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20 quotes about faith from Martin Luther King Jr.

Long before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a distinguished civil rights leader, he was a clergyman, like his father and grandfather. His sermons show the importance of God in his life and his life’s work.

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In this undated file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preaches in Albany, Ga.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today for his impact on civil rights. But before he became a champion of social justice and one of the most admired Americans of the 20th century, King was an ordained minister who said his first calling was his greatest commitment.

“In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher,” the Rev. King once wrote in Ebony magazine. And his acclaimed book “Strength to Love” is not a scholarly dissertation, but a collection of sermons delivered and polished over the course of his tragically abbreviated career.

The Rev. King, who was assassinated in 1968, was a fourth-generation preacher who earned a divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary and a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University. He was just 25 when he was appointed pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, largely based on his ability to preach.

As Ralph Bryson, a longtime church leader, said in a video on History.com, “We heard several young men who gave excellent trial sermons, but when we heard Martin Luther King, we said there’s no reason to continue this. That is it.”

The Rev. King’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. But his equally eloquent words about God and faith were delivered from pulpits across the country, both before and after he became famous. Here are 20 quotes about faith from the Rev. King’s sermons in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.”     — “Transformed Nonconformist”

“It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” — “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart

“Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love.” — “Love in Action

“Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.” — “Love in Action

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says ‘Love your enemies,’ he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition.” — “Loving Your Enemies

“The whole history of life is the history of a struggle between good and evil. There seems to be a tension at the very core of the universe. ... Evil is ultimately doomed by the powerful, insurgent forces of good. Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” — “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore

“God is still around. One day, you’re going to need him. The problems of life will begin to overwhelm you; disappointments will begin to beat upon the door of your life like a tidal wave. And if you don’t have a deep and patient faith, you aren’t going to be able to make it.” — “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool

“Science investigates, religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power, religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts, religion deals with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.” — “Strength to Love

“Worship is as much a part of the human organism as the rising of the sun is to the cosmic order.” — “The Rewards of Worship

“We should be happy that (Jesus) did not say ‘Like your enemies.’ It is impossible to like some people. ‘Like’ is a sentimental and affectionate word. ... But Jesus recognized that love is greater than like.” — “Loving Your Enemies

“A man cannot forgive up to 490 times without forgiveness becoming a part of the habit structure of his being. Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” — “Love in Action

“The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God,’ you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never slough off.” — “Loving Your Enemies

“We need to recapture the Gospel glow of the early Christians, who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune and life itself on behalf of the cause they knew to be right.” — “Transformed Nonconformist

“Despite man’s tendency to live on low and degrading planes, something reminds him that he is not made for that. As he trails in the dust, something reminds him that he is made for the stars. As he makes folly his bedfellow, a nagging inner voice tells him that he is born for eternity. God’s unbroken hold on us is something that will never permit us to feel right when we do wrong or to feel natural when we do the unnatural.” — “Strength to Love

“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name.” — “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore

“Our capacity to deal creatively with shattered dreams is ultimately determined by our faith in God.” — “Shattered Dreams

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the soul, the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the city governments that may damn the soul is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.” — “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool

“How many Christians are as concerned to win others to Christ? Often we have neither zeal for Christ nor zest for his Kingdom. For so many Christians, Christianity is a Sunday activity having no relevancy for Monday, and the church is little more than a secular social club having a thin veneer of religiosity.” — “The Rewards of Worship

“The kind of love that led Christ to a cross and kept Paul unembittered amid the angry torrents of persecution is not soft, anemic, and sentimental. Such love confronts evil without flinching and shows in our popular parlance an infinite capacity ‘to take it.’ Such love overcomes the world even from a rough hewn cross against the skyline.” — “Antidotes for Fear

“The great creative insights have come from men who were in a minority. It was the minority that fought for religious liberty; it was the minority that brought about the freedom of scientific research. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist.” — “Transformed Nonconformist