The Chief End of Man: Westminster Larger Catechism Question 1.
By Richard Bacon.
Copyright 1997 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

The Larger Catechism follows an outline, and the first five questions form an introduction. The first question is, "What is the chief and highest end of man?" The catechism remains introductory until question five which is, "What do the Scriptures principally teach?" After the introduction, the catechism is in two parts: the first part being what man is to believe concerning God; the second part being what duty God requires of man. As one studies through the Larger Catechism, he first of all sees a body of systematic divinity. He also has a body of practical divinity.

The first question that the catechism asks is, "What is our chief end?" Such a question presupposes that men have purposes: ends, goals or designs. The catechism asks us about the chief end, the chief goal, the chief design, the chief purpose of mankind. By referring to a chief end, the catechism implies that all of our subsidiary designs and goals, all of our ends, are to be subservient to our chief end. All our purposes may be judged as they are or as they are not subservient to our chief end. Do our subservient purposes and short term goals help us fulfill our chief end? If they do, then they are good. If they do not, or if they detract from our chief end, then they are poor, bad or possibly even wicked subservient ends. The degree of the goodness or fitness of each of our designs must be judged in terms of subservience to our chief end. Does it make our chief end more realizable or less realizable? If all our goals must be judged on their subserviency to our chief end of glorifying God, then we must know what it is to glorify God.

God has always been perfectly glorious! How do we "glorify" him? How do we add to total perfection? This is a question we should ask. If God is already perfectly glorious, what do we mean when we say, "Our chief end is to glorify God?" Obviously the catechism does not mean that we add to God's glory. There is no way that a creature could add to the glory of God. When we speak of glorifying God, we should consider what we are saying.

We will consider first of all what it is to glorify God. Then we will consider what it is to enjoy God. And then finally we will consider how those two things affect one another and how they fit together.

What is it to glorify God?

First of all, when God glorifies himself he manifests to his creation something about his own glorious nature, something about his attributes: perhaps all of his attributes considered together, or perhaps one of his attributes considered singly. It is for him to manifest something about himself, about his nature or attributes to his creatures. In II Corinthians 4:6, Paul says, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." God shined in our hearts to inform us what he is like; to glorify himself; to let his glory be made known. The same God who said, "Let there be light" in creation also said, "Let there be light" in our hearts. When he said, "Let there be light" in our hearts, he manifested something of his attributes, something of his nature. Paul refers to it in II Corinthians as "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." As he manifests himself to us, he makes his glory known.

For our part, we acknowledge what God is. In our confession, agreeing with God as to what he has manifested his glory to be, we glorify God. In II Corinthians 4:15 we read, "For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God." As we acknowledge what God has done, as we are thankful for what God has done, as we confess the way God has revealed himself to us, we glorify God. When God has revealed himself to be a holy God and we acknowledge that he is a holy God, when God has revealed himself to be a sovereign God, and we acknowledge that he is a sovereign God, we are glorifying him. We glorify God by confessing who and what he is. We do not add to the glory of God; we confess that God is glorious. We confess the kind of God he is and thus manifest his glory by speaking of his glory, but we cannot add to his glory. Just as we cannot make God more holy, we cannot make him more sovereign, we cannot make him more just; we cannot make him more glorious. When we say that it is our chief end to glorify God, we do not mean that it is our chief end to add to his glory until he finally becomes perfectly glorious. We mean that it is our job to speak of his glory; to redound to his glory, to reflect that glory back to him. Now that we know what the task is; how do we do it? I will suggest several ways.

First: We glorify God by confessing our sins. In Joshua 7:19, Achan was discovered with the "smoking gun." He was caught first of all by casting of lots. Joshua said unto Achan, "My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me." He encouraged Achan to make full confession of his sin. The reason was not that he was not discovered. He would still be executed. Still Joshua encouraged him to make full confession of his sin. The purpose then of the confession of Achan's sin was to give glory to God.

