By: Rev. Dr. Rob Roy McGregor Jr., Retired minister of Second Presbytery
The gentlemen of the Westminster Confession of Faith were spot on when they examined the whole of Scripture and determined that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever! It is indeed a keen observation that it was God’s intention from the outset that sinful man will achieve the purpose of his creation by glorifying God and that by glorifying God he will enjoy God’s presence forever! That confidence is supported emphatically by the apostle Paul himself when he says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in [all of] you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ, … [in you who are] pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:6, 10–11).
If we are to know how to glorify God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we need to identify what that glory is. Of all the things that can be said about the glory of God, the short version is that all that God is and does constitute his glory. The shortest version is that God is his own glory! God is his very presence! The role of Scripture—Old Testament and New Testament—is to make that known. Consequently, it is easy to draw the conclusion that God does not need to be told who he is or what he does and that he does not need to have it explained to him what his purpose is in creation or the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In short, we do nothing for the praise and glory of God by declaring to him the things we have learned from Scripture. God does not need our public and private praise to be who he is and accomplish his will. But we do. We need to know and remember who he is, what he does, and what his purposes are in relation to our living in accordance with his will.
Man’s chief end, then, is not to glorify God by declaring to him and among ourselves pleasing words of praise for who he is and what he does. That is all well and good, of course, and we can certainly be happy with enjoying God in that simple, noncommittal, and uncommitted way.
Man’s chief end, then, is to glorify God by learning from Holy Scripture who he is and what his will is so that we who have the power to become the sons of God (John 1:12) can know and declare his glory by experiencing it in righteous deeds (Rev. 19:7-8) and revealing it in our lives by our righteous actions, that is, by “the fruit of [our] righteousness” (Phil. 1:11), as Jesus did on Earth.
That part of man’s chief end that involves enjoying God forever leaves us with the problem of deciphering the meaning of the word “joy” as it is used in its various contexts in Scripture. I suggest the joy of the man who sells all that he possesses to purchase the treasure hidden in the field (Matt. 13: 44). That man found what his soul most hungered for, and he rejoiced in its presence there before him as he anticipated owning it. And that anticipation falls far short of the joy of God’s real presence, which is the indwelling presence Jesus speaks of: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). That presence, as pointed out above, is the very glory of God that forms the unity of the Father, the Son, and Church, the body of Christ, brought to perfection by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus anticipated (Matt. 5:48; John 14:17; cf. Rev. 19:7-8). So, apart from the fact that we live every moment in the presence of God at all times, as do all creatures, God’s presence is, by the Holy Spirit, alive within all those who truly believe in the lordship of Jesus Christ, and it is by living that life in the likeness of Jesus that we achieve our chief end of glorifying God and enjoying him forever! Only then does our glorifying God redound to “the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).