What is the Chief End Of Man?

A study of this question is adapted from a Sermon by Thomas Watson

This morning we return to our study of the first question of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief end of Man. And again I am following very closely the work of Thomas Watson in his book titled “A Body of Divinity.”

The last time we addressed the first part of the answer which is that Man’s chief end is to glorify God.

We saw that to glorify God could be summarized as Appreciation, Worship, Affection and Subjection.

Then we were given four reasons why we must glorify God: Because he gave us our being. Because he made all things for his glory. Because God has intrinsic value and excellence and because creatures below us and above us glorify him.

And then we were given a list of twelve ways we may glorify God. We glorify God:

1. When we aim purely at his glory

2. When we confess our sin sincerely

3. When we believe his Word

4. When we are concerned for his glory (As a child for his father’s)

5. When we are fruitful

6. When we are content with our circumstances in life

7. When we are working our salvation

8. When we are living to God (in his service as a merchant in a distant land)

9. When we walk cheerfully

10. When we stand up for his truths

11. When we praise him

12. When we are zealous for his name (a dishonour to God worse than one to himself)

This morning we will see five more ways we may glorify God and then look into the second part of the answer which is that we are to enjoy him forever.

And so in the thirteenth place,

[A13] We glorify God, when we remember God in our natural and in our civil actions.

First, in our natural actions which can be summarised as eating and drinking. “So,” says Paul, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) A true believer seeks to keep his appetites under control; he considers his food as a medicine to keep his body healthy, so that he may be better able, by the strength he receives, for the service of God; he makes his food, not fuel for lust, but a help to duty.

Second, in civil actions, in buying and selling, we are to do all to the glory of God. The wicked think nothing of unjust gain by falsifying the balances, as in Hosea 12:2 who writes of the merchant “in whose hands are false balances;” and thus while men make their weights lighter, they make their sins heavier. We buy and sell to the glory of God, when we observe that golden maxim, “to do to others as we would have them do to us;” (Matt 7:12) so that when we carry out any transaction, we do not sell out our consciences also. As Paul says to Felix in the book of Acts, “so I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16)

We glorify God, when we remember God in all our civil and natural actions, and do nothing that may reflect badly on religion.


[A14] We glorify God by labouring to draw others to God;

by seeking to convert others, and so make them instruments of glorifying God. We should be both like diamonds and magnetic stones; diamonds for the brilliance of grace, and magnetic stones for attractive virtue in drawing others to Christ. We ought to have the same heart as Paul who addressed his hearers as “my little children, for whom I am ... in ... anguish,” (Gal 4:19) It is a great way of glorifying God, when we break open the devil’s prison, and deliver men from the power of Satan to God.


[A15] We glorify God very much when we suffer for God, and seal the gospel with our blood.

Peter was told “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)” (John 21:18-19) God’s glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs. The sufferings of the early believers did honour to God, and made the gospel famous in the world. What would others say? See what a good master they serve, and how they love him, that they will venture the loss of everything in his service. The glory of Christ’s kingdom is not displayed in worldly pomp and grandeur, as other kings’; but it is seen in the cheerful sufferings of his people. The saints of old “loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rev 12:2) They embraced torments as so many crowns. God grant that we may so glorify him, if he calls us to it. Many pray, “let this cup pass from me,” but few, “not as I will, but as you will.”

In the 16th place,

[A16] We glorify God, when we give God the glory of all that we do.

When Herod had delivered an oration, and the people were shouting, “the voice of a god, and not of a man!,” he took the glory to himself; the text says, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms.” (Acts 12:23) We glorify God, when we sacrifice the praise and glory of all we do to God. In first Corinthians the Apostle says “I worked harder than any of them,” (1 Cor 15:10) which, it would seem, speaks of pride; but the apostle pulls the crown from his own head, and sets it upon the head of free grace: “though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Like Joab, when he fought against Rabbah, sent for King David, that he, king David, might carry away the crown of the victory, (2 Sam 12:28) so a Christian, when he has gotten power over any corruption or temptation, sends for Christ, that he may carry away the crown of the victory.

And lastly,

[A17] We glorify God by a holy life.

A bad life dishonours God. Peter states speaking to believers “you are a chosen race, ... that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.” (1 Peter 2:9) And Paul declares to unbelieving Jews that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:24) By being careful in our speech, that it may be God honouring, we glorify God. Though the main work of religion lies in the heart, still our light must shine in this way so that others may see it.

