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 specially interesting to a Christian
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
that 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, like
John the Baptist, in these latter days.
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, by abstaining from any
mention of their vices, or in applying smooth
epithets 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."
In the other it is written, "Obviously, I'm not trying
to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please
God. If I were still trying to please people, I would
not be Christ's servant." (Luke 6:26; Gal. 1:10)
We should mark, also, how plainly John speaks
to his hearers about HELL and danger!
He tells them that there is a "wrath to come."
He speaks of "the ax" of God's judgments, 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 . . .
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 in our hearts. Let us never be ashamed
to avow our firm belief, that there is a "wrath to
come" 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 in their minds the devil's
old delusion, "You shall not surely die!"
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 there is real
cause to be afraid. Never will he seek heaven until
be is convinced that there is risk of his falling into
The religion in which there is no mention of hell,
is not the religion of John the Baptist, and of our
Lord Jesus, and His apostles.