What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A #1)
I have great appreciation for the Westminster Standards. Westminster’s Confessions of Faith, Larger, and Shorter Catechisms have been useful in shaping my own and my children’s understanding of the Bible’s teachings. In fact, I think the first question and answer of the WSC sets the proper tone for all proper Christian understanding and practice.
I know peripherally of the controversy surrounding this question and answer stemming from an article written by Mark Jones over at reformation21. This article is not a response to what he has written. Be gone with you, all you polemicists! Instead, I want us to benefit from what is written rather than argue about what we think should be written, as valid as that discussion may be. So what is the chief end of man? The catechism gives us two main objectives for living. First, glorify God. Second, enjoy him.
To glorify God means to recognize his rightful, exalted position. It means we are to understand his greatness. To be able to recognize the disparity between God and ourselves, we need a reference point. We describe an ant as small compared to ourselves. In the same sense we understand the greatness of God by comparing him to ourselves. In his word we see his greatness in creation, the flood, the exodus, in establishing David’s kingdom, his judgment in the exile, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and in his promised return, among other things. At the same time, we see and experience our own weakness in sin, limited knowledge, and inability to control anything, just to name a few of our inadequacies. When these two pieces of knowledge come together, it causes us to glorify God. The Lord of heaven and earth stoops down to save wretched men. To live in that recognition leads us to glorify God, to worship him as the One True God. We do not re-invent him in our own image as Israel did when they made the golden calf (Cf. Ex 32:4-5). Instead, we live according to his commandments, recognizing he is worthy of our obedience.
The catechism’s charge to enjoy God keeps us from thinking we can glorify God without also delighting in the process, as if some external consent would be enough. The one who rightly understands the greatness of God and his own sin, sees the greatness of the gift of salvation God purchased for him in Christ. A begrudging obedience will not do. Rather, the Christian sees the burden of his master as easy and his yoke as being light.
What is the chief end of man? It is to recognize God’s greatness and our sin. It is to see wonderful gift of salvation. It is to have our hearts filled with joy and thanksgiving for that work. It is to express our understanding of the glory that already belongs to the Lord in thought, word and deed.