King delivered a sermon series on secrets at Ebenezer in the winter of 1961 that may have included the following three handwritten documents.1 The first two outlines may have formed the basis for a sermon on married happiness. Here, King bemoans the fact that “marriage has lost something of its spiritual creative meaning, and in many cases has become little more than a monotonous endurance contest between two people.” In the third manuscript, King calls for a contentment in the midst of life's tension by pointing to the example of the apostle Paul who “[learned] to live from within instead of from without” and trusted in God to provide a “[changeless] structure of goodness in the universe, which transcends every circumstance.”
19 November 1961
Every well-thinking American is deeply concerned about the decadent state into which the American family is falling.2 For
so many peo some time now both religious and secular thinkers have sought to find the cause and cure of this disintegration that is gradually mortifying the American family.
Marriage has lost something of its spiritual creative meaning, and in many cases has become little more than a monotonous endurance contest between two people. So many marriages have set out for the city of utopia, only to end up in the city of Reno.3 So many young people have entered marriage with great hopes and challenging dreams, only to find their hopes blasted and [their?] dreams shattered.
We do not have to look far to see the tragic consequences of this breakdown in the modern family. It means that hundred and thousands of young people are forced to be brought up in broken homes. The possible psychological difficulties arising from such broken homes are almost inculculable.
This breakdown in the modern family also means the possible loss of our national security. Family life is still the basic unit
of in the life of the nation, and on healthy family life depends the moral and spiritual life of the nation.
Happy marriage requires that both husband and wife shall have some real understanding of the nature of marriage.
Many young people go into marriage expecting too much
Happy marriage is not something that you find
Marriage is a state of adjustment
Married happiness requires that husband and wife shall have some understanding of the nature of man and the nature of a woman.
19 November 1961
A happy marriage requires that a husband and wife shall have some understanding of the nature of man and the nature of a woman.4 Many a young couple after marriage find themselves completely at a loss to understand each other. They conclude that they have made a mistake. The real truth is that they have never learned that a man and a woman differ decidedly in taste, opinion and temperament.
A man’s wold is largely one of action. He is never happy unless he can measure his success or failure in terms of conquest in the exterior world. On the other hand, despite all her success in the exterior word, a woman is never happy outside an emotional world. She is most at home in the world of love and maternity.
Woman is subjective, realistic, concrete
Man is objective, abstract and general
Every woman has her world of love, devotion and sympathy, and wise is the man who understands and appreciates it. Man has his world of action and creativity and wise is the wife who understands it. Instead of feeling jealous of it and the time it takes from her, she encourages her husband to achieve success in the exterior world.
Married happiness require that both husband and wife shall have some [understanding?] of the real nature of marriage itself. Often people go into marriage expecting to much and end up disappointed
People who say they never had a conflict
Dean Sperry of Harvard said once that he would “be prepared to reduce by fifty percent the divorces in the modern world if he could have young couples entering marriage know in advance that “differences were bound to spring up and that they are a sign of love’s health rather than its mortal ill.”5
Successful [marriages?] must be built on mutual compromise.
You can always have your way
Man must no longer consider himself [boss?]
There must be patience and forgiveness
No marriage can be successful unless in it are two people who love each other even after they have forfeited any natural right to be loved; who forgive each other’s obvious sins, awkwardness, and foolishness, who in spite of all which is hidden to other people see somethig worth while in each other and help to bring it out through mutual patience, kindness and understandig.
Each individual must instill within himself a new awarness of the sacredness.
Marriage fo so many has been relegated to a state of sexual experiment when people live together until the fascination has worn off. Hollywood has become the Holy City for many American, and thousands have bowed before its shrine, feeling that the more divorces the receive, the more they would receive the grace of [glamour?]. Love has been eliminated as a necessity for marriage, and in its place has appeared such thing as economic security, status and physical attraction. All of these thing have lead to a [disregard?] for the sacredness of [marriage?] Marriage is holy ground. It sanctifies the privilege of sharing in creative life. Through its portals men and women enter the realm of their immortality. Marriage is not an arrangement of convenience, to be entered into at will and dissolved at whim. It is a holy covenant between two souls pledged to revere one another, to face life’s [tasks?] together, to face life’s sorrow and struggle together, to build a [home?] and to shield, and love the offspring of their union.6
2 December 1961
“I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” Philippians 4:11.
Introduction: One may well characterize life as a pendulum swinging between opposites. joy and sorrow, hope and despair, poverty and wealth, sickness and health success and failure, popularity and obscurity.
