The Measure of a Man


The Measure of a Man
by Martin Luther King Jr., Fortress Press, 1959.
Find this book here.

I can’t even imagine what it is like to be a minority in a society where humanity is not seen as equal. I know that in our time, even in Canada, there is overt systematic injustice against certain people because of their heritage. Yet no one I know would encourage or support racism openly. If I did live in that kind of a society, I’m not sure what I would do.

The writings of people like Martin Luther King Jr. are a gift to us. Not only do we get a sneak peak into what life was like for African Americans during the civil rights movement, but we also get to read about King’s convictions and reasons for his activism.

As a pastor, preacher and leader in the church, King offered himself and stood up for what he believed God was calling him to do. According to King, at the core of the fight for rights and democracy is the question of what it means to be human. In a time when equality for all people was not common, King preached a radical message that all people are children of God.

In the first section of this book, King defines humanity in God’s terms. At the core of all humanity, we find the same thing - we are sinners in need of God’s grace. We are more than just body, and that united all of us together. 

In the second part of the book, King writes about the three dimensions of life. We ned to care and love ourselves, reach out to love others, and reach up to love God. We will never understand what it means to be fully human without all these three together.

This is a very short read, and yet, King’s use of language is beautiful and convicting. He was a man who practiced what he preached, and that makes reading this book all the more inspiring.

Notable Quotes:

“The conflict which we witness in the world today between totalitarianism and democracy is at bottom a conflict over the question “What is man?” (p. 9)

“…any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the economic conditions that damn the soul, the social conditions that corrupt men, and the city governments that cripple them, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.” (p.12)

“There is something within man that cannot be reduced to chemical and biological terms, for man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons. He is more than a wisp of smoke from a limitless smouldering. Man is a child of God.” (p.14)

“It is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others. The height of life is the upward reach for God.” (p.40)

“…whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” (p.45)

“…we were made for God and we will be restless until we find rest in him.” (p.49)