Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Civilisation and Religion
By Dean Church (18151890)
WE are in danger, even in the highest condition of civilisation, from the narrowing of mans horizon, and we need a protection against it which civilisation cannot give. I call a narrowing of mans horizon whatever tends to put or drop out of sight the supreme value of the spiritual part of man, to cloud the thought of God in relation to it, or to obscure the proportion between what is and what we look forward to,the temporary and provisional character of the utmost we see here. To have fought against and triumphed over this tendency is the great achievement of Christianity. We hardly have the measure to estimate the greatness of it; of having kept alive, through such centuries as society has traversed, the faith, the pure and strong faith, in mans divine relationship; of having been able to withstand the constant enormous pressure of what was daily seen and felt; not only of the solemn unbroken order of the natural world, but of the clogs and fetters of custom, of the maxims taken for granted in the intercourse of life, of the wearing down, the levelling of high thought and purpose which is always going on in society; of the perpetual recurrence, with the tides and weather, of the same story of promise and disappointment, of far-reaching attempts and poor success; of evil in high places; of the noble mingled with the vile; of good ever tending to extravagance or decay; of character in men or bodies of men insensibly deteriorating and falling away from its standard; of wisdom hardly won, and wasted; of great steps taken and thrown away; of the old faults obstinately repeated in the face of ever-accumulating experience; of the bewildering spectacle of vice beyond hope and without remedy; of the monotonous dead level of the masses of mankind. For a religion to have been proof against all this,still, through it all, to have preserved itself the same and unworn out, and still to be able to make men hold fast by faith and hope in the invisible, is among the wonders of human history, one of the greatest and most impressive.