As we confess our sins to God, we glorify him. Confession of sin magnifies the holiness of God's law. When we acknowledge that we sinned against God's law, we are saying, "God's law is right." We are saying, "I was wrong." Confession of sin magnifies the justice of God's law. We say to God, "Yes, you were just in calling this sin, and I call it sin too. Even though it was I that committed it, I confess I was wrong, and you, Lord, were right." That is the glory of confessing our sin. It magnifies the righteousness of God's law and the justice of God himself.

Second: We glorify God by loving him above everything else. We should love him so much, that by comparison, our love for our fathers, our mothers, our spouses and our children appears to be hatred by comparison. In Luke 14:26, Jesus said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." In order to glorify God, we must by comparison hate all else; we must love Jesus Christ above all else; love God above all else. In Psalm 73:25 the psalmist says, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." The psalmist spoke in such a way that by comparison he had no desire for any other companionship but the Lord's. His love for the Lord, his desire for God, was such that every other desire he had, every other love he had on earth, seemed as nothing to him.

Glorifying God also involves believing him, and trusting him. Scripture sets Abraham before us as our faith-father. He is an example for us of a faithful man. In Romans 4:20, Paul says, "He [Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God." God promised Abraham when he was over 90 years old that he would have a son, and that son would become the heir of the covenant. Abraham did not stumble at that promise but was strong in faith. By his faith, he gave glory to God. We, too, by believing, by resting upon his promises, give glory to God.

Third: We glorify God by maintaining a jealousy for his honor. The reason the second commandment gives for not making images and likeness is that God is jealous for his own honor. We, too, should be jealous for his honor; for the truth of his gospel; for the honor of his holiness and other perfections. If we hear blasphemies, we should not allow ourselves to become hardened to that kind of speech. Ignoring blasphemy neglects God's glory. According to our several places and stations, it is our duty to guard jealously the majesty of God's perfections. We should be sensitive to God's honor, because in that way we glorify God. When we hear God's perfections being spoken of lightly, or blasphemed, we should be sensitive. Our ears should be attuned to hear it; we should not be indifferent. We should be offended by the things that offend God. If someone insulted our human father, we would be quick to speak in his defense. We should love God in such a way that the love for our human father is hatred by comparison. That being the case, there are very few instances when we should be absolutely silent when God's honor is insulted (Philippians 2:11 and Colossians 1:15-17).

Fourth: We glorify God by the pursuit of our callings; by bringing forth fruit in the application of our gifts. Hopefully, you have diligently pursued studies in order to make use of the gifts that God gave you. But the gifts that you have came from God. The talents that you have came from him. You now glorify God by being good stewards, by being fruitful stewards, of the gifts he gave you. Recall the parable of the talents: the person who was given ten talents increased them; the person who was given five talents increased them; the person who was given one talent was chided for not using the one talent he had. In another parable, the person with the least number of talents was forced to give over his talents to the one who had the largest number. By pursuit of our callings, by bringing forth fruit in the application of our gifts, we glorify God. In John 15:8, Christ said, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." Would you be a disciple of Christ? Would you glorify his Father? Then bear much fruit! As we bring forth fruit in our callings, we make use of the talents and gifts God has given us, and thus glorify him.

Fifth: We glorify God by walking humbly, thankfully, and cheerfully before him. Humility acknowledges the fact that he is creator and we are created. He made us; we did not make ourselves! As we walk humbly with God, we acknowledge him for who he is, and ourselves for who we are. As we walk thankfully with him, we acknowledge that he is the source of all the good that we have. In James 1:17 we read that every mercy, every grace, "every good gift...cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." As we are thankful to God, we glorify him by acknowledging him to be the author of every mercy and every good gift. Cheerfulness acknowledges the agreeableness of his sovereignty. As Christ said, "It is my meat to do his will," so we, by walking cheerfully with God, acknowledge it is our meat to do his will. His will is our desire; it is what we crave; it is the object of our longings. Cheerfulness acknowledges his sovereignty. As we walk humbly, thankfully, and cheerfully with God, we acknowledge these attributes, thus glorifying him (Psalm 100:2).

