Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

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

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God[1], and fully to enjoy him for ever[2].

Scriptural Proofs and Commentary

[1] Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. 1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  [2] Psalm 73:24-28. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works. John 17:21-23. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.


The Shorter Catechism’s first question and answer have been cited by many, even by non-Presbyterians. Its brevity and simplicity make it profound. The Larger Catechism’s (LC) first question and answer differ very little from the Shorter Catechism (SC). Its additional adjective and adverb offer insignificant benefits to the brilliance of the SC’s first question. Nonetheless, both focus on the same question and both give the same answer and their singular theme of God’s glory distinguishes these catechisms from the rest.[1] Not unexpectedly, the question looks somewhat similar to James Ussher’s (1581-1656) A Body of Divinitie (1645).[2] Though Ussher’s two questions might have some differences, they focus on the same matter as the Assembly’s first question:  “tell mee wherein doth the happinesse of man consist?… How may wee come to enjoy God?”[3] Ussher’s question possessed all the salient features of the Westminster catechisms (man’s ultimate aim and enjoying God). Some say he greatly influenced the Assembly though he was never a sitting member.[4] Nonetheless, one can see clear parallels between the divines and Ussher.

Herbert Palmer † (1601-1647) also had asked a very similar question before the Assembly met: “What is mans greatest businesse in this world?” His answer differed slightly from the later Westminster SC and LC. “A mans greatest businesse in this world is to glorifie God, & save his own soule, 1 Cor. 6.20. 1 Cor. 10.31. Mat. 16.26.”[5] Both Palmer and the divines made God’s glory first and foremost. Whereas the Assembly added enjoying God as the second part of the great business of man, Palmer listed the salvation of one’s own soul as the addition. We will not argue how significant this difference might be but one cannot deny the great similarity. Furthermore, both Ussher’s and Palmer’s questions and answers point to what would become the Westminster divines’ first catechism question. In the end, only the Assembly’s question would be remembered.

God’s Glory

Surely this first question continues to be one of the most important questions a man could ask: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” In answering it, he determines his great purpose, his chief end, his sole business, or the true meaning of his life. It guides his entire life and this goal pulsates through in his whole being. William Strong† (d. 1654) stated that a “mans treasure and chief good is that which is first in his eye and aime in the whole bent and course of his life, that which hath the priority in all his intentions, that is his chief good.”[6] The LC answer calls us to make God “first” in our eyes.

Warfield put it like this:

This is simply to say that the ideal a man has will determine the whole life of the man; of course, it must determine his notion of virtue, of duty, of motive—it determines also his whole character, motives, modes of life. The man for instance who, practically, considers wealth the highest good in human attainment, will necessarily think it virtuous to turn the world over in the effort to get money, and it may soon not matter much to him how he gets it so only he get it; he will hold it his duty to acquire and save it even unto cheater and miserliness; he will act on money-making motive; he will sink finally into a mere minting machine.[7]

So surely money, pleasure, man’s praise, etc. cannot be man’s highest good. What then is man’s summum bonum (his highest good)? The Bible makes it clear that the great end, the single purpose of creation and our existence, is to glorify God: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God…

Scripture is replete with the theme of God’s glory. God acts in behalf of His glory. In Prov. 16:4, it says, “The Lord hath made all things for himself.”[8] God made all things for Himself (Heb. 2:10, “for whom are all things, and through whom are all things”). The creation exists for Him (Rom. 11:36, “through him and to him are all things”; Col. 1:16, “all things… created by him, and for him”).  Saying that all things were created for and to Him means that God’s own chief end is His glory.

God created and redeemed a people for Himself that they may declare His praise (Is. 43:20-21, “The beasts of the field will glorify Me; the jackals and the ostriches; because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise.”). God will re-establish His people that He might be glorified (Is. 60:21, “that I might be glorified”).  Jeremiah declares that God’s people were to serve His glory, “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory” (Jer. 13:11).  Salvation is wrought and the redeemed purchased “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12).  For this reason, the redeemed of the Lord declares: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).  Believers labor in this world and use all their gifts “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet. 4:11, 16). Paul gives this unqualified rule: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31).

God’s Chief End

God Himself aims at His glory and created us to do the same. Theologians have rightly distinguished between God’s essential glory and His declarative glory. God’s essential glory is the glory He possesses in Himself (His essence).[9] God is already glorious; we cannot make Him more glorious than He is. His essential immutable glory cannot be diminished or increased —His excellencies or perfections remain full, perpetual, infinite and eternal.

What then does it mean to glorify God? This is where God’s declarative glory comes in.  We cannot add to Him; God cannot be more glorious than He already is. He cannot be improved upon or grow into something better.  “He glorifies himself, when he demonstrates or shows forth his glory; we glorify God him by ascribing to him the glory that is his due, —even as the sun discovers its brightness by its rays, and the eye beholds it.  God glorifies himself by furnishing us with matter for praise; we glorify him when we offer praise, or give unto him the glory due to his name.”[10] Simply put, it is the recognition of who He is and the acknowledgment of what He has done (to give the credit where credit is due).  To glorify God, therefore, does not add to Him but it acknowledges Him as He is. ““The glory of God,” says Calvin, “is when we know what He is.” Bengel says “Glory is the divinity manifest.””[11]

The Bible uses various verbs to describe our responses to God’s glory.  1) Habu (Wbh): “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (1 Chron. 16:29) or “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name” (Ps. 96:8; cf. Is. 42:12). 2) Sim (~yf): It also says, give God glory: “give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him” (Josh. 7:19). 3) Natan (!tn): “you shall give glory to the God of Israel” (1Sam. 6:5); “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory” (Ps. 115:1; cf. Is. 42:8; 48:11; Jer. 32:16). Various OT verses call us to glorify our Lord.