The safety of a building lies in the foundation, but the glory of it is in the façade; so the beauty of faith is in the conversation. When the saints, who are called jewels, spread hints of holiness in the eyes of the world, then they “walk in the same way in which Christ walked.” (1 John 2:6) When they live as if they had seen the Lord with bodily eyes, and been with him on the mount of transfiguration, their religion is enlivened, and they bring revenues of glory to the crown of heaven.

So much for the ways in which we may glorify God. We go on to three things we may learn, or

Conclusions we may draw from this subject:

1: First, this subject shows us that our chief end should not be to get great estates, not to lay up treasures on earth;

which is the corrupted tendency of all mankind since the fall. Sometimes they never arrive at their goal, they do not get the riches they hunt for; or if they do, what do they have? that which will not fill the heart any more than the sailor’s breath will fill the sails of the ship. They spend their time, as Israel did, in gathering straw, but do not remember, that the great goal of living is to glorify God. “What gain is there” says Solomon, “to him who toils for the wind?” (Eccles 5:16) These things are soon gone.

2: Second: it reproves those who,

(1.) in the first place, bring no glory to God; who do not answer the end of their creation;

whose time is not time lived, but time lost; who are like the wood of the vine, that we read of in Ezekiel 15; whose lives are, either sinfulness or barrenness. A useless burden on the earth. God will one day ask such a question as King Ahasuerus did in the book of Esther, “What honor or distinction has been bestowed on Mordecai?” (Est 6:3) What honour has been done to me? what revenues of glory have you brought to me?

There is no one here present this morning but God has given some capacity of glorifying him; the health he has given you, the abilities, wealth, seasons of grace, all are opportunities put into your hand to glorify him; and, be assured, he will call you to account, to know what you have done with the mercies he has entrusted you with, what glory you have brought to him.

The parable of the talents, where the men with the five talents and the two talents are compelled to give an account, evidently shows that God will call you to a strict account, to know how you have traded with your talents, and what glory you have brought to him.

Now, how sad will it be with them who hide their talents in a napkin, that bring God no glory at all! The directive concerning them is “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” (Matt 25:30) It is not enough for you to say, that you have not dishonoured God, that you have not lived in gross sin; but what good have you done? what glory have you brought to God? It is not enough for the servant of the vineyard that he does no hurt in the vineyard, that he does not break the trees, or destroy the hedges; if he does not do service in the vineyard, he loses his pay; so, if you do no good in your place, if you do not glorify God, you will lose your pay, you will fall short of salvation. I urge you to think of this all you that live unserviceable lives! Christ cursed the barren fig tree.

(2.) In the second place, it reproves those who are so far from bringing glory to God, that they rob God of his glory.

Thus says the Lord in Malachi chapter 3 “will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.” (Mal 3:8) They rob God, who take the glory due to God to themselves. 1: If they have gotten any success or wealth, they ascribe all to their own cleverness and hard work, they give themselves all the credit, not considering that the Scriptures command, “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut 8:18) 2. If they do any duty of religion, they do it for their own glory: That “they may be seen by others;” (Matt 6:6) that they may be set upon a stage for others to admire and canonise them. The oil of vainglory feeds their lamp. How many by the wind of popular breath have been blown to hell! Whom the devil cannot destroy by greed, he does by vainglory.

(3.) Lastly, it reproves those who fight against God’s glory.

But who are they who fight against God’s glory?

i) Everyone who opposes the things by which God’s glory is promoted is fighting against God’s glory.

His glory is much promoted by the preaching of the word, which is the main means by which he converts souls. Now, such as would hinder the preaching of the word fight against God’s glory. Paul speaks of those “hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.” (1 Thess 2:16)

The Roman emperor who raised the tenth persecution against the Christians, prohibited church meetings, and would have the temples of the Christians to be razed down. Such as hinder preaching, as the Philistines that stopped the wells, stop the well of the water of life. They take away the physician that should heal sin-sick souls. Believers who preach the gospel are the light of the world, (Matt 5:14), and who but thieves hate the light?

ii) Everyone who hinders and puts stumbling blocks and obstacles before others in the path of simple obedience to God’s command is fighting against God’s glory.

Such as these directly strike at God’s glory; and what an account will they have to give to God, when he shall charge the blood of men’s souls upon them! We read of such, “you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52) If there be either justice in heaven, or fire in hell, they will not go unpunished.

