“The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.”
The righteous are those who belong to God, have godly wisdom, and live in accordance with God’s ways. Throughout Proverbs, the righteous are those who fear God (1:7), carry out justice (8:20), increase in learning (9:9), speak profitable things (10:11, 21), remain steadfast (10:30), bear fruit like a tree (11:30), care for their neighbor (12:26), hate falsehood (13:50), and walk in integrity (20:7).
The righteous live eminently godly lives filled with acts of service to King Jesus. They offer up their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Their lives are filled with such godly virtues that they become paradigms of some of the virtues that God works in us by the Spirit. In essence, the righteous are those who truly live in this life.
Nonetheless, though the righteous truly live in this life, they still end up dying. Once they are gone, all we have are memories of them. These memories become blessings to the people of God. This is one of the ways that God honors those who honor him (Psalm 112:6). God sees to it that blessed men and women leave behind blessed memories; memories that are so profitable to the people of God that they are regarded as blessings from God.
We are blessed when we remember how Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac because he was confident that God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-20). Our spirits are encouraged when we think about how Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin in Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-25). Our souls are renewed with zeal when we remember the steadfastness of Job in the midst of an onslaught of fiery trials (James 5:11).
Sweet Memories of William Tyndale
This is also one of the chief reasons so many Christians have benefited from reading biographies of righteous men and women throughout history. Just the other day I was reading about William Tyndale. Throughout the 1520s and 1530s, Tyndale’s main ambition was to translate both the Old and New Testament into English. Though this was illegal and punishable by death during his time, he was filled with a godly resolve to get the Bible into the language of the common man. Before he began this extraordinarily difficult task, Tyndale famously said to a very learned man, “If God spare my life, in a few years I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scripture than you do.”
To enable the plough boy to know more Scripture than the learned man proved to be an audacious endeavor. Tyndale had to live as a fugitive on the run, he had to master the Greek and Hebrew language, and he had to find men that would print his translations even though it could cost them their lives. In all of this, Tyndale did not waver. Before long, his English Bible was circulating throughout England. As the Bible was placed into the plough boy’s hands, the plough boy began to know more Scripture than the Pope!
Although this was a remarkable feat, it proved to cost Tyndale his life. Because of his translation work, in 1536 he was tied to a stake, strangled to death by an iron chain, and then burned. William Tyndale gave up his life for the cause of Christ, the Word of God, and the building up of the church. Even though he is gone, we still hear his voice every time we read our English Bible. As you can see, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Proverbs 10:7).
Not so With the Wicked
This is not so with the wicked. For those who do not belong to God, lack godly wisdom, and rebel against God’s good design, their names will rot. When they die, both their body and their names will decay. God will see to it that the wicked are either forgotten (2 Kings 9:30-37; Job 18:5-17; Psalm 9:5), or that they will be remembered with shame and detestation (Romans 9:13; 2 Timothy 3:8-9; Revelation 2:20).
The Stench of Henry Phillips
Take Henry Phillips for example. This is the wicked man who was hired to befriend William Tyndale for the express purpose of betraying him. The same money loving spirit that drove Judas to betray the Son of God fueled Henry Phillips to betray Tyndale, a translator of the Word of God. After Phillips gambled away a large sum of money that his father had entrusted to him, he was willing to do anything to pay off his debt. Knowing this, a wealthy man that abhorred the reformers offered Phillips a sizable amount of money to spy on, befriend, and betray Tyndale. In love with money, Phillips agreed.
He proved to be remarkably successful in this endeavor. Before long, he lured Tyndale into a trap. Tyndale was then arrested and jailed. As we mentioned earlier, he was then tied to a stake, strangled to death, and then set ablaze. For the church, the memory of Tyndale is a blessing. The memory of Henry Phillips, however, has faded into oblivion. Even when Henry Phillips’ name is mentioned, it is remembered with sense of disgrace.