The Unreasoning Excitement of Crowds
Acts 22:22, 23
And they gave him audience to this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth…

The action of this crowd is in most respects similar to that of crowds in all ages and in all districts; but in some of its features it was characteristically Eastern. "A great similarity appears between the conduct of the Jews when the chief captain of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem presented himself in the temple, and the behavior of the Persian peasants when they go to court to complain of the governors under whom they live, upon their oppressions becoming intolerable. Sir John Chardin tells us respecting them, that they carry their complaints against their governors by companies, consisting of several hundreds, and sometimes of a thousand; they repair to that gate of the palace near to which their prince is most likely to be, where they begin to make the most horrid cries, tearing their garments, and throwing dust into the air, at the same time demanding justice. The king, upon hearing these cries, sends to know the occasion of them. The people deliver their complaint in writing, upon which he lets them know that he will commit the cognizance of the affair to some one by whom justice is usually done them" (Paxton). Compare the excitement of the multitudes assembled in the Ephesian theatre (Acts 19:29-34).

I. THE PERILOUS INFLUENCE OF POPULAR SENTIMENT. Masses readily take up prejudices and give way to mere feeling, and so are led to do terrible things. Illustrate from the riots of country towns in the older election-times, when the people were excited by political sentiment; or by the violent scenes of the French Revolution. It is usually true of all mobs that "the more part knew not wherefore they were come together." Sentiment is valuable as giving tone and feeling to action, but sentiment alone can never be allowed to decide and control action, because it tends to make a man at once passionate and weak. There is no wise decision, no calm judgment, no definite purpose, no solid strength of will, and so sentiment leads men to do things of which they are afterwards ashamed, to forget the reasonable claims of others, and to commit great social wrongs. The Christian man's duty, wherever his lot may be cast, is:

1. To strive against yielding to popular sentiments on

(1) social,

(2) political,

(3) religious subjects, as injurious to his own spiritual life, and likely to make him unjust toward others.

2. To use his influence to check public excitement, and to disseminate right principles. In religious spheres, yielding to "sentiment" has often been the cause of public and private persecution. In common life, reason is the proper check of sentiment. In religious spheres, the revelation given us in God's Word, and the direct illuminations of God's Spirit, are the proper checks. Illustrate how, in religious spheres, untempered sentiment has often developed into "mania."

II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL POPULAR LEADERS. They gain their power by appeal to sentiment. Illustrate from the incidents of the text. The leaders of the Judaic party knew perfectly well that they had no case against the apostle, but they appealed to the prejudice of the people, and excited their feeling into passion, which might have led to St. Paul's death within the temple courts. Opportunity is here given to speak of the valuable work done by the revivalist and the missioner, and at the same time of the responsibility of such workers, in the influence they gain over masses of people. So far as their work is merely an appeal to sentiment, it can exert but a passing, and only too possibly a mischievous, influence. So far as they become teachers of the truth and persuaders of men to duty, their work will be permanent and blessed. The Crusades illustrate the sway of the masses by sentiment; the Reformation the sway of the masses by truth.

III. THE HOPELESSNESS OF REASONING WITH EXCITED CROWDS. St. Paul tried, but he found it vain: they were carried away by the mere sound of the word "Gentiles." Compare the scheme of the town-clerk at Ephesus. Excited masses can only be interested until their passion dies down, or dispersed by physical force. Reasoning is of no use until men have become reasonable. Show that Christ never works upon the mere crowd. He and his servants make their appeal to men who have their power of reason. They use emotion and affection, but in subordination to reason. They work by the enthusiasm of numbers, but subordinate this influence to the enforcement of the saving truth. - R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.

WEB: They listened to him until he said that; then they lifted up their voice, and said, "Rid the earth of this fellow, for he isn't fit to live!"

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