The Larger Catechism
1. Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.
Not only are we called to glorify Him but we must also enjoy Him: “and fully to enjoy him for ever.” We find that the saints of God desire the Lord above all things (Ps. 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”) and they experience (“taste”) Him to be good (1Pet. 2:3; Ps. 34:8). We are cursed if we do not love Him (1Cor. 16:22). We are called to love our Lord “with love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:24). Believers love Him even though they have not seen Him (1Pet. 1:8). We enjoy the objects we love; one cannot love Him and not enjoy Him. The whole point of our union with God is to underscore the fellowship and enjoyment we have with Him (Jn. 17:21).
Saints really enjoy God. Only those who know their God and have tasted of His goodness know anything of this—the call to enjoy Him cannot be meaningfully understood until the person is converted. Men who have never seen snow can only imagine what its like. Blind people who have never seen the world cannot fathom the differences between colors. Those who have been the subjects of Sovereign mercy know very well what it means to enjoy God. “[E]very holy soul that has ever lived, has known, that in communion with God, in a consciousness of his love and favour, and in the expectation of enjoying his blissful presence forever, there is a present enjoyment, unspeakably greater than the delights of sense, or than all that the pleasures of mere intellect can ever afford.”
It does us no good to presume to glorify Him and yet not enjoy doing so. In the ordinances He gave us, we should enjoy Him. Formal worship is a charade. To not relish whom we worship is as meaningful and acceptable as a young man going through the motions of pretending to enjoy the company of someone. His boredom, inattentiveness, yawns, looks, gestures, nervous laughs, indifference, etc. all betray him. If we can pick this out among each other, then how much more will God take notice?
Every one that hangs about the court does not speak with the king. We may approach God in ordinances, and hang about the court of heaven, yet not enjoy communion with God.…It is the enjoyment of God in a duty that we should chiefly look at. Psa xlii 2. ‘My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.’ Alas! what are all our worldly enjoyments without the enjoyment of God!… This should be our great design, not only to have the ordinances of God, but the God of the ordinances… He that enjoys much of God in this life, carries heaven about him.
Enjoying God enables believers to carry “heaven about him.” Watson was correct. Orthodox seventeenth-century divines recognized and taught that we were created to find our satisfaction and enjoyment only in God. To truly enjoy God in Christ was the height of our blessedness. This teaching can be found in John Arrowsmith’s † (1602-1659) treatise Armilla Catechetica. He begins his book by arguing this main point: “Mans blessedness consists not in a confluence of worldly accommodations, which are all vanity of vanities; but in the fruition of God in Christ, who only is the strength of our hearts & our portion for ever.” That is, man’s highest blessed state consists in “fruition of God in Christ.” The word “fruition” means enjoyment of God in Christ (from the Latin frui, to enjoy). That is, our true happiness and blessedness comes from enjoying God in Christ. Another Westminster divine, Daniel Featley † (1582-1645), said that “indeed in enjoying God, we enjoy all happiness, and soul-satisfying Contentation… and without God there can be no solid joy, or quietness of Soul…”
Arrowsmith stated that “none can make our souls happy but God who made them, nor give satisfaction to them but Christ who gave satisfaction for them.” He and all Christians recognize that no person could truly be happy until he knows and enjoys God: “Man cannot rest from his longing desires of indigence till God be enjoyed.” But that enjoyment remains elusive without the Lord Jesus, our Mediator: “Now since the fall God is not to be enjoyed but in and through a Mediator…” Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can indeed enjoy God. Through Christ we can enter into that blessed state of enjoying God.
Nothing in the created world can furnish this happiness or blessedness for which each man was created. Everything in the world will disappoint and frustrate. “The creatures do not, cannot perform whatsoever they promise, but are like deceitful brooks, frustrating the thirsty traveler’s expectation… With God it is otherwise… In him believers findenot less, but more than ever they looked for; and when they come to enjoy him completely are enforced to cry out, as the Queen of Sheba did, The half was not told me.”
The Westminster’s emphasis on enjoying and loving God follows the Augustinian tradition of enjoying God alone (as in his De Doctrina Christiana). Ultimately, only God is to be enjoyed for Himself or for its own sake. Daniel Featley said we should “enjoy God, in the things we enjoy, and possess God in all things we possess…” That is, even in the things we enjoy, we should enjoy God in them (that is, God’s goodness in giving us such things, His blessing us, His provisions, etc.). We cannot enjoy them for their own sake (echoing Augustine) but for our Lord’s sake. Our main purpose in life is to glorify and fully to enjoy God. To glorify or enjoy anything (or anyone) else as our chief end destroys us because we were not created for that. Redemption restores that original purpose in the souls of redeemed.
