The World's Great Assembly (1851)

Added by Nick Fisher, Director, Cultural History, University of Aberdeen [n.fisher@abdn.ac.uk]

English Monthly Tract Society, London: J F Shaw [1851]

[Editorial note: the following transcription contains the page numbers in the original in the following form: [1/2] marks the end of page 1 and beginning of page 2.]

The world is growing old. Yet no country has ever had so many foreign eyes looking upon her closely as old England will now have. Eyes that have looked on the snows of Siberia, the forests of Norway, and the vineyards of Spain; on the minarets of Constantinople, and the domes of Rome, and the pyramids of Cairo; on the leisurely flow of the Ganges, the mighty roll of the Amazon, and the tremendous falls of the St. Lawrence; eyes that have watched the lion in tropical forests, and the whale in Polar seas; that have seen the ant — like multitudes of China, and the drear solitudes of African sand; that have witnessed the cannibal festival in Polynesian Isles, and the slave mart on Ethiopian shores, and the carnival in the brilliant cities of Italy, and the gala in the polished capital of France; eyes familiar with every aspect of nature, and every type of religion, and every variety of barbarism, and every grace of civilization, and every stage of art, and every form of government, will soon be busy here gazing upon England.

[1/2] The politician, eager to ascertain the secret of her stability; the merchant, athirst to find out the springs of her wealth; the patriot, instinct with the ambition of transplanting her freedom; the libertine, resolved to know if the reputed virtue of her homes is only an adroiter mask; the Mussulman, who never saw Christianity before, but in its connexion with the worship of images; the Romanist, curious to discover the real aspect of Protestantism: presently, all these will have their eyes inquisitively fixed on England, and no doubt will scan and scrutinize the life — springs of her moral and national existence. The palace of glass will be much, the wonders it contains will be much; but be assured of one thing, that, whatever may be the case with out own countrymen, to all foreigners England and the English will be the great exhibition of 1851.

Never was there a time, when such an assembly as that now gathering on our shore, would have brought with it such an intense curiosity respecting ourselves. Europe has just passed through a frightful series of convulsions, in the midst of which, England has stood erect in hale composure. The attention of all the inquiring men of the age has been fixed on that spectacle. The two great men, whom the first shock of the revolution most directly affected, have both come here, both observed us, both [2/3] returned to the continent, and published their judgment on the secret of our strength. Guizot, whom the revolution cast down, and Lamartine, whom it lifted up, have both told the world that England owes her pre — eminence, which all nations have envied, to her religion. This has not been lost on the active spirits, who, all over the continent, are pondering the great problem, how to make happy their fatherlands. Many of them who never studied religion as a matter of personal salvation, are now studying it as an engine of national improvement. Many of them will look closely to all that indicates the faith we feed upon, and the character which it imparts to us. We shall feel emulous as to the reputation of our artizans; but how little is our real honour involved in a specimen English machine, compared with what it is in a specimen English heart. And every foreigner that peers about our streets, will take each man, of whose character he happens to see any development, as a specimen of what we are. O that all those specimens were such as would either do us honour, or teach them wisdom! But, alas! What scenes will they witness! Our streets by night, our lanes by day, our gin — palaces by night and by day, what testimonies will these utter? Alas! alas! that amid privileges so distinguished, we should have drunkenness reeling before our eyes, and prostitution walking gaily! Then all the worst is sure to [3/4] be seen. It is the character of vice in English cities, that it is disgustingly conspicuous. A stranger might wander through the streets of Paris for a week, and imagine that he was in a city remarkably correct and blameless. Here our public — houses glare with light; our theatres are opened frequently by the immodest; and the nightly disorder of our streets is undisguised. Thus, the scenes calculated to diminish the moral influence of England, will be universally exhibited. On the other hand, few, very few comparatively, will have any means of looking into families, or of watching, in private life, the operation of christian principles. The scenes calculated to win moral influence for England will be exhibited to few. All who desire to see Europe in repose, and Africa in progress, and Asia in renovation, and America free from the slave stain in the north, and from superstition in the south; all who desire to see christian truth and christian happiness spread throughout the world, must feel that to these ends there is not, at this moment, one single element more important under God, than that the moral influence of England be conserved and augmented. To strengthen our moral influence, is to invigorate every labourer in God's good cause throughout the world; and to impair it, is to enfeeble them all. Englishmen! you have now a great test, and a great opportunity. You will be weighed in the balance of the nations.

