The Chief End of Man

An excerpt from B. B. Warfield’s article, “The First Question of the Westminster ‘Shorter Catechism,’” from The Princeton Theological Review (October 1908), pages 583–87:

The peculiarity of this first question and answer of the Westminster Catechisms, it will be seen, is the felicity with which it brings to concise expression the whole Reformed conception of the significance of human life. We say the whole Reformed conception. For justice is not done that conception if we say merely that man’s chief end is to glorify God. That certainly: and certainly that first. But according to the Reformed conception man exists not merely that God may be glorified in him, but that he may delight in this glorious God. It does justice to the subjective as well as to the objective side of the case.

The Reformed conception is not fully or fairly stated if it be so stated that it may seem to be satisfied with conceiving man merely as the object on which God manifests His glory — possibly even the passive object in and through which the Divine glory is secured. It conceives man also as the subject in which the gloriousness of God is perceived and delighted in. No man is truly Reformed in his thought, 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.

Read the great Reformed divines. The note of their work is exultation in God. How Calvin, for example, gloried and delighted in God! Every page rings with this note, the note of personal joy in the Almighty, known to be, not the all-wise merely, but the all-loving too. . . .

It is not, however, Calvin who first strikes this note, and there is another in whose thought God is even more constantly present — Calvin’s master, Augustine. This is the burden, for example, of Augustine’s Confessions, and its classical expression is to be found in that great sentence which sums up the whole of the Confessions’ teaching: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord: and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in Thee.” For there is nothing the soul can need which it cannot find in God. “Let God,” he exhorts in another of those great sentences which stud his pages — “Let God be all in all to thee, for in Him is the entirety of all that thou lovest.” And then, elaborating the idea, he proceeds: “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.”

Delight in God, enjoyment of God — this is the recurrent refrain of all Augustine’s speech of God: delight in God here, enjoyment of God forever. Would he know the way of life — in words which his great pupil was to repeat after him, he tells us we must come to know God and ourselves, God in His love that we may not despair, ourselves in our unworthiness that we may not be proud. And would we knew what the goal is — what is that but the eternal enjoyment of this God of love? . . .

The distinction of the opening question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that it moves on this high plane and says all this in the compressed compass of a dozen felicitous words: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Not to enjoy God, certainly, without glorifying Him, for how can He to whom glory inherently belongs be enjoyed without being glorified? But just as certainly not to glorify God without enjoying Him — for how can He whose glory is His perfections be glorified if He be not also enjoyed?

The Tone of Joy

Writes theologian B. B. Warfield (Works, 7:114):

We are sinners and we know ourselves to be sinners, lost and helpless in ourselves. But we are saved sinners; and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life, a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert; for it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much, and who, loving, rejoices much.

Adolf Harnack declares that this mood was brought into Christianity by Augustine. Before Augustine the characteristic frame of mind of Christians was the racking unrest of alternating hopes and fears. Augustine, the first of the Evangelicals, created a new piety of assured rest in God our Savior, and the psychological form of this new piety was, as Harnack phrases it, “solaced contrition,” — affliction, for sin, yes, the deepest and most poignant remorse for sin, but not unrelieved remorse, but appeased remorse.

There is no other joy on earth like that of appeased remorse: it is not only in heaven but on earth also that the joy over one sinner that repents surpasses that over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.

The Savior

B. B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World (1914), 247–49:

He came to save every age, says Irenæus, and therefore He came as an infant, a child, a boy, a youth, and a man. And there is no age that cannot find its example in Him.

We see Him, the properest child that ever was given to a mother’s arms, through all the years of childhood at Nazareth “subjecting Himself to His parents.”

We see Him a youth, laboring day by day contentedly at His father’s bench, in this lower sphere, too, with no other thought than to be “about His father’s business.”

We see Him in His holy manhood, going, “as His custom was,” Sabbath by Sabbath, to the synagogue,—God as He was, not too good to worship with His weaker brethren. And then the horizon broadens.

We see Him at the banks of Jordan, because it became Him to fulfill every righteousness, meekly receiving the baptism of repentance for us.

We see Him in the wilderness, calmly rejecting the subtlest trials of the evil one: refusing to supply His needs by a misuse of His divine power, repelling the confusion of tempting God with trusting God, declining to seek His Father’s ends by any other than His Father’s means.

We see Him among the thousands of Galilee, anointed of God with the Holy Ghost and power, going about doing good:

with no pride of birth, though He was a king;
with no pride of intellect, though omniscience dwelt within Him;
with no pride of power, though all power in heaven and earth was in His hands;
with no pride of station, though the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily;
with no pride of superior goodness or holiness:

but in lowliness of mind esteeming every one better than Himself,

healing the sick,
casting out devils,
feeding the hungry,
and everywhere breaking to men the bread of life.

We see Him everywhere offering to men His life for the salvation of their souls: and when, at last, the forces of evil gathered thick around Him, walking, alike without display and without dismay, the path of suffering appointed for Him, and giving His life at Calvary that through His death the world might live.