This general expression scarcely needs introduction because of its familiarity. However in general we may and usually do use it to differentiate and to express the general, the peoples’ view of things as distinct from the private opinion, that is, the opinion which private persons hold for themselves, of the initiates the opinion of persons who are in a position to know what the general public does not.
The possibility of public opinion lies in the fact that people, men taken together are an essential unity, created to live in relation to each other and to be mutually or to have fellowship in the use of the one body of knowledge.
Immediately, as we begin to look at this the problem arises, what now is the normal and what is the abnormal because of sin. We could easily let ourselves be misled by our observations on the subject, due to the fact that all observation would be taken from an abnormal world, from an abnormal humanity that has been ruined by sin where the lie corrupts all.
So we must first see our question in a normal world not yet marred by the influences of sin.
There we would find no distinction between private and public opinion in the sense that the two were in opposition to each other; neither would we have a private opinion that was not made for public enjoyment.
The normal world is the world living according to the norm ordained for it. For the rational moral creature that means living according to the law of sinlessness, living in the law of love to God and the neighbor. To get some idea of this we look usually at the record of man’s creation in Genesis and to the mandate there prescribed for him, and also to the relations in the New heaven and earth insofar as we can gather them from Scripture.
Thus all opinion would be one; leaders in opinion would have no reason or motive to withhold it from the public. The purpose is to impart this knowledge to all, without restraint, without holding this knowledge in respect for the public enjoyment.
This we may even consider to be reflected in the standpoint of the living, believing church over against all heathen worship with its secrecies in its cult us, whereby the real mysteries are for an esoteric (inside) group in distinction from an exoteric (outside) multitude.
Also against the Roman Catholic Church with its doctrines of faith in two different senses this normal function of organic knowledge stands opposed. The Roman Catholic conception namely is that there is an inner circle, the Holy Church, which is able to define the doctrines of belief while there is also the multitude that cannot understand these things but believes them by a so-called implicit faith. It does not know. It does not need to know, it simply trusts that the Church’s knowing is sufficient.
For this forming thereof course many means in the world. The first would of course be hard to define. Perhaps the first is simple speech. Rut we then immediately come upon the art and gift of public speaking. By this gift multitudes are moved to adopt certain principles or plans of action, and without reflecting further as to the root. Next comes the art of printing by which the fruit of the mind can be multiplied to flood the market and sweep along the opinion of the public. We only need to think of the Middle Ages when the art of printing became known. It was one of the mighty factors to give impetus to the flood of the Renaissance and the Reformation of the Christian church of the Middle Ages. It explains how a few men like Luther and Calvin could move the masses of men of the middle ages to break away from the shackles of the great institution of the Roman Catholic Church.
This field was for several centuries held by the public press with its manifold forms of adaptability. Some of the copy is designed to catch the eye of the scanning reader, other copy is written for the news reader, and some is meant for more careful reflective reading. Nearly every one reads a daily paper and several dailies number their readers in millions. So the newspaper can become a mighty factor in molding public sentiment. This is often heightened when a considerable group of papers in various sections of the country are all under one powerful head of control. Think of the many Hearst newspapers, which are often said to be the rulers of public sentiment in our land, especially under certain administrations.
A fourth power is the radio, which is a very fast growing and developing institution. Also this is a very powerful factor in the molding of public opinion. It is of course closely related as to methods of propagating public opinion to the newspaper. Striking phrases and slogans are coined and in the hands of the unscrupulous these phrases and slogans often bristle with hidden fallacies, equivocations, false suppositions. One is often reminded of the words of the seedy tramp who wrote to a soap manufacturer, “Two years ago I got a bar of your Kleeno Brand soap and I have not used any other since.”
Because of the close relation of the radio and the newspapers especially as they are coordinated by the government in a time of crisis, we may expect them to mold public opinion after a definite pattern. So it is that men with great God-given talents are able to move the masses and initiate crusades.
And therefore if it is in the service of truth, the men who have received gifts of leadership will be able to. communicate the visions and insights and convictions and enthusiasm to those dependent upon them. That ideally would make for a happy world.
But the bitter fact is that these great agencies of communication are employed in the service of sin and Scripture teaches us that they will be increasingly so used. That means that private opinion and public will not be of the same content. This of course in a relative sense. That is to say: the men who give leadership in thought will not speak their honest conviction. They will have a more initiated view themselves, but for public consumption they will speak lies in hypocrisy, although it is true that in those false prophets there will be an element of self-deception.
Let us try to realize what it will mean when all those means of knowledge will be controlled by the power of sin. No one may speak unless he places himself in subservience to the power of sin and antichrist. That all-suppressing power of the censor can be somewhat seen in the totalitarian state of our day, and of course it will reach its full effectiveness only in the following generation, when even the remnants of the truth that still lingered in the heart of the former generation has been starved out by systematic suppression or the means of religious communication, in sermon, in literature, in letters perhaps, yes, even in secret communion of two or three who are gathered in the name of the Lord.
Jn that great and complex world there will also be Christians. Somehow or other they must have the Word of Life. How will they receive it? How will it be brought to them? The answer may be difficult to give. But we know that Christ is the great Prophet; He is the one great Source of knowledge. But He does not possess that knowledge as a private opinion. Does He not as the Immanuel, the exalted Man possess all that knowledge precisely that He may impart it to His brethren. Scripture abundantly testifies to this. No man hath seen God at any time, the Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. John 1:18. Verily, verily, I say unto you to speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen. And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven even the Son of man which is in heaven, John 8:14.
So it is when men try to silence the testimony that speaks about the Kingship of the Messiah. He answered and said unto them, I tell you if these should hold their peace the stones would immediately cry out, Luke 19:38-40. I have given them Thy word. . . . sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth. Father I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me, John 17:14, 17, 24. Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered unto the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from thence. . . . To this end was I born and for this cause came I into this world that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice, John 18:36, 37. So further, Jesus saith to Peter: Feed my sheep. . . . Feed my lambs, John 20. So again, To me is given all power in heaven and on earth. . . . Go ye therefore and teach all nations. . . . Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world. Amen, Matt. 28:19.
These passages could be multiplied and though at first glance they do not seem to the point, yet a little reflection will convince us that in the midst of the greatest totalitarian suppression of the truth, Christ, the Great Prophet, the Great Witness, the Heaven sent Minister of publication will know His own given Him of the Father, and Pie will make known to them everything He desires to have them know. And although all other public opinion will be molded by the power of the lie, He will have His people in the world and also then they shall know the truth and the truth shall make them free.