If you will permit the archivist to briefly stray from recounting our history, I would share something from one of my favorite commentaries. Consider this a Sabbath-day posting; perhaps in the future I can post sermons from some of the founding fathers of the various conservative Presbyterian denominations. But today, this is what I’ve been reading and what has impressed me with its relevance. I have long thought that the message in the book of Hosea is especially apt for our times. And I don’t think anyone more fully expounds that message than the Rev. Jeremiah Burroughs. However, knowing that many people won’t read at length in such things, here’s a partial summary of his observations on Hosea 4:4.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another; For thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
Obs. 1. Sin cannot be got from men without striving. Such is the perverseness of men’s hearts, that they take fast hold of deceit.
Obs. 2. Even private men [i.e., those other than pastors], so long as the there is hope, should strive with their brethren, by way of admonition and reprehension, to bring them from their sin.
Obs. 3. It is a great aggravation of sin, and a forerunner of destruction to a people, not to regard the strivings, admonitions, and reprehensions of others. It is vain to strive (now that is the meaning); indeed, so long as there was hope there might be striving, but now they are past striving. This was the height of wickedness that they were grown unto, and the forerunner of that wrath of God, which was now ready to fall upon them, that they were now past all reprehension and admonition.
Obs. 4. Sin increases where it is let alone. . . Those that once were capable of admonition, going on in sin and hardening their hearts, grow quickly past all reproof.
Obs. 5. There is a time when men may, yea, men should give up striving with, admonishing, and reproving others, when they should let them alone.
Now, if that prompts your interest and you want to read more, here is the full text of the first half of Burroughs’ exposition of Hosea 4:4 —
Hosea 4: 4 – Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another : for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
“Yet.” The Hebrew word is, אך
[Vere], as if he should say, Truly it is in vain for any one to stand striving or reproving his neighbour, or seek to convince or admonish him, it is in vain for one friend to meddle with another; for they are so violent in their wicked ways, so far from hearkening to private admonition, that they will contend with the priest, even with him that is set by God, and designed by special office, to teach and reprove. Some interpret it thus, They are so vile, and their wickedness so general, that no man is fit to reprove his brother for his sin. But I incline to the former interpretation, which imports thus much to us in the general.
Obs. 1. Sin cannot be got from men without striving. Such is the perverseness of men’s hearts, that they lake fast hold of deceit, Jer. viii. 5, and you cannot get them away without striving; like men in a frenzy, you cannot get them off from that which will injure them without struggling with them. When you admonish and reprove men for sin, you must expect beforehand that they will contend against you, yet afterwards, perhaps, they will bless God for you : at first you may be hardly used; What! you come to judge us ? as they said to Lot, “ Who made you a ruler ? “ So you generally receive very ill language from men at first when they are reproved, yet be not discouraged, they may bless God for you afterwards, they may say as David unto Abigail, “ Blessed be God, and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou for thy counsel.”
Obs. 2. Even private men, (as implied in the former note,) so long as there is any hope, should strive with their brethren, by way of admonition and reprehension, to bring them from their sin. We must not say, Are we our brother’s keepers ? that is the language of a Cain. There is much striving and contending one with another for our own ends; oh that there were more striving and contending for God and his glory ! It is a sign that the glory of God and the souls of our brethren are not precious in our eyes, when we can so strive and contend to have our own wills, and though God loses his glory, and our brother’s soul is like to perish, we cannot strive and contend there, not even those of us that are full of strife otherwise.
Obs. 3. It is a great aggravation of sin, and a forerunner of destruction to a people, not to regard the strivings, admonitions, and reprehensions of others. “ Let no man strive;” It is in vain to strive now (that is the meaning); indeed, so long as there was hope there might be striving, but now they are past striving. This was the height of wickedness that they were grown unto, and the forerunner of that wrath of God which was now ready to fall upon them, that they were now past all reprehension and admonition. I will cite two or three notable texts of Scripture to fasten this upon your hearts, that it is a most fearful thing for people to stand out against admonition and reprehension. In 1 Sam. ii. 25, the text saith of Eli’s sons, that they hearkened not unto the voice of their father; why ? “because the Lord would slay them.” O you children, hearken to this scripture, turn to it, read it over, you that are stout and rebellious, whose parents are reproving you for your sins and admonishing you, but you will not hearken to them; and in the pride of your hearts and stoutness of your spirits you refuse admonition ; but if you read that scripture, and believe that it is the word of God, O tremble at it; “ They hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.” Another text you have in 2 Chron. xxv. 16, a speech of the Lord’s prophet to Amaziah; when the prophet came to rebuke him for worshipping the gods of that people whom he had overcome in battle ; (here is the infinite vanity and sottishness of idolaters, Amaziah falls to worship those very gods that could not deliver themselves nor their people out of his hands;) when the prophet (I say) came to reprove him for it, in what a rage was he! one would have thought that it was reasonable for his spirit to yield to the prophet’s reproof, but saith the king, “ Art thou made of the king’s counsel ? forbear;” it may be he has other plans and intentions, what have you to do to meddle ? The prophet did forbear indeed, but mark what he said, “ I know that God hath determined to destroy thee, because thou hast done this, and hast not hearkened unto my counsel.” Here was his inference, because the king would not regard admonition and reproof, certainly God purposed to destroy him. And it is observable of this king that he should now stand out so; for in the chapter before, he seems to be of a yielding spirit, though a wicked man: when he had hired a hundred thousand out of Israel to join with him in battle, and had given them all pay; yet, when God did but command him by the prophet to send them back with the loss of the hundred talents which he had paid the soldiers, on the very word of the prophet he sends back a hundred thousand of his soldiers, and loses all their pay; and yet this Amaziah, so yielding then, how stubborn was he against the prophet at another time! and therefore when he did so yield to God, God prospered him in the battle, and he overcame his enemies gloriously; but when, after that victory, he fell a worshipping the idols he had overcome, and was stout against the prophet, soon after he was destroyed. The last scripture is that in Prov. xxix. 1, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” It is a dangerous thing to stand out against reproof and admonition.
Obs. 4. Sin increases where it is let alone. Let no man strive, nor reprove another. You may see that this people were become worse than they were before, for in the second chapter of this prophecy, “ Say to your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ru-hamah.” The godly amongst them are there admonished to speak to their brethren and to their sisters; but now it is come to such a pass, that there must be no more striving, no more admonishing. Those that once were capable of admonition, going on in sin and hardening their hearts, grow quickly past all reproof.
Obs. 5. There is a time when men may, yea, men should give up striving with, admonishing, and reproving others, when they should let them alone. Especially in these two cases; when those they admonish scorn their admonition, when they trample their reproofs under their feet as swine, or turn again on them and rend them as dogs. There are two sorts not to be admonished or reproved, swine and dogs. When they become such, then you may leave, yea, you ought to leave admonishing them. For admonitions and reprehensions are precious things, pearls, that must not be cast to swine; Matt. vii. 6, “ Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine,” they are holy and precious things: for I do not take that place to be meant of the sacrament only; it may, by an argument a minori ad majus, be applied to it, but it is primarily meant of admonition and reprehension. So that admonition is to be looked upon as a holy thing, as a pearl, you are to prize it, and therefore not to be angry when we come to admonish you; but you are to look upon the holiness of God in it, and so reverence it; and regard it as a mercy of God, and bless him for it. There are many in heaven now blessing God for the admonitions which they have received from others, as David blessed God for Abigail and her counsel. Many think it a great happiness to them that they can reject admonition and counsel; and when they are gone from such as have admonished them, and are among their companions, they can boast and say, Oh, such a one came and reprehended me, but I said thus and thus to him; and so they rejoice how they have rejected admonition. But if they knew all, they have cause to mourn; it is a great misery for them when it comes to that, that God shall bid those that have to deal with them to strive no more with them : when you have so rejected the admonitions of others, that you think you have succeeded in stopping their mouths, and that you have fairly rid yourselves of all their reproofs, oh, your misery is the greater. For,
1. You have deprived yourselves of a special ordinance of God. Admonition and reprehension, even brotherly admonition and reprehension, is an ordinance of God.
2. Those who strive thus, who- admonish and reprove you, must give an account to God what is become of their admonition and reprehension. You must give an account to God one day, and so must they also ; yea, they should do it at present, thus: after they have admonished, they must go to God and tell him how it has succeeded, for they have done it in his name if they have done it right; and if their admonition and reproof have prevailed with you, they are to return to God with blessing, to bless God that he has been pleased to bless their admonition. And on the other hand, if you reject their admonition, they are to tell that too, and to lament your condition, and to entreat of him to look upon you, and to say, Lord, I have been thus and thus admonishing such a one in thy name, but, Lord, he contemns and rejects it. When you are laughing that you have rejected such a friend’s admonition, then he that has been faithful to you, he is telling God of it; and do you not think there will come somewhat of this one day ?
3. You are left to God’s striving and rebuking, and “ it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” It is better when God strives with you by men, than that he should come and strive with you himself. As now, if a father send his servant to go and fetch in a child, to receive a rebuke, and he return and tell the father, He cares not for what I say; then the father goes himself, and it is worse for the child : so God sends thy brother to rebuke thee, and to fetch thee in, and thou carest not for him, but regardest him as thy fellow creature; and so thy brother goes to God, Lord, he regards not what I say. Then, saith God, I will rebuke him myself: and God’s rebukes in this case will be “ furious rebukes;” Ezek. v. 15, “ When I shall execute judgments in thee in anger, and in fury, and in furious rebukes.” Mark it, “ furious rebukes;” the rebukes of a brother are loving rebukes, but if thou reject them, God’s rebukes may come, and they will prove furious rebukes. The rebukes of a brother are out of love, but, Amos vii. 4, “ The Lord called to contend by fire.” When Job’s friends strove with him they could not prevail, but, chap, xxxviii. 1,2,” The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth words without counsel?” The Lord out of the whirlwind calls to contend with Job, and so overcomes him. If thou regardest not friends contending with thee, the Lord himself, out of the whirlwind, may come and contend with thee. Take heed how thou rejectest the strivings of a brother with thee, for God may not only say he shall strive no longer, but, My Spirit shall no longer strive with thy soul.
Burroughs has more to say, but I won’t weary the reader just now. If you want more, the volume remains in print and can be purchased from Reformation Heritage Books. Money well spent.