As the nation pauses today to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d like to share something very special with you.
Several years ago, the earliest recorded sermon of Dr. King was discovered. At the time he delivered it, February 28, 1954, he was still a seminary student. The site was the Second Baptist Church of Detroit. He titled it “Rediscovering Lost Values.”
It is a work of timeless oratorical genius. You can listen to it by clicking here. Excerpts are below.
There is so much to say regarding the content of Dr. King’s sermon, but isn’t it fascinating to consider the context of his remarks in light of the popular narrative that has evolved about 1950s America? It is easy to think it was a golden era of innocence, but as you’ll see, it had its share of problems and challenges. After all, that is the nature of fallen humanity. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge, we’ve been forced to deal with our sins and a sinful world.
I think you’ll find Dr. King’s 58-year-old words both encouraging and convicting.
I’d invite you to share this with your children. To many of them, Dr. King is a distant figure of the past, a man they only hear about each January or see grainy film clips of standing before the Lincoln Memorial.
They should know him for who he was – a powerful and eloquent preacher who proudly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the pulpit, perhaps never more poignantly than on February 28, 1954:
“Rediscovering Lost Values”
There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don’t know enough. But it can’t be that.
Because in terms of accumulated knowledge we know more today than men have known in any period of human history. We have the facts at our disposal. We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy than we’ve ever known in any period of the world’s history. So it can’t be because we don’t know enough.
And then we wonder if it is due to the fact that our scientific genius lags behind. That is, if we have not made enough progress scientifically. Well then, it can’t be that. For our scientific progress over the past years has been amazing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains, so that today it’s possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can’t be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man’s scientific genius has been amazing.
I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man’s problems and the real cause of the world’s ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men.
The trouble isn’t so much that we don’t know enough, but it’s as if we aren’t good enough.
The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man’s soul. We haven’t learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood.
If we are to go forward today, we’ve got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind.
The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws.
We have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. Now I’m not trying to use a big word here; I’m trying to say something very concrete. And that is that we have accepted the attitude that right and wrong are merely relative…
Most people can’t stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it.
I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it’s wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we’re revolting against the very laws of God himself.
My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. It’s destroying our nation. The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they’re never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
This universe hinges on moral foundations. There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.”
Go out and be assured that that God is going to last forever. Storms might come and go. Our great skyscraping buildings will come and go. Our beautiful automobiles will come and go, but God will be here. Plants may wither, the flowers may fade away, but the word of our God shall stand forever and nothing can ever stop him. All of the P-38s in the world can never reach God. All of our atomic bombs can never reach him. The God that I’m talking about this morning is the God of the universe and the God that will last through the ages. If we are to go forward this morning, we’ve got to go back and find that God. That is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance.
If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values: that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control. God bless you.