Day 1: Reformation Day and The Chief End of Man

Welcome to the first day of our 180-day journey through the Westminster Standards.

Audio Introduction

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the accepted way of inaugurating public debate, and the debate turned into "The Protestant Reformation."

John Robbins ("Civilization and the Protestant Reformation") notes that Protestantism contributed the following to Western Civilization:
• Democracy ("The Priesthood of All Believers ")
• Constitutionalism ("Sola Scriptura")
• Religious Liberty
• The Reformation in Law and Economics
  • Legal historian Harold Berman of Harvard Law School has pointed out that "The Protestant concept of the individual became central to the development of the modern law of property and contract...."
  • This, along with Luther's idea that all callings--all labor, not just the labor of monks and nuns--could be done to the glory of God, led to the development of the free market economy.
One of Luther's most brilliant followers, John Calvin, systematized the theology of the Reformation. The seventeenth-century Calvinists laid the foundations for both English and American civil rights and liberties: freedom of speech, press, and religion, the privilege against self-incrimination, the independence of juries, and right of habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without cause.

In 1892 the United States Supreme Court unanimously reminded us that America "is a Christian nation." But America was actually a Protestant nation.

The nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke referred to Calvin as the "virtual founder of America." The Westminster Standards reflect this Reformed or Calvinist heritage.

Our goal during the next 180 days is simply to plant seeds. We'll try to spend only about ten minutes a day. But there will be some days where we'd like to spend more time. The first question of both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms is one of those occasions where it's tempting to spend more time watching the seed grow, to branch out into a mighty tree.

The Shorter Catechism
Q1: What is the chief end of man?
A1: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.

By the time we finish going through the Catechisms and the Confession, this God-centered focus will become much clearer. Let's read through the Scripture proof-texts:

QUEST. 1. WHAT is the chief and highest end of man?
Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God,a and fully to enjoy him for ever.b

a Rom. xi. 36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
1 Cor. x. 31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

b Ps. lxxiii. 24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. Ver. 25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. Ver. 26. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. Ver. 27. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. Ver. 28. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.
John xvii. 21. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in as: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. Ver. 22. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even at we are one: Ver. 23. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Listen to the Larger Catechism Q. 2.

Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God;c but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.d

c Rom. i. 19. Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath shewed it unto them. Ver. 20. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Ps. xix. 1. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy-work. Ver. 2. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. Ver. 3. There is 110 speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Acts xvii. 28. For in him we live, and move, and have our being.

d 1 Cor. ii. 9. But, as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. Ver. 10. Bet God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
2 Tim. iii. 15. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Ver. 16. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; Ver. 17. That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Isa. lix. 21. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy see, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.

End of Lesson - Day One

For Further Study:

America: A Product of the Protestant Reformation

Princeton Professor B.B. Warfield tells about some notable figures who learned the catechism as children, and always saw the contrast between a self-centered and a God-centered perspective:

How many have had occasion to "thank God for that Catechism!" Did anyone ever know a really devout man who regretted having been taught the Shorter Catechism -- even with tears -- in his youth? How its forms of sound words come reverberating back into the memory, in moments of trial and suffering, of doubt and temptation, giving direction to religious aspirations, firmness to hesitating thought, guidance to stumbling feet: and adding to our religious meditations an ever-increasing richness and depth. "The older I grow," said Thomas Carlyle in his old age, "and now I stand on the brink of eternity, the more comes back to me the first sentence in the Catechism, which I learned when a child, and the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes: 'What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.'" Robert Louis Stevenson, too, had learned this Catechism when a child; and though he wandered far from the faith in which it would guide his feet, he could never escape from its influence, and he never lost his admiration (may we not even say, his reverence) for it. Mrs. Sellars, a shrewd, if kindly, observer, tells us in her delightful 'Recollections' that Stevenson bore with him to his dying day what she calls 'the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism'; and he himself shows how he esteemed it when he set over against one another what he calls the 'English' and the 'Scottish' Catechisms -- the former, as he says, beginning by 'tritely inquiring 'What is your name?,' 'the latter by 'striking at the very roots of life with 'What is the chief end of man?' and answering nobly, if obscurely, 'To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.'"
Warfield, B. B. “
Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile?” The Westminster Teacher (April 1909): 197-199.

Americans were better readers a century ago than they are today. There may be more tears for us to learn the catechism than there were for children in the past.

Be sure to post your comments or questions.

A sampling of commentary -- for the theological gluttons among us! (Don't feel any obligation to read these. I'm an just an info junkie.)

• Matthew Henry's A Scripture Catechism in the Method of the Assembly's
Man's Chief End is to Glorify God - Thomas Watson
Of Man's Chief End and Happiness - Thomas Boston
• Francis R. Beattie's The Presbyterian Standards
The Doctrine of the Holy Scripture
• James Fisher's Catechism on the Catechism
• John Flavel's Exposition of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism
• Thomas Vincent's The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture
• Thomas Watson's Body of Divinity
• John Whitecross' The Shorter Catechism Illustrated
• Alexander Whyte's A Commentary on the Shorter Catechism
The Common Principles of the Christian Religion-God's Glory the Chief End of Man's Being. Hugh Binning
• Creideamh: What is the chief end of man? -- The Benefits of the Catechism
The Chief End of Man: Glorify God by Enjoying Him Forever Christian Blog


  1. Kevin--Thank you for this program. We are looking forward to sharing these great documents with you. Especially did we enjoy going through your article America: A Product of the Protestant Reformation. Somehow after all the gloom and doom we read and listen to this gave us a sense of peace. May all of our focusing on these standards have some restorative effects on our nation as well as ourselves. Thanks again.

