The quote “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is a famous line from Christian theology about the purpose of human existence. If you’re wondering where this quote originated from, you’ve come to the right place.
The quote first appeared in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a historic Reformed Christian summary of doctrine that was written in 1646 by a group of English and Scottish ministers.
In this in-depth article, we will dive into the complete history behind this impactful quote, exploring topics such as:
The Westminster Assembly and Catechisms
Background of the Westminster Assembly
The Westminster Assembly was a council of divines (theologians) and members of the English Parliament appointed from 1643 to 1653 to restructure the Church of England. Several political and religious factors in 17th century England led to the Assembly’s formation, including ongoing conflicts between the Crown and Parliament as well as divides within the Church itself.
The Assembly met at Westminster Abbey in London, England over a ten year period. It produced several influential documents, including the famous Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Westminster Catechisms, which have been highly regarded as statements of faith in Reformed churches.
Purpose of the Westminster Catechisms
The Larger and Shorter Westminster Catechisms were intended as educational documents to teach principles of the Christian faith. They help explain Reformed theology in a simple question-and-answer format.
The catechisms were designed for use in Christian education of children and new believers. The Shorter Catechism especially was written to provide a concise overview of essential Christian truth for beginning learners both young and old.
Content and Structure of the Catechisms
Both the Larger and Shorter Westminster Catechisms cover several areas of doctrine, such as God, Scripture, human nature, Christ, salvation, the law, sacraments, etc. They begin with basic questions about the purpose of human existence, seen in the first question of the Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?
“with the answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever. “
The structure moves from simple to more complex questions over 107 and 25 questions respectively. The concise nature of the Shorter Catechism, in particular, aided memorization and recitation by children and new believers as a foundation of faith.
The Westminster Catechisms have endured as seminal summaries of Christian doctrine for over 375 years and counting. Many denominations continue to utilize them for their clarity of religious instruction up to the present day.
Origin of the Quote in the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Text of Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1
The famous quote “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” comes from Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This catechism was written in the 1640s by the Westminster Assembly, a group of English and Scottish theologians and ministers tasked with reforming the Church of England and creating doctrinal standards for worship and discipline.
Question 1 of the catechism asks “What is the chief end of man?” and provides the answer “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Meaning and Explanation of Key Parts of the Quote
“The chief end of man” refers to humanity’s main purpose and highest goal. The catechism teaches that glorifying God and enjoying fellowship with Him should be the driving motivation of every person’s life. Let’s break down the key parts of this famous quote:
“To glorify God” means to recognize, honor, praise, and exalt God’s perfect character and works. As creatures made in God’s image, humans were designed to reflect God’s glory and live for His renown rather than their own.
Glorifying God involves acknowledging His supreme worth, majesty, and sovereignty in all things.
“And to enjoy Him forever” conveys the eternal blessing of knowing God intimately and experiencing loving communion with Him. While glorifying God is the primary focus, enjoying unbroken fellowship with Him is the wondrous privilege and joyful result.
God created humans to find their delight and satisfaction in Him alone.
Influence and Legacy of the Quote
Use in Later Reformed Theology and Teaching
The quote “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” has had a profound influence in Reformed theology and teaching over the past few centuries. It succinctly encapsulates a key tenet of Reformed belief – that the ultimate purpose of humanity is to glorify God and find joy and fulfillment in Him.
Many major Reformed theologians and teachers have referred to this quote and concept in their writings. For example, influential 19th century Presbyterian preacher Charles Hodge taught that “The end of man’s existence…is to honor God, and to enjoy him forever.
“More recently, Reformed pastor John Piper wrote extensively about this idea in his popular book Desiring God.
The quote has been included in catechisms and confessions of faith used to train young people in the Reformed tradition. Both the Westminster Shorter Catechism and New City Catechism ask some formulation of the question “What is the chief end of man?” and provide this quote as the answer.
Appearances in Popular Culture and Media
Beyond formal theology and teaching, this concise quote has penetrated popular culture and media over the years as well.
For example, Christian musician Keith Getty incorporated the quote into the lyrics of a modern hymn titled “For the Cause.” Part of the chorus reads “For the cause of Christ the King / We give our lives, an offering / ‘Til all the earth resounds / With ceaseless praise / To the Son of God.”
It has also appeared in films and TV shows dealing with Christian themes, like in an episode of the series Touched by an Angel. The main angel character Tess repeats the full quote to emphasize living for a higher purpose.
Even secular media references it at times. Comedian Stephen Colbert jokingly referenced it out of context on his late night show to get laughs from the theologically-savvy in his audience.
So while its original use was in a 17th century catechism, this concise explanation for all of human existence continues to influence theology and teaching today. And it occasionally penetrates the culture at large as well!
In summary, the iconic quote “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” first appeared in Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism published in 1647.
Authored by English and Scottish theologians and ministers, this line has become one of the most well-known summations of humanity’s purpose from a Reformed Christian perspective.
We covered the origins of the catechism containing the quote, examined the meaning behind its key parts, and discussed how it has been influential down to the present day. Hopefully you now have a full picture of the rich history behind this famous theological statement.