Written well before any modern controversy, British commentator Bruce Milnepenned some wise words on the place of hell in Christian preaching. Worthy of reflection here are his comments on John 12:35, 36, a passage following a very rich presentation on the meaning of the cross.
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. (John 12:35, 36)
To this Milne says:
There is an urgency in this last appeal of Jesus from which the modern church does well to learn. The days when sermons on hell and its conditions were the staple diet of the evangelical pulpit have long since departed. Their going is not wholly to be regretted. Fear of hell-fire is certainly not the primary motive for seeking Christ’s salvation. Besides, such preaching often concentrated on the damnation of the lost in a manner that left the saved smugly secure and unchallenged concerning the profound moral and ethical implications of living a ‘saved’ life. We would not turn back the clock in this respect even if we could.
Yet the warning note which Jesus strikes here is always relevant. The implications of turning away from the light of God are terrible in the extreme, and Jesus is concerned that people be clearly aware of them. We are certainly to draw men and women towards God’s salvation by all God-honouring inducements. We are certainly authorized to bear witness with full hearts to the completeness of the salvation which Christ has won for sinners, and the joys beyond compare which await those who cast themselves upon his mercy.
In addition, however, we dare not fail to warn them that the Redeemer is also a judge, that sin unrepented is sin condemned, and that it is, and will be, when the king returns, ‘a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God ‘ (Hebrews 10:31). While people have opportunity, we are to speak, and plead, as did our Saviour….
from Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Bible Speaks Today)