNER MAY WE BEST CONTRIBUTE TO THE DUE PAYMENT OF THOSE VERY DIFFERENT REGARDS WHICH BELONG TO THE MEMORY OF THE BAD AND THE GOOD. Vehemence and bitterness in speaking of those whom we dislike, either when they are living or when dead, is opposed to the spirit of our religion. Yet we are not prevented from forming and expressing just judgments at suitable times. For the most part the name of the wicked, if let alone, will rot of itself; and all that we shall need to do is, not to undertake the nauseous and fruitless office of embalming it. The regards due to the just are briefly these: that we believe them, on good evidence, to be the good persons they were in reality; that we consider their virtues with due esteem, and their imperfections with due candour; that we vindicate their names from unjust imputations, and make honourable mention of them whenever a fit opportunity offers; that we warn and arm ourselves against the temptations, both of prosperity and adversity, by observing how they have gone through each; that we incite ourselves to aim at more perfection in all Christian graces, by seeing in them what heights of piety and goodness are attainable; that we learn watchfulness from their falls; and that we thank God, in our retirements, for the instructions which His providence hath vouchsafed to us in their good lives.
Parallel VersesKJV: The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.