The devil's old delusion!
(J.C. Ryle, "The Gospel of Luke" 1858)
"John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!" Luke 3
We have, in these verses, a specimen of John the Baptist's ministry. It is a portion of Scripture which should always be especially interesting to a Christian mind.
We should first mark the holy boldness with which John addresses the multitudes who came to his baptism. He speaks to them as a "brood of vipers!" He saw the rottenness and hypocrisy of the profession which the crowd around him were making, and uses language descriptive of their case.
His head was not turned by popularity.
He did not care who was offended by his words.
The spiritual disease of those before him was desperate, and of long standing — and he knew that desperate diseases need strong remedies!
Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if it possessed more plain speaking ministers in our days — like John the Baptist.
A morbid dislike to strong language;
an excessive fear of giving offence;
a constant flinching from directness and plain speaking —
are, unhappily, too much the characteristics of the modern Christian pulpit.
Uncharitable language is no doubt always to be deprecated. But there is no charity . . .
in flattering unconverted people,
in abstaining from any mention of their vices,
or in applying smooth names to damnable sins!
There are two texts which are too much forgotten by Christian preachers. In one it is written, "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you." Luke 6:26. In the other it is written, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men — or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were trying to please men — I would not be Christ's servant." Galatians 1:10
We should mark, also — how plainly John speaks to his hearers about HELL and danger!
He tells them that there is a "coming wrath!"
He speaks of "the ax" of God's judgment — and of unfruitful trees being "thrown into the fire!"
The subject of HELL is always offensive to human nature. The minister who dwells much upon it — must expect to find himself regarded as barbaric, violent, unfeeling and narrow-minded!
Men love to hear "smooth things," and to be told of peace, and not of danger. Isaiah 30:10
But the subject of Hell is one that ought not to be kept back, if we desire to do good to souls. It is one that our Lord Jesus Christ brought forward frequently in His public teachings. That loving Savior, who spoke so graciously of the way to Heaven — has also used the plainest language about the way to Hell.
Let us beware of being wise above that which is written, and more charitable than Scripture itself. Let the language of John the Baptist be deeply engraved on our hearts. Let us never be ashamed to avow our firm belief, that there is a "coming wrath" for the impenitent; and that it is possible for a man to be lost, as well as to be saved.
To be silent on the subject — is dreadful treachery to men's souls. It only encourages them to persevere in wickedness, and fosters the devil's old delusion in their minds, "You shall not surely die!" Genesis 3:4
That minister is surely our best friend — who tells us honestly of danger, and warns us, like John the Baptist, to "flee from the wrath to come!"
Never will a man flee — until he sees that there is real cause to be afraid.
Never will he seek Heaven — until he is convinced that he is on his way to Hell.
The religion in which there is no mention of Hell — is not the religion of John the Baptist, or of our Lord Jesus and His apostles!