The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) is a catechism produced by the Westminster Assembly during a gathering of English and Scottish theologians and laymen in England between 1646 and 1647. Their goal is bring the Church of England and the Church of Scotland closer both in faith and practice. This catechism is completed with Scriptural citations together with the Confession Standard and Larger Catechism om 1649. And since then, Presbyterian and Reformed churches teach this catechism to their covenant children, their youth, and new converts. Even today, ZCRC(Imus) considers this catechism, together with the Heidelberg Catechism, as part of our doctrinal standards.
The Shorter Catechism is divided into two major parts. First, what man is to believe concerning God (Q#1-38). Second, what duty God requires of man (Q#39-107). The first part is further subdivided into two major sections: A) The Chief End of Man (Q#1); B) The Great Doctrines of Scripture (Q#2-38). This second section is further subdivided into five topics: 1) The Doctrine of Scripture and its contents namely, 2) The Doctrine of God; 3) The Doctrine of Man; 4) The Doctrine of Christ; and 5) The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In formal terms, we call them Theology, Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology. Now, the second part of the catechism which deals with the duty of man is divided into two major sections: A) The Law of God (Q#39-84); and B) Our Salvation (Q#85-107). This second section is further subdivided into two topics: 1) Internal Means and 2) The External Means. The internal means is about Faith and Repentance while the external means are Word, Sacrament, and Prayer.
Now our focus for this Lord’s Day morning is to dwell on the first question. It is the first section of the first major part and it explains the purpose and design of the whole catechism. It is also the most popular and widely memorized Q&A in the history of Westminster. Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. So today, we will learn more about it and we organized our preaching by subdividing it into two sermon points: 1) To Glorify God; 2) To Enjoy Him Forever.
Before we begin, let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, our heavenly Father, we acknowledge that we are sinners, conceived and born in sin, unable of ourselves to do any good. But we do repent of our sins, and seek Your grace to help us in our remaining weaknesses. Through the teaching of Your Word, which we confess with the church throughout the ages, satisfy our hunger and quench our thirst with Your refreshing truth, that we, with all our hearts, may love and serve You, with our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the one and only true God, who lives and reigns forever. Amen.
To Glorify God
What is the meaning of the words “man’s chief end”? Simply put, it points to man’s aim and design. Aim pertains to the goal of man’s creation while design speaks of his purpose or desired end. Now the Shorter Catechism offers two answer to this important question about man’s life and existence. And the answers while contained into simple terms requires a thoughtful and thorough explanation. According to the catechism, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. What does first part “glorifying God” mean? We will answer this in our first sermon point.
Simply put, to glorify God means to make visible or to demonstrate the majesty of God’s presence, his perfections, and his work in creation, redemption, and in new creation. Now there is nothing we can add to his glory for this belongs to his essential glory, or the glory of perfections in all his attributes. However, we know from Scripture how all of God’s creation declares his glory, his invisible and eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). And yet, this question about God’s glory pertains to specifically to man. What does it mean for man to glorify God?
Man glorifies God actively by living a life in gratitude to God for his redemptive work both in its accomplishment and application. Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The context Paul addresses here is the freedom of believers to eat anything with a clear conscience but He also warns us to consider the conscience of our weaker brothers . In all wisdom, he points us and his readers to life of gratitude with love as its underlying principle. And it also means we do not put any stumbling block that will detract other from seeing the glory of God in lives of his people. We “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and we “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1).”
This is not about us. It is about God and his glory for us and in us. God’s glory is demonstrated in the lives of his people. This is why God’s glory belongs to his work of redemption in Christ, given only by his grace, and received only through faith as worked internally in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. God the Father ordained to share the glory of his presence here on earth by the work of his Son and his Spirit in full communion with his people. The Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Spirit applies. This is what gives God all the glory and as God’s people, we glorify Him in gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise.
Knowing all these, how then can we glorify him here and now? Internally, we do it by making all things in this life subordinate to this chief end of glorying God in gratitude to his redemptive work. At the same time, externally we perform it by attending to the regular ordinary and religious means and demonstrations of God’s work. James Fisher’s Shorter Catechism commentary offers this explanation. He asks two questions as answers to the same effect.
Question: How should we glorify God in eating and drinking?
