by Jonathan Hamilton
Christians readily confess that the ultimate end of man is to glorify God. Further, we are quite comfortable saying that all things are ultimately for his glory. And we have much Scripture and rich Christian orthodoxy to back this idea.
Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 10:33 that even in the most menial of daily rituals, God’s glory is supreme: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (KJV)
This principle is no less true in the greater matters of life. Regarding salvation, Paul states in Ephesians 1:4b-6: “In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” And later in the same passage, as if to ensure we cannot miss the point, he states it two more times:
In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
This same truth shows up in our rich heritage of orthodox Christian writings, a tradition we ought to honor and heed. The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously states:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Simply put, God’s glory is the ultimate purpose for all of history, from the meanest of daily tasks to the life and death of Christ.
But here’s the rub. In practice, and often in careless ways of speaking, we deny this reality. This is especially easy for us to do in our soteriological banter. I often hear Christians speak of salvation as if the supreme (or only!) reason God predestined Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Ac 2:22-24) was for our benefit. To be clear, I do not deny that priceless gifts like salvation from eternal hell or union with Christ are significant benefits, nor do I deny that these are some of God’s purposes in redeeming us. Remember, this article is about the ultimate end, not just any end and I am arguing that his glory is the ultimate end of all things.
Our incorrect thinking crops up again when we speak of unbelievers as “poor little lambs who’ve lost their way.” This is not the way that Scripture speaks of the wicked. Romans 1 gives us a clear description of God’s view of the lost, and it is not warm and fuzzy. The Bible puts it even more bluntly in Psalm 5:5 and 11:5. And when we incorrectly prop up unbelievers as merely poor lost sheep, we actually rob God of glory for his sovereign work in salvation. Ask yourself what is more glorious: saving a poor little sheep who has lost his way, or regenerating a rotting corpse that is disgusting in God’s sight? After all, if sinners are merely cute little lambs bleating for the shepherd to finally find them and steer them towards the fold, then all they really need is a little nudge from Jesus to get them going in the right direction. In this alternate reality, being lost really isn’t so bad to begin with. And so salvation really isn’t that magnificent. But if sinners are something desperately worse (as Scripture describes them), it would take amazing power (and grace, and love, and mercy, and on and on) to bring about a completely new birth. And this would result in more glory for the one displaying those attributes and performing the saving act.
What I am arguing is that this is actually how it works.
Let me close with examples of God’s glory as ultimate in two other areas of theology: wrath and the salvation of the nations. These observations come from two Psalms that I’ve recently been meditating on.
GOD’S GLORY IN WRATH
In Psalm 21, David spends quite a bit of time describing how God treats his enemies (and the enemies of his covenant people). Observe:
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
Your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger;
The Lord will swallow them up in His wrath,
And fire will devour them.
10 Their offspring You will destroy from the earth,
And their descendants from among the sons of men.
11 Though they intended evil against You
And devised a plot,
They will not succeed.
12 For You will make them turn their back;
You will aim with Your bowstrings at their faces.
The mental images of the fiery oven, and the swallowing up in wrath, and of shooting someone in the face with a bow and arrow don’t leave much room for wondering how God actually feels about the wicked. But why does God respond this way? And why does David talk about it? And why do we need to read it? For his glory. How do I know this? David leaves no room for uncertainty. Verse 13, the closing verse of the Psalm states:
13 Be exalted, O Lord, in Your strength;
We will sing and praise Your power.
We are tempted to read this verse in a vacuum, as if it is somehow detached from the preceding five verses. And this is understandable at first glance. The verse seems like a total subject change, utterly unrelated to its predecessors. But it’s not. It’s David’s doxology – his reaction to all the truths that he’s disclosed in this psalm. David models for us the proper response to God’s wrath and vengeance upon his enemies (and upon ours): worship. David is showing us that God’s destruction of the wicked displays his awesome power on behalf of his people, and for this, we ought to glorify him.
GOD’S GLORY IN THE SALVATION OF THE NATIONS
In the very next entry (Psalm 22), we find a famous Messianic Psalm with many familiar verses. Near the end, we hear the prophecy that “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You” (v. 27). This is a beautiful promise of the gift of dramatic, widespread salvation coming in the future. And why is it going to be this way? Why is God going to outstretch his mighty saving hand and spread salvation across the earth? You might have guessed: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations” (28). He will do it as a reminder of his universal kingship. He will save many to display his sovereignty, his authority, his rule. In other words, it is primarily about him.
Having read and mulled these Psalms recently, I desire that at least three things would result:
- That I might believe, in fuller and richer and truer form, that the grandest purpose of all of history is to glorify the one who created it.
- That my speech might better reflect this reality in the future.
- That my heart might love him more fervently.
I hope it does the same for you.
All Scripture references taken from NASB unless otherwise noted