Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers…
We read that "Noah, moved with fear," built the ark which, in saving him and his family, saved the human race. Fear, dread of impending danger, has its place in the heart of man, and its work in the service of mankind. God made his appeal to it when he dealt with Israel; there was much of it in the Law. It was not absent from the ministry of Jesus Christ; it was he who spoke to men of the "millstone about the neck," of the undying worm, of the doom less tolerable than that of Tyre and Sidon. John's teaching seems to have been composed very largely of this element; he spoke freely of the "wrath to come." We are bound to consider -
I. THE FUTURE WHICH WE HAVE TO FEAR. We are not to imagine that because those terrible pictures of physical suffering which arose from mistaking the meaning of our Lord's figurative words have long ceased to haunt the minds of men, there is therefore nothing to apprehend in the future. That would be a reaction from one extreme to another. If we take the authority of Scripture as decisive, it is certain that the impenitent have everything to fear. They have to face:
1. Judgment and, with judgment, condemnation. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." "Every one shall give account of himself to God." What reason here for keen apprehension on the part of the impenitent sensualist, oppressor, defrauder, scorner!
2. The penalty which is due to guilt. This may be heavier or lighter, according as the light in which a man lived was clearer or less clear; but when we think how sin is branded and smitten now, what shame and suffering follow in its train in this world of probation, how seriously Divine wrath visits iniquity even in the day of grace, we may well shrink, with a fear that is not craven but simply wise, from enduring the penalty of unforgiven sin in the world of retribution (see Romans 2:5-9). It is not the brave, but the blind and the infatuated, who are indifferent to "the wrath to' come."
II. OUR COMMON INTEREST IN THIS SOLEMN THEME. "Who hath warned you," said John, addressing himself (as we learn from Matthew) more particularly to the Pharisees and Sadducces, "to flee from the wrath to come? How comes it that you, who are so perfectly satisfied with yourselves and charge yourselves with no defects, are concerned about judgment? And how is it that you Sadducees, who profess not to believe in any future at all, are trembling in view of another world?" Why did the rigid formalist and the sceptic come to listen so attentively to his doctrine of repentance? The truth was and is that the supposed sufficiency of Pharisaical proprieties, and the barrier of sceptical denials, break down in the hour when the faithful and fearless prophet speaks, when the stern but friendly truth of God finds its way to the human conscience. Our carefully constructed defenses may last for days, or even years, but they will not last for ever; the hour comes whoa some strong reality sweeps them away. There is not one of us, into how many different classes or denominations we may be divided, who does not need to inquire earnestly of God's spokesman what is the way of escape from the penalty of sin. And we know what is -
III. THE SURE WAY OF ESCAPE. It is that of penitence, on which John so strongly insisted; and of faith in that "Lamb of God" whom he pointed out as "taking away the sins of the world." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?