The World’s Chief End
Fallen man pursues something different. In rejecting his Creator, he seeks to find his ultimate satisfaction and purpose in something or someone less than his own Maker. Warfield has said that the Bible’s answer to this question is not “un-human” but it certainly is “unmistakably superhuman.” It is so divine and so different that fallen humanity has never been able to make it their ethical norm.
Modern answers to this question have varied. For some, there exists no overarching reason or meaning to life. We simply exist and struggle through life. Life remains fundamentally meaningless, though we may keep ourselves preoccupied. Existentialists concur that there is no meaning; we define and make meaning for ourselves. Existentialism can only lead to nihilism. For others, the great end has been reduced to pleasure (e.g. Epicureans).
Is human happiness our chief end? Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) believed that man’s happiness was the great purpose of creation (Discourse on Metaphysics, XXXVI-XXXVII). When conflict arises, who determines whose happiness must rule? Some have said that the greatest good is the one that makes most people happy. This is too nebulous because one must determine what really does make the most people happy. Is it economic wealth and security? Is it health? Is it entertainment? Is it love? Is it a feeling of consensus? What if the majority of the people enjoy watching the cruel death of a few people? It certainly follows that if the cruel death of ten men dying before the world makes everyone (except the ten men of course) happy, then those ten ought to die to entertain the world. If your death and pain makes the rest of the world happy, then you must die. Such a principle establishes selfishness and does not in principle promote the general welfare of any. Human happiness remains too vague and elusive. There is no overarching way of determining what happiness is or how to produce it. We believe Warfield’s general assessment rings true.
However they may differ in other particulars, all human systems of ethics are at one in this: they all find the highest good in something human. They differ vastly as to what human thing it shall be—whether the pleasure of the individual, of the race, his or its conformity to nature, or even his or its virtue. And as they differ in their idea of the thing, what constitutes it, so too in what is fitted to gain it, even when they call it by the same name. But they agree in this: they rise no higher than man, than some human quality or possession, in the assignment of their chief good. Thus by them, one and all, the attention is centered on what is human; man is bidden look no higher than himself for his ideal…
Practically speaking, most men and women live like beasts. The material or physical things of life serve as the true ends for many. Most cannot rise above the material world and those that do cannot rise too far above man himself.
One of the most perceptive observations from Warfield on this topic is that man’s highest end is not scientifically or philosophically argued in Scripture but rather, it is practically spelled out in 1Cor. 10:31 (“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”). Our chief end is encased in the mundane and routine issues of life. Our eating or drinking do not escape the great chief end—we are to glorify God in all those “mundane” activities. This biblical answer alone can lift a man beyond himself, beyond his self-absorption, beyond his selfish petty pursuits. God’s immense glory can fully engage man forever because everything else has a limit. We can grow bored with the pursuit of ephemeral things; we can grow dissatisfied with other things; we can lose interest because of its shallowness—God’s glory alone merits our entire pursuit and passion.
Some may wonder if this is not supreme egotism. Isn’t God calling us to glorify Him a selfish command? Is this the ultimate selfish act? Not at all! Herman Bavinck offers a wonderful answer to this question. He says that God
…has no alternative but to seek his own honor. Just as a father in his family and ruler in his kingdom must seek and demand the honor due to him in that capacity, so it is with the Lord our God. Now a human being can only ask for the honor that is due to him in the name of God and for the sake of the office to which God has called him, but God asks for and seeks that honor in his own name and for his own being. Inasmuch as he is the supreme and only good, perfection itself, it is the highest kind of justice that in all creatures he seek his own honor. And so little does this pursuit of his own honor have anything in common with human egotistical self-interest that, where it is wrongfully withheld from him, God will, in the way of law and justice, even more urgently claim that honor. Voluntarily or involuntarily, every creature will someday bow his knee before him. Obedience in love or subjection by force is the final destiny of all creatures.
We must remember that God needs nothing. He does not need the creation to find satisfaction. In his goodness and bounty, He created. Once again, Bavinck helps us here:
An artist creates his work of art not out of need or coercion but impelled by the free impulses of his genius…. A devout person serves God, not out of coercion or in hope of reward, but out of free flowing love. So there is also a delight in God which is infinitely superior to need or force, to poverty or riches, which embodies his artistic ideas in creation and finds intense pleasure in it.
