“You might turn the world on its head by changing one word in your creed”, says Piper referring to the preposition “and” which he thinks should be turned to the preposition “by” in the Shorter Catechism’s Q&A 1 .1 What Piper fails to realize is, (1) That we already did turn the world on it’s head with this phrase. With the exception of the Apostolic era, no greater time of Gospel advancement has ever taken place in Church history than in the days of the Westminster Assembly. (2) That by changing the proposition “AND” to the preposition “BY” Piper has irrevocably redefined the chief end of man. This in no trifling over prepositions either. By changing the answer of Shorter Catechism Q&A 1 to, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever”2, God’s glory is no longer man’s chief end, man’s pleasure is. This is a fundamental shift in the emphasis of the answer to the question. With the emphasis on the preposition “by” rather than “and”, pleasure becomes the chief objective end of man.
“And”? says Piper referring to the first question of the Shorter Catechism. “Like ham and eggs? Sometimes you glorify God and sometimes you enjoy him? Sometimes he gets glory, and sometimes you get joy?”3 Piper’s cynicism is unfortunate indeed. He goes on to say in the same paragraph, “Not that I care too much about the intention of seventeenth century theologians”.4 Perhaps he should. The Puritans were some of the most thoughtful and conscientious men the Christian Church has ever known. William Hetherington once said, “All that learning the most profound and extensive intellect, the most acute and searching, and piety the most sincere and earnest, could accomplish, was thus concentrated in the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith, which may be safely termed the most perfect statement of Systematic Theology ever framed by the Christian Church”.5 The Shorter Catechism was also the result of this famous Synod. For Piper to quote them, and then admit that he does not care much for their thoughts6, is a shame bordering on arrogance. If however, Dr. Piper would have taken some time to research the intentions of the Puritans, he would have soon realized that his thesis looks quite different than that of the seventeenth century divines.
The Puritans knew very well that to glorify God meant to put Him first in all things, and that the pleasure man enjoys is a subordinate blessing. Witness Thomas Vincent (1634-1678) a Westminster contemporary:
Q. 3. What is it to glorify God?
A. 1. Negatively, to glorify God, is not to give any additional glory to God: it is not to make God more glorious than he is; for God is incapable of receiving the least addition to his essential glory, he being eternally and infinitely perfect and glorious. “Your Father which is in heaven is perfect”.— Matt. 5:48. “Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not unto thee”.— Ps. 16:2.
2. Affirmatively, to glorify God, is to manifest God’s glory: not only passively, as all creatures do, which have neither religion nor reason, but also actively, men glorify God, when the design of their life and actions is the glory and honour of God. “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you,” &c.— 1 Pet. 2:9. (1.) When inwardly they have the highest estimation of him, the greatest confidence in him, and the strongest affections to him, this is glorifying of God in spirit.. “Glorify God in your spirit, which is God’s”.— 1 Cor. 6:20. (2.) When outwardly they acknowledge God according to the revelations he hath made of himself, when with their lips they show forth God’s praise. “He that offereth praise, glorifieth me”.— Ps. 50:23. When they sincerely endeavour, in their actions, the exalting of God’s name, the promotion of the interest of his kingdom in the world, and to yield that worship and obedience to him which he hath prescribed in his Word. “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together”.— Ps. 24:3. “Fear God, and give glory to him; and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters”.— Rev. 14:7.<
Piper insists that the chief end of man is to enjoy God forever, but as Vincent demonstrates, the clear objective and life consuming duty of the believer is to glorify God. Piper has failed to take into account the fact that words often take on the barnacles of time and are used differently today than in the 1600’s (even word like happy, joy, and pleasure). Fundamentally Piper has missed the point completely by not rendering the Biblical definition of the phrase “enjoying God” as the Puritans saw it, and reading into it his own modern use. Further, because he has not taken the time to investigate the reasoning for both the order and syntax of the phrase itself, he has missed the general thrust of the point almost completely. One might think in reading the question that there is a duality to the chief end of man- the glory of God and enjoyment of God. In this there is a general mistake as the chief “end” is singular not plural. The logical conclusion then is the secondary subordinate clause, “enjoy him forever”. Piper’s mistake is much larger however as his customized reading actually alters the answer and unavoidably changes the conclusion.8 Thus Piper can say that the chief end of man is enjoying God forever. On this very line of thinking Vincent insists, “Men ought to have no other chief end than the glorifying of God, but they may have subordinate ends (emphasis mine).’9 To the Puritans, glorifying God was the very foundation of enjoying him in obedience, truth, worship, honour, attestation, and proclamation. Thomas Watson puts it this way,
The glory of God is a silver thread which must run through all our actions. ‘Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31). Everything works to some end in things natural and artificial; now, man being a rational creature, must propose some end to himself, and that should be, that he may lift up God in the world. He had better lose his life than the end of his living. The great truth is asserted, that the end of every man’s living should be to glorify God. Glorifying God has respect to all the persons in the Trinity; it respects God the Father who gave us life; God the Son, who lost his life for us; and God the Holy Ghost, who produces a new life in us; we must bring glory to the whole Trinity.10
Whether one reads Thomas Vincent or Edward Fisher, Thomas Boston, or, John Flavel, the consensus in unanimous among the Puritans, that the enjoyment of the believer is the residual of glorifying of God. Vincent calls this enjoyment, “subordinate ends” of which enjoyment is a part. There is an ontological order in the theological outworking of the first Question and Answer; first we glorify God and the result is enjoy Him. The Puritan James Fisher reinforces this idea when he asks the rhetorical question, “Is our happiness, in the enjoyment of God, to be our chief end? No; but the glory of God itself, Isa. 42:8; in our aiming at which chiefly, we cannot miss the enjoyment of him, Psalm 91:14, 15 (Emphasis mine)”.11
Enjoying God does not mean to take part in a kind of sanctified self-pleasure. In fact, to the Puritans, enjoying God, and taking pleasure in Him was not found in inward esoteric tranquility, but in the experimental realization of Christ in the means of grace (Word and ordinances). Thomas Boston insists that the enjoyment of God is the apprehension of being united to Christ, and that pleasure comes from those things that lend to a deeper walk with our Saviour. “The whole man, soul and body, is united to him, and, through the mediator, unto God. This is the foundation of all saving enjoyment of God”. 12 (Notice the phrase “saving enjoyment”). This is the kind of joy referred to throughout the writings of the Puritans on this subject. The joy that the believer experience is the lingering effect of glorifying God in salvation, holiness of life, and communion through the means of grace.
It is a great matter to enjoy God’s ordinances, but to
enjoy God’s presence in the ordinances is that which a gracious heart aspires after. ‘To see thy glory so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary’ (Ps. 63:2). This sweet enjoyment of God, is, when we feel his Spirit co-operating with the ordinance, and distilling grace upon our hearts, when in the Word the Spirit quickens and raises the affections, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us’ (Luke 24:32); when the Spirit transforms the heart, leaving an impress of holiness upon it.13
Enjoying God to the Puritans was no some mysterious sensation or subjective state of mind dependant on our own understanding of what pleasure might be. Finding pleasure in God is to find joy in His salvation, His Word, His works, and His sacraments. In a very real way, the Christian is to abandon self and find Christ in all the means of grace.
In the Word we hear God’s voice, in the sacrament we have his kiss. The heart being warmed and inflamed in a duty is God’s answering by fire. The sweet communications of God’s Spirit are the first-fruits of glory. Now Christ has pulled off his veil, and showed his smiling face; now he has led a believer into the banqueting-house, and given him of the spiced wine of his love to drink; he has put in his finger at the hole of the door; he has touched the heart, and made it leap for joy. Oh how sweet is it thus to enjoy God!14
The Puritans knew full well that the catechetical wording of the Shorter Catechism must be firmly rooted in the Word of God (which the proofs themselves suggest)15 and not redefine our thinking according to the dictates of our own imagination.
1The quote adjacent to the Introduction of Piper’s book, “Perhaps it was a preposition wrong that set the whole world awry”, is a clear reference to Piper’s opening remarks that the Westminster Divines would have done better to put the word “by” in the first Catechism answer rather than “and”. “Not that I care too much about the intentions of seventeenth century theologians”. Perhaps the author should. I would refer the reader to an article in the Southern Presbyterian Review, Volume XXVII.—NO. 1, January 1876., Recently Discovered Memoranda of the Westminster Assembly, by the Rev. Stuart Robinson who displays the Assembly’s laborious detail to such prepositional matters in the phraseology of both the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms.
2 John Piper. Desiring God, 15.
5 William Hetherington, The History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (Edmonton: Still Water Revival Books 1990). 345.
6 Piper, 15.
7 Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture (Edinburgh :Banner of Truth Trust 1980) 14.
8 By replacing the word “and” with the word ‘by”.
9 Vincent, 15
10 Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity (Edinburgh :Banner of Truth Trust 1984) 101.
11 James Fisher, Westminster Shorter Catechism Project (www.shortercatechism.com).
12 Boston, Westminster Shorter Catechism Project (www.shortercatechism.com).
13 Watson, 102.
15 See, The Scripture Proofs of the Shorter Catechism, by W. S Carruthers in The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly. (reprinted by Reformed Academic Press in 1994). Also see The Westminster Confession: The Prepa
ration and Printing of its Seven Leading Editions and A Critical Edition. Introduced by J. Ligon Duncan III. Greenville: Reformed Academic Press, 1995.