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Sermon Sketches

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
November 30, 1948 to February 16, 1949
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education


King probably wrote these exercises for the course Preparation of the Sermon.1 Throughout his life, he would revisit many of these themes and utilize many of these titles, including “Facing Life’s Inescapables” and “What Is Man?”2

Sermon Sketches I

  1. Title—The Assurance of Immortality
    Job 19:253
    Theme—We are able to attain immortality through the men and women that we influence, and through the children who are touched by the flame of our spirits.
    Purpose—To show that the desire for immortality will not be in vain.

    In this sermon I purpose to show that the actual meaning of this text has often been misunderstood. Actually this was a developing concept of immortality. The word redeemer comes from the Hebrew word go’el meaning next-kin.4 In other words the author believed he would live on through his “next-kin.” This whole concept grew out of the view of levirate marriage.5

  2. Title—Beyond Asceticism
    Colossians 2:216
    Theme—True religion goes beyond asceticism and ritualistic practices; it is a new life.
    Purpose—To show how to attain this new life.

  3. Title—Almost Persuaded
    Acts 26:287
    Theme—Procrastination is the thief of time
    Purpose—To show the listeners that great experiences are often missed when we procrastinate.

    In this sermon I will assume that Agrippa’s words were serious. Of course, it is difficult to tell whether the words of Agrippa are ironical or spoken seriously.

  4. Title—Looking Toward The Hills
    Ps. 121:18
    Theme—God is always found in the highest and best things of life
    Purpose—To show that God is the highest good.

  5. Title—The Misused Covenant
    In this sermon I purpose to show that this covenant is a threat rather than a benediction. From this point I will go on to say that man should rise above the watchful state: In other words, he should he should be able to conform in that area where the law does not reach.

[signed] M. L. King, Jr.9

Sermon Sketches II

  1. Title—“Repentance”
    Theme—Repentance means a [change?] of conduct as well as of heart.
    Purpose—to show that God always reserves for man the possibility of repentance

  2. Title—“Forgiveness”10
    theme—Forgiveness does not take away the fact of sin. But it restores the offender to communion with us, which he had forfeited through his offence.
    Purpose—To show that the forgiving spirit is one of the greatest experiences in life.

  3. “Facing life's Inescapables”11
    Theme—There are certain great inevitables in life which cannot be escaped
    Purpose—To show the listeners how to face these inevitables.

[signed] M. L. King12

Sermon Introductions

Why Religion?


Recently, a very serious minded friend of mine asked me the question, why religion?13 I found myself unable to give a concrete answer to this question, for I had never given it a thought. I could have probably answered his question by saying, if you have religion you will go to heaven, but in reality I know nothing about heaven. Or I could have said, if you dont have religion you will go to hell, but personally I dont believe in hell in the conventional sense.14 Or maybe I could have quoted sone scriptural passage, but suppose he doubted even the authority of the Bible. He wanted sone concrete evidence on the necessity for religion. And so after giving the question sone serious thought, I will attenpt to answer it in this sermon. Why Religion?

Life Is What You Make It


Many people wander into the world, and they pick up everything they can get their hands upon looking for life.15 They never get it. What they get is existence. Existence is what you find; life is what you create. Therefore, if life ever seems worth while to you, it is not because you found it that way, but because you made it so.16

Civilization's Great Need


The greatest need of civilization is not political security; the greatest need of civilization is not a multiplicity of wealth; the greatest need of civilization is not the superb genuis of science, as important as it is; the greatest need of civilization is moral progress17

The Effects of Conversion

There is no greater revolution in the world than conversion to God.

It might be profitable to those who have not yet undertaken this internal revolution of their spirits, to acquaint themselves with the three beautiful results of conversion.18

What Is Man?

One of the most pertinent and pressing problems of our time was raised by an ancient poet of Israel when he asked, “What is man?”19 What men have believed about themselves, what they have thought was their nature and destiny, have been among the most potent facts in history.20

[signed] M. L. King Jr.21

Sermon Conclusions

Facing Life's Inescapables

This is the conclusion of the whole matter. We can’t escape ourselves; we can’t escape sacrifice; we can’t escape Jesus. We had better accept these as the great inevitables of life.

The House We are Building

When the Brooklyn Bridge was in course of construction, Roebling, the architect, was sick in bed. He was unable personally to watch its construction and could only direct the builders from his sick room. Finally the vast structure was finished. But before it was opened the master builder was taken out in a little boat, propped up with pillows, to a position in the East River beneath the great span. There he lay for a long time in silence with the plans of the bridge before him, looking now at the blueprints and now at the bridge, until it was all gone over. Then he sank back among the pillows with a satisfied smile. “It is like the plan.”22

God has set us a plan for the building of the soul: the life of Christ as it is revealed in the New Testament.23 No one can fail if he follows that plan. It is your lasting opportunity.

The Misuse of Prayer

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.24 We should never pray for God to abrogate the natural laws, neither should we make prayer a substitute for work and intelligence. Rather, we should prayer for an understanding mind so that we may know and understand God’s expression of Himself in the ways of nature, and for an obedient heart so that as we learn to know and understand God’s way and God’s will we may dare to act and live in harmony with this understanding. This is true prayer.