Answer: By taking a right to the supports of natural life, through the second Adam, the heir of all things, who has purchased a covenant right to temporal, as well as spiritual mercies, for his people, (1 Corinthians 3:21-23); and thankfully acknowledging God for the same (1 Timothy 4:4, 5).
Question: How must we glorify God in our religious worship, and other acts of obedience?
Answer: By doing all that we do in the name of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 3:17; worshipping God in the Spirit, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
Again, we glorify God when we give no confidence in our flesh and allow our weaknesses demonstrate the redemptive power of God. Yes, God commands us to still attend to the things that will sustain us in this life like our “eating and drinking”, or even devote our time and energy to address our earthly cares but is this what our lives are all about? I think this is the question we need to always ask ourselves in order to examine our own hearts. Is the glory of God our chief end? The catechism answers the question clearly for us. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And God’s glory is not found in any of our earthly cares. God and his glory resides in his person and work. We receive it by faith and demonstrate it with gratitude. We attend to it every Lord’s Day in the ordinary ministry of preaching and teaching of His word, in the administration of His visible signs and seals, the Sacraments, and we live daily in gratitude as a response in prayer.
To Enjoy Him Forever
The second part of the catechism’s question about man’s chief end is to enjoy God forever. Now, the first part “to glorify God” must come first because that it is ways or the path upon which we can attain this end of “enjoying God forever”. Yes, both of them comprises the chief end of man. But our chief end is found solely in the glory of God. However, enjoying God follows it. The latter is subordinate to the former. Hence, after making clear the meaning of the first part we continue with the second part. What does “to enjoy God forever” mean?
Simply put, it means to assign our ultimate hapiness in God and his glory here and now but also in his new creation, the world to come. It means we set our affections to the object of our glory who is God himself. We desire him as our ultimate good for God himself is good. He is our summum bonum. In Psalm 73:25-26, the psalmist expresses the goodness of God and our desiring of him as our ultimate good. He wrote: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” These words were even made popular as an evangelical song today but what does it mean?
Calvin in his commentary wrote: “As to the meaning, there is no ambiguity. David declares that he desires nothing, either in heaven or in earth, except God alone, and that without God, all other objects which usually draw the hearts of men towards them were unattractive to him. And, undoubtedly, God then obtains from us the glory to which he is entitled, when, instead of being carried first to one object, and then to another, we hold exclusively by him, being satisfied with him alone. If we give the smallest portion of our affections to the creatures, we in so far defraud God of the honor which belongs to him. And yet nothing has been more common in all ages than this sacrilege, and it prevails too much at the present day.”
He continues: “It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he who feels himself in a fainting condition, and who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of wanting in ourselves. Indeed, all men confess this, and the greater part think that all which is necessary is that God should aid our infirmities, or afford us succor when we have not the means of adequately relieving ourselves. But the confession of David is far more ample than this when he lays, so to speak, his own nothingness before God. He, therefore, very properly adds, that God is his portion. The portion of an individual is figurative expression, employed in Scripture to denote the condition or lot with which every man is contented. Accordingly, the reason why God is represented as a portion is, because he alone is abundantly sufficient for us, and because in him the perfection of our happiness consists.”
Our chief happiness is to enjoy God. It means we receive him as our “portion forever”. It means we suspend all search and abandon all effort to look for our happiness except in God and his glory. We take God as our portion and we live in content with him. Our restless souls finds rest in Him. But how can we find contentment, happiness, and rest in God?
Let me read again from the commentary of James Fisher. He asks two questions related to our inquiry and I think he answers satisfactorily.
Question: When is it that a sinner begins to enjoy God?
Question: What are the external means by, or in which, we are to seek after the enjoyment of God?
Answer: In all the ordinances of his worship, public, private and secret; such as the word read and heard, the sacraments, prayer, meditation, fasting, thanksgiving, and the like.
I think there is a important reminder here for us. If we cannot enjoy God here on earth as He is communicated to us using these ordinary means of grace, we will not enjoy God in the life to come. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). If God is not our inheritance here on earth, he cannot be our portion forever. To enjoy God forever comes to us in faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).
Christian, who the strength of your heart? God is our portion forever. Let us find our rest in Him.
Congregation of ZCRC(Imus), what is our chief end? Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.