God does not need us; neither boredom nor loneliness compelled Him to create. He created us to glorify Him. He, from the plenitude of His goodness, created everything to demonstrate His own beauty—”out of free flowing love.”
God cannot help but be His own chief end and Himself to be the chief end of all things. God created man to embrace this because He alone is infinitely good — that is, man must make the best, the superlative-good to be his chief end. Loving ourselves often involves sinful selfishness and inappropriate self pre-occupation. But the same does not hold true for God because of who He is. Stephen Charnock explains this point very well in his masterful work (The Existence and Attributes of God).
His own infinite excellency and goodness of his nature renders him lovely and delightful to himself; without this, he could not love himself in a commendable and worthy way, and becoming the purity of a deity. And he cannot but love himself for this: for as creatures, by not loving him as the supreme good, deny him to be the chiefest good, so God would deny himself and his own goodness, if he did not love himself, and that for his goodness; but the apostle tells us, 2 Tim. 2:13, that God ‘cannot deny himself.’ Self-love upon this account is the only prerogative of God, because there is not anything better than himself, that can lay any just claim to his affections. He only ought to love himself, and it would be an injustice in him to himself if he did not. He only can love himself for this: an infinite goodness ought to be infinitely loved, but he only being infinite, can only love himself according to the due merit of his own goodness.
God, as “the chiefest good,” must be both God’s and our chief end. Nothing in all of creation can be greater or better. It is most fitting that God be His own chief end as well as man’s. Everything revolves around Him; we exist for Him because He created us for Him. Any “good” in creation comes from Him as the source of all good.
He receives nothing, but only gives. All things need him; he needs nothing or nobody. He always aims at himself because he cannot rest in anything other than himself. Inasmuch as he himself is the absolutely good and perfect one, he may not love anything else except with a view to himself. He may not and cannot be content with less than absolute perfection. When he loves others, he loves himself in them: his own virtues, works, and gifts. For the same reason he is also blessed in himself as the sum of all goodness, of all perfection.
In short, we should love the best, pursue the highest, make the chief good our chief end. God is man’s chief end and our highest delight. Nothing can be enjoyed that is greater than He.
Our lives, choices, thoughts, activities all reveal what our chief end is. Warfield has astutely observed: “It is impossible to give maxims to guide the life without implying in them a system of truth on which the practical teaching is based. According to the system of faith that lies in the depths of our hearts will be, therefore, the maxims by which we practically live; and out of the maxims of any man we can readily extract his faith.”
We should not be divided in our pursuits. We must not to love the world or anything in the world (1Jn. 2:15). Our Lord calls us to forsake everything in order to follow Him (Mt. 10:37-39; Lk. 9:23; 18:22) and has taught us that we cannot serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24). A divided loyalty is a divided purpose and a divided purpose does not make the glory of God one’s chief end. This means we cannot have separate compartments in our lives where “religion” is merely one of the many things in our lives. All other pursuits, passions, goals, etc. must be subservient to the biblical chief end. For some, their career is the non-negotiable, their chief end. For others, their relationships or other people’s approval and opinions determine their lives. For many, the almighty dollar remains their summum bonum. But for most, everything centers around themselves, self remains inflexibly the chief end. The following questions and statements should help us to search ourselves before God.
1. What about when my glory crosses God’s glory? Am I willing to seek His glory over mine? Would you agree with Anthony Burgess † (d. 1664) who said, “Better we all perish than that God should lose His glory.”?
2. Why do I believe that seeking God’s glory will end up depriving me of joy? Can God’s glory ever be truly and ultimately unpleasant and not enjoyable?
3. Remember, heaven will manifest His glory and that we will behold it forever. If it is not a concern and interest now, then it certainly will not be then. Do you in anyway delight in His glory?
4. Have you ever considered the promised joy in heaven? Watson reminds us of this future promised joy
Let this comfort the godly in all the present miseries they feel. You complain, Christian, you do not enjoy yourself, fears disquiet you, wants perplex you; in the day you can not enjoy ease, in the night you cannot enjoy sleep; you do not enjoy the comforts of your life. Let this revive you, that shortly you shall enjoy God, and then shall you have more than you can ask or think; you shall have angels’ joy, glory without intermission or expiration. We shall never enjoy ourselves fully till we enjoy God eternally.
5. Lastly, we see unbelievers labor with great pain to gain glory in this world and it will not serve them, help them, satisfy them, or comfort them in the end. Should men and women who are deceived by vain religions be more zealous for their gods’ glories than we for our true and living God?
Piper and Dabney
John Piper developed and popularized what he calls “Christian Hedonism.” He transmutes the answer of the SC to say, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” To exchange the conjunction [“and”] to a preposition [“by”] affects the whole meaning of the answer. He says “and” is a very ambiguous word and that the “old theologians didn’t think they were talking about two things” because they didn’t say “chief ends.” “Glorifying God and enjoying him were one end in their minds, not two.” From this, he concludes that we glorify God by enjoying Him.
Piper further believes that our happiness is inevitable and it therefore ought to be the determining factor in our pursuit. Desiring our own good, he argues, is not a bad thing. We would not disagree. We should all desire our own good. “In fact the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don’t seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should. And so they settle for mud pies of appetite instead of infinite delight.” Yet, it cannot be THE determining motive because whenever “self” is involved, it will attempt to compete with God.
His reasoning is subtle. A universal desire for happiness should be considered a good thing. The impulse itself should not be deemed to be evil and therefore we should do “whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.” He rightly argues that this can only be found in God.
However, it is one thing to recognize the proclivity and quite another to condone it and establish it as a principle. Piper has turned an ingrained natural propensity into a spiritual principle. Self and self-satisfaction can neither be the starting point nor the goal. God’s glory must be the beginning and end of all things. Because we remain sinful and selfish, we must consider something outside of ourselves.
First of all, it does not appear that the Bible ever uses our happiness as the determining motive for duty. That is not to suggest that one of the fruits of obedience cannot be happiness but our happiness and satisfaction do not always immediately follow our obedience. Second, it is true that we are called to enjoy God and in so doing we do glorify God; but this enjoyment is never the overarching goal. Glorifying God is indispensable whereas we may have to walk over our enjoyments precisely because we are sinful. We may not like to glorify God but God requires us to walk over the bellies of our lusts. In fact, we glorify God because, in spite of our perceived lack of happiness or joy in obeying, we do what God requires. We must override our sinful disinclination and this act itself honors God. Because we glorify God, we may end up happy in this world (and will most certainly be happy in the next). Piper places an auxiliary motive or a reflexive response before the true objective. Our subjective response cannot be the ruling motive or passion for our actions; glorifying God is objective while enjoying Him is subjective. To collapse them with the preposition destroys the clear and simple Biblical teaching.
We believe Dabney’s marvelous little essay (“A Phase of Religious Selfishness”) strikes the right balance on this thorny issue. Dabney argues that many act out of self-interest in order to be saved—they are aware of the dangers and flee to save their skin. “There is, then, nothing characteristic of the new and holy nature in it. Men dead in trespasses and sins often feel a degree of it.” Yet, “there is no real coming to Christ until the soul is so enlightened and renewed as truly to view not only its danger, but its ignorance and pollution, as intolerable evils. The true believer goes to Christ in faith, for personal impunity indeed, but far more for sanctification.” “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” In other words, we do it because it is right, it is good—there is an appeal to the conscience that Dabney rightly called the “mistress of the human heart.”
Dabney has addressed this issue more philosophically, and his answer gets at the heart of Piper’s problem. Many (like Thomas Hobbes and Ayn Rand) have argued that since we act selfishly, selfishness ought to be the norm. “The system has always this characteristic: it resolves the moral good into mere natural good, and virtue into enlightened selfishness.” Piper has concluded similarly; what we normally pursue (pursuit of our enjoyment, ultimate satisfaction, etc.) has turned into a transcendent principle, a norm. The natural good (our satisfaction) has been turned into a moral or spiritual good (our satisfaction is how God is glorified). Also (a bit more philosophical), it assumes the effect to be the cause; in other words, we cannot know we will enjoy God until we glorify Him—our enjoyment is the result of glorifying Him and not the goal.
J. Vos’s statement also helps us here. He asks, “Why does the catechism place glorifying God before enjoying God?” To which, he says,
Because the most important element in the purpose of human life is glorifying God, while enjoying God is strictly subordinate to glorifying God. In our religious life, we should always place the chief emphasis on glorifying God. The person who does this will truly enjoy God, both here and hereafter. But the person who thinks of enjoying God apart from glorifying God is in danger of supposing that God exists for man instead of man for God. To stress enjoying God more than glorifying God will result in a falsely mystical or emotional type of religion.
Our enjoyment must remain subordinate to God’s own glory. Vos rightly asserts that placing enjoyment before glorifying God can lead to “a falsely mystical or emotional type of religion.” Whenever a man’s desire for enjoyment remains forefront of his heart, it can easily become idolatrous so to hold it in check and to prioritize all things in biblical terms, God’s glory must remain primary.