We also list various NT verses that teach the same.  “Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Lk. 17:18);  “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23); “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,” (Rev. 4:9); “‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.'” (Rev. 14:7); “And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory.” (Rev. 16:9);  “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)

From these verses, one might get the distinct impression that man materially gives something to God and that God receives something from us He didn’t have before. It almost looks like man was adding to God when he gives Him glory.  The various verbs the Bible uses (like the verb give) seem to imply this. But all these and related verses clearly show that we are acknowledging who God is (in particular, a certain attribute of God).  For example, in the Joshua passage (7:19), Achan was to acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s statement regarding his own sins: “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” Achan glorified the truth of God by confessing his sins. In Rev. 16:9, the wicked were judged because they did not acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s judgment against them by repenting and so they did not glorify Him.

Illustrations will help us here. To say that a rose smells lovely, or that a picture is beautiful, or that the meal was delicious glorifies the object in question. The praise, acknowledgment, recognition, etc. merely attribute to the object something that is appropriate and meet. My acknowledgment of the beauty of the picture does not change the inherent quality of the picture nor does it add to it. In a similar way, we do the same with God when we glorify Him, we acknowledge what remains inherently already true of God.

We must glorify God because God has displayed or manifested His glory in everything He has done. Robert Shaw put it like this:

‘The Lord hath made all things for himself,’ for the manifestation of his infinite perfections; and all his works proclaim his almighty power, his unbounded goodness, and his unsearchable wisdom. His glory shines in every part of the material universe; but it would have shined in vain, if there had been no creature to contemplate it with an eye of intelligence, and celebrate the praises of the omnipotent Creator. Man, therefore, was introduced into the habitation which had been prepared for him…[12]

In the end, when we glorify God, our value or estimation of His excellencies increases (valuation).  The change occurs in our eyes and we begin to see God for who He really is.  In a sense, we finally recognize the truth and reality of God because we value, see, estimate, desire, etc. God as He has revealed Himself.  It is meet, fitting and most appropriate.  It is like a trained musician appreciating one of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.  A rough unskilled listener may find the piece boring and unaffecting, but the trained musician perceives the brilliance of the masterpiece and is greatly moved by the music.  His appreciation does not add to the musical piece; he only recognizes the musical piece for what it is. Watson says we glorify God by appreciating Him (in having high thoughts of Him); by adoring Him (or worship); by our affections, namely, that we love Him; and by submitting to Him: “This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service.”[13] Furthermore, the same author said in another place, “Though nothing can add the least mite to God’s essential glory, yet praise exalts him in the eyes of others.”[14]

The wicked will also glorify God.  They will not enjoy doing it but they will be compelled to glorify Him. Pharaoh was raised up “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9:16).  God endures the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” because one day, they will “make known his power” when God shows His wrath (Rom. 9:22). All of creation declares His glory (Ps. 19) and even the wicked will be induced to declare His glory on judgment day.

[1] The Prologue to the Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses on God creating man to share in His blessedness. This remains somewhat close to the WLC but differs in its overall emphasis. The Luther’s Small Catechism begins with the Ten Commandments.

[2] James Ussher was invited to be a member of the Assembly (twice) but he refused to participate being loyal King Charles I. See Crawford Gribben, The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 86.

[3] James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie, or the Summe and Substance of Christian Religion, Catechistically Propounded, and Explained, By Way of Question and Answer: Methodically and Familiarly Handled (London, 1645), 4.

[4] See Gribben, The Irish Puritans, 86-87. Gribben cites A. A. Hodge of the nineteenth century and Mitchel and Struthers.

[5] Herbert Palmer, An Endeavour of Making Principles of Christian Religion, Namely the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lords Prayer, and the Sacraments, Plaine and Easie (London, 1644), 1. The † symbol indicates that the author being cited was a Westminster Divine.

[6] William Strong, The Certainty of Heavenly, and the Uncertainty of Earthly Treasures (London, 1654), 24-25.

[7]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1970), 1:131-132.

[8]The KJV translation has been debated; it could be for itself or for His purpose. Cf. R. E. Murphy, Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 22 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 118, 120. Murphy believes that the practical effects are the same.

[9]“Glory is the sparkling of the Deity; it is co-natural to the Godhead, that God cannot be God without it. The creature’s honour is not essential to his being. A king is a man without his regal ornaments, when his crown and royal robes are taken away; but God’s glory is such an essential part of his being, that he cannot be God without it. God’s very life lies in his glory” (T. Watson, A Body of Divinity  [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974], 6).

[10] Thomas Ridgeley, A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion Are Explained and Defended, Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism, 2 Vols. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 1:4.

[11]Cited in A. Whyte, The Shorter Catechism, ed. M. Dods & A. Whyte, Handbooks for Bible Classes and Private Students (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, nd), 2.

[12]R. Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith (1845; repr., Lochcarron, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1980), 62.

[13] Watson, Body of Divinity, 8.

[14] T. Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (1666; Carlisle, PA: BOT, 1992), 129.

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