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"Human Freedom & Divine Grace"

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
January 1, 1948 to December 31, 1954
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education


Text: Son of man stand upon your feet and I will speak to you. Ez1

Int. This text stress the point that the redemptive process is one of coopertion between man and God.2 Human freedom and divine grace are not opposing entities, but they interpenetrate. God is saying to Ezekial in substance, “you are free and so use your freedom to help yourself and after you reached the limits of your freedom by doing all that yo can I will step in and help you.” Here we avoid both the extremes of humanisn and determism.

  1. The Meaning of Freedom: It is presupposed in the ethical life. It means that you have the possibility of contrary choices.
    1. Illustrate from concrete experience. You can love or hate
    2. Show what freedom does not mean
      1. it does mean that character and enviroment and hereditary have no influence on a persons conduct.
      2. it does not mean that the will is causelesss.
    3. Freedom means the possibility of contrary choics
      1. you may love or hate
      2. you may be

    However Freedom is not absolute. The human will is weak and vacillatory. And this limitation carries with it the need of divine grace to complete the salvation process3

  2. The Meaning of Divine Grace: Man experiences a gap between his ideals and his actions. He cannot in his own strength bridge the gulf that separates the ideal and the real, and so he seeks divine aid. The limitations of his own power drives him to God.4
  3. Divine grace thus supplements human freedom and the two cooperate in man's redemption.5

    see Knudson, DOR, 158-168.6

1. Cf. Ezekiel 2:1: “And he said unto me, stand upon thy feet that I might speak with thee.” In King's dissertation while discussing Tillich's notion of human freedom, he draws on the words from a dissertation by Jack Boozer (“The Place of Reason in Paul Tillich's Conception of God” [Ph.D. dissertation, 1952], pp. 62-63): “Man has in a sense left the divine ground to ‘stand upon’ his own feet” (King, “A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” in Papers 2:532-533).

2. The theme of this sermon aligns closely with one of the major issues King discussed in his dissertation regarding Paul Tillich. In addition, some of the phrases used in this sermon come directly from notes taken for DeWolf’s History of Christian Doctrine course taken during the 1952-1953 school year. This correlation indicates a sermon date between 1952 and 1953.

3. Albert C. Knudson, The Doctrine of Redemption (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1933), p. 165: “The exercise of freedom is not absolute. The human will is weak and vacillating. It is limited in numerous ways, and this limitation carries with it a need of redemptive grace quite as real as would the com-plete absence of the power of self-determination.” King was assigned this book for George W. Davis's class at Crozer on the history of Christian thought (Davis, “Bibliography and assignments in History of Christian Thought,” 29 November 1949-15 February 1950).

4. Knudson, The Doctrine of Redemption, p. 166: “He cannot in his own strength bridge the gulf that separates the ideal from the real; and so he seeks the divine aid. The limitation of his own power drives him to God.”

5. Knudson, The Doctrine of Redemption, p. 176 “Divine grace thus supplements human freedom and the two co-operate in man's redemption.” King included this quote from a chapter titled “Freedom” in Knudson's book in his notes for L. Harold De Wolfs Boston University class History of Christian Doctrine (see King, Notes on the free will controversy and other topics, 4 February-22 May 1953).

6. King's cites a subsection titled “Metaphysical Freedom” from the chapter “Freedom” (Knudson, The Doctrine of Redemption, pp. 158-168).


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 50, Sermons Not Preached.