We have a God who enables us to so glorify Him; we do not glorify Him in order to become a Christian. We have the written revelation of God and He did not leave us to “figure it out” on our own. We have this one chief end and it is extensive enough to engage all our affections, desires, efforts, etc. Everything else will run cold; we can sound their depths. In seeking His glory, we are called to also enjoy Him. Though not mutually exclusive of each other, there remains a proper order and priority.
The Confusion in Modern Philosophy
Immanuel Kant’s philosophy is interesting in comparison to the LC #1 and SC #1. He believed that God was the precondition to our morality or to put it more simply, he believed that we cannot make sense of our morality without God (cf. Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone). William Hamilton has argued similarly. This single argument is for many the only persuasive argument for the existence of God. For them, we could not make sense of duty or our sense of “oughtness” without the existence of God.
Such an argument could be deemed helpful at one level. If man cannot live morally without God, then how can he live with a purpose without God? If the lesser demands the existence of God, then the higher must certainly necessitate the existence of God. In that sense, they are helpful. But there is a flaw in their argument.
For all their sophistication, it boils down to this: God exists to make sure we live decent moral lives. If man could act immorally and get away with it, then God is no longer necessary. God exists as an umpire or a policeman, an auxiliary. In the end, God is not the chief end.
Augustine apparently knew of 288 different opinions among philosophers about what happiness meant but none of them got it right. The Christian truth alone is the answer. Our chief end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.
A. Green, Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work, 1841), 1:44-45.
Watson, Body of Divinity, 22.
 John Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica (Cambridge, 1659), 1.
 Daniel Featley, Thrēnoikos: The House of Mourning Furnished (London, 1660), 606.
 Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 21-22.
 Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 24.
 Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 27-28.
 See Raymond Canning, “Uti/frui,” ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 859.
 Featley, Thrēnoikos, 126.
B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:131.
M. C. Beardsley, ed., The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, The Modern Library (New York: Random House, 1960), 286: “…the primary purpose in the moral world… ought to be to extend the greatest possible happiness possible.”
B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:132.
B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:135.
Herman Bavinck, In The Beginning: Foundations of Creation Theology, translated by John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 54-55; Reformed Dogmatics, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 2:434.
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:435.
 Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 5 Vols. (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 2:379. Cf. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 71.
 On the goodness of God in the sense of perfection: Augustine, Concerning the Nature of the Good, against the Manichaeans, 1; idem, The Trinity, VIII, 3; Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, ch. 13; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 4–6; idem, Summa contra gentiles, I, 28; D. Petavius, “De Deo,” in Theol. dogm., VI, chs. 1ff.; J. Gerhard, Loci theol., II, c. 8, sects. 10, 17; J. Zanchi(us), Op. theol., II, 138ff.; 326ff.; A. Polanus, Syn. theol., II, ch. 9.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:211.
B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:131.
 Burgess, CXLV Expository Sermons.
Watson, Body of Divinity, 25-26.
J. Piper, Desiring God (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986), 13. Herbert Palmer’s (see the first part of exposition) second part differed from the divines which suggests that both the divines and Palmer did not have in mind “one end.”
 J. Piper, Desiring God, 16.
 J. Piper, Desiring God, 19.
 In another book, he says, “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” See his Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 36.
R. L. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, ed. C. R. Vaughan (1897; repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1979), 694-698.
 Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 694.
 Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 695.
 Likewise, parents who appeal only to the child’s fear of punishment will eventually get a child who will only act in self-interest. If the conscience is not appealed to, then the dormant conscience will produce a callous cruel adult.
R. L. Dabney, The Sensualistic Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1887), 305ff.
Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 305.
Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 308.
J. G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 4.
 In the subsequent questions, I will not be interacting often with philosophical issues. As interesting as they might be (at least to myself), they will unnecessarily lengthen the study and might lead us into too many unprofitable reflections.
 Cf. P. Helm, “A Taproot of Radicalism,” in Solid Ground: 25 Years of Evangelical Theology, ed. C. Trueman, T. J. Gray and C. L. Blomberg (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 216-220.
William Hamilton, Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic, 2 vols. (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1859), 1:556: “The only valid arguments for the existence of a God, and for the immortality of the soul, rest on the ground of man’s moral nature…” Again, he says, “…for God is only God inasmuch as he is the Moral Governor of a Moral World” (1:23).
 Cf. Watson, Body of Divinity, 24.