  2. I'm starting a bit late but I'm very interested in working through this. I think I might take each part of the Catechisms and the Confession of Faith and try to rephrase them in modern words. I'm not interested in making them relevent. The ideas are either relevent or not. I just wonder if I understand what the authors of the document were saying, or what others who have read these documents were saying.

    My first issue with the first question is with the word "end". What is an end of man? Is it a purpose? Are they talking about why God made man? Or is it a goal, and they are talking about what Men should be trying to do? Maybe they ment both at once. Maybe, they ment glorifying and enjoying God was what God original intent when he made man, but God gave man a choice, and Adam sinned, so now we must chose to glorify God. So, it's both God's intention, and some thing we should chose to do at all times.

    So, how about I restate the question and answer as something inflamitory, like this:

    Q1: What is the meaning of life?
    A2: Life was given to men so they may glorify and enjoy God forever.

    I think that agrees with the proof texts. I'm not sure that's exactly what the original writers inteded though.

    The second question seems simple to paraphrase. But, the answer is confusing. What is the "light of nature" in man, and the works of God? I think they are trying to say that the nature of the universe testifies that there is a God.

    Here is my paraphrase of question 2.

    Q2: How do we know there is a God?
    A2: The universe and our place in it show that there is a God, but only the bible & the Holy Spirit sufficiently and efectively reveal God to men for their salvation.

  3. Hey Pete! Better late than never!

    I posted some comments here.

  4. Hi Kevin. Thanks for the encouragement.

    I should get a copy of "The Shorter Catechism in Modern English", but I also want to document what I believe & think right now to see if it is biblicaly sound. So it would be cheating to look at someone else's answers. :)

    One issue I have with my interpretation of Q1 is that I arrive at that position primarily from verses like Mathew 26:36-36, Mark 12:29,30, and all the places the first commandment is repeated in the old and new testament. But, none of these verses are listed in the proof verses.

  5. My strategy is not to document what I believe and think right now, but to forget about all that, and learn what I ought to think and believe from now on. My strategy is to find the answers, and "cheat" if necessary. :-) The authors of "The Shorter Catechism in Modern English" are good scholars, and a capable of translating the intentions of the Westminster Divines in to modern English. If I don't accurately understand the old English, I can't possibly put it into modern English.

    I'll comment on your interpretation of Q.1 after you correct your reference. "Mathew 26:36-36" can't possibly be what you intended.

    On the First Commandment, see this. Then see this.

    Bad news: I'm probably going to be the only one commenting on your comments, because most everyone else is 45 days ahead of you, and I don't think anyone's going to come back here.

  6. Ok, I'll get a copy of the TSCiME. But, I'm still going to try to paraprase in my own words. Trying to rephrase the text in my own words has shown me where my understanding is weak. For example, I never would have noticed how vague my understanding of the word "end" was until I tried to come up with another way of saying it. The same goes for the phrase "light of nature". I think rephrasing the text helps me realize what my questions are. TSCiME may help me with the answers, but I'm thick headed, and often unless I come up with the question on my own an answer can just seem like additional information.

    Oops! I meant Mathew 22:36-38. Which is the Mathew's version of the story you referenced from Mark on your "extremism" page.

    I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my comments. Whoever else reads, doesn't read, comments or doesn't comment is whatever God has planned.

  7. Every time you comment it goes to the top of the "Recent Comments" sidebar on the right, so maybe someone else will see your comment and join in.

  8. Here's a short lesson on how to enhance your comments.

    You have to have an opening "tag"
    and then a closing tag around the word you want to enhance.


    The word <i>never</i> will be italicized.


    The world <b>bold</b> stands out.

    To create a clickable link:

    First, get the URL.
    (Uniform Resource Locator)

    Now you need what they call "anchor text." That refers to the words that are going to be clickable. Let's say:

    Priesthood of All Believers

    You have to put the URL before the anchor text, in a tag, and then close the tag with the following code:

    <a href="URL">anchor text</a>

    In our example:

    The doctrine of the <a href="">Priesthood of All Believers</a> is a Protestant doctrine.

    If you type all those HTML codes into the comment box, it should look like this:

    Here's a short lesson on how to enhance your comments.

    You have to have an opening "tag"
    and then a closing tag around the word you want to enhance.


    The word never will be italicized.


    The world bold stands out.

    To create a clickable link:

    First, get the URL.
    (Uniform Resource Locator)

    Now you need what they call "anchor text." That refers to the words that are going to be clickable. Let's say:

    Priesthood of All Believers

    You have to put the URL before the anchor text, in a tag, and then close the tag with the following code:

    anchor text

    In our example:

    The doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers is a Protestant doctrine.