You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shall you speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
There is, I suppose, no doctrine more clearly set forth in Scripture than the doctrine of personal responsibility. There is no doctrine more readily owned, no doctrine more insisted upon by men. Yet I think I can show you that, in its application to a great number of particular cases, you would not only act as though you disbelieved it, but you would unconsciously maintain in words doctrines directly opposed to it. The words which I have just read to you suggest one of the most universally employed modes of denying this universally received doctrine of individual responsibility. "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil," was said long ago by the Jewish law. I think you will find that the present condition of things, in whatever place or class we are thinking of, grew up from something very small, and that by degrees the sin acquired strength from the power and position, and then from the mere number of its perpetrators, until in time it acquired positive dignity and became correct, or according to the absurd modern phraseology, became "good form," from the multitude of transgressors. I will begin with the sex which since the creation of the world has almost uniformly carried its point against the opposite sex, and which, nevertheless, is still facetiously called the weaker. They will, I believe, if you ask them, readily own themselves responsible for their use of time and of money. Well, they certainly spend an excessive amount of the latter, money, as I daresay their husbands know, in purchasing; and of the former, time, as everybody knows, in adjusting those ever-changing and most cumbrous absurdities which they pile upon themselves, and with which they surround themselves to the general inconvenience of everybody and everywhere. They do this until I should think they must feel uncomfortable, and I know that they look deformed. Why do they do it? Ask any one, and you will hear it all condemned at once, solemnly, perhaps piously condemned at once, the responsibility being shifted immediately from the individual to fashion, and that is to everybody. What does all that mean? Their conscience is relieved by the multitude whom they follow. Let us go a little further and take another view of the matter. Public bodies, I believe, parliaments, ministries, corporations, town commissioners, Poor Law guardians, boards of all kinds, and committees of all kinds, are known — every one of you knows it as well as I do — to be guilty of neglect of duties and violations of honour of which none of their members singly, in private transactions, would for one moment be capable. Take another set of instances. Look at the recognized dishonesties of different trades and businesses. The man who keeps light weights for selling, and heavy weights for buying, as I once knew a most "pious" man do; the man who adulterates food; the man who puts bad work or bad material where it is not to be detected; the servant who robs his master "in the usual way"; "the workman who to no greater extent than others of his craft plunders his employer"; none of these desire by any means, I fancy, to have their children taught at school that the Eighth Commandment has no meaning. They like to hear it every Sunday. Why? Because they have an unwritten tradition in the craft or trade, by which it is dispensed with. But I am going into more dangerous ground now. In the present day, the multitude has come to be considered something more than an excuser of deviations from strict principles in the ordinary affairs of life. It is beginning to assume the functions of the highest authority on religious matters. To call in question its decision, or refuse submission to its commands, no matter how uninstructed it may be, is coming to be viewed in the light of standing up against an inspired prophet. It does not occur to the thoughtless throng, who will rush anywhere to hear anybody, or to see anything, that when the multitude appears to have taken a "pious" turn it can be wrong to follow it whithersoever it leads. It does not seem to occur to them that when the multitude is longing to take Jesus by force and make Him a king, it may have just as little perception of His mission as when it clamorously demands His crucifixion. No, they are afraid to gainsay what the multitude asserts; they are afraid to do anything but echo its assertions, and thus each one among a multitude perpetuates the delusion of the others as to his real opinion, by being afraid to say it out, and act in conformity with it. This is the very spirit by which multitudes are created, by which they are enabled to assume formidable proportions, to become powerful for evil. The silence of cowardice is regarded as satisfactory consent, and everybody's echo of what everybody else says is vaunted as the concurrence of numerous independent testimonies. Persons of this kind are the genuine followers of the multitude who are condemned in the text.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
WEB: "You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; neither shall you testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice;