Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1: Grammatical Error Or Theological Truth?

The more you enjoy God the more you will glorify Him and the more you glorify God the more you will enjoy Him.

In other words, we exist “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever” and we “enjoy God BY glorifying Him forever.” To be more precise, they are saying when we are embracing our created, redeemed, and sustained ‘responsibility’ “to glorify God” we will “enjoy God” and when we “enjoy God” we will instinctively and increasingly “glorify Him.”

 

What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1

The Westminster “Divines” (i.e. those called of God, sent by the Holy Spirit and affirmed by His church) gathered each day by edict of Parliament to compile first The Westminster Confession of Faith to unify the church of the Reformation in England with a distillation of essential Biblical truth and eventually two teaching tools. One teaching tool was the Larger Catechism designed for pastors to use in discipling the ordained officers of the church. The second was the Shorter Catechism designed for fathers to use in discipling their families. The very first question they composed to initiate the Catechisms was framed to explain Biblically God’s purpose in making man (Creation), male and female; saving man (Redemption) and sustaining man (Providence). Yet the question has what seems to be either a grammatical oddity or a carefully phrased precept. Let’s look closer.

First let’s examine the question. What is the chief end of man? (note that “end” is singular). Now let’s look at the answer. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (note that “end” is repeated as a singular but “end” though singular is defined as two-fold and therefore plural – “to glorify God forever” and “to enjoy God forever”. So did they make a grammatical error, were they sloppy or is something else of significance being communicating to us. Perhaps some would argue they made a grammatical error but I know of no one who would call them sloppy. These men began every day by re-affirming the vow they took on the first day as Dr. David Calhoun reminds us in his research on the Westminster Assembly:

To maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what may make most for God’s glory and the peace and good of his Church.

Furthermore, the careful wording of the Confession and the Catechisms would manifestly reveal the care they took in the formulation of biblical truth which they desired to be taught in both the family and in the church. That then means they were being thoughtfully engaging. So what were they saying to us beyond the obvious fact that we are created, saved and sustained “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

What the “Divines” were saying is that God’s design in creation, redemption and providence is to make, save, and sustain man (male and female) with a two-fold purpose. Therefore, it could be re-written or understood more clearly in this way: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever” (as others have noted such as the beneficial expositions of Jonathan Edwards and in our day John Piper).

But I would suggest that is not all they are saying by expounding a singular purpose as defined by a two-fold fulfillment. They are also saying that “the chief end of man is to enjoy God BY glorifying Him forever.”

In other words, we exist “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever” and we “enjoy God BY glorifying Him forever.” To be more precise, they are saying when we are embracing our created, redeemed, and sustained ‘responsibility’ “to glorify God” we will “enjoy God” and when we “enjoy God” we will instinctively and increasingly “glorify Him.”

To attempt to be even more specific, the more you “glorify Him” the more you will “enjoy Him” AND, the more you “enjoy Him” the more you will “glorify Him.”

To “glorify God” (our sacred responsibility) and “to enjoy God” (our sacred relationship) are two sides of one coin and therefore mutually dependent upon each other and inseparable from each other. You inevitably will display one when you intentionally embrace the other.

How many times in my life has the joy of Christ as my Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer caused me to both intentionally and spontaneously glorify God in worship and witness? But how many times in my life have I been momentarily empty of joy yet obediently embrace God’s call to glorify Him in worship and witness? And the result was the joy of the Lord filling my heart and soul to overflowing? The answer to both of those questions is – many times.

To conclude, while knowing there is no conclusion to our grace-secured-forever-lives, the Triune God of glory has made you, saved you, and sustains you for one purpose or “end” – to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever–Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Your responsibility is to glorify Him and your relationship is to enjoy Him. The more you enjoy Him (your grace-given and God-secured relationship) the more you will glorify Him and the more you glorify Him (your grace-enabled and God–defined responsibility) the more you will enjoy Him.

Harry L. Reeder III is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is senior pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala.