To Glorify and Enjoy God Forever

Feb 24, 2023 | Articles, by Guest Writers, Marrow Ministries Free Content

Humans cannot help but intuitively feel that they were made for something. It is such a powerful intuition and instinct that all the arguments of atheists have fallen before this impregnable fortress. Christians know this truth all too well, not merely having the natural impulse to affirm it, but seeing that the Scriptures constantly and loudly affirm it. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man” The answer is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” A more noble and pithy statement has rarely been found.

Of course, this wasn’t just an idea invented by a group of seventeenth-century Englishmen. It was the Apostle Paul who exhorted the Corinthian church that “whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Not only Paul, but that wise king Solomon of old also affirmed as much: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We know this truth, as this is one of those fundamental doctrines of Christian theology. It is the heartbeat of the Christian life. It would, therefore, do us well to reflect more on this profound truth. What is an end anyway? As the catechism says, not only were we made with an end, but a chief end. What is a chief end? Weirdly enough, the catechism then proceeds to give two answers. What do we make of this, and how are to think about their relations?

What is an end?

All humans act for some reason. There is at least some purpose that we think of when going about our daily activities. We may reason, for example, that we need to go to the grocery store for food so that we don’t starve. Because we’ve determined this, we leave our house, get in the car, drive to the store, and shop for groceries. The purpose, or end, of getting the groceries so that we could eat was something like the final destination of all our driving and shopping. It doesn’t make sense to do all those things unless we’ve already established a reason to go shopping in the first place. The reason, the destination, or the purpose is the end. Philosophers and theologians have their own jargon, often calling the end the final cause.

This principle doesn’t only occur in humans who have a mind that can give reasons for actions. In fact, we can see it at work in the whole of nature. An acorn is goal, or end oriented as well. The acorn wants to become a tree. Of course, acorns can’t think, but they have a natural instinct or tendency to become a tree if they are planted, watered, and provided with enough sunlight to allow them to grow. All of nature follows the same principle. Humans who rationally think about ends and purposes are just a variation of the same theme.

The ancient philosopher Aristotle, recognizing this goal-oriented aspect of nature and reality, also notes that ends can be called goods. He says that “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason, the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.”[1] It is the good of the acorn to become a tree, and it is the good of a human to get food so that they can nourish their bodies. In this case, good and end are convertible.

What is a chief end?

Humans, in common with the whole of creation, act towards some goal, end, or good. We do so in a distinct way in that we act toward our ends rationally with our minds and will, while a rock, a tree, or a cow do not. They act towards some end by pure natural instinct and without reason telling them to do so.

When the catechism says that man has a chief end, it supposes that there are lesser and lower ends and that there is one supreme and kingly end that reigns above all others. It is apparent from reason that certain ends are lesser and subordinated to higher ends. The end of me going to the grocery store to get food is a lesser end that is subordinated and directed to the higher end that I can actually eat that food and nourish my body. If this is the case, then there is a hierarchy of ends. They are like a ladder where the first step is the lowest end, and the top rung is the highest end.

If some ends are lesser and subordinated to higher ends, that also means that all lesser ends are also means. Money is a certain good or end. We work so that we can get paid. Money isn’t the end-all-be-all though. It is a means to higher ends, like providing for our families, giving to the poor, tithing to the church, and the like.

If we listen to reason’s call, there can only be one supreme and chief end, namely that “which we desire for its own sake.”[2] It is not a means to a greater end, for it is the chief end. It bows the knee to no other end or good. If there were no chief end it would be the case that goal-oriented creatures could never find their rest or attain their purpose. As Aristotle explains, “the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain.”[3] It would be a tragic existence and the definition of vanity.

Only glorifying God and enjoying Him provides complete and total satisfaction for our souls, but that doesn’t mean good food or friends don’t or shouldn't provide happiness and joy. Click To Tweet

All Creation is for the Glory of God

What is the chief end of all creation? Psalm 19 eloquently proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). As nature has received its whole being from God, it is fitting that the chief end should be to return to its maker and sing His praises. Nature does this passively by merely existing as God created it. Nature manifests God’s goodness, power, and wisdom.

Man’s Chief End is to Glorify God

If creation’s end is to glorify God, it stands to reason that created man shares that end; however, man achieves his end in a distinct manner. Man was made in the image of God, with an immortal soul, mind, and will. He (together with the angels) glorifies God by actively declaring God’s glory and manifesting his glory by trusting, loving, and hoping in God and loving his neighbor. This is why the catechism gives two answers to the chief end of man. Man’s absolute chief end is to glorify God, and his next highest end is the enjoyment of God. They are distinct, yet inseparable, as the puritan Samuel Willard writes, “they are inseparable in practice. A man cannot seek God’s Glory aright, but in so doing, he also seek his own salvation.”[4] It is when man is closest to God and most like Him that he has attained his end, good, and happiness. As Psalm 73 beautifully proclaims, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). Man’s manner of glorifying God is a “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) with the whole of his mind, will, and body. God’s love and goodness are so great to us that He didn’t just make us passively glorify him as stones and trees do but in an active way of ascribing Him the glory and praise due to His name.

Lesser Ends?

If our chief end is glorifying and enjoying God, what about the finite and lesser goods we enjoy on Earth? To have a spouse, children, a job, a loving church, or beloved friends are all goods and ends that humans ought to pursue, but shouldn’t we instead just become monks who live in caves and contemplate God all our life? Thankfully, having a chief end does not displace subordinate and lesser goods. Rather, it rules them and orders them to itself. Thomas Watson explains, “The glory of God is a silver thread which must run through all our actions.”[5] We can pursue lesser ends, as long as we don’t make them the chief end.

Some scrupulous individuals might think that they are failing if they aren’t actively thinking about glorifying God in every single one of their actions. This is a stern taskmaster that God never put us under. Our minds were not designed to bear such a burden, though it’s certainly good to be as consciously aware as possible of our chief end in all our actions. Rather, as we grow in sanctification, it will be the case that we progressively aim at God’s glory habitually in pursuing lesser goods. Only glorifying God and enjoying Him provides complete and total satisfaction for our souls, but that doesn’t mean good food or friends don’t or shouldn’t provide happiness and joy.

How May we Glorify God Today?

Of course, being vested with such a noble privilege, there is the possibility that man would not actively declare and manifest God’s glory. Whereas the rest of the physical universe could not help but attain its end in glorifying God, man alone had the possibility of missing his end by not worshipping and trusting in God. Rather, Adam (and all of us) would place our chief end in some created and lesser good. This is the heart of sin. The Apostle Paul explained to the Romans, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God… and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man-and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23). We see this in our unbelieving family and friends. They make money, honor, friends, pleasure, or jobs their chief end. They have taken proper ends and goods in their own right to be their final destination. At its root, many of our peers make themselves to be their true end, which makes sense of the innate selfishness that is so readily on display.

Lest we Christians become too haughty, this was and is the case for us all. We were all born in sin, not giving God the glory, and instead serving the creature rather than the Creator (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3; Romans 1:21, 25). We have all sinned and missed our final end in actively glorifying and enjoying God. Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No person outside of the grace of God actually pursues their chief end, but God is not mocked and He still gets the glory. If man will not glorify God actively, he will still glorify God in the manifestation of God’s justice in condemnation and bearing the everlasting curse of death.

Mercifully, God has not consigned all men to condemnation. He openly invites sinners to faith in Christ and gives them his Spirit so that they may be reconciled, forgiven, sanctified, and brought back to their purpose of actively glorifying and enjoying God. He is a wonderful God of love and grace who not only created us to glorify and enjoy Him but recreates us so that we may be restored in attaining our final end and happiness.

Christians can pursue our final end today. By trusting in Christ alone, loving God and our neighbors, holding loosely to temporal goods, and pursuing them for God’s sake, we can continue on that journey to glory where, our earthly end being attained, we will eternally delight ourselves in the greatest and chiefest end of all things: the Triune God Himself.

[1] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 1094a1-3.

[2] Ibid, 1094a6.

[3] Ibid, 1094a6-7.

[4]  Willard, A Compleat Body of Divinity, 4.

[5] Watson, Body of Divinity, 6.

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