Monday, January 23, 2017

The Chief End

The most famous spiritual description of the purpose of mankind appears at the beginning of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” (WSC 1)  In this description, the answer includes two purposes that involve God and man.  This fundamental principle comprehends all the knowledge man possesses.  Calvin writes, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (Calvin ICR Book I Chapter 1.1, Battles p.35)  Here we begin to tie the threads together.  Knowledge comes from God through His Word.  Reading the Bible correctly gives us wisdom.  The content of the Scripture includes the knowledge of God and of man.  It teaches us to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

This means that we ought to understand a God-ward and a man-ward direction in the revelation of Scripture and therefor in the nature of reality.  We see this in the twin concepts of the knowledge of God and knowledge of man.  It appears in the catechism in the glory of God and man’s enjoyment of God.  It appears again in the Catechism in the answer to “What do the Scriptures principally teach?”  “The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (WSC 3)  This twin concept governs our purpose, knowledge, and the content of the Scriptures.

Lest we think there to be exact parity between these to ideas, Calvin suggests a first of the two.  “Yet, however the knowledge of God and of ourselves may be mutually connected, the order of right teaching requires that we discuss the former first, then proceed afterward to treat the latter.” (ICR, Book I, Chapter 1.3, Battles p.39)  Calvin states that man must consider the knowledge of God prior to the knowledge of self.  Indeed, as you consider the ideas of reason and revelation found in the catechism, you see this priority maintained.  Even that part directed toward man has a divine cast.  We are to enjoy God, not things apart from God.  Revelation teaches us the duties we owe to God.  Life, reality, and knowledge revolve around God and without a knowledge of God, man is left ignorant, blind, foolish, and lifeless.

As we pursue wisdom and discernment, we must begin with God, but also see how reality operates concerning God.  We must understand that first question and answer of the catechism regarding man’s chief end.  Notice, the answer does not intend to exhaustively describe the purpose of man, rather to give us the broad umbrella under which all reality can be understood.  In order to understand the purpose of all things, we must first understand these two facts.

Soli Deo Gloria

During the Reformation, the early reformers summarized the foundational beliefs of their movement in five phrases or “solas”.  The “solas" begin with the Latin word meaning “only” or “alone”.  They are sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone).  We have already looked at the centrality of scripture asserted in sola scriptura.  We now seek to develop the reformers doctrine of the purpose of all things, soli deo gloria.  In this assertion, they said that all things ultimately exist for the glory of God.  The highest good is the glory of God.  All other concepts of good are subservient to this concept.

To understand this idea, we must also understand the concept of glory and God’s nature.  As a divine, perfect being, God has no lack within His nature.  He needs nothing from any.  In no way does creation give glory to God.  Rather, creation expresses the infinite glory God possesses.  The affirmation of soli Deo gloria assumes the creation’s existence and the expression of glory within it.  Again, theology and anthropology work together.
FT: Note that the union of these two is not intrinsic by nature.  Theology, that is the nature of God is not dependent on anthropology.  Rather, both are human activities of thought, study, and understanding.  Both depend on revelation.  Thus, we should anticipate that as God has revealed to us His nature, He has done so only in ways we could understand those concepts.  In addition, God shows very little interest in revealing abstractions, but rather reveals practically those parts of His nature necessary to essential human life.

We then must confront an anthropological question.  If all things exists for the glory of God, where does man fit?  How do we exist for the glory of God?  For this, the Bible gives us another grand word and concept, grace.


Grandness and greatness cannot justly express the majesty of the concept of grace.  To begin, we must start with what may seem elementary.  What does the word “grace” mean?  The dictionary defines it as “Divine favor bestowed freely on people.”  Let us contrast this definition with the one for another common biblical term, “mercy.”  Again, the dictionary reads, “Compassionate treatment, especially of those under one's power; clemency.”  It may help to see these two terms in how they differ.  Simply put, mercy is clemency, or  not giving people what they deserve.  If they deserve to go to jail, you set them free.  That is mercy.  Grace is giving people what whey do not deserve.  When they deserve nothing, you give them a dollar.

For God, all those values get turned up to eleven.  Mercy now focuses on a greater punishment.  Men who deserve to go to hell won’t.  Grace focuses on a greater reward.  Men receive eternal life in heaven who don’t deserve it.  Theologically, we speak of grace in more substantive terms.  It is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament concept of Hesed.  This idea is too complex for the focus of this book.  Suffice it to say, that in the Bible, grace, in its broadest definition is, the acts and relationship of God as part of His nature toward His people where He promises and performs at unbelievable expense to bring them out of their sin-enforced death and give them eternal and blessed life.  Even this is too small because the revelation of grace encompasses the whole of Scripture.  Christianity depends on grace.

For all the benefits that we receive on the basis of grace, we may be excused for thinking we are the center of the universe.  It seems as if God has a fascination with the greatest work of creation, man.  He will sacrifice His own Son for us. (spoiler alert)  This takes the anthropic principle too far, neglecting the emphasis of scripture.  God had no need of man in order to have a relationship.  It already existed in the trinity.  He needed no man to glorify Him, He had perfect glory in Himself.  He chose to express His glory through grace.  Grace shines throughout with the rays of the infinite.

History of redemption

In order to see those rays, we must review the scriptures to see them.  When God created the world, the glory appeared in the goodness of of the world He made.  In an expression of greater glory, He graciously condescended to have a relationship with the man and woman He created.  While the relationship we describe as a covenant of works because human obedience was the condition for life, God was not obligated to enter into this relationship.

After the fall, that former relationship was shattered and God ordained another.  We call this the covenant of grace because the relationship does not depend upon our work, but upon the work of another for us.  In order to maintain this relationship, the concept of grace became more significant.  Not only was God’s condescension a matter of grace, but man’s position now required more.  Instead of freedom, Man had young himself to evil and needed rescue.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of God rescuing His people from their bondage to evil.  Think about it.  God rescues Noah from a wicked generation.  He rescues Abraham from his idolatry in Ur.  In what would become the national identity of Israel, He used Moses to deliver His people from Egypt.

Lets’s pause a second and reflect on the Exodus.  That event truly dominates the OT.  Moses becomes the mediator between God and man.  First, God sends him to Pharaoh with the message to let His people go.  Pharaoh answers, “Who is the Lord?”  We pass over this question because we don’t understand its significance.  Pharaoh asked who this unidentified, unknown deity was in the pantheon of know Egyptian gods.  The plagues were God’s answer to that question as He systematically proves His superiority over all the idols of Egypt.  The final destruction of the firstborn and passover become so significant in pointing us to the ultimate redemption to come.  The overthrow of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea points to the destruction of man’s greater foe and captor, sin. (Micah 7:15,18-19) Even the Ten Commandments, so maligned in some circles of Christianity, are not contrary to redemption but indicative of them.  The preface reminds us that these rule did not create or maintain a relationship with God.  They were household rules for the children of God.  “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.“

The rest of the OT continues this theme.  We have so many examples of how God redeems His people from evil.  He delivers them in the land of Canaan through the means of His judges. (Joshua, Gideon, Samson, etc.)  He give them their king, Saul (i.e. The one they “asked” for.) and then give them His king, David, the man after His own heart.  Even though their addiction to idolatry leads them into exile, He promises to redeem them again from their bondage.

Grace directs us to Jesus.

All this ends in the ultimate example of grace in Jesus, who God judges and executes, putting upon Him the sin of His people.  Jesus is the ultimate example of grace.  God, because of His promises throughout the OT, fulfills them in Jesus enabling Him to give His people what they never could deserve, everlasting life.  In order to understand grace, we must understand justice.  Justice tells us what man deserves.  Unless we understand we deserve hell, we will never understand how good grace is.

We often think of sin too lightly.  We consider our evil not so bad.  We live with blinders to the heinousness of sin.  How bad is sin?  Think of it this way.  God created the world and has the authority to dictate the way it is run.  He also created us in such a way that the operation of the human being, though granted much freedom, has certain instructions for proper use.  Sin, in this sense, is like using an iPhone to hammer a nail, it won’t work.  In a relational sense, it is violating the primal relationship all men have with their creator.  In a judicial sense, it constitutes cosmic treason against the ultimate authority.  In a heartbreaking sense, it spits in the face of the one who sacrificed His Son for us.  Is it any wonder that this crime of ultimate wickedness deserves the ultimate penalty?

Jesus enabled the Lord to show us grace.  He died to take the penalty our sins deserved.  He took our hell.  Even more wondrous, all the grace the Lord showed all His people from the fall originated from all the Jesus did.  The very ability of man to be God’s people was due to the grace Jesus purchased for them.  Salvation and redemption come from no one else but the mediation of Jesus.  Moses functioned as a placeholder, an example to help God’s people understand what office Jesus would perfect.  All grace points to Jesus.

Grace shows God’s infinite, unconditional love.

We cannot divorce grace from the foundation of the relationship, the love of God.  Grace results from the relationship that God has with His people.  That relationship is defined by His covenant and motivated by love.  Love is not merely a feeling that God has for His people.  In some ways, man cannot define love.  Instead, it is part of the constitution of the human being granted to us because we are made in God’s image an He is love.  Any true understanding, application, and activity of love we perform comes to us from God.

Our love is a dim reflection of the Lord’s love for us.  His love is infinite.  It is timeless.  I don’t mean, “not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion.”  I mean it existed before time.  God loved His people before the world began. (Eph.1)  His love never changes because time cannot affect it.

The most comforting thing about this love is that it is unconditional.  We did nothing to deserve God’s love.  We had no goodness to earn a relationship with God.  God saw nothing in us to love.  Even our good works are so stained with evil that they could never deserve God’s love.  The best man alive was at best an unprofitable servant.  God must choose to love us despite our demerit or we have no hope.

Grace compels obedience.

In light of what we have received from God, we are compelled to live differently.  We are not who we were.  The grace of God has transformed the very fabric of our lives.  We who once were functionally dead have been, by God’s grace, made alive.  The dead stay in tombs.  The living don’t.  That simple principle means that we must live differently.

Understanding grace makes us want to live in obedience to the one who has shown us so much grace.  This is the fundamental point of the Ten Commandments.  God declares His redemptive acts and the people’s relationship to Him before dictating the rules for moral behavior.

Even more basic are Jesus’ summary of the commandments.  We are to love God and our neighbors.  This reflect the love God has shown to us in His grace.

This brings us back to the idea of God’s glory.  Our obedience shows the grace of God operative in our lives.  We live shining the light of God’s glory into the world that lives in darkness.   As we proceed to think about the way we live outside the sanctuary, we must remember that we do so, not to make God love us, because we could never earn that love.  We desire to obey because by obedience, we show God’s glory to a world trapped in dark wickedness.  We live as agents of glory.  We are privileged to shine.  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify* your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt.5:16)

FT:”Glorify” here means the recognition of God as the bringer of goodness into the world.  In man’s recognition of God, His glory is displayed.

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