On August 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr directed a peaceful march of 250,000 people who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to advocate for the cause of civil rights. It was before this crowd of protestors that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, challenging America to fulfill her promise. He said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.'” In preparing for his speech, King penned one of the most eloquent defenses of the moral law: the law that formed the basis for the civil rights movement, and for all of the law for that matter.
In the spring of 1963, King had been arrested for leading a series of large non-violent protests against the segregated lunch counters and discriminatory hiring practices rampant in Birmingham, Alabama. While in jail, he received letters from eight ministers who agreed with his goals but thought he should call off the demonstrations and obey the law. King responded, explaining why he disagreed with them, in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He defended his actions by arguing that “There are two kinds of laws: just laws and unjust laws. One has not a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws, but conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” In his letter, King said that “a just law squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law is out of harmony with the moral law.” He quoted Saint Augustine, who said: “An unjust law is no law at all.” He also quoted Thomas Aquinas: “An unjust law is a human law not rooted in eternal or natural law.” King, along with Augustine and Aquinas, strove to restore our heritage of justice rooted in the law of God.
The late Chuck Colson wrote in a Breakpoint Commentary on Martin Luther King Day, “Were he alive today, I believe he’d be in the vanguard of the pro-life movement. I also believe that he would be horrified at the way in which out-of-control courts have trampled down the moral truths he advocated. From the time of Emperor Nero, who declared Christianity illegal, to the days of the American slave trade, from the civil rights struggle of the sixties to our current battles against abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and same-sex ‘marriage,’ Christians have always maintained exactly what King maintained. His dream was to live in harmony with the moral law as God established it. So this Martin Luther King Day reflect on that dream–for it is worthy of our aspirations, our hard work, and the same commitment Dr. King showed.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Jan. 15, 1929. His grandfather began the family’s long tenure, beginning in 1914, as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a co-pastor there from 1960 until his death. King graduated from high school at age 15, received a BA degree from Moorehouse College and then took three years of training at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, receiving a BD degree in 1951. He was elected president of a predominantly white senior class. He did graduate studies at Boston University, receiving a doctorate in ’55. In ’54 he had also become pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King was always a strong worker for civil rights for members of his race, was on the executive committee of the NAACP, and headed up the first great Negro non-violent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States with a 382-day bus boycott. During this period King was arrested, his home bombed and he was subject to personal abuse.
Between ’57 and ’58, King traveled more than six million miles and spoke more than 2500 times to protest against injustice. He wrote five books and many articles. He was arrested some 20 times and assaulted at least four times. He was awarded five honorary degrees and named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine in 1963. At 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, contributing the $54,123 prize money to further the civil rights movement. On the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee where he was due to lead a protest march in sympathy of garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.
King’s dream was to live in harmony with the moral law as God established it. His dream was “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It was a dream for which he was willing to fight and even lay down his life.
I know someone else whose purpose it was to live totally in harmony with the moral law of God and to see people from every nation and skin color and language group become one. And He too, was willing to die for that cause. Only in His case, He was able to accomplish His goal, because, you see, He was the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, who became a man, who lived a completely sinless life in order that He could sacrifice His life as the “Lamb of God” to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could, by faith in Him and His work on the cross, become part of the “family of God” no matter our skin color, education, social status, or nationality. He made it possible for all people groups to be “reconciled …in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” so that we could be “fellow citizens …of God’s household” (Eph. 2:16,19). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26,28). You see, the ground is “level” at the foot of the cross. We are all sinners not matter what our background or earthly status. And when we trust in Christ as our Savior, we become brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what our background or earthly status. Martin Luther King, Jr. did much for the cause of civil rights for those, like the African Americans, who were unjustly treated, but the ultimate fulfillment of a “dream” was accomplished, not by protest marches, not by political or court decisions, but by the death of the God-Man on behalf of the sins of the world.