One moment we are in joy, and in a flash we experience sorrow.
One day we are wealthy, and then we are poor.
One day we are popular, another day we are hardly known
This is the structure of life. Life is something of the strife of opposites
Nobody ever absolutely escapes this [tension?]
Every individual is in a constant struggle seeking to deal constructively with this tension. Ultimately an ind. is judged by the way he handles this tension. The adjustment of the individual depends on his ability to handle this tension
Methods used to deal with the tension
Most people attempt to deal with the tension by attempting to freeze one side of the opposite The gear themselves for living with one side of the opposite.
So there are persons who are geared only to live
under categories by those opposites that fall under the category of fulfillment. Consequently when the darker moments of life come, they are knocked off of balance.
There are other persons who are geared only to live by those opposites that fall under the category of darkness. Consequently, when the sunshine of life comes they aren’t prepared for it.
Neither of [these methods?] brings proper [adjustment?]
The Apostle Paul confronted this problem Certainly no man has confronted the omnipresence of life’s opposites any more than Paul. Probably he confronted the opposites of disappointment much more than the opposites of fulfillment. Yet in his own life he discovered the secret which every man must discover if he is to live the adjusted life. In Philippians 4:11 he rings out with words which
sound over echo across the generations: “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” This is the secret of adjustment
What did Paul mean by this? What had he learned.
First, Paul did not mean that he had learned to become complacent There is nothing in the life of Paul which could characterize him as a complacent man. Gibbon in his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” say, Paul has done more to promote the idea of freedom and liberty than any man who set foot on western soil.”7 This does not sound like a complacent man. So Paul is not telling us that the way to become adjusted to the opposites of life is through stagnant complacency. If complacency were considered a sign of adjustment, I would advocate maladjustment as the ideal and supreme virtue of life, leaving adjustment as a deadning and tragic vice.
Secondly, in declaring that he had learned to be content, Paul did not mean that he had merely become resigned to his fate. There are those who look upon man as the plaything of a callous nature sometimes friendly and sometimes inimical. They feel that the only way to solve the prolems of life is to give up in the struggle and become resigned to [strikeout illegible] fate. Such persons give up in the struggle of life.
What then, I repeat, had Paul learned? He meant that he had leaned to stand up amid the opposites of life and not despair. He had had every sort of experience. He had ranged from the lowest valleys to the highest mountaintop. But he declares: “These circumstances have not controlled me, I have learned to control them.” Paul had discovered the distinction between a tranquil soul and the outward accidents of circumstance. He had learned to live from within instead of from without.
How did Paul learn to be contented.
Paul found contentment because he believed that over against
the changing structure changeableness of circumstances, There is a perma changless structure of goodness in the universe, which transcends every circumstance.
1. Ebenezer Baptist Church, Press release, “‘The Secret of Adjustment,’ King Jr's Topic at Ebenezer,” 1 December 1961.
2. King’s announced Sunday morning sermon topic was “Secrets of Married Happiness,” which was “to carry a special message to all people seeking a closer family circle and Christian fellowship with our fellowmen” (Ebenezer Baptist Church, Press release, “Martin Luther King Jr at Ebenezer Sunday,” 18 November 1961).
3. From the 1920s through the 1950s, spouses seeking to end their marriages flocked to Reno, Nevada, due to the state’s liberal divorce statutes.
4. King wrote this outline on the verso of a 1961 letter and a 1961 conference schedule.
5. William L. Sperry was dean of Harvard Divinity School from 1922 until 1953.
6. Abba Hillel Silver, Religion in a Changing World, pp. 162-163: “Marriage, it maintains, is holy ground… It sanctifies the privilege of sharing in creative life. Through its portals men and women enter the realm of their immortality… Marriage is not an arrangement of convenience, physical or financial, to be entered into at will and dissolved at whim… It is a holy covenant between two souls pledged to revere one another, to face life’s tasks together, sorrow, struggle and disillusionment, to be each others complement, to build a home and to shield and love the offspring of their union.”
7. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788).
MCMLK, RWWL, Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives and Special Collections, Atlanta, Ga., 18.104.22.1680.
MCMLK, RWWL, Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives and Special Collections, Atlanta, Ga., 22.214.171.1240, "The Crisis in the Modern Family."
MCMLK, RWWL, Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives and Special Collections, Atlanta, Ga., 126.96.36.1990.