The Chief End of Man

Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?

Answer. : Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

The Question

Before I would even venture to provide commentary on the answer I would begin with the question itself. Why this question first? Considering the exhaustive whole of what the Westminster Larger Catechism addresses, why would this question and answer be placed first? Why does this question take priority,  for instance, over the New Testament question, “What shall I do to be saved?” or why does it not commence with an apologetic, metaphysical, philosophical, and scientific inquiry into the actual existence of the God of the Bible?This is not just idle curiosity, but a question which if answered will both elucidate the original notions of the Westminster Assembly, and moreover determine the proper disposition of the entire Christian life. Just as the answer to this question will reveal our true selves, the question alone reveals the intent of the entire Westminster Catechism. So what is the intent of the Catechism in placing this question first, and why should this be the first theological query in our lives?The answer is simple and Joe Morecraft lll illuminates it masterfully, “The Larger Catechism’s Question One forces us to take our eyes off of ourselves, our own comfort and salvation as our primary concern, and to fix them on the God of Glory, bidding us to seek our ultimate purpose and happiness in Him.” From this vantage we understand the first question of our Catechism, and of our theology, does not revolve around us with such anthropocentric queries as, “Who am I” or  “Why am I to believe in the God of the Bible?”  or even “What must I do to be saved?”. On the contrary, our first question elevates itself to the uppermost with what is demanded of us by God, rather than what we may demand from God. Therewith, the question alone establishes the perimeters of the foundation from which the Catechism will be erected, on which also our theology is to be formulated.

The Answer

Continuing on from the question we move to the answer. Indeed our conclusion to this pertinent question will disclose the maturity if not the viability of our profession of faith. The Christian is one who is fixed by grace on the God of the Bible. As the early puritan evangelist to the Native Americans, David Brainerd, penned about his soul designed for God, “Tis fix’d through grace; my God shall be my ALL. While He thus lets me heavenly glories view, Your [Vain World] beauties fade, my heart’s no room for you.” Every life is goal-oriented, and the inclination of the Christian is to seek his highest knowledge, happiness, and joy in God. As the theologian B.B. Warfield commentated, “No man is truly Reformed [Biblical] in his thoughts, then, unless he conceives of man not merely as destined to be the instrument of the Divine glory, but also as destined to reflect the glory of God in his own consciousness, to exult in God; nay, unless he himself delights in God as the all-glorious One.”  Like the question, the answer withdraws our concentration from ourselves toward the vision of God in His glory.

The Glory of God

From the very outset the Catechism presupposes the existence of God and His creation of this world. From here it continues to adjudicate the ultimate end for which God created us, that is, for His own Glory. But why His glory? Because the glory of God is of supreme regard to Himself. As Jonathan Edwards wrote in his work, “The End for which God Created the World”, “Whatever that be which is in itself most valuable, and was so originally, prior to the creation of the world, and which is attainable by the creation, if there be any thing which was superior in value to all others, that must be worthy to be God’s last end in the creation; and also worthy to be his highest end.” Consequentially, that which is highest in God’s heart is himself, and to God the supremacy rightly belongs. To determine what proportion of regard is to be allotted between the Creator and all his creatures, both must be placed in the balance. Naturally, the whole system of created beings would be but vanity in comparison to the Creator. Thus the degree in which God should be regarded in all His word and works is infinite, just as He is infinite. It is supreme, just as He is supreme. It is all encompassing, just as He is all encompassing. As Edwards concluded, “The universality of things, in their whole compass and series, should look to him in such a manner as that respect to him should reign over all respect to other things, and regard to creatures should, universally, be subordinate and subject.” But who is the arbiter of such worthiness of the Creator and unworthiness of the creation? The office belongs to God. All are his, He alone is fit for this office as arbitrator to state all things with perfection according to their worth. By supposition, God alone is supreme and therefore He alone is to be glorified by all and in all.

His Highest End

The glory of God is not only our highest end, but it is first and foremost God’s highest end. For what else could be? The notion of God creating us in order to receive something from us is both contrary to His nature as self-sufficient and inconsistent with the existence of creation being of universal derivation and dependance. On the contrary, God created us from no need in Himself, but rather to manifest His glory in the exercise of His glory. That which is highest in God’s heart is also highest in his actions and conduct, so that His work of creation exhibits His glorious image. What God intends, He does. As God intends to display His Glory, so He found it proper and desirable to exert His glory in the creation of the World to the end of the manifestation of His glory. In the words of Edwards, “As God therefore esteems these attributes themselves valuable and delights in them, so it is natural to suppose that he delights in their proper exercise and expression.” Edwards gives a masterful illustration of the emanation of God’s glory, “Light is the external expression, exhibition, and manifestation of the excellency of the luminary, of the sun for instance: It is the abundant, extensive emanation and communication of the fullness of the sun to innumerable beings that partake of it. It is by this that the sun itself is seen, and his glory beheld, and all other things are discovered; it is by a participation of this communication from the sun, that surrounding objects receive all their luster, beauty, and brightness. It is by this that all nature receives life, comfort, and joy. Light is abundantly used in Scripture to represent and signify these three things, knowledge, holiness, and happiness.”

