WHAT IS MAN?

I dedicate these excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermon, “WHAT IS MAN?” to a great man, Mr. Kevin Mark Smith.

“What is man that thou art mindful of him?”

What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason: how infinite in faculty: In form and moving how express and admirable: In action how like an angel: in apprehension how like a God: the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!

There are depths in man that go to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven, for are not both heaven and hell made out of him, everlasting miracle and mystery that he is?

Along with this strong intellectual capacity in man, there is a will. Man has within himself the power of choosing his supreme end. Animals follow their natures. But man has the power of acting upon his own nature almost as if from without; of guiding it within certain limits; and of modifying it by the choice of meaningful ends.

Man entertains ideals, and ideals become his inspiration. Man can be true or false to his nature. He can be a hero or a fool. Both possibilities, the noble and the base alike, indicate man’s greatness.

All that has just been said concerning the spiritual element in man gives backing to the Christian contention that man is made in the image of God.

Man is more than flesh and blood. Man is a spiritual being born to have communion with the eternal God of the universe. God creates every individual for a purpose—to have fellowship with him. This is the ultimate meaning of the image of God.

It is not that man as he is in himself bears God’s likeness, but rather that man is designated for and called to a particular relationship with God. This concept of the image of God assures us that we, unlike our animal ancestry and the many inanimate objects of the universe, are privileged to have fellowship with the divine.

Now we must admit that through our sinfulness some of the image of God has left us. God’s image has been terribly scarred by our sin. In our modern world, we have tried to get away from this term, sin.

We have attempted to substitute for it, high sounding psychological phrases and other explanation that will relieve us of responsibility. But my friends whether we want to accept it or not man is a sinner in need of God’s divine grace.

Whenever a man looks deep down into the depths of his nature, he becomes painfully aware of the fact that the history of his life is the history of a constant revolt against God. “All we like sheep have gone astray.”

Every nation, every class, and every man are a part of the gone-wrongness of human nature. Of all the silly, sentimental teachings which have ever characterized any generation the denial of human sin is one of the worst.

Yet man is not made to dwell in the valleys of sin and evil; man is made for: that which is high and noble.

When I see how we fight vicious wars and destroy human life on bloody battlefields, I find myself saying: “Man is not made for that.” When I see how we live our lives in selfishness and hate, again I say: “man is not made for that” When I see how we often throw away the precious lives that God has given us in riotous living, again I find myself saying: “Man is not made for that.

My friends, man is made for the stars, created for eternity, born for the everlasting. Man is a child of the almighty God, born for his everlasting fellowship.

“What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thou hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. All sheep and oxen, yea and the beasts of the field. The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.”

Preached at Dexter, July 9, 1954

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