William Perkins on How to Maintain a Good Reputation
Do you have a good reputation? Solomon said that a good reputation was better than "silver and gold" (Prov. 22:1). The apostle Paul said one of the qualifications for deacons is that they must have “a good testimony” (1 Tim. 3:7). So how should we think of our reputations, when Jesus said, “Woe to you when men speak well of you” (Luke 6:22-26). While it is a blessing to have a good reputation, it is also possible that a good reputation could be a bad thing - a sign of the fear of man. Man-pleasing can get you a good reputation with man, but not with God. The father of the Puritans, William Perkins speaks to these issues in his commentary on Hebrews 11.
Below are citations from Vol. 3 of The Works of William Perkins, on how a pastor can have a good reputation. In this volume, Perkins is commenting on the phrase in Hebrews 11 and the phrase in verse 2, “elders by faith obtained a good report.”
“[H]ere we learn the readiest and surest way to get a good name. A good name is a good gift of God. “It is a precious ointment” (Eccl. 7:3). It is a thing that all men would have. These elders had it, and they have laid us down a platform how to get it. And it is this: first, get into favor with God. Please Him, that is, confess your sins, bewail them, get pardon. Set the promises of God in Christ before you, believe them, apply them to yourself as your own. Be persuaded in your conscience that Christ did all for you and that He has purchased your acceptation with God.”1
First, he speaks of our conscience before God regarding our reputations, and God’s sovereignty in how men speak of us:
“Thus, when you are assured that God approves of you, God can easily give you a comfortable testimony in your own conscience. And He can move the hearts of all men to think well and open their mouths to speak well of you, for He has the hearts of all men in His hand. And therefore, those that are in His favor, He can bend the hearts of all men to approve them.”1
Then, Perkins qualifies and warns of wrong thinking about ones own reputation:
“Yet this must be understood with some cautions:
First, God will not procure His children a good name among all men, for then they should be cursed, for, “Cursed are ye when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). But the Lord means that they shall be accepted and have a good name with the most and with the best. For indeed, a good name (as all other graces of God) cannot be perfect in this life. But they shall have such a good name as in this world shall continue and increase and in the world to come be without all blot, for sin is the disgrace of a man. Therefore, when sin is abolished, [a] good name is perfect.
Secondly, God will not procure all His children a good name, nor always; for a good name is of the same nature with other external gifts of God. Sometimes they are good to a man; sometimes, hurtful. To some men, good; to others, hurtful. Everyone therefore that has true faith may not absolutely assure himself of a good name, but as far forth as God shall see it best for His own glory and his good.
Thirdly, the good name that God will give His children stands not so much in outward commendation and speaking well of a man as in the inward approbation of the consciences of men. They must therefore be content sometimes to be abused, mocked, slandered. And yet notwithstanding, they have a good name in the chief respect; for they whose mouths do abuse and condemn them, their very consciences do approve them. Out of all these the point is manifest that God will procure His children a good name in this world as far forth as it is a blessing and not a curse, and that because they are approved of Him and by faith justified in His sight—for so to be is the only way to get a good name. For in reason it stands thus: that those who are in estimation and good name with the Lord Himself, much more will God make them esteemed and give them a good name with men like themselves. Hence we learn, first, that the common course of the world to get a good name is fond and wicked and to no purpose.”1
He continues later on the next page speaking about the difference between the approval of God and the approval of man:
“First, we must labor to be approved of God, and then after the good name with God follows the good name in the world. He therefore that labors for favor with men and neglects the favor of God, he may get a good name, but it shall prove a rotten name in the end. “The memorial of the just shall be blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot” (Prov. 10:7). The good name of the wicked is rotten: first, because it is loathsome and stinking in the face of God, though it be never so glorious in the world; secondly, because it will not last the wearing out, but in the end vanishes and comes to nothing, unless, as a rotting thing leaves some corruption behind it, so their good name in the end being vanished leaves infamy behind it. And this is the name which commonly is gotten in the world, because men first seek not a good name with God. But that good name which is obtained by faith will stand and continue all a man’s life and at his death leave behind it a sweet perfume and abide forever in the world to come.”1
Finally he closes this chapter with these words of realism about having enemies:
“If you have true faith, you are sure to have enemies. First, the wicked of the world will never break you but openly or privily hate and hurt you. Then the devil is your sworn enemy. How can you deal with so powerful an enemy and all his wicked instruments? Here is sound comfort. If you have faith, you have God [as] your friend. Labor therefore for this true faith and then care not for the devil and all his power. Night and day, sleeping and waking, by land and sea you are safe and secure. The devil cannot hurt you. Your faith makes you accepted of God and brings you within the compass of His protection. That same little spark of faith, which is in so narrow a compass as your heart, is stronger than all the power and malice of Satan. As for the malice which his instruments, wicked men in this world, show against you in mocks and abuses, much less care for them; for their nature is to speak evil and cannot do otherwise. Look not therefore at them, but look up into heaven by the eye of your soul, where your faith makes you beloved and approved of God Himself and honorable in the presence of His holy angels.”1
1. The Works of William Perkins, Reformation Heritage Books, Vol 3 p17-20
The Works of William Perkins is a remarkable and wonderful resource from Reformation Heritage Books. Reformation Heritage is in process of publishing his works… they have finished the first four volumes. Treasures! The first four volumes of his works, (his exegetical works), are available on special offer ($130).
Scott T. Brown is the President of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives his time to expository preaching and local pastoral ministry, as well as conferences on Biblical doctrine and church and family reformation. He and his wife Deborah have four grown children. Scott helps people think through the two greatest evangelistic and discipleship institutions God has provided — the church and the family.