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"All That We Are, We Owe"

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Date: January 1, 1948 to December 31, 1954?

Genre: Sermon

Topic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry

              Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education


I. Introduction

One of the most potent facts of human life is the fact that man amid all his independency is basically a dependent being. This fact is revealed from the earliest days of infancy to the declining days of old age. No man ever makes it by himself. In fact it is this vey element of dependency that makes man man. for no individual becomes a personality until it interacts with other personalities. In our fickle moments we may feel that we are what we are by our own achievments, but in our sober moments we know deep down in our selves that we did not make it alone ourselves. This is another way of saying: “All that We are, We owe.”1

Certainly this is not in accord with much of our contemporary thinking. Many modern thinkers would state our theme in the direct opposite: “All that we are, we have achieved.” There is a school of modern philosophy called existentialism which starts out with the premise that man creates himself. Says it most outstanding exponent: “It is a doctrine according to which existence preceded, and eternally creates, the essence. Man first exists, and in choosing himself he creates himself: in acting he makes himself.”2 Stated in more concrete terms this theory merely says that man is the measure of all things; man, rather than God, creates himself; and that whatever man is he himself achieved. But no Christian can believe this. From the deeps of our moral consciousness springs the conviction that what we are, we owe.

1. King may have drawn this phrase from Horatius Bonar's hymn “All That I Was, My Sin, My Guilt” (1845). The first stanza reads: “All that I was, my sin, my guilt, / My death, was all my own; / All that I am I owe to Thee,/ My gracious God, alone.”

2. King refers to the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself” (Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism, trans. Bernard Frechtman [New York: Philosophical Library, 1947], p. 18). King encountered existentialism in Christian Theology for Today, a class at Crozer, and recorded a paraphrase of this Sartre quote on notecards written during his years at Boston University (King, Class notes, Christian Theology for Today, 13 September-23 November 1949, and Personal notecards on “E” topics, 1948-1954).

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 118, "Sermon Material."

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