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"A Knock at Midnight"

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


King penned this sermon outline for the Youth Sunday Services of the Woman's Convention Auxiliary, National Baptist Convention. A report of the proceedings described King as “the Mahatma Gandhi—in the present day American race crisis.”1 Written on stationery of the Woman's Auxiliary, it is based on Jesus' illustration of a neighbors response to a persistent friend seeking bread at midnight. Drawing on D. T. Niles's homily “Evangelism,” King notes that while many look to the church during their time of need, “hundreds & [thousands] of men and women in quest for the bread of social justice” leave disappointed.2 King later prepared a full version of this sermon for publication in Strength to Love.3

Luke 11:64

Int. It is midnight in the parable; and it is also midnight in our world today. Man is exper today a darkness so deep that he can hardly see which way to turn.5 The best minds of our day, the most prophetic voices, are saying that today we stand our civilization stands at the midnight of its revolving cycle. It is a dark age and a dark world in which we live

    1. It is midnight in the social order. Within a generation we have fought two world wars, and there is always hovering over us the treat of another war. The deep rumblings of discontent from around our globe are obvious signs of the social diruption of our age.

      As we look out on the international horizon we see the nations of the world engaged in a collosal and bitter contest for supremacy, which might easily result in the annihilation of the whole human race. We look out and see that atomic warfare has just begun and bacteriological warfare yet unused. These instruments weapons are so powerful that a city like Chicago can be wiped off the globe in a matter of seconds. It seems that all of these things may conspire to bring an untimely death to the human family on this globe.

    2. It is also midnight in the psychological order. People are more worried and frustrated than [every?] ever before. The psychopathic wards of our hospital are full. Minister and psychiatrist are busy

      1. Notice the best sellers In psychology: Man Against Himself; The [Neurotic?] Personality of time; Modern Man in Search of a Soul6
        It is [Sigmund] Freud who is the popular phychologist.

      2. In Religion

      Peace of Soul, Peace of Mind, A Guide to Confident Living7
      The popular preachers today are those who can preach great sermons on “How to relax” etc. “How to keep your
      All of this is a fit testamony to the fact that it is midnight in the inner lives of men and women.

    3. It is midnight in the moral order. Midnight is a time when all colors loss their distinctiveness and become merely a dirty shade of grade gray.8 All moral principles have lost their distinctions Nothing is right or wrong absolutely for modern man. It is just a matter of what the majority of the people are doing. Everybody is doing it so it must be alright. So we have developed a generation of moral cowards Midnight is a time when everything is relative Midnight also causes us to feel that nothing is really right but to get by. And nothing really wrong but to get caught

  1. But as in the parable so in our world today, the deep darkness of the midnight is interupted by the sound of a knock. And in our day it is the knock of the world on the door of the church.9 And more than anybody else in the church the minister is aware of the knock. quite strange isnt it that man at midnight will be knocking on the door of the church

    There are more people members of the church today than ever before. 97,000,000. Compare that with the fact that in 1929 there were only 50,000,000. That is an increase of more than 90% and the population in that time has increased only 31%.
    And you remember the parable said that the man wanted three loaves of bread.
    And stragly enough modern man is in quest for three loaves. It is spritual bread

    1. bread of faith—Modern man is so often a faithless being

    2. bread of hope—Modern man has lost hope in the future and in his destiny

    3. bread of love—

    Isnt it strange that in the midnight hous of his life when he has stood in the darkness of our generation, in the darnknes of our age. [He?] groups through the streets of life and runs to the church of God to find a little bread.

  2. When he first knocked he was left disappointed
    Hundreds & thousand of men and women in quest for the bread of social justice going into to the church only to be disappointed.

    1. Look at South Africa—Lead on by a Dutch Reform Protestant Preacher.10

    2. Look at the British Empire and her exploitation of India—The Church of England sanctioned it.

    3. The white man in America— 11 Oclock is the segregated hour in Christian America.

1. National Baptist Convention of the United States of America, The Record of the Seventy-eighth Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Incorporated and the Woman's Auxiliary (1958), p. 357.

2. King wrote “A Knock at midnight” on the copy of Niles's homily that he kept in his sermon file (D. T. Niles, “Evangelism,” Address at the second assembly of the World Council of Churches, 16 August 1954). Niles later published this sermon as “Summons at Midnight” (Niles, Christian Century [5 October 1954]: 1037-1039).

3. King, Draft of Chapter Vl, “A Knock at Midnight,” July 1962-March 1963, pp. 494-504 in this volume.

4. Luke 11:5-6: “And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his joumey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?”

5. Niles, “Evangelism”: “It is midnight in the parable. It is also midnight in the world today. The night is so deep that everything has become just an object to be avoided, and obstacle in the dark against which men must take care not to bump.”

6. Karl A. Menninger, Man Against Himself (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938); Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time; C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul.

7. Fulton J. Sheen, Peace of Soul;Joshua Loth Liebman, Peace of Mind; Norman Vincent Peale, A Guide to Confident Living (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1948).

8. Niles, “Evangelism”: “Besides, at midnight every colour loses its distinctiveness and becomes merely a dirty shade of grey.” Above this sentence, King wrote “discuss moral relativism” on his copy of Niles's Sermon.

9. Niles, “Evangelism”: “But, as in the parable, so in our day, the tense silence of the midnight is disturbed by the sound of a knock. It is the door of the Church on which somebody is knocking.”

10. Daniel François Malan, a clergyman in the Dutch Reformed Church and prime minister of South Africa from 1948 until 1954, instituted his nation's policy of apartheid.

11. National Council of Churches official Helen Kenyon labeled eleven o'clock on Sunday morning as “the most segregated time” in the United States (“Worship Hour Found Time of Segregation,” New York Times, 4 November 1952; see also Robert J. McCracken, “Discrimination—The Shame of Sunday Morning,” p. 4).


CSKC, INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folders 23, 24, 25.