Sixth: We glorify God by heavenly-mindedness. The term heavenly-mindedness does not mean that we do not pay attention to what is going on around us in this present life. By pursuing our callings we are earthly-minded. We apply the Scriptures to the best of our ability to all of life, because the Scriptures speak to all of life. Having said that, we must also acknowledge that, in all of life, we should be heavenly-minded. We should keep what we do in this life in perspective of eternity. We should have a desire to be with our Lord. When Paul said that it was his desire to depart this life and be with God, he was exhibiting heavenly-mindedness. Paul knew, however, that it was needful for him to remain behind, not departing this present life immediately. We, too, should have the same tension, knowing that we would be able to enjoy God the more if we were to depart this present life; yet knowing that part of enjoying God is the practice we get in this life. As we subdue the earth to his glory, we are practicing for eternity. As we pray that God's will be done on earth, we pray that his name would be glorified and his will would be done, in the same way that the angels who serve him in heaven do his will. A day will come when we will be before the Lord in perfect holiness. We should so long for that day. We do not desire suicide, but we long for the day when God, by his will, takes us home to be with him.

Seventh: We glorify God, not only by yielding obedience to his commanding will, but also by submission to his disposing will. God has spoken certain things to us and he has told us to do certain things, to follow certain commandments, to behave in certain ways; but additionally, there is what we call his decretive will or his disposing will. This term denotes that God brings to pass whatsoever comes to pass. Events enter our lives. Those things are not always, in themselves, enjoyable. Some of them we characterize as afflictions, crosses, or burdens. Yet, we must learn that afflictions are included when we speak of all things being subservient to our chief end. We must learn to count those afflictions as light, knowing their source. God has given them to us and he has given them to us for his purpose. In Matthew 20:15, Jesus characterized the one who is hiring as saying, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" Such is the attitude we must have toward God's disposing will. Whatever comes to pass in our life is because God has willed it. We must learn not only to be obedient to his commanding will, but also to be submissive to his disposing will; to bear the yoke of the burdens or afflictions and understand them to be light compared to the heaviness of God's glory. The chaff of affliction blows away, but the kernel of God's glory remains because it is substantial.

Also, according to Ezra, whatever befalls us is less than our iniquities deserve. In Ezra 9:13 we read, "And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this." The people of God were in exile, being punished for their iniquities. Ezra confessed that even in that punishment, they had been punished less than their iniquities deserved. We should have that same attitude. As we submit ourselves to his disposing will, we should realize that even in our afflictions we are receiving less than our iniquities deserve; even when God chastises us, it is less than our iniquities deserve.

What is it to enjoy God?

Enjoying God is not significantly different from glorifying God; but is viewed from our side rather than from God's side. As we give glory to God, we should not find it a drudgery. We should not find his yoke to be burdensome; but easy and light. We should not find his commandments to be burdensome, rather we should find his law to be a delight. In our natural relations and actions, everything must be devoted to him. When everything is devoted to him, all of life becomes enjoyable as we enjoy his goodness. In I Timothy 6:17, Paul told Timothy that God has given us all things richly to enjoy; therefore we should not feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts of God. As we confess that they are his gifts, and confess so with thankfulness, we both glorify him and have a greater enjoyment of the gift.

As much as children might enjoy a certain toy, they would enjoy it even more if it came as a gift from a favorite aunt or uncle. They would not only enjoy having it and playing with it; they would enjoy it even more because of its source. The same thing should be true when we receive gifts from God: not only do we enjoy them because they are good gifts, we enjoy them even more because they came from God. It was God who gave us those good gifts: this life to enjoy, our spouses, our children, our talents, our callings. All these are more enjoyable because God is more to us than a favorite aunt or a favorite uncle. God is to us the most enjoyable thing of all; he is that to which everything else is subservient (I Peter 4:13, Deuteronomy 8:18).

In all of our dealings, as we consider ourselves under the watchful inspection of God, we enjoy him. For the unbeliever God's watchfulness is a terror, but for the one who has bowed the knee to Christ, it is comfort to know that in everything men do, we are in his presence. Every word, everything that passes our lips, can help to conform us to the image of Christ. Because we live our lives under God's inspection, we should guard our lips. We put a seal on the door of our mouths simply because we know that some things would offend God if we said them. We guard our mouths because we know we are living in the presence of God; because our God is a consuming fire; and because such living conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ.

