Articles & Reviews
The Faith of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently I got curious about the faith of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., since we heard so much about him during the holiday. He was very theologically liberal as a young man, but had a conversion experience AS A PASTOR! Thought you’d enjoy this segment of one of his transcribed sermons… This is from a sermon on Jesus’ story of the rich man who stored up treasure for himself, only to die in the night… The responses of the audience are in parentheses.
From “The Parable of the Rich Man”
…Finally, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. (Yeah) Do you know that man talked like he regulated the seasons?
…this man-centered foolishness is still alive today. In fact, it has gotten to the point today that some are even saying that God is dead. The thing that bothers me about it is that they didn’t give me full information, because at least I would have wanted to attend God’s funeral.
I want to raise a question, how long had he been sick? I want to know whether he had a heart attack or died of cancer. These questions haven’t been answered for me, and so I’m going on believing and knowing that God is alive.
There are certain conceptions of God that needed to die, but not God. You see, God is the supreme noun of life; Everything else is dependent on him, but he is dependent on nothing.
One day Moses had to grapple with it and God sent him out and told him to tell the people that “I Am sent you.” God is the only being in the universe that can say that “I Am,” and stop there.
Whenever I say, “I am,” I have to say, “I am because of” because of my parents, because of my environment, because of hereditary circumstances. And each of you has to say you are because of something. But …God, the power that holds the universe in the palm of his hand, is the only being that can say, “I Am,” and put a period there and never look back. And don’t be foolish enough to forget him.
You know, a lot of people are forgetting God. They haven’t done it theoretically, as others have done through their theories 9postulated through the God-is-dead theology 9but a lot of people just get involved in other things. …involved in their big bank accounts and in their beautiful expensive automobiles—they unconsciously forget God.
But I tell you this morning, my friends, there’s no way to get rid of him.
…Modern man still has to cry out with the Psalmist, “When I behold the heavens, the work of thy hands and all that thou hast created; what is man, that thou is mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou hast remembered him?”
God is still around. One day, you’re going to need him.
The problems of life will begin to overwhelm you; disappointments will begin to beat upon the door of your life like a tidal wave. (Yes) And if you don’t have a deep and patient faith, (Well) you aren’t going to be able to make it.
I know this from my own experience. The first twenty-five years of my life were very comfortable years… didn’t have to worry about anything.
I have a marvelous mother and father. They went out of the way to provide everything for their children, basic necessities. …And you know, I was about to conclude that life had been wrapped up for me in a Christmas package.
Now of course I was religious; I grew up in the church. …My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my Daddy’s brother is a preacher.
So I didn’t have much choice, I guess. (laughter)
But I had grown up in the church, and the church meant something very real to me, but it was a kind of inherited religion and I had never felt an experience with God in the way that you must have it if you’re going to walk the lonely paths of this life. Everything was done, and if I had a problem I could always call Daddy, my earthly father; things were solved.
But one day after finishing school, I was called to a little church down in Montgomery, Alabama, and I started preaching there. Things were going well in that church; it was a marvelous experience. But one day a year later, a lady by the name of Rosa Parks decided that she wasn’t going to take it any longer. She stayed in a bus seat, and you may not remember it because it’s way back now several years, but it was the beginning of a movement…
Things were going well for the first few days, but then about ten or fifteen days later, after the white people in Montgomery knew that we meant business, they started doing some nasty things. They started making nasty telephone calls, and it came to the point that some days more than forty telephone calls would come in, threatening my life, the life of my family, the life of my children. I took it for a while in a strong manner.
But I never will forget one night very late. It was around midnight. And you can have some strange experiences at midnight.
I had been out meeting with the steering committee all that night. And I came home, and my wife was in the bed and I immediately crawled into bed to get some rest to get up early the next morning to try to keep things going.
And immediately the telephone started ringing and I picked it up. On the other end was an ugly voice. That voice said to me, in substance, “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.” (Lord Jesus)
I’d heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me.
I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered. And then I got up and went back to the kitchen and I started warming some coffee, thinking that coffee would give me a little relief.
And then I started thinking about many things. I thought back on the theology and philosophy that I had just studied in the universities, trying to give philosophical and theological reasons for the existence and the reality of sin and evil, but the answer didn’t quite come there.
I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born about a month earlier. We have four children now, but we only had one then. She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted, and loyal wife who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer; I was weak.
Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now, he’s up in Atlanta a hundred and seventy-five miles away. You can’t even call on Mama now. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about. (Yes) That power that can make a way out of no way. (Yes)
And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me and I had to know God for myself. (Yes, sir) And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I never will forget it. (Yes, sir) And oh yes, I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. (Yes) I said, “Lord… I must confess that I’m weak now; I’m faltering; I’m losing my courage. (Yes)
…And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, (Yes) “Martin Luther… lo I will be with you, (Yes) even until the end of the world.”
And I’ll tell you, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul.
But I heard the voice of Jesus… He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, (Never) never to leave me alone.
And I’m going on in believing in him. (Yes) You’d better know him, and know his name, and know how to call his name. (Yes)
You may not know philosophy. You may not be able to say with Alfred North Whitehead that he’s the Principle of Concretion. You may not be able to say with Hegel and Spinoza that he is the Absolute Whole. You may not be able to say with Plato that he’s the Architectonic Good. You may not be able to say with Aristotle that he’s the Unmoved Mover.
But …you begin to know that our brothers and sisters in distant days were right. Because they did know him as a rock in a weary land, as a shelter in the time of starving, as my water when I’m thirsty, and then my bread in a starving land.
And then if you can’t even say that, …you have to say, “he’s my everything. He’s my sister and my brother. He’s my mother and my father.” If you believe it and know it, you never need walk in darkness.
Don’t be a fool. Recognize your dependence on God. (Yes, sir) As the days become dark and the nights become dreary, realize that there is a God who rules above.
And so I’m not worried about tomorrow. I get weary every now and then. The future looks difficult and dim, but I’m not worried about it ultimately because I have faith in God.
Centuries ago Jeremiah raised a question, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” He raised it because he saw the good people suffering so often and the evil people prospering. (Yes, sir)
Centuries later our slave foreparents came along. (Yes, sir) And they too saw the injustices of life… But they did an amazing thing. They looked back across the centuries and they took Jeremiah’s question mark and straightened it into an exclamation point. And they could sing, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. (Yes) There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” And there is another stanza that I like so well: “Sometimes (Yeah) I feel discouraged.” (Yes)
And I don’t mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged.
(All right) …Living every day under extensive criticisms, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. (applause) Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work’s in vain.
But then the holy spirit (Yes) revives my soul again. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” God bless you. (applause)
This transcription is from a Stanford University site which is the main online repository of King’s sermons. Here’s the link: