Man's chief end

When we live and move and have our being to this end, life grows more simple, singular and pure.

Completed and approved in 1648, by the “Churches of Christ in the kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland,” the Westminster Shorter Catechism has been read and memorized by millions of children and adults over the past ~350 years.

The Catechism contains 107 questions and answers, covering a broad range of topics about God’s nature, His divine order, His decrees, and the duty of man in response.

It was and still is by some, common practice for parents to sit with their children, going over the questions, and memorizing them together.

One author explains the benefit of the Catechism this way:

The Catechism is radically God-centered. From the very first answer, which says that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” the Catechism focuses our eyes on God. It consistently teaches that the Christian life is the God-centered life.

It is on this topic of glorifying God and enjoying Him that we write today.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

This first question and response in the Catechism takes what has perhaps been the most sought after question in all of human history and answers it both succinctly and elegantly.

How many tears have been cried, drops of blood shed, hours agonized, lives rearranged, books written, power sought - all in search of the answer to this question, “What is man’s chief end, our purpose?”

As one Preacher lamented, “And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:13-14

While so much of human history has come and gone, perplexed by this question, here we have the answer, in 12 short words, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

Have we stopped long enough from our busy lives to contemplate this? My existence, the core, the essence of who I am, my central pursuit is for this end - to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

In stopping to think on these things, have we known what it is to enjoy God? To delight ourselves in Him?

Because in many ways we could modify the catechism answer slightly - Man’s chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.

We are called to make the glorification of God our chief end, and in this pursuit of glorification, there is both a promise, “And enjoy Him forever,” and an instruction, “by enjoying Him forever.”

Stop and consider this. Have you?

In the day in, the day out. The planning for the future, the surviving of the present, and the making sense of the past - in all these things have we stopped to think on our chief end?

Have we come to the conclusion that every other pursuit, outside of the glorification of God and the enjoyment of Him forever, is, as the Preacher said, vanity and a striving after the wind?

When we live and move and have our being to this end, life grows more simple, singular and pure.

When we fix our eyes on this end, there is nothing that can separate us from His love, nothing that man can do to us, nothing that can be taken from us that we do not count as rubbish, whether in plenty or hunger, abundance or need, we are able to be content.

No circumstances, no loss, no amount of grief, no persecution, no turn of events, no adversary, regardless of the rain that falls, the floods that come, the winds that blow and beat on our house, we will not fall, because we have been founded on the rock, and from this foundation, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

But when our eyes wander, when our hearts grow affectionate towards other interests, when our minds conceive other explanations, life becomes complicated, heavy, and unfair.

We grow anxious, aimless, and become consumed by the cares of today, tomorrow and the past.

Proverbs 24: 10 teaches us that, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”

Catherine Mumford, the wife of General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, wrote this in a reminiscence looking back upon their early years together:

“I think this would have been one of the happiest periods of my life but for the gloomy view William was apt to take of our circumstances. In looking back on this time, I often think of the saying that I have heard William quote in these later times, that three-fourths of the troubles that cause us the greatest suffering never happen. Or, in other words, had we more perfectly learnt the divine lesson, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,’ the realisation of this truth might have modified many of the gloomy forebodings which marred the beginning of our acquaintance.”

When we have fixed ourselves firmly on this singular purpose, to glorify God in all we do, and when we have made enjoying Him forever both our guaranteed eternal promise and right now direction, we can learn this divine lesson as Catherine describes, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Day by day we must delight ourselves in Him. Minute by minute we must make it our end to enjoy Him. Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

In this way, He will be glorified.

From this place, our strength will not be small.

What is the chief end of man? My chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.