Critiquing Westminster Shorter Catechism #1
January 28, 2015
The Westminster Shorter Catechism on Q. & A. is wrong-headed, in my view. Almost everyone in Reformed circles knows the following question and answer by heart:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
But, as I read the Scriptures, it could be more accurate. Sure, we are to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But any question and answer on the chief end of man must explicitly refer to Christ, as well as God.
We could ask ourselves: "What is God's chief end?"
Answer: To glorify his Son and enjoy him forever.
The person of the Son as incarnate is the primary object of the Father's love. He loves all things according to the degree of loveliness in it. Christ's attractiveness cannot be compared to any created person. Even before the incarnation, the Father speaks of the prospect of Jesus, the God-man: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights" (Isa. 42:1). The Father's delight undergoes renewal after the incarnation at Christ's baptism (Matt. 3:17) and transfiguration (Matt. 17:5).
The Father's words were spoken, first, for the sake of his Son, in order that Jesus, during his earthly ministry, should be constantly assured of his Father's love. Second, they were uttered for our sake, in order that God might impress upon his people his love for his Son. This seems to be a constant refrain in Christ's earthly ministry: "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand" (Jn. 3:35; see also Jn. 5:20). Not only the Father but also Jesus himself desires and prays that believers may know of the love the Father has for the Son (Jn. 17:23, 26).
All of the love that proceeds from the Father to the church must come through Christ. He does not add to the Father's love for us; he merely draws it out. But the Father's love for the Son does not simply pass through him, like water through a sieve. There is, rather, an everlasting flow of divine grace communicated to Jesus that will perpetually flow from his head down onto his body (the church), because the Father loves Jesus (and thus his people) as the apple of his eye.
Imitating the Father
Believers should always remember that nothing makes us more like the Father than our love for his Son. If the Son in his dignity is the principal object of the Father's love, then surely our souls must delight similarly in the Chosen One. On the other side, there is a solemn warning to those (in the church) regarding their lack of love for Christ: "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Cor. 16:22).
God, who always takes the initiative in saving sinners, grants us many blessings, some of which we may take for granted. "Every spiritual blessing" (Eph. 1:3) includes an ability and desire in our human nature to fix our love upon God and Christ. For things and persons unseen, such as the Lord Jesus, we require a supernatural gift (i.e., faith) in order to love him. Apart from faith, we cannot please God by loving his Son. The soul destitute of faith sees "no form or majesty" in Christ. There is "no beauty" of Christ's person to the faithless (Isa. 53:2). But to the faithful, love for Christ's person brings with it transforming and powerful affections. As John Owen affirms,
"this is that person whose loveliness and beauty all the angels of God, all the holy ones above, do eternally admire and adore...This is he who is the joy, the delight, the love, the glory of the church below...This is he who is the Desire of all nations...This mutual intercourse on this ground of love between Christ and the church, is the life and soul of the whole creation; for on the account hereof all things consist in him" (Works, 1:159).
This is Christ's dignity: that he should be the peculiar object of the love of the Father as well as the chief object of the love of the church and elect angels. All things are created for him.
Col. 1:16 really leaves us with no option when discussing man's chief end. After all, in heaven we will forever have access to God only through his Son. The beatific vision is what we will enjoy forever. That is our greatest joy. How can Christ not be at the center of any question that asks what our chief end will be? It doesn't matter that other questions deal with the Trinity; what matters is that our thinking about our chief purpose is Christ-centered because heaven will be Christ-centered.
Q. What is the chief end of God?
A. To glorify Christ, through the Spirit, and enjoy him forever.
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and Christ and enjoy them, through the Spirit, forever.
This Q. & A. keeps our thoughts Christ-centered and Trinitarian.
Pastor Mark Jones finally has an exception to declare at Presbytery.