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"The Fellow Who Stayed at Home"

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Date: 
October 1, 1956 to October 31, 1956
Genre: 
Sermon
Topic: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry

Details

King bases the following handwritten outline on J. Wallace Hamilton's sermon “That Fellow Who Stayed at Home,” which deals with the prodigal son's older brother.1 King removed this chapter from his annotated copy of Hamilton's book, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, and kept the torn pages in the same file folder as this sermon. In the outline below, King observes that the elder brother “failed to realize that he was [committing] sins as damaging to the soul as the coarser sins of the younger brother.”

They began to be merry—that is a fitting climax.2 The elder brother is a sudden discord, but without him the story would have been untrue to life. The year has its winter storms, the glow of day is followed by the gloom of night;

  1. He possessed a sort of unattractive goodness that was deeply repulsive. True he stayed at home, did the chores, kept the rules. He wasted no money nor scarred his soul with dissipation—But he was undesirable nevertheless. He did the right things but in the wrong spirit.3

    1. The little girls prayer—Lord, Make all good people nice4

    2. The solo spoiled by the accompaiment1

    3. My former church member

    4. Homes are often broken by that. “Incompatibility” is the lawyers word for the offensive nagging of people who are smugly moral and piously unbending. God save us from a stuffed-shirt morality. It is not enough to be good; to be Christian we must be good in a nice way.6

  2. He failed to realize that he was commiting sins as damaging to the soul as the coarser sins of the younger brother

    There are two types of sin: sins of passions and sins of disposition or sins of the flesh and sins of the spirit. Sins of the flesh would include such things as drunkedness, adultry, stealing, gambling, profanity. Sins of spirit include sins of envy jealousy, bad temper, self-centeredness and social callousness “The publicans and the harlots go into heaven before you.”7
    {The Church has been harder on profanity than on prejudice. It has denounced drunkenness more than stinginess. It was unchristian to gamble, but not to [own?] slaves}8

  3. His spiritual pride drained from him the capacity to love. He could not call his [brother brother?]9

5. [page torn]

So often people will do a good thing, and then spoil it by some ugly twist of the spirit10 We often see this in the Church. Some people will faithfully perform some fine service in the Church but grumble so much about it, seek their own interest in it, or want so much public recognition for it that they destroy a beautiful act with the wrong spirit, And you have the feeling they are not doing it for the sake of Christ but for their own.

1. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, pp. 163-173. The 17 October 1956 Dexter Echo noted that King was scheduled to preach a sermon series on the prodigal son. This sermon may represent King's second sermon in that series.

2. Cf. Luke 15:24.

3. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 166: “Let us begin with the most obvious fact about him—that, for all his respectability, he illustrates a kind of ungracious, unattractive goodness that is much too common. True, he stayed at home, did the chores, kept the rules, performed his duty. He sowed no wild oats, wasted no money nor scarred his soul with dissipation—all of which was definitely in his favor. But he was a sourpuss, none the less. Not the kind of man you would want to go fishing with, not a good example of righteousness; touchy, stingy, churlish, thoroughly wrapped up in himself, he did the right things, all of them in a wrong spirit that repels and pushes you away.” At the end of Hamilton's sermon “That Fellow Who Stayed at Home,” King wrote the following: “1) The tragedy of the elder brother was that he was contaminated with the sin of pride of egotism. He did good deeds, but from bad motives. He did the right thing, but in the wrong spirit. He would have given to the united appeals, but his generosity at this point would have been merely to feed his pride” (Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 173).

4. In his 14 July 1963 sermon, The Sinner Who Stayed at Home, King mentioned a little girl's prayer: “Lord, make all the bad people good and make all the good people nice.”

5. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 166: “A lovely young woman stood in the circle singing a solo. Around her was the band—the drum, trombone, and cymbals. From the occasional notes he caught from the singer, he judged the girl had an exceptionally fine voice. He wanted to hear more of it, but the blare of the trumpet and the pounding of the drum smothered the solo and drowned out its beauty. So it is with the goodness of some people—they ruin the solo by the accompaniment.”

6. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 167: “Homes are often broken by that. ‘Incompatibility’ is the lawyers' word for the offensive nagging of people who are smugly moral and piously unbending. God save us from a stuffed-shirt morality! It is not enough to be good; to be Christian we must be good in a nice way.” King underlined the last sentence in this passage.

7. Cf. Matthew 21:31-32.

8. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, pp. 168, 170: “The Church has attached more guilt to the sins of passion than to the subtler sins of disposition. We have been harder on profanity than on prejudice… It was unchristian to gamble, but not unchristian to own slaves.”

9. King wrote on the last page of his copy of Hamilton's sermon “That Fellow Who Stayed at Home”: “His spiritual pride had drained from him the capacity to love. He could not call his brother brother” (Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 173).

10. Hamilton, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, p. 166: “They do a good thing, and then spoil it by some ugly twist of the spirit.”

Source: 

CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 133.