[4/5]Ye that feel the importance of the crisis, be busy with those who do not. Tell the shop — keeper, he must think on our national name, in dealing with our guests. Tell all classes, how reeling intemperance will brand us with the disgrace of inconsistency, before the Romanist of southern Europe, or the Mussulman of the Levant. Teach many, to cry shame on all who would stain the fair fame of England, in the eye of the stranger. Infuse into the common people a desire to wear gentle manners, and to show rather the courtesy of hosts, than the liberty of scrutineers. Despair not of effecting anything. Purpose a work for the glory of God, for the honour of religion, for the good of mankind; and then, in the Lord's good strength, go forth and do it. You will not wholly fail. You may effect wonders. You shall not work in vain.

In one great feature of our national life we may hope especially to impress the stranger. It is something for men to see the eager haste of English commerce reined in, and standing mute before the ordinance of God's holy day. It is something for them to see our streets that yesterday teemed with traders, to — day, at one moment hushed and lonely; at another thronged again, but with worshippers now. It is a sight to tell the man who never saw the like, that, There is a God in England. O may that sight move many a heart to remember the Redeemer's [5/6] cross and shame, and to seek his rest in heaven! But oh! how hatefully do the drinking crowds in the gin — palaces contrast with the assemblies of christian worshippers! And how pitifully do the low markets, in the bye — places, deform the beauty of God's holy day! Remember that your Sabbath is one of the most powerful — ay, perhaps the most powerful — of all the means to be employed, for acquiring moral influence among our visitors. Remember, too, that during their stay, the sanctity of the sabbath will run special risks. And oh! by every sacred motive, urge your neighbours to respect the Lord's day, and call on God to avert, by his own silent ways of working, desecrations and offences.

But who are these, whom curiosity convenes on our shores? Here, you have the disciples of the Veda, the Koran, the Zend Avesta, and the Bible. Here, those who accredit the Bible and conceal it — those who accredit it and set it on high. Moving amid the mass of visages coloured by temperate climes, you see some on whom the hue of Africa is stamped. Think of their fatherland, and think of yours. What a difference between the birthright of two men — the one having an English, the other an African, birth! Think of that wide continent, and of all the woes under which it weeps and writhes; of the cold harsh Islamism, that rules the north, the wild and sanguinary superstitions, that over — [6/7] spread the habitable parts of its centre, the frightful slavedrain, that exhausts its life's blood around the coast, and the wars, that waste its brightest point of hope in the south. Men will tell you that the law of human society is progress; that, as years elapse, intellect marches, manners ameliorate, and institutions grow benign. Look at Africa. As many summers have shone on the plains of Dahomy and Ashantee, as on those of Britain. Yet men worship the Fetish, and kings dwell in palaces girt with walls of human skulls, and all enterprise is merged in kidnapping and selling men! Ah! years alone have not made England a land of quiet homes, of order by day, of security by night, of freedom, and intelligence, and domestic happiness. Had years alone done it, Africa would have had all this amelioration too. Again, you see some whose Asiatic costume bespeaks them the natives of the far East. And these men, from the banks of the Ganges and Cauvery, have an interest in England. They represent one hundred and fifty millions of our fellow — subjects. In the lands they come from, letters were cultivated when England was a wild. Their fathers dressed in silks and muslins, when ours wore shaggy hides. They calculated eclipses, when the first book by a Briton was unpenned. Yet whilst we sit here queenly among states, bright amongst the lights of religion and of science, binding bonds of brotherhood [7/8] with all mankind, the people of those magnificent Asiatic nations are ruled by a handful of strangers; they are backward in knowledge and in arts; they are worshipping oxen, and kites, and snakes, and monkeys, and a pantheon of disgusting gods; they are so shut off from each other by partitions of caste, that two neighbours of equal education and fortune dare not eat at one board; and their family life is so chilled, that in all their wide lands, you could not find one husband and wife seated together at the same meal! No, no, England! it is not time that has made thee what thou art, or Benares would be loftier far than London. It is Christ's good gospel, and on thee it lies to give that unspeakable boon to the idolatrous Hindu!

Again, you see, chequering the European crowd, a few that, without the impress of Africa or India, bear plain tokens that they are not of the north or the west. That black eastern eye, has but little of the ancient fire of Islam, but a child of Islam is there. We tremble not at the name now. The keen edge of the once magic scimitar has long been blunted. But what a chapter in the religious history of nations does that dread people leave recorded. The church of Christ had fallen. She had sunk into worldly mindedness; she had added human merit and mediation to the one atonement, as the ground of a sinner's hope; she had filled her churches [8/9] with images. Then, from the depths of pagan Arabia, rose a wild and frantic voice denouncing all idolatry; and the world was enforced at the point of the murderous scimitar. On the idolatrous Christianity of Asia, on the idolatrous Christianity of Europe, that terrific stroke descended. O what death and desolation! What years and years of black, black woe, following those times of apostacy! Englishmen, there is a voice for you in Islam. Let our nation corrupt Christianity by image worship, and from the arsenals of Providence will gleam another scimitar.

And that Mohammedan is a man of like passions, an heir of the fall, a sinner like me. We both expect a resurrection trump, and a righteous judgment — day. We both believe that sin is offensive to God, and our actions are noted down for retribution. It is enough to make us both hold our breath for very awe. It is enough to make us, even amid the hurry of the Great Exhibition, turn away from its crowds and its wonders, and, lifting our hearts to the great God who has seen all our sins, cry to him, "God be merciful to me." O how sweetly does a voice proclaim, "God is in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, — not imputing their trespasses unto them." Christ has made a full, perfect, and sufficient atonement, satisfaction, and oblation for our sins. I turn to Him. [9/10] He stands accepted before the Father. He stands pleading for me. Him "God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, for the remission of sins that are past." His blood speaks. It is enough; I may put all faith in it. That plea will not fail. The Father hears it; and his voice of mercy proclaims the remission of sins that are past. "We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."

But those from Africa or Asia are few. The nations of Europe form the mass. These men come from lands adjacent to our own, yet how different their lot from ours. There are the children of the splendid southern climes. Italians! if the glow of the sun, the smile of the sky, the jocund vintage, the charm of poetry, the spell of art, the enchantment of music, the grace of manners, the pride of ancient traditions, the pomp of state, or the skill of priestcraft, could exalt a nation, how would you look down from on high upon the sons of the new, northern land to which you are come. But no; you lie down there in the dust, and national calamities walk over you. Italy wants what England enjoys — a better inspiration than that of art, and a better guide than that of priestcraft. All the gospels that men preach have been tried — civilization, and arts, and learning; but God's holy word, the gospel of heaven's preaching, has been diligently shut out. Let that in, and [10/11] see, in a generation or two, whether Italy will wallow, as she wallows now.

There, again, is the Spaniard. How splendid his nation was, before it had finally rejected and extinguished the dawning light of the reformation! How poor, and smitten, and mean, has that nation since become! His neighbour, too, the Portuguese, how exactly has he run the same career, from power, wealth, and vast possessions, to insignificance abroad and bloodshed at home. And then there are the sprightly sons of France. How much their land has lost and suffered within the last hundred years! and how is it suffering now, and panting after rest! France has had its own peculiar gospel — civilization. This it has believed, and preached, and live by. Its fruits have been a whole progeny of new institutions; but, alas! it has left the old men and the old misery. New institutions are very valuable, when they are the offspring of new men. But leaving men what you find them, and making new institutions, in the hope that they will make new men, is like making handsome boots for cripples, and expecting them to work a cure. If new institutions were the way to happiness, oh! what an Elysium would Paris be at the present moment! No, no; you must find a power that will make new hearts. From these alone can weal to a community spring. Every man who is regenerated becomes a centre, from which all the influences of virtue [11/12] radiate through the community, preparing men, perhaps unconsciously to themselves, to be ashamed of old vices, and to proceed to new attainments. A hundred holy men in a town make the way silently, but surely, for new and ameliorated institutions. Wherever a dozen men in France, are turned from their sins, to the love and service of the Lord Jesus, a greater work is done for the future repose and advancement of their country, than when a tyranny is overthrown, and a new order of institutions inaugurated.

Here, also, we see men, in great numbers, with tokens at once of Europe and of other realms. They are children of European blood, but of Columbian soil. Sons of the Spaniard, the Portuguese, the Frenchman, and the Anglo — Saxon. But amongst all the vast territories which they divide between them in the new world, those alone that belong to the latter, witness the safety, the light, the order, the progress, and the repose which denote a prosperous State. How strange that, though wise men try to build up a stable policy, on a religion that shuts out God's free word, yet, be it with the absolutism of Italy, or the constitutionalism of Spain, or the republicanism of South America, such nations do not find tranquillity and strength.