The third thing we learn from this subject is one of

3: Exhortation. Let every one of us, in our place, make it our chief end and goal to glorify God.

In the first place,

(1.) Ministers should study to promote God’s glory.

God has entrusted them with two of the most precious things, his truth, and the souls of his people. Ministers, by virtue of their office, are to glorify God. They must glorify God, by labouring in the word and doctrine. Paul exhorts Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead ... preach the word; be ready in season and out of season,” (2 Tim 4:1) It was Augustine’s wish, “that Christ, at his coming, might find him either praying or preaching.”

Ministers must glorify God by their zeal and sanctity. The priests under the law, before they served at the altar, washed in the bronze basin; so, such as serve in the Lord’s house, must first be washed from gross sin in the washing of repentance. It is a matter of grief and shame to think how many, who call themselves ministers, instead of bringing glory to God, dishonour him. Their lives, as well as their doctrines, are heterodox; they harbour the very sins which they reprove in others.

In the second place,

(2.) Heads of families must glorify God,

They must infuse their dependants with the knowledge of the Lord; their houses should be like little churches. God says of Abraham: “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD.” (Gen 18:19) You that are heads of households have a charge of souls. Because of the lack of the restraint of godly family discipline youth runs to its ruin.

It will be a great comfort in a dying hour, to think we have glorified God in our lives. It was Christ’s comfort before his own death: “I glorified you on earth” (John 17:4) he prays on John 17. At the hour of death, all your earthly comforts will vanish: if you think how rich you have been, what pleasures you have had on earth; this will be so far from comforting you, that it will torment you the more. What is one the better for wealth that is spent?

But to have conscience telling you, that you have glorified God on the earth, what sweet comfort and peace will this let into your soul! how will it make you long for death! The servant that has been all day working in the vineyard longs for evening to come, when he will receive his pay.

How can they who have lived, and brought no glory to God, think of dying with comfort? They cannot expect a harvest where they sowed no seed. How can they expect glory from God, who never brought any glory to him? Truly, in what horror will they be at death! The worm of conscience will gnaw their souls, before the physical worms can gnaw at their bodies.

If we glorify God, he will glorify our souls forever. By raising God’s glory, we increase our own: by glorifying God, we come at last to our second main heading, the blessed enjoyment of him.

II. Man’s chief end is to enjoy God for ever.

Whom have I in heaven but you?” (Ps 73:25) is the cry of the Psalmist. That is, What is there in heaven I desire to enjoy but you? There are two aspects of enjoying of God; the one is in this life, the other in the life to come.

[1] The enjoyment of God in this life.

It is a great matter to enjoy God’s ordinances, the Lord’s supper and baptism, but to enjoy God’s presence in the ordinances is that which a gracious heart seeks. David writes “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.” (Ps 63:2) This sweet enjoyment of God, comes about when we feel his Spirit co-operating with the ordinance, and distilling grace into our hearts; when in the Word, the Spirit enlivens and raises the affections, and believers can say like the those on the way to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us?”(Luke 24:32)

When the Spirit transforms the heart, leaving an impression of holiness upon it then we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor 3:18) When the Spirit revives the heart with comfort, it comes not only with its anointing, but with its seal; it pours God’s love into our hearts. (Rom 5:5) And then “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

In the Word we hear God’s voice, in the sacrament we have his embrace. The heart being warmed and inflamed in a duty is God’s powerful answering our prayers. The sweet communications of God’s Spirit are the first-fruits of glory. This is when Christ has pulled off his veil, and showed his smiling face; This is when he has led a believer into the banqueting-house, and has touched the heart, and made it leap for joy. And how sweet is it thus to enjoy God! The godly have, in ordinances, had such divine revelations of joy, and transformations of soul, that they have been carried above the world, and have despised all things here below.

We go on to two things we can infer from this subject.

1: First, how wicked are they who prefer the enjoyment of their lusts before the enjoyment of God!

The lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” (1 John 2:16) is the trinity they worship. Lust is an inordinate desire or impulse, provoking the soul to that which is evil. Lust, like a bout of fever, puts the soul into a flame. These lusts blind and brutalise men. Hosea writes “whoredom, wine ... take away the understanding;” (Hos 4:11) they take the heart away for anything that is good. How many make it their chief end, not to enjoy God, but to enjoy their lusts! Lust first charms with pleasure, and then comes the fatal dart, “till an arrow pierces its liver,” (Prov 7:23) says the proverb. This should be a stark warning to stop men in the way of their carnal delights. Who for a drop of pleasure would drink a sea of wrath?

In the second place,

2: Let it be our great care to enjoy God’s sweet presence in his ordinances.

Enjoying spiritual communion with God is a riddle and mystery to most people. Not everyone who hangs around the court speaks with the king. It is possible to approach God in ordinances, and hang about the court of heaven, yet not enjoy communion with God. We may have the letter without the Spirit, the visible sign without the invisible grace.

It is the enjoyment of God in a duty that we should chiefly look at. We should feel like the Psalmist “my soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Ps 42:2) Tragically, what are all our worldly enjoyments without the enjoyment of God! What is it to enjoy good health, family, success in business, and not to enjoy God?

It should be our great aim, not only to have the ordinances of God, but the God of the ordinances. The enjoyment of God’s sweet presence is the center of the most contented life: he is a well of sweetness, a treasure of riches, a fountain of delight. The more we live by faith, the more we enjoy of God. How is the heart inflamed in prayer and meditation! What joy and peace is there in believing!

Is it not being in heaven a wonderful thing? He that enjoys much of God in this life carries heaven around with him.

Let this be the thing we are chiefly ambitious of, the enjoyment of God in his ordinances! The enjoyment of God’s sweet presence here is a guarantee of our enjoying him in heaven.

This brings us to the second consideration:

[2] The enjoyment of God in the life to come.

Man’s chief end is to enjoy God for ever. But before this can happen, he must be given new tastes, new desires, he must be born again, he must be given new life by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This having been done, being in this way divinely qualified by grace, we will be enabled to see clearly, and enjoy God for ever; and what is enjoying God for ever but to be put in a state of perfect happiness? As the body cannot have life but by having communion with the soul, so the soul cannot have blessedness but by having immediate communion with God. God is the chief good; therefore the enjoyment of him is the highest happiness. He is a universal good; “a good, in which are all goods.”

The excellencies of the creature are limited. A man may have health, but not beauty, learning, but not opportunity, riches, but not wisdom; but in God are contained all excellencies. He is a good, equal to the needs of the soul; a sun, a portion, the source of salvation; in whom dwells “all fullness.” (Col 1:19) God is an unmixed good.

There is nothing in this life that is not tainted in some way; for every drop of honey there is a drop of poison. Solomon, who gave himself to search out for happiness here below, found nothing but “vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl 1:14)

God is perfect, the embodiment of good. He is the sweetness in the flower. God is a satisfying good. The gracious soul will cry out, I have enough as in the words of the Psalmist “I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Ps 17:15) Let a man who is thirsty be brought to a sea of pure water, and he has enough. If there is enough in God to satisfy the angels, then surely there is enough to satisfy us. And though God is a good that satisfies, yet there will never be too much. Fresh joys spring continually from his presence; and he is as much to be desired after millions of years by glorified souls as at the first moment.

There is a fullness in God that satisfies, and yet so much sweetness, that the soul still desires. God is an all wonderful good. That which is the chief good must ravish the soul with pleasure; there must be in it thrilled delight and the very essence of joy. There is a certain sweetness about God’s person which delights, or rather, ravishes the soul. The love of God drops such infinite well being into the soul as is unspeakable and full of glory. And if there is so much delight in God, when we see him only by faith, what will the joy of vision be, when we see him face to face!

If the saints have found so much delight in God while they were suffering, what joy and delight will they have when they are being crowned! God is the supreme good. He is better than anything you can put in competition with him: he is better than health, riches, honour. Other things maintain life, he gives life. Who would compare anything with the Deity? Who would weigh a feather against a mountain of gold?

God excels all other things more infinitely than the sun the light of a candle. God is an eternal good. He is the Ancient of days, yet never decays, nor grows old. The joy he gives is eternal, the crown never fades away. The glorified soul will forever be comforting itself in God, feasting on his love, and sunning itself in the light of his presence.

We read of the river of pleasure at God’s right hand; but will there come a time when this is dried up? No never! There is a fountain at the bottom which feeds it. “With the Lord is the fountain of life.” (Ps 36:9) Thus God is the chief good, and the enjoyment of God for ever is the highest happiness of which the soul is capable.

And so, as we come to a close, what shall we take from this subject?

