King delivered a version of this sermon at Dexter in Montgomery, Alabama, as the congregation considered him as a candidate to be their new pastor. In a letter sent prior to King’s appearance, Dexter deacon and choir director Joseph T. Brooks advised that he “plan a sermon which will not require too much dependence on a manuscript.” According to a local newspaper account King was heard by “a large and appreciative audience.”
In this handwritten draft, King draws on the theme, structure, and some of the language of Phillips Brooks’s “The Symmetry of Life.” King urges his listeners to fulfill their God-given purposes in life, to develop concern for the welfare of others, and to seek God. Regarding the need to be concerned about others, he concludes, “No man should become so involved in his personal ambitions that he forgets that other people exist in the world. Indeed if my life’s work is not developed for the good of humanity, it is [meaningless] and Godless.”
Text “The Length and the Breadth and the Height of it are equal.” Rev. xxi 16.
One day out on a lonely obscure island called Patmos a man by the name of John caught vision of “the holy Jerusalem” descending out of heaven from God. To him it was the picture of humanity as it should be in its completeness. It was the picture of the new Jerusalem, new in structure, new in outlook, new in character. One of the greatest glories of the new heavenly city which he saw was its completeness. It was not partial and one-sided, but in all three dimension it was complete. And so we read in our text: “The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” The new city of God, the city of ideal humanity is not up on one side and down on the other; it is not
b an unblanced entity; it is complete on all sides.
John is saying something in this text which has eternal significance. Behind his poetic imagination and apocalyptic symbolism there is an eternal truth which we must forever recognize, and that is that life at its best and life as it should be is the life that is complete on all sides. So much of the noblest life which we have seen, both collective and individual, dissatisfies us with its partialness; so many of the greatest men we see are great only upon certain sides and have their other sides so flat and small; so many of our greatest civilization are great only on certain sides and have their other sides so low and degrading.
And yet life as it should be is the life that is rich and strong all round, complete on every side. There are then three dimensions of the complete life to which we can fitly give the three names of our text, Length, Breath and Height. The Length of life, as we shall use it, is, of course, not its duration. It is rather the push of a life forward to its own personal ends and ambitions. It is the inward concern for achieving our own pernal end and ambitions. The Breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare [of?] others. The Height of life is the upward reach toward God. These are the three dimensions of life, and without the due development of all no life becomes complete. Give [illustration?] of a triangle.
Think first about the Length of life, [word illegible] that dimention of life in which every man seeks to [strikeout illegible] developm his inward powers. Every man has the responsibility to discover his mission in Life. God has created every normal [person with?] a capacity to achieve some end. Some are probably [endowed?] with more talent than other, but not none of us of left talentless.
(1) Use what you have. Dont worry about others. Discover what you have and what you can do
(2) After you have discoved what you are made for, seek to do it with all the power there is in your system. Do it as if God ordained you to do it. Let nothing cause you to lose sigh of you ultimate aim. Use the ill of Jesus. (For this cause came I into the world)
(3) Never consider you life’s work insignificant. Quote Malloch
(4) Set yourself earnestly to see what you were made to do, and then set yourself earnestly to do it This clear onward push the the end is the length of a man’s life.
Now there are some men who never get beyond this first dimension of living. I’m sure youve seen such people These people are only concerned about themselves
Now although this is an important dimension of life, it is not the only dimension. If a life is to be complete we must not stop with this dimension. There are some people who never get beyond this first dimension of life. I’m sure you have seen such people. These people are only concerned about themselves. They seek to achieve their ambitions at any cost. So if life is to be complete it must move beyond length to what we have called breadth. I have ventured to call this quality of breadth in a man life its outreach for the welfare of others. No man has lerned to live until he can rise out of his mere concern for self to the broader concern for others. Indeed the prayer that every man should learn to pray is: “Lord teach me to unselfishly serve humanity.” No man should become so involved in his personal ambitions that he forgets that other people exist in the world. Indeed if my life’s work is not developed for the good of humanity, it is [meaningless?] and Godless. Length without Breadth is dead and narrow. I say to you whatever you do in life do it for the good of humanty. Dont do it merely for the prestige that it brings or the money that it brings, but do it for the serving of humanty
(Bring in the relevance of this truth on the international scene How nations have tried to live to themselves) Along with this comes the realization that we are not independent. The thinking man realizes that real life is interdependent. (Show the ill. of how before breakfast is over we are dependent on the whole world) All life is involved in a single process so that whatever effects one directly affects all indirectly. Quote John Donne “No man is an island. . .”
Now one more dimension of the complete life still remains, viz the Height. The Height of life is its reach upward toward something distinctly greater than humanity. Man must rise above earth to that great eternal reality who is the source and end of life. And so when we add Height to length and breath we have the complete life.
There are many men who who are wholly creative of the earth. There are those who never look up, who never seem to have anything to do with anything above this flat and level plain of human life. The tragedy of much of modern life is that in quest of our [personal?] and social goals we have unconsciously forgotten God. We have pursued the length and breadth of life and neglected the Height. And so we find ourselves living a disorganized, incomplete and disconected life. (Quote H. G. Wells)
In our age of science and materialism so many things have come which seem to make God [irrelevant?] Illustrate.
In our age we have set forth so many substitutes for God. (Inventions, money)
But my friends televisions and automobiles, subways and automobiles, dollars and cents can never be substitutes for God. For long before these came into existence we needed God and long after they shall have passed away we will still need God. Look up beyond your self interest. Look up beyond your concern for humanity. Look up to the very height of life itself and then you find God who makes life comple. We are commanded to love ourselves and we are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but still there is a greatr commandments which say “Love the Lord thy God . . . ”
God is the end of life. We were made for God and we will be restless until we find rest in him.
AD. CSKC: Sermon file, folder 21, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”