To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever

Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary I’ve always been a bit skeptical of John Piper’s slight tweak of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God ‘by enjoying’ him forever.”  It’s not that I think the catechism is perfect, or that it must never be changed.  Rather, I believe the authors of the catechism purposely used a conjunction (and) rather than a preposition (by) in the first answer.  Enjoying God isn’t the only way or chief way we glorify him; in other words, we shouldn’t equate “glorify” and “enjoy” in the first answer of the WSC.   I haven’t done extensive research on this, but J. G. Vos’ commentary is helpful.

“Why does the catechism place glorifying God before enjoying God?”

“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.”

Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002), 4.

shane lems

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9 comments on “To Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever

  1. Doug Wallace says:

    Thanks, Shane.

    I’m about 1/3 of the way through this book, which is a solid, detailed exposition in every respect I think – highly recommended.

    Compiled from a series of his mid-20th century articles in a quarterly magazine with a forward by Dr. Godfrey.

    Johannes was the son of Geerhardus Vos and was an insightful, well-grounded pastor, missionary, scholar, professor, etc. in his own right apparently.

    Highly recommended (as are his dad’s works).

    Doug

  2. Brian says:

    I am skeptical of his tweak but not because I disagree with it per say but because I think the Westminster divines already anticipated it, which is why they said “what is THE chief END of man?” not “what are the chief ENDS of man?” I think rather enjoying God seen as a circle within the larger circle of glorifying God, but shouldn’t also be said that whatever glorifies God we should desire and therefore enjoy? We should enjoy whatever glorifies God. But our enjoyment should always be anchored in His glorification. We should not think that His glorification is anchored in our enjoyment. If we don’t enjoy what glorifies Him we have to die to our preferences and pleasures and have our thoughts and desires shaped to His.

    One area where this really plays out (and where I see the YRR/Christian hedonist fall short) is worship and the Lord’s Day. I think in not following the regulative principle this crowd has not been consistent in asking what does God want and enjoy in worship but instead what moves me to have feelings of enjoyment and so on. I always wanted to write something on why Christian Hedonist should be Sabbatarians and hold to the RPW. In the case of the former Isa. 58 specifically hold together both the dying to your flesh and its pleasure and the glorifying and enjoying God in His day “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight…then you shall take delight in the LORD,” (v.13).

    • Doug – thanks for the comments – I’m enjoying the book as well!
      Brian – good points. “End” is singular, not plural. Emotions and feelings are tough to gauge – especially when it comes to worship. Thanks for the notes!

  3. Steve Bloem says:

    Thanks Doug. You make a very good and important point.

  4. Nevada says:

    I haven’t thought about the Piper gloss in a while, but what strikes me now is that it shows the strong influence of Edwardsian piety and the emphasis placed upon the “affections.” Not surprising, I suppose, given Piper’s love of Edwards.

    I also wonder how such an alteration of the catechism adequately takes into account sorrow and lament in the Christian life. In fairness to Piper, I realize that he is well aware of the role of suffering in the Christian life. Nonetheless, I’m not quite convinced that the categories are helpful in this area.

    • Nevada – you’re right, you caught it! I’m sure that’s in the background (or foreground!) of the statement. And yes, you’re also right, I’m sure he knows and teaches about suffering and trials.

      I think the problem is when someone takes a one-liner like this and runs with it way too far. I’m sure you’ve seen it with other phrases too. I just don’t think it’s helpful to base so much theology/teaching/sermons on one-liners. Make sense?

      Thanks for the note. And, FYI, based on a comment you wrote a while back, I’m reading more of the fathers again. Appreciate your insights!

      shane

      • Nevada says:

        It makes perfect sense!

        Glad to hear that you are reading from the patristics, et al.! I just started a reading group dedicated to reading old primary sources. The Anglican priest in the group wanted to begin with Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, so we’ve started there. (Not quite “patristic” but early medieval and extremely influential throughout the middle ages.) Reading the fathers is always like (as I’ve heard said) gargling and getting the bad taste of certain strains of modern theology out of one’s mouth.

        :-)

  5. Michael Tran says:

    This is helpful. Piper’s conflation of the two wrecked havoc in my life as a young Christian.

  6. Lon says:

    I like the quote, but I don’t think it directly contradicts Piper’s statement or work. And, I’m pretty sure Piper would agree with Vos’s comment here too. I’m glad you gave me a new reason to think more about this, though. Thanks.

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