Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers…
Nor is it difficult to account for this widespread and profound agitation. In the first place, the people were chafing under the yoke of pagan Rome. Remembering that they were Jehovah's covenant-people, their yearning for deliverance naturally took on a religious form. Again, there was at this time among the Jews, and perhaps throughout the East, the expectation, more or less distinct, of one who was to be a heaven-sent deliverer. Hearing of the sanctity of Judea's hermit, how natural that the Jews, weary of bondage and shame, should flock to John in the hope that he was the promised one. Again, there is in asceticism something which is fascinating. It betokens an exceptional, earnest, character; and men are ever moved by the exceptional, especially when it takes the form of terrible moral earnestness. And John was a terribly earnest ascetic. And therefore all Israel flocked to his preaching, feeling the thrall of his magnetism, even as idolatrous Israel centuries before had swayed under stormy Elijah, and as voluptuous Italy centuries afterward bowed before stern Savonarola, and frivolous France centuries still later grew solemn before saintly Lacordaire. Once more, John's message was a message of terror. No soothing words were his, no soporific platitudes. So it was in Assyria when heathen Nineveh robed herself in sackcloth before the denunciation of Hebrew Jonah. So it was in France when awakened Europe wept and groaned before the Tartarean oratory of St. Bernard. So it was in New England when Northampton church-member and and Stockbridge Indian quailed and wailed before the wrathful eloquence of Edwards. How, then, came such persons to the Jordan to listen to the wrathful eloquence of the stern apostle of repentance? Ah, there are times when the proudest, most worldly of natures are stirred to their very depths. There are times when even the Pharisee finds that his rubric is too narrow and icy, and that he has been living a hollow life. There are times when even the Sadducee feels his moral nature asserting itself at cost of every barrier of unbelief and moral petrifaction. There are times when conscience speaks louder than will or passion. Thus did the desert-preacher rightly divide the word of truth, giving to each his appropriate share, not demanding of the publican repentance for the Pharisee's self-righteousness, nor of the Sadducee penitence for the soldier's crime. In this respect, at least, John of the desert was a model preacher. Would God, all the ministers of His word were as faithful!
(G. D. Boardman.)
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?