Enjoying God suggests not resting in mere outward show of godliness, but experiencing the power of godliness. It means not simply saying the Lord's prayer, but praying. It is the difference between an outward show of religion and having the inward power in our lives. It is knowing what we are doing and why we are doing it. It is having an understanding of who we are, of who God is, and what our relationship is with him and with each other through him.

Further, we enjoy God in the minutia and indifferent actions of life. In I Corinthians 10:31 we read of even eating and drinking to the glory of God. There is not much that is more mundane than eating and drinking. There are times when we eat something or drink something as opposed to something else because we like the taste of it. But the primary reason we eat and drink is to stay alive. Yet even that we can do to the glory of God and to our own enjoyment. We can enjoy everything as Paul told Timothy in I Timothy 4:3. There are those who would forbid eating meat, and yet we can enjoy it. God made all things, so we can be thankful for all things and enjoy all things. Everything that we do should be ordered in such a way that it serves our goal, our purpose, of glorifying God and enjoying him. Even though we may not consciously realize it, as we eat and drink, we are eating and drinking to God's glory. It is not as though every mouthful, every crumb, every chew, must be done with the conscious thought, "Lord, glorify thyself in this chew." Rather, we are taking steps toward our goal. We may not be conscious of every step being subservient to that goal, yet it is. In every step we take toward a goal that is what we are doing. It may be something so small that we are not thinking about it. When you get up to walk into the kitchen, you do not think, "The reason I am putting my foot down right now is so that I will eventually be able to get to the kitchen." You just put your foot down, you just get up, you have the goal in mind, and you walk there. You do not think about every step. And yet every step must be ordered so that it serves your goal. In the same way that steps toward the kitchen get you to the kitchen, so it is with our lives. As we enjoy the minutia of our lives, the little things in life all become subservient to our goal in the same way that one step taken after another becomes subservient to our goal of getting to the kitchen.

We enjoy God when we own God to be our God, and when we confess ourselves to be his people. There is an enjoyment that comes to the believer that results from confessing God as our God. One can describe for us how much he enjoys an orange, but until we have tasted that it is sweet, we will never know the taste of that orange. So it is, that one can commend to us how enjoyable the Christian life is, but until we own God to be our God, we will never know the richness of the enjoyment. We must own God to be our God; we must experience him ourselves; we must, as the Bible says, "Taste that he is sweet." We cannot taste with some else's mouth. Just as we must own God as our God, there must also be an ongoing communion. In I John 1:3-4, John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full."

In I John 3:2, John says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." Whatever we shall be, John tells us that it is beyond our imagining. Imagine the best that you can, and it will be better. Whatever Christ shall be, we will see him then as he is; for we will be changed, so that we can see him as he is. Just as today we could not look at the full brightness of the sun without it burning the retinas of our eyes, so also we could not gaze fully at the glory of the Lord. Recall when Moses looked at the back side of God's glory. When Moses returned from the mountain, he glowed from having seen the hinder part, the back-wash of the glory of the Lord. Because of indwelling sin we do not know as we are known, but we will one day know God much better than we can now. As we grow in grace, we look for the day when we will be basking in the full glory of the Lord (Revelation 21: 23ff.).

There is an excitement that newlyweds have about one another. Over a period of time some of the excitement wanes, but something else comes in its place. A better knowledge of the spouse comes in the place of the first thrills. It is a knowledge that a newlywed cannot have. The newlywed does not know his or her spouse well enough yet to have that acquaintanceship or comfort, that knowledge of one another that comes with time; from communing with one another; participating in one another; being part of the same body for years. Over time, that is part of the preciousness of a marriage. But because a newlywed cannot have that, he has excitement instead. As we grow in the Lord, we should become more and more acquainted with him. Something comes into our lives from knowing him and walking with him. There should be a sanctification that takes place in our lives. Though we may not have the same excitement that we had the day we were converted; the reason we had that excitement was to hold the place of what we would have later. In other words, there is a certain excitement in a new convert. We often bemoan the fact that the excitement goes away. We should not necessarily do so. We should not be content with never having our emotions stirred, but neither should we think that we need to be living on an emotional roller coaster. Enjoyment consists in much more than thrills.

