"Plead with your mother, PLEAD"
How to Approach a Church Heading Into Apostasy
for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband:
let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight,
and her adulteries from between her breasts.” (Hosea 2:2)
Jeremiah Burroughs, who was a minister of the Gospel in the 1600s, authored an extensive commentary on the book of Hosea titled An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea. This massive work has been republished in our era in an 8 ½ X 11 book over an inch and a half thick, with tiny script to boot! Yet it is a precious gem for our era, a profitable exercise in eating the solid meat of the Word. Plus, it permits us a peek into the sunshine and shadows of the Reformation 100 years after its inception, when persecution was subsiding and complacency and worldliness were settling all-too-comfortably into the church.
The book of Hosea is a study for our times. Hosea's wife is an intense illustration of how individuals and churches leave their First Love and wander off pursuing lovers and lusts, passions and idolatries. Burroughs’ commentary on the phrase “Plead with your mother, plead” is insightful and pertinent to those who find themselves in the rapidly apostatizing churches of today. May you find the excerpts below to be both encouragement and admonition.
Note: the English is old style. To assist the reader with obscure words, we have included a bracket with a modern definition and linked to a dictionary. We have also taken a few minor liberties to reformat the text for easier readability in a blog format.
Plead, Litigate, so some, Contendite, Strive; the Vulgate reads Judicate, Judge your mother* [i.e., the church]. It may seem to be a harsh phrase at first, but we shall labour to acquaint you with the mind of God in it. Here is an exhortation to the private members of the church, to all, one or other, to plead with their mother, to plead even with the church of which they are members, and so to plead as to deal plainly, and to tell her that she is not the wife of God….
It is a hard thing to convince idolators of their sin, and of the justice of God coming against them for their sin….. [Y]ou had need to… plead hard with her. Idolaters have so many distinctions, evasions, and pretences, that it is a thousand to one if you prevail with them….
“Plead with your mother, plead.” It is a forensic [debate] word, and carries with it such a kind of pleading as must be convincing and powerful…. [G]o and plead the cause with them, seek to convince them, not rail upon them, but convince them…. [D]eal with them as rational creatures, and… take away their secret objections and shifts….
God gives liberty to some private members of churches, yea, it is their duty in some cases to plead with the whole church….
But it may be said, "Will not this argue self-conceit? What! For one man, a private man, to plead with so many, with a church?" It is a sign that such a one is very opinionated, that such should think that what he apprehends [perceives] is sufficient to stand against the apprehensions [perceptions] of so many learned and godly men as are in the church.
How can this be freed from arrogance and proud conceitedness? I answer, not so, it may be conscience, and not self-conceit, for the rule of conscience is not the abilities, nor the holiness, nor the multitude of others, but it is that light that God lets in to convince [convict] according to His Word.
Nay, further, I suppose I may convince you that this pleading for God may proceed from much self-denial, and the not pleading may proceed from vile, sinful self-respect [pride]. How will that appear? Thus: for a private man when he sees the Truth of God suffer, if he be of a humble and an ingenuous [guileless, innocent] spirit, it cannot but be exceeding grievous to him to think, that he must contest with such a multitude of able and godly men. He would rather a hundred times, if he looked at his own quiet and ease, sit down: “For,” thinks he, “if I speak, by this I shall be endangered to be accounted self-conceited, I shall have the accusation of pride, I shall displease many of my friends, I shall make a great disturbance in myself; I am sure of my own peace, whatever I do to others, and how much better were it for me to sit still and be quiet.”
A humble spirit would reason thus, but conscience puts him upon it: “I shall contract guilt to myself if I be not, at least, a witness for God’s Truth; therefore though I shall suffer so much in it, yet, rather than the Truth shall suffer, rather than conscience shall plead against me, I will plead, though never so much to my disadvantage.”
Now, if such a one carry it humbly and quietly, certainly he is rather to be accounted a self-denying man; for it is a very hard task.