Our Joy, His Glory

Being fit that God should have a supreme regard to Himself, then it is also fit that this supreme regard should subsist in this created world by which He makes Himself known. Seeing as God delights to make His glory known it seems equally reasonable that He rejoices and is glorified when we endeavor to know Him. Similarly, as God delights in His own beauty, he of necessity delights in the creature’s holiness, which is conformity to His beauty. So enjoying God and God being glorified are one end. Alexander Paterson writes, “God has inseparably connected them; an no one can truly design and seek the one, without, at the same time, designing and seeking the other. And we may here remark, that the glorifying of God is here set before the enjoyment of Him forever, to show that the former is the means by which the latter is obtained; that holiness on earth must precede happiness in heaven; and that none shall enjoy God forever, who have no desire to glorify Him in this world.” Edwards states, “The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted.” It is in this regard and to this end that God both created this word and furthermore concerns Himself in the affairs of men. The interest of the creature is God’s own interest, in proportion to the degree of the creature’s relationship and union with God. As we delight in God, God is glorified, and He delights in us. Yet again, this does not make God dependent on receiving something from us. While God has real pleasure in our holiness and happiness in Him, these are things which He has given us in the first place. Our holiness and happiness is entirely from Him, and consequentially He is rejoicing in His own acts and His own glory manifested in these acts, rather than a joy derived from the creature. The knowledge of God is the object of their knowledge, the love of God is the object of their communication of love, the joy of God is the object of their happiness. As Edward’s states, “God’s joy is dependent on nothing besides his own act, which he exerts with an absolute and independent power.” 

Thee Highest End

Scripture’s testimony to the highest end being the glory of God is resounding. Edwards gives nine parts in expounding on the testimony of Scripture.

1. God’s acting for His own sake is the same as acting for His glory. “ For my own sake, even for my own sake, will I do it. For how should my name be polluted; and I will not give my glory to another.” Isaiah 48:11. And in Romans 11:36, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

2. The glory of God is spoken of in Holy Scripture as the last end for which those parts of the moral world that are good were made. Isaiah 60:21, “Thy people also shall be all righteous. They shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” Ephesians 1:5 “Having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.”

3. The Scripture speaks the ultimate end of the goodness of moral agents as the glory of God. Philippians 1:10-11, “That ye may approve things that are excellent, that ye may be sincere, and without offense, till the day of Christ: being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:20, “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are His.”

4. It is the chief duty of man to seek God’s glory as their ultimate end. “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31. “That God in all things may be glorified.” 1 Peter 4:11 “Hallowed be thy name… For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the gloryMatthew 6:9,13.

5. In their best frames saints earnestly desire the glory of God. “To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” Romans 11:36. “To God only wise, the glory, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.” Romans 16:27. “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” 2 Timothy 4:18.

6. Christ sought God’s glory as His highest and last end. “He that speeketh of himself, seeketh his on glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.” John 7:18. “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour, father, glorify thy name.” John 12:27-28.

7. It is manifest from Scripture that God’s glory is the last end of that great work of providence, the work of redemption by Jesus Christ. “Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I cam to this hour. ‘Father glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.'”

8. The Scripture leads us to suppose that God’s glory is His last end in His moral government of the world in general. Romans 9:22-23. “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and make his power known, endured with much long-suffering, vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified saints, and to be admired and all them that believe.”

9. The glory of God is spoken of in Scripture as the last end of many of His works in the created world. “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is excellent, his glory is above the earth and the heaven.”  Psalms 148:13. Psalms 104:31, “the glory of the LORD shall endure forever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.” 

Historical Roots

The historical roots of this first question are not only found in the Scriptures Edward’s so carefully laid out, but also in the early Church fathers of Augustine and John Calvin. To quote Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord: and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in Thee… Let Go be all in all to thee, for in Him is the entirety of all that thou lovest… God is all in all to thee; if thou dost hunger He is thy bread; if thou dost thirst He is thy drink; if thou art in darkness, He is thy light… if thou art naked, He is thy garment of immortality, when this corruption shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality.”  In the Sixteenth Century, John Calvin wrote in his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, “We are all created to this end, that we should know the majesty of our Creator; and knowing Him, should hold Him in esteem, and honor Him with all fear, love and reverence… It is necessary, then that the principal care and solicitude of our life should be to seek God and to aspire to Him with all affection of heart and not to rest anywhere save in Him.”

Othopraxy: Practical Theology

Now that we have covered some of the theology behind the glory of God as the highest end of God and of His created world we are obliged to examine some of the elements of honoring God. As Dr. Morecraft lll points out, we glorify God first through appreciation. When we appreciate and have the highest esteem for God’s revelation of Himself and all His perfections in Christ, the Bible, and creation we glorify God. We must saturate our lives and familiarize our souls with these three revelations of God’s attributes. To know Christ, to understand and be affected by Scripture, and to truly appreciate creation and the portion of good things God has given us in this life. Second, through adoration. When we find our knowledge, holiness, and happiness in the “impressiveness” of God we give glory to Him. We only adore what we esteem, and we will only esteem God if “The things of this world grow strangely dim.” Third, submission. Only as we submit ourselves to the supremacy and finality of God’s revelation of Himself do we give glory to Him. The only true and effectual revelation of God is from God, and therefore we must receive it as inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, and necessary for all life and godliness. Fourthly and finally, witness. We glorify God when we exhibit and furthermore proclaim the holiness of God. If our regard for God is sincere and our esteem of Him great, then it will of necessity climax in praise and proclamation. Summarily, as Morecraft States, “We glorify God when we are not ultimately concerned with ourselves and our liberties but are ultimately concerned with whatever will manifest and promote the glory of God and extend the kingdom of Christ.”


I will conclude with Thomas Carlyle’s conclusion in 1876, “The older I grow, and I am now upon the brink of eternity, the more comes back to me the first sentence of the Catechism which I learned when a child, and the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes, “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”