While the newness of a relationship is thrilling, a steady relationship is more fulfilling than thrilling. We should not scoff at such a relationship. We should not think that because there was a time in our lives when there was great excitement, that our relationship with the Lord must always be that way. It will not always be exciting in any long term relationship. If one has a friend for a number of years he is not as excited about their friendship as he once was. If one has been married for a number of years, he is not thrilled about the relationship in the same way he was; yet what he has instead — the steady, fulfilling relationship — is better, not worse. The reason we have more excitement at the beginning of a relationship is that we do not know enough about the person to be fulfilled in them or to have them fulfilled in us. The excitement takes the place of fulfillment, to keep us interested. The relationship does not get worse when that goes away. The relationship gets deeper, better and more fulfilling. If it does not, then we must work on the relationship. If you have a friend whose friendship is not more fulfilling now than it was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago, work on that relationship. If you are not closer to your spouse today than you were a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago, work on that relationship. If you do not find it more fulfilling even without the fireworks, work on that relationship because there is something wrong. It should be more fulfilling for you today than it was last week, or a year ago or ten years ago.

So it is in our walk with the Lord. We do not necessarily have the same excitement that we had the day we were converted, but it should be a more fulfilling relationship now. As we walk with him, if it is not more fulfilling and satisfying than it was a week ago or a year ago, or ten years ago, then work on the relationship. There is something missing, and that is part of the enjoyment of the Lord: knowing that day by day, week by week, year by year our fulfillment in him will increase.

The connection between glorifying the Lord and enjoying him

Obviously, glorifying God and enjoying him are not totally different. The two ideas are bound together. They are bound together both in experience and in the answer to the Larger Catechism question.

First: One cannot and will not be attained without the other. We cannot expect to enjoy God if it is not our purpose and function in life to glorify him. God said he will share his holiness with us; he will share his justice with us; he will share his love with us. But he will not share his glory with us! The very moment we begin to detract from the manifestation of his glory, the very moment we quit ascribing to him all the glory that is his, our enjoyment of him will fall. We cannot expect to enjoy him without living to his glory.

Second: We should regard this present life as a "training ground" for the next. We must understand that this life is not all there is. As we enjoy God, as we glorify God, we are looking for that day when we will be standing around the throne, glorifying God, praising him for all eternity. Our enjoyment will be much greater then and we are practicing now for that day.

Third: We should learn that holiness is necessary to blessedness. If we desire blessedness, enjoyment and happiness in our lives, then we must desire holiness, without which no man will see the Lord. It is no mercenary spirit to desire that better country. When we speak of glorifying the Lord, that does not mean that we cannot desire to enjoy him. Our desire is to glorify him and to enjoy him. We should pray to enjoy him; to bask in his goodness; to be his people; to desire the riches of Christ. This is what the author of Hebrews tells us Moses did when he turned his back on being called Pharaoh's son; when he turned his back on the pleasures of sin; when he turned his back upon the high calling in Egypt, in order to pursue the higher calling with God's people. It is not that he did not desire the riches of Christ, Scripture tells us he very clearly did. And he received them as well (Hebrews 11:24 and 26).

Though we look upon eternal blessedness as a reward, though we look upon it as pilgrims heading for that country, though we look at it as the eternal riches of Christ, we must never view it as merited by us. Though God rewards us with eternal blessedness, we must never begin to think of it as though we had earned it. As he will not share his glory with another, neither will he have it said that our reward is of works, lest any man should boast. Though we see a reward at the end of our lives; though we see the riches of Christ being offered to us for all eternity, we must never think of them as though they were a reward that we had merited for something that we have done. Rather, here is the glory, that our reward was earned by Christ, and given to us graciously. The rewards we receive are to bring glory to God alone.