Whereas, on the other side, self-love is more likely to think thus: “It is true, these things are not right, I see they are not according to the Truth of God. Conscience indeed would have me speak, but I shall trouble myself, and what will they think of me on the other side, where there are so many able and godly men? Surely I shall be thought a conceited fool, and therefore I were as good hold my peace, and sleep in a whole skin, and be quiet.”
Thus because they have so much self-respect, and love their own quiet, and cannot endure to suffer any trouble, they will leave the Truth to suffer, and their consciences to be pleading against themselves, rather than thus plead for the cause of God….
Christians may plead with their mother [i.e., the church], yet they must observe these rules.
First, They must not plead with her for every light thing; for the Scripture gives us this rule, “Love covereth a multitude of sins” [1 Peter 4:8]. We must not stand pleading for every infirmity with our brother, but rather pass by many and cover them; much less then with the church. But if there be that which is notorious [disreputable, wicked], so that I cannot have communion with them, and I shall be wrapped up in the guilt except I testify the Truth, certainly then I am bound to plead.
Secondly, It must be orderly done; that is, if possible, you must make the officers [leaders] to be your mouth in pleading. I say, if it can be. If it come to declaring the evil to the church, it should rather be by him whom God has appointed to be His mouth to the church; for you do it in God’s name, therefore the most orderly way to do it, if it may be done, is by him that is God’s mouth.
Thirdly, It must be so as you must manifest all due respect to the church; showing in your carriage [attitude, behavior], that you are apprehensive [perceptive, understanding] and sensible, even at this time, of that distance that is between you and that whole society whereof you are a member.
Fourthly, You must do it in a very peaceable way, so as to manifest [make clear or evident] that you desire peace, and not to be the least disturbance to the peace of the church, but that the peace of it is dear and precious to you. Therefore, when you have witnessed the Truth, and discharged your conscience, you must be then content to sit down quiet, for so the rule is in that case; that the spirits of the prophets must be subject to the prophets [1 Corinthians 14:32]. But if it should prove that the church continues the evil, after all means used and all patience exercised in such a case, you may desire to be dismissed from it, and depart; but in as peaceable a way as possible, continuing due respect to the church, though you should depart, only leaving your witness behind you....
[I]t is exceedingly difficult for a people to understand their liberty without abusing of it, either against the church, or against the officers [leaders] of a church. This power may be abused by persons, who in pride, arrogancy, and a spirit of contention, take delight in contradiction. There are many people of such a humour [disposition, temperament], that it is their very delight to contradict, and they think they are nobody except they have somewhat to say against their officers [leaders], or against what is delivered; and upon that very ground will quarrel not out of mere conscience, but that it may appear to others that they see farther than other men. And if they be in a community, they conceive that every one would think them nobody if they say nothing, therefore, that they may appear to be somebody, they will find fault, though they scarce understand what they say, or whereof they affirm, showing their disapprobation [disapproval] in a virulent [antagonistic, spiteful] spirit, and insulting those whom God has set over them. Certainly, this is a gross [insensitive] and abominable [disgusting] thing, whereas the rule of Christ is, "Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father" [1 Timothy 5:1]; do not think that because you may plead with them, and God's cause may suffer by your silence, that therefore you may rebuke them in an undecent [improper] and unseemly [rude] manner. You may indeed go in a humble manner, acknowledging the distance betwixt [between] you and him, he being an officer [leader], and so "entreat him as a father."
"And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul." (Ezekiel 3:16-21)
1. Jeremiah Burroughs, An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea, Reformation Heritage Books (Grand Rapids, MI) 2006.
*Note: Galatians 4:26 states: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." Burroughs is using a figurative analogy when applying this verse to the church. The Bible frequently uses feminine spousal language in the Old Testament for ancient Israel (of which Hosea's adulterous/idolatrous wife was a type). In the book of Hosea the children are also a type (see Hosea 1:2), and are given prophetic names. Hosea 2:5a explains why the children must plead: "For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully:..." See also Ezekiel 16 for a vivid example of this, e.g. verse 44: "As is the mother, so is her daughter." Likewise, in the New Testament, feminine spousal language is used of the church, which is the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband").