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"God's Love," Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Location: 
Montgomery, Ala.
Genre: 
Sermon
Topic: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry

Details

After a summer commuting from Boston, King moved to Montgomery and began to serve as the full-time pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on 1 September 1954. For his first sermon following the move, he preached from John 3:16 and 1 John 4:8, emphasizing God's universality: “God's love is [too] broad to be limited to a particular race.”

Text: John 3:161

  1. Introduction:
    1. F.W. Myers question: Is the universe friendly?2 This has been the question that the questing minds of philosophers and theologians have asked over the years. Some have answered no to the question. Others have answered yes.
      1. The answer of Shakespeare's MacBeth3
      2. The answer of Paul Lawrence Dunbar4
      3. The positive answer that Christianity gives. God, we are told is love.
    2. One of the familiar passages affirming this love of God is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believest in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And another states “God is Love.” 1 John 4:8.5 Both of these passages reveal several characteristics of God's love.
  2. The characteristics of God's love
    1. God's love is unceasing and eternal, Love is an essential part of God's nature. Notice the text says “God is Love.” This can never be said about man. We can never say that man is love. We can only say that man loves. Love is not an essential part of [strikeout illegible] man's nature. But God is love. God's love is not a single act, but is the abiding state of God's heart. God does not begin to love. God's love have no beginning and will have no ending. God always has loved and always will love. Civilizations might rise and fall, but God love will be here. Empires might crumble and perish, but God's love will be here. Even there might be a day when the stars cease to bedeck the heavens, but the love of God will be here. Man's love might waver and even dry up, but God's love will be here. God's love is eternal.
    2. God Notice secondly that God so loved the world. In other words, God's love has breath. It is all inclusive. It a big love; its a broad love. This is one of the things that distinguishes the N.T. from the O.T. (ill. The O.T. God is a tribal and national God.). Jesus came on the scene saying “our Father” meaning that he is everybodies Father. God's love is to broad to be limited to a particular race. It is to big to be wrapped in a particularistic garment. It is to great to be encompassed by any single nation. God is a universal God. This fact has been a ray of hope and has given a sense of belonging to hundreds of disinherited peope. ([strikeout illegible] Use the illustration of the old slave preacher.6 Show how we as a minority group can gain consolation from it) All of the hate in the world cannot destroy the universal effect of God's love. Along with its breath, it is personal and indivial. God's [loves?] infinitessimal me.
    3. God so love the world that he gave. God's love is self self-giving and spontaneous. No body commanded God to give his love. It is just God's nature to give. God's gift to man was given not because God was asked to give it, but because he wanted to give it. Man didn't even ask for it. (Give ill of wife).7 So it is with God's love. Can't you see what the hymn writer meant when he said:

      Were the whole realm of nature mine
      That were a present far to small
      Love so amazing so divine
      Demands my life, my all and all8
    4. God's love is redemptive. God's love gives life and new light. It saves us from death.
  3. Conclusion: All that I have said about the characteristics of God's love is brought to clearer light when we turn our eyes toward Calvery, for it is here that we find the supreme example of God's love. And The scene on Calvery is more than a meaningless drama that took place on an earthly stage, but it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is God's way of saying to wayward man, “Come home I still love you.” (Tell story of the musician who went to France.)
    Paul was right. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.”9

Preached at Dexter Sept. 3, 195410

1. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

2. F. W. H. Myers was a British scholar and member of the Society for Psychical Research in England in the 1880s. Harry Emerson Fosdick used this quote in The Meaning of Faith (New York: Association Press, 1917), p. 51: “F. W. Myers, when asked what question he would put to the Sphinx, if he were given only one chance, replied that he would ask, ‘Is the universe friendly?’”

3. King may refer to Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5, sc. 5, as he does in “Creating the Abundant Life,” Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 26 September 1954, p. 188 in this volume.

4. King may refer to the poem "Life" by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1895) as he does in "Creating the Abundant Life," 26 September 1954, p. 188 in this volume.

5. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

6. In an audio recording of “God's Love,” a sermon delivered on 23 December 1962 at Ebenezer, King used this illustration: “This is what the old slave preacher used to say. He didn't have his grammar right but he knew God, and he would stand before the people caught in the dark night of slavery with nothing to look forward to the next morning but the long row of cotton ahead, the sizzling heat, and the rawhide whip of the overseer. He would stand up before them after they had worked from [words inaudible]. He said now, ‘You ain't no slave. You ain't no nigger. But you're God's child.’” This anecdote may have been drawn from Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1949), p. 50.

7. King used the following illustration in his sermon “God's Love,” Sermon notes, 5 September 1954, in Papers 2:327: “So God's gift to man was given not because God was asked to give it but because he wanted to give it. e.g. a gift that a man gives his wife which she doesn't ask for is more appreciated than one which is given which she ask for.”

8. King cites Isaac Watts's hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1707).

9. Cf. Romans 8:35-39.

10. King may have misdated the sermon since 3 September was a Friday.

Source: 

CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon files, folder 142.