Success In Life

There is an old saying, “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.”25 Friends, the great highroad of success lies along the old high-way of steadfast well-doing; and they who are the most industrious and the most persistent, and work in the truest spirit, will invariably be the most successful. Success treads on the heels of every right effort.

Life Is What You Make It

Modern psychology arms that vital religious faith is unequaled in its resources to make life worth living. The church holds before us this fact—confirmed in the lives of Paul, Augustine, John Wesley, Tolstoy, Schweitzer in Africa—that you can be more than a conqueror, and that can be what you choose to make it.26


[signed] M. L. King Jr.

1. The organization of these sketches reflects King’s class notes for Preparation of the Sermon, which defined the components of a sermon as the title, theme, purpose, introduction, body, and conclusion. King recorded in his notes that a sermon’s title “is not the theme or subject,” but that it “is primarily for advertising purposes.” His notes also indicated that the theme was “the thing you are saying to the people,” while the purpose was what “you expect to accomplish in your particular sermon. I must attempt to get people to see, do, or be something.” King characterized the sermon’s conclusion as a recapitulation “bringing the audience to a place where there is emotional impact” (King, Class notes, Preparation of the Sermon, 30 November 1948-16 February 1949).

2. King, “Facing Life’s Inescapables,” 3 March 1949, and “What Is Man?” Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 11 July 1954, pp. 88-90 and 174-179 in this volume, respectively.

3. “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

4. Keighton wrote a question mark in the margin next to this sentence.

5. Levirate marriage calls for the closest male relative to marry the widow and to name their first son after the deceased man in the event that a husband dies without a son. For illustrations of levirate marriage, see Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and Ruth 3-4. Keighton wrote another question mark in the margin next to this sentence.

6. “Touch not; taste not; handle not.”

7. “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Herod Agrippa II (27 CE-ca. 100 CE) was the Roman-appointed authority in the first century CE over the region that included Jerusalem.

8. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

9. King folded this assignment lengthwise and signed his name on the verso of the last page.

10. King developed a more complete outline of this sermon using Luke 15:20 as a text (King, “The Meaning of Forgiveness,” 1948-1954, pp. 580-581 in this volume).

11. For an expanded version of this sermon, see King, “Facing Life's Inescapables,” 3 March 1949, pp. 88-90 in this volume.

12. King folded this assignment lengthwise and signed his name on the verso of the last page. Keighton gave these three sketches an A.

13. King developed an essay with a similar theme (King, “The Purpose of Religion,” September 1948-May 1951, pp. 109-110 in this volume). Keighton crossed out the comma after “Recently” and added a dash between “serious” and “minded.”

14. King explored his belief in the afterlife in “What Happened to Hell?” (January 1961, p. 411 in this volume).

15. King's announced sermon topic for 25 April 1948 at Atlanta's Liberty Baptist Church was “Life Is What You Make It" (“Rev. M. L. King Jr. at Liberty Sunday,” Atlanta Daily World, 24 April 1948). He expanded upon this theme in the sermon “Creating the Abundant Life,” Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (26 September 1954, pp. 187-192 in this volume).

16. Keighton joined the words “worth” and “while.”

17. For a complete version of this sermon, see King, “Civilization’s Great Need,” 1949, pp. 86-88 in this volume.

18. In a March 1948 radio address titled “The Effects of Conversion,” Fulton J. Sheen stated: “Friends: There is no greater revolution in the world than conversion to God. It might be profitable to those who have not yet undertaken this internal revolution of their spirits, to acquaint themselves with the four beautiful results of conversion.” King kept a copy of this address in his sermon file. Fulton J. Sheen, head of the American branch of the Catholic Church’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith from 1951 until 1966, began radio broadcasts in 1930 while a professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

19. Cf. Psalm 8:4. King may have preached this sermon on the radio as early as 6 September 1953 (see King, “Radio Sermons,” 26 July-6 September 1953, p. 136 in this volume). He delivered it the following summer at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and also gave it in 1958 as part of the Detroit Council of Church’s Noon Lenten Services (King, “What Is Man?” 11 July 1954, and “The Christian Doctrine of Man,” 12 March 1958, pp. 174-179 and 328-338 in this volume, respectively). “What Is Man?” was included in King’s published volume of sermons (King, Strength to Love [New York: Harper & Row, 1963], pp. 87-92).

20. Keighton noted at the bottom of the assignment, “These are varied & all very good; especially the first.”

21. King folded this assignment lengthwise and signed his name on the verso of the last page.

22. John A. Roebling, the original architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, died in 1869, fourteen years before the bridge opened. His son, Washington A. Roebling, carried on the project and became ill near the end of construction.

23. Keighton crossed out the comma after the word “soul” and inserted a colon.

24. King developed a more complete version of this theme (King, “The Misuse of Prayer,” 1948-1954, pp. 590-591 in this volume).

25. King refers to the nursery rhyme “If Wishes Were Horses.”

26. Cf. Romans 8:37. King refers to Augustine (354-430 CE), bishop of Hippo and Father of the Church; John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church; Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), the Russian author of War and Peace (1865-1869); and Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), a medical humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Keighton underlined the word “that” and inserted “antecedent?”


Sermon Sketches I: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 87.

Sermon Sketches II: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 93.

Sermon Introductions: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 88.

Sermon Conclusions: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon Files, folder 84.