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The year which is now drawing to its close has been one of considerable anxiety and responsibility to those concerned in the management of the Christian Observer. In the May Number of this Volume will be found a careful statement of the difficulties with which this, the oldest religions periodical in England, has had of late years to contend. We are thankful to say that sufficient encouragement has been since extended, in the shape of contributions to our pages, to induce us to persevere in the experiment we have undertaken. As a commercial speculation, we can only re-echo the statement of one of our predecessors, that it is not to be expected that a publication retained in private hands, and which does not consider, in what it publishes, "what will sell best, so much as what is proper to be written," can ever meet with extensive circulation aud success.
The wisdom, however, of the course adopted by the Proprietors has been abundantly proved by the consistent tone which has pervaded the Magazine from its commencement, and has preserved it an ever available medium for the dissemination of Evangelical views in every crisis of difficulty in which the Church of England has been placed during the last seventy years. The series of its Volumes is a most deeply interesting repertorium of the thoughts of the most eminent men of the Evangelical party during that period, and well repays attentive study. Whereas other publications have fluctuated in the sentiments they have advocated, according to the temper of the times, and in obedience to the exigencies of publishers or the fancies of Editors,—so much so, that Magazines and Reviews, started originally to disseminate Christian truth, have diverged into such latitude of opinion that, instead of bulwarks, they have become engines of offence,—the Christian Observer has remained as unchanged as the truth which it professes to uphold. It would be invidious to particularize instances, but they are notorious to all who have been familiar with religious periodicals. Should the day arrive, when, as at Athens the people became weary of hearing Aristides termed the Just, so Evangelical Churchmen should become weary of a periodical which has maintained their principles and fought their battles for so many years, it will be time to accept the verdict, and submit to the decision by withdrawing into silence, but not by swerving from the truth, and accommodating it to the fleeting fancies of the day.
We do not, however, feel that this is the case. Although piany most staunch friends and able supporters have in so long a period been removed by death, enough have still been left to cheer and encourage; and others have been added who have stepped into the ranks, and are making it manifest that the maintenance of Evangelical truth is not, as some fondly imagine—and, we fear, wish—a thing of the past; but that it is also a thing of the present and of the future. Under these circumstances, while the Proprietors are as much convinced as ever of the "serious responsibility they are incurring by upholding the Christian Observer on these principles and in its present form," they still feel sufficiently encouraged to incur the risk, especially when they bear in mind the critical circumstances in which so many religious questions, and questions intimately affecting the well-being of the Church of England, are at present involved. If friends of Evangelical truth will rally to their support, these friends may yet have occasion to rejoice that they have at their disposal a periodical invested with the prestige of authority and independence, wherein to promulgate their views, or to combat the erroneous and injurious statements of those who are no well-wishers to our Zion.
For it is a remarkable feature of the times in which we are now living, that religious questions are becoming the topics which are engaging thought more than at any previous period since the Reformation. We do not mean to say that there have not been periods when they have been the cause of more fierce contentions and more deadly strife; but then they were debated by war and bloodshed, not, as now, by intellectual conflict, and in the arena of free discussion. In the days of Coligni and the Guises, of Tilly and Gustavus, of Cromwell and Rupert, religion furnished shibboleths to the warrior, and stirred up more deadly animosity; but its tenets were not debated more eagerly, nor by such a wide-spread multitude as now in the times in which we are living.
In our own country, these religious questions, during the past year, have been and are still occupying the attention of our Statesmen, and, in the midst of our busy, toilsome, English life, engaging the interests and furnishing subjects of discussion even to the worldly and profane. Eternal verities have been called in question and freely discussed; most holy doctrines have been embodied in lawyers' briefs; decisions, intimately affecting the well-being and order of our Church, are anxiously looked for; nay, its very existence stands imperilled, not so much by the assaults of open enemies as by relentless plottings and distrust engendered by certain who have professed to be its friends. The Irish Church has been disestablished; we will not undertake to prophesy its future. It may be, and we pray that it may be, yet a glory and a blessing to that afflicted land; but we can hardly imagine that such has been the fond hope and dream of Cardinal Cullen and Mr. Miall. Even though it were that "judgment and justice have taken hold of her," which we are not prepared to admit, we fail to discover the mercy that has been extended. She has gone forth like the scapegoat, bearing less her own sins than "all the transgressions in all their sins" of the Statesmen and Rulers of past generations upon her. A man of opportunity has been found for the consummation of the sacrifice, and he has led her forth into the wilderness. It remains yet to be seen whether the offering will be accepted or not; whether there will be peace or no peace in our Israel; whether we may not be rather at the beginning of religious difficulties in Ireland than at the end.
It would have been unnatural to suppose that such portentous events should have been without a reflex influence upon ourselves, nor have they been. Many who have no hearty love for the Church of their fathers, have been led to give utterance to