Use 1: Let it be the chief end of our living to enjoy this chief good from now on.

Philosophers have many theories about happiness, but they all fall short of the mark. The highest elevation of a reasonable soul is to enjoy God for ever. It is the enjoyment of God that makes heaven. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians is that they soon “will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess 4:17) The soul is like the needle in the compass, and is never at rest till it comes to God.

We end with a

A description of this excellent state of a glorified soul’s enjoyment of God:

(1.) It must not be understood in a sensual manner:

We must not conceive any carnal pleasures in heaven. The Moslems, in their Koran, speak of a paradise of pleasure, where they have riches in abundance, and red wine served in golden cups. The epicures of this age would like such a heaven when they die. But though the state of glory is compared to a feast in Scripture, and is set out by pearls and precious stones, yet these metaphors are only helps to our faith, and to show us that there is superabundant joy and happiness in the highest heaven; they are not carnal but spiritual delights. Our enjoyment will be in the perfection of holiness, in seeing the pure face of Christ, in feeling the love of God, in open conversation with heavenly spirits; which will be proper for the soul, and infinitely exceed all carnal sensual delights.

(2.) We will have a lively sense of this glorious estate.

A man in a coma, though alive, is as good as dead, because he is not aware, nor does he take any pleasure in his life; but we will have a lively sense of the infinite pleasure which arises from the enjoyment of God: we will know ourselves to be happy; we will reflect with joy upon our dignity and blessedness; we will taste every crumb of that sweetness, every drop of that pleasure which flows from God.

(3.) We shall be made able to bear a sight of that glory.

Presently we could not bear that glory, it would overwhelm us, as a weak eye cannot bear sunlight; but God will give us the ability to behold his glory; our souls will be so heavenly, and perfected with holiness, that they will be able to enjoy the blessed vision of God. Moses in a cleft of the rock saw the glory of God passing by. (Exod 33:22) From our blessed rock Christ, we will behold the exalted sight of God.

(4.) This enjoyment of God will be more than a plain contemplation of him.

Some have asked the question, whether the enjoyment of God will be by way of contemplation only. That is something, but it is one half of heaven only; there will be a loving of God, a conformity to him, a tasting his sweetness; We have not only inspection but possession. Our Lord prayed “That they ... see my glory;” (John 17:24) here we have inspection: and the “the glory that you have given me I have given to them;” (v.22) and here we have possession. Paul writes of “the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Rom 8:18) not only revealed to us, but in us. To behold God’s glory, there is glory revealed to us; but, to partake of his glory, there is glory revealed in us. As the sponge absorbs water, so shall we absorb glory.

(5.) There is no intermission in this state of glory.

We will not only have God’s glorious presence at certain special times; but we will be continually in his presence, continually under divine rays of joy. There will not be one minute in heaven, when a glorified soul may say, I do not enjoy happiness. The streams of glory are not like the water of a conduit, which may be blocked, so that we cannot have one drop of water; but those heavenly streams of joy are continually running.

And what perspective this should give us to despise this valley of tears where we now are, for our heavenly home. How should we long for the full enjoyment of God in Paradise! If we had a clear vision of that land of promise, we would need patience to be content to live here any longer.

As second encouragement we can take of this subject,

Use 2: Let this spur us to duty.

How diligent and zealous should we be in glorifying God, that we may come at last to enjoy him! How should Christians, who have the light of Scripture to see by, rouse themselves that they may attain to the eternal enjoyment of God and glory!

If anything can make us rise off our bed of laziness, and serve God with all our might, it should be this, the hope of our near enjoyment of God for ever.

What made Paul so active in the sphere of religion? “I worked harder than any of them,” (1 Cor 15:10) he says. His obedience did not move slowly, like the sun on the horizon; but swiftly, like light from the sun. Why was he so zealous in glorifying God, but that he might at last centre and come to him? “And so”, he says, “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17)

As a third and last thing we can take home from this subject,

Use 3: Let this comfort the godly in all the present miseries they feel.

You complain, Christian, that you do not enjoy yourself, fears trouble you, needs perplex you; by day you cannot be at ease, and in the night you cannot enjoy sleep; you cannot enjoy the comforts of this life.

Let this revive you, that shortly you shall enjoy God, and then shall have more than you can ask or think; you shall have angelic joy, glory without intermission or end. We will never enjoy ourselves fully until we enjoy God eternally.