But why all this concourse? Why have men left homes so distant and sacrificed their ordinary avocations, and incurred heavy expenses? [12/13] Why! the man would have little soul indeed, who would not desire to see such a sight as England now presents. When the art of the north and the south, of the west and the east, are to be displayed, who would not be there to gaze and to admire. It is natural, highly natural. And surely one is gladdened to see how all earth's contents are made beautiful or useful by skill. That majestic palace of iron and glass! Awhile ago, its pillars were coarse rude particles, clodded together in some deep recess of the earth, and its transparent plates were sandy masses, without beauty or coherence. How a little fire and a little art have changed them! And these vile bodies that we bear — they, too, may be wonderfully ennobled; and that dust of the dead, around us, what form of more than crystal purity may it not put on, after the great fire that is coming has done its work of renovation. And see how the sand, the clay, the stone — so dull, so cold, by nature — have been transformed into ornaments, that make man's home brilliant, or to uses that make his purpose easy. And the dull metals make sweet music, and the tame wood assumes a hundred admirable positions of service; and the cold of the poles, nurses luxurious furs; and the heat of the equator, fosters delicate silk and versatile cotton; and the elephant sends his ivory; and bird, and fish, and air, and sea, are all ministering to our abundance; and water and [13/14] fire, yoked to our cars, bear us over the earth, fleet as the wind; and inert metal, marches side by side with Time, echoing in audible tone, its every footfall, and trumpeting the end of every stage. Oh, 'tis indeed wonderful, how God gives man skill to make an inheritance of all things — see the mightiest beasts his docile servants; the most stubborn metals his instrument or his ornament; the winds driving his treasures from the farthest lands; the lightning running his errands; the sea — sand bringing hidden stars up out of the depth to meet his eye; and the poison — plant his medicine. It makes one's heart throb, to see how divine goodness thus endows our human family. But oh! to think of that future state, coming so close upon us, when the sons of God shall indeed "inherit all things", their Father's wisdom and power, calling every element of a new heaven and a new earth, to uncover all its capacity for enriching their pleasures or adorning their homes! Oh! that I may be one of those who share that inheritance; for surely it is pitiful to stand in a world so well replenished as this, and seeing all its abundance, shiver and say, "and I perish of hunger;" but how much more pitiful to open the eye, and behold, far off, the wealth and the joy of the better country, and yet be impoverished for ever, — —

Alas! beholding heaven, but feeling hell!

[14/15] And as you pass from trophy to trophy, and from wonder to wonder, do you not feel that you would like to see the man that invented this astonishing machine, or executed that wonderful piece of art? It is natural, when you witness an exquisite work, to desire an acquaintance with its author. Wonderful minds, wonderful hands, that planned and wrought these things! Yes, very wonderful. And who planned and made these minds and these hands? If the works of these minds and hands are worth studying, what of the Author of these minds and hands — of the One from whose sole will all this wisdom, and beauty, and power, and order have sprung? Oh! Source of all mind, and skill, and glory, let me know thee! Shut me not out from thy fellowship here, nor deny me hereafter the sight that exceeds all sights — the sight, O matchless God, of thee!

That marvel palace! how splendidly it rose! how wealthily it is stored! how vast and how diversified the throngs that surge around it! And yet, but yesterday that peerless structure was not: and a few short years ago, you might have called throughout all the universe, and of those thoughtful men, those lively women, those sportive children, not one was there to answer. They, too, were not. They have come forth from the hidden depths of the Creator's hand. Yet a little while, and again they will not be. Then, yet a little while, and once more they [15/16] will come forth, and the nations they belong to, and the fathers that went before them, and the children that shall come after; forth they will stand, multitude on multitude, an array awful exceedingly. And a great white throne, and a King of glory, and ten thousand angels of God, and trumps, and thunders, and dissolving worlds, will make that sight to overpass all the thoughts which rise within us at the expectation of it. And I shall be there to see! Nay, rather to feel; for the interests at stake then, will make me not a spectator, but one involved in the deeds of the day. O God! Three — one, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, prepare me for that day, and make it a joyful day to me!


Main History Great Exhibition of 1851 Visual Arts

Last modified 2003