In the following two handwritten outlines, King urges his listeners to remain aware of the evil potential of human nature while maintaining faith in the individual's ability to rise above the limitations of heredity, environment, and injustice. In the first outline, King cites two recent events as reasons for holding a pessimistic view of “the nature and destiny of man”: the lynching in 1955 of Emmett Till and the recent rioting at the University of Alabama in response to the admission of the school's first African-American student, Autherine Lucy. He argues however that, despite human shortcomings, Jesus “saw within this sea of humanity not a dead sea of impossibilities, but an ocean of [infinite] possibilities and potentialities.” A newspaper report of the sermon quotes King as hopefully predicting that the bus boycott will end in a victory that will ripple out beyond Montgomery: “It will be a victory for justice, a victory for fair play and a victory for democracy.”1
One of the things that we are [
noticing] witnessing in our age is a growing pessimism concerning the nature and destiny of man. Man has lost faith in himself. There are And so many would cry out with the writer who referred to man as “a cosmic accident”2 Other would affirm with the cynical writer that “man is the supreme clown of creation.” Still others would affirm with Jonathan Swift than “man is the most pernicious little race of odious vermin…”3
At many points it is quite understandable why it is difficult for us to have faith in man. Man has often made such a poor showing of himself. Within a generation we have fought two world wars. We have seen man's tragic inhumanity to man. We have looked to Missippii and seen supposedly Christian and civilized men brutally mudering the precious life of a little child4 We have looked to Alabama and seen a ruthless mob take the precious law of the land and crush it blow of their tragic whims and caprises.5 We have seen England trampling over India with the iron feet of oppression. We have seen the British and the Dutch and the Belgians and the French crushing Africa with the battering rams of exploitation.
Yet, in the midst of this Christianity insist that there is hope for man. Christianity has always insisted that man's plight is never so low that it cant be better.
This was certainly expressed in the life of Jesus. Throughout his ministry Jesus revealed a deep faith in the possibilities of human nature. He saw within this sea of humanity not a dead sea of impossibilities, but an ocean of infinate possibilities and potentialities.
This is expressed very beautifully in a passage in the
fourth first chaptr of John. Jesus is presented talking to Peter. Now you remember Peter was undependable, vascilating so fickle in his ever changing moods. But Jesus says to him in substance altough you are Simon now, you will be Peter. It did not look like it. And it was a long time in coming. But it did come. He was saying to Peter “actually you are like sand, but potentially you are a rock.”6
In our age there is a growing pessimism about the nature and destiny of man. Man is fastIy losing faith in himself. Many would be in accord with the writer who spoke of man as the supreme clown of creation. (quote other poets7
There was a time where man had to much Such a pessimistic attitude toward man is far out of line with the Christian religion. Christianity has always insisted that man's plight is never so low that it cant be better. We might go so far as to say that Christianity stands or falls with its power change human nature
Throughout his ministry Jesus revealed his deep faith in the possibilities of human nature
Jesus knew that God had given man certain creative powers and had endowed him with with high and noble virtues; and that these virtues and powers could be made living realities in the life of man if he properly reponded to the Grace of God.
Let us state at the outset that there is always the danger of man having to much faith in himself.
Extreme liberal Theology
Man's faith in Man must never come to the point of the deification of Man.
True Christian Position
Man is a creature. No matter how much he advances cuturally, he is still a creature
Faith in man consist in the following beliefs
A belief in the possibility of human nature being changed.
Some deny the possibility of being changed after adolesence
A belief in man's better self being able to master his evil self
A belief in man's capacity to rise above his hereditary and environmental
Many men are environmentalist and hereditary determinist
A roll of men who have risen above their environment.9
Conclusion: If men are willing to submit their wills to God's will and to cooperate with him in his divine purpose, we will be able to turn the world upside down, outside in, and right side up.
1. The New York Times covered King's sermon in an article about the bus boycott and King's 21 February indictment with eighty-eight other leaders of the Montgomery movement on misdemeanor charges (Wayne Philips, “Negro Pastors Press Bus Boycott by Preaching Passive Resistance,” New York Times, 27 February 1956; Indictment, State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., et al., 21 February 1956, in Papers 3:132-133).
2. Cf. C. S. Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity (Hayes, England: Electric & Musical Industries Fellowship, 1944), p. 10.
3. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an author and Anglo-Irish satirist. King cites the words of King Brobdingnag to Culliver in Swift's Gulliver's Travels (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1947), p. 140: “I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”
4. King refers to the lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi.
5. Students rioted at the University of Alabama on 6 February to protest Lucy's court-ordered admission. The University expelled Lucy, allegedly for her protection. It later reinstated her by order of the court only to expel her again, this time for allegedly making accusations against school officials. The court that had ordered Lucy's reinstatement later upheld the University's actions. For more on Autherine Lucy, see note 2, King to Fred Drake, 7 February 1956, in Papers 3:128.
6. Cf.John 1:40-42 (The Bible: An American Translation; The Old Testament, trans. J. M. Powis Smith; The New Testament, trans. E. J. Goodspeed [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944]). Subsequent cites of biblical verses from Goodspeed's translation of the New Testament are noted as GOODSPEED, in parentheses.
7. King quoted Psalm 8, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution in an introduction to a similar sermon (see King, “What Is Man?” Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 11 July 1954, p. 175 in this volume).
8. King may have used John 1:40-42 (GOODSPEED) as his text, as he did in the previous sermon out‐line, “Faith in Man.”
9. In another sermon which King filed in the same folder as both versions of “Faith in Man,” he cited Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes, Abraham Lincoln, John Bunyan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Helen Keller as examples of those who overcame conditions of environment and heredity to make noble contributions to society (King, “Accepting Responsibility for Your Actions,” 26 July 1953, pp. 139-172 in this volume).
"Faith in Man" I: CSKC, INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 139.