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The close of another Year demands of us the usual Preface on the presentation to our readers of another volume of the CHRISTIAN WITNESS. This demand, although a regular, is not a frequent occurrence, which suffices to remind us of the lapse of time, and of the manifold events which that lapse involves. We never can conceal from ourselves the fact, that each succeeding year works great changes throughout the vast circuit which is periodically swept by this publication. Into many a home, losses and crosses, trials and afflictions, have entered, producing serious changes, and into not a few, death itself; putting an end to the joys and the sorrows of the present life, and tearing asunder the dearest friends! Although thus it hath ever been, yet we feel it beneficial to ourselves to be habitually reminded of it, and called to reflect that our official intercourse with the public has in it much of a nature that is valedictory. If always forming new friendships, we are, to a like extent, called to mourn the extinction of friendships long enjoyed, and highly prized. We desire to keep this fact continually before our eyes in our monthly preparations of intellectual instruction, spiritual food, and Christian consolation. We are willing humbly to hope that the labours of the year, which has now terminated, have not been without their use in bracing the courage of Zion's pilgrims to approach the Jordan; that the doctrines we have continually endeavoured to exhibit and enforce, have proved a source of strength; and that the lessons of life and death, presented in our biographies and obituaries, have not only proved consolatory, but tended to bring nearer the image of the glory which is to be revealed.
The Year 1854 has been an era in the history of European nations. A great and mournful change has come over the face of society. The attention of the greatest powers on earth has been called aside from internal improvement, to matters appertaining to military conflict. The strength of nations, and their substance, to the extent of millions and tens of millions sterling, the result of the heavy labours of the toiling peoples, has been absorbed and consumed by the conflagration of war-horrid war ! This is matter for lamentation to the universal church of God, and all the friends of social improvement. But while in itself a heavy calamity, it also serves to remind us of a long tide of Divine favour, in the form of peace, of the blessings of which the bulk of the living generation are but imperfectly sensible. Things are best known by contrast; they only who have experienced or witnessed the privations and miseries of war, are able fully to appreciate the sweets and felicities of peace. These blessings, however, have been long enjoyed; and the results to the great family of European nations have been manifold, multiform, and incalculable. The progress of the last thirty years, especially in England, has been so great, that it can only be estimated by a careful and comprehensive comparison with the state of things which preceded.
During this long period of repose, the Church of God, in all its branches, has enjoyed rest; and with rest, has come extension, both at home and abroad. It must, nevertheless, be confessed, that the improvement she has made of her mercies has been far from commensurate with their abundance and their preciousness. . The world had too much of her heart, and consequently of her hand and her substance. She has been more concerned aboạt earth than about heaven, and about her own earthly comfort, than the evangelical honour of her Lord and Master. For a considerable number of years, a spirit of carnality has been creeping over her; amidst much that has been praiseworthy, there has been a great deal meriting the rebuke of Him that “ walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks." She has not been sufficiently concerned to “ lengthen her cords, and to strengthen her stakes," at home. She has been “at ease in Zion,” notwithstanding the myriads perishing on every side. The world, and the things of the world, have occupied in her eye too great a magnitude; she has too much entered into the spirit of him who proudly and petulantly asked, “ Am I my brother's keeper?” She has forgotten that she is composed of a people expressly “ created to serve the Lord; and that the primary object of her existence is or ought to be, to diffuse truth, to save the lost, and to establish, throughout all lands, the kingdom of Heaven. But, while negligent of the lost masses of her friends and fellow-citizens at home, she has been still more so of foreign climes. The measure of substance which has been consecrated to the service of Christ, though absolutely great, is a very little thing compared with the means she enjoys, and the necessities of perishing nations. But, if wanting in the matter of means, she has been still more so in the matter of agency; for many years, the supply for the Home Field has been greatly defective, and still more that for the Foreign Field. These two facts, while things palpable and incontestible, force on the conviction that there is a previous and paramount deficiency from which these and other deficiencies proceed. The heart of the church is not in full sympathy with her Lord; she is not desirous that “the whole earth shall be filled with his glory; ” and as the fruit of this, she restrains prayer before his footstool. This want of sympathy is the root of all the mischief; and nothing will set matters right, until she shall have been blessed with "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” The language of the Prophet to the ancient church is specially applicable to the present times : “He told her that upon the land of His people would come up thorns and briers; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city, because the palaces should be forsaken, and the multitude of the city should be left; the forts and towers should be dens for ever, until the Spirit was poured out upon them from on high, and the wilderness made a fruitful field, and the fruitful field counted for a forest: then judgment would dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field; and the work of righteousness be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever; when the people of the Lord would dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”
It becomes the generation of the faithful that now is, seriously to ponder the foregoing passage; the principle, whether it affects the ancient church, or that of our own dispensation, is the same; “it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord,” that the temple of his glory is to be built up. Of this, the church must become sensible, to an extent which is not now generally realized. The spirit of slumber, to an awful extent, prevails ; and that spirit is not the spirit of prayer. The injunction of the Master is, that she shall both “watch
" the absence of the one demonstrates the absence of the other. These graces of the Spirit are never found apart.
Thanking our Correspondents for all their favours, and begging a continuance of the same, we wish for them and our Readers generally, every blessing for both worlds during the year on which we are about to enter. Looking to the Strong for strength, and to the Wise for guidance, we pledge ourselves to renewed diligence in furtherance of the welfare of themselves, their families, and the churches.
J. C. November 27th, 1854.