What is the Chief End of Scripture?
I have sometimes heard well-meaning believers--who have recently come to a better grasp of God's sovereignty and the doctrines of grace--make inaccurate or disproportionate statements about God's end in redemption. Many years ago, I watched a man--who was preparing for ministry--go around telling other believers, "The gospel is not about you and your salvation; it's about God and His glory." While it is indisputable that everything God has made and everything He does ultimately serves the purpose of bringing Him glory, it is misleading and inaccurate to say that redemption is not--in any sense whatsoever--ultimately about the believer's experience of salvation. From God's standpoint, everything is for His glory; from the standpoint of the experience of redemption in the soul of the believer, it is for our salvation and joy.
Among the most well-known and beloved theological formulations in all of church history are the opening words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The ultimate goal of man's life in this created world--considered from the divine and human side--can be summarized by these two ideas--God's glory and man's joy in God. We could formulate a related question--similar to that set out in the Shorter Catechism--regarding the end for which God has given us His word. It would read something like this: "What is the chief end of Scripture? God's chief end in giving us His revelation in Scripture is His own glory; and, in respect to man, the chief end of Scripture is the salvation of His elect." The seventeenth century theologian and English parliamentarian, Edward Leigh, helpfully explained this when he wrote,
"The end of the Scripture is considered, 1. In respect of God. 2. In respect of us.
In respect of God, the end of the Scripture is a glorifying of him; by it we may learn to know, love and fear him, and so be blessed. The glory of God is the chief end of all things, Prov. 16:4.
In respect of us, The end of the Scripture is,
1. Intermediate, temporal edification, which is fitly refer∣red to principal uses, the two first respect the mind, the other three the heart, will and affection.
It is profitable for Doctrine, it serves to direct to all saving truth; nothing is to be received as a truth necessary to salvation, but what is proved out of Scripture. Where does not have a tongue to speak, I must not have an ear to hear.
2. Reproofe or Confutation, to refute all errors and heterodox opinions in Divinity. By this sword of the Spirit, Christ vanquished Satan, Matth. 4. 4. 7. 10. by the Scripture he op∣posed the Jewes, John. 5. 45. 46. 47. and 10. 34. by this he re∣futed the Scribes and Pharisees, Matt. 9:13. and 12:1. Luke 10:25. 26. 27. Matth. 19. 34. and 21. 12. 13. the Sadducees, Matth. 22 29. By this Austin [Augustine] refuted the Pelagians, Irenaeus, the Valentinians; Tertullian the Marcionites, Athanasius the Arrians.
3. Correction of iniquity, setting straight that which is amis in manners and life.
4. Instruction to righteousnesse. Instruunt Patriarchae etiam errantes. Basil says, the Psalms are a common Store house and Treasury of good Instruction. The Title of the 32 and some other Psalmes is Maschil, that is, a Psalm of instruction.
5. Comfort in all troubles, Ps. 19:8 and 119:50. and 92. the Greek word for Gospell signifies glad-tidings. The promises are the Christians best cordials; as Gods Promises are the rule of what we must pray for in faith, so they are the ground of what we must expect in comfort.
2. Ultimate and chief, our salvation and life eternal, John 5:39. and 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15. It will show us the right way of escaping hell and attaining Heaven. It will show us what to believe and practice, for our present and eternal happiness.
This was Gods aim in causing the Scripture to be written, and we shall find it fully available and effectual for the ends for which it was ordained by God."1
Richard Muller summarizes Leigh's approach, when he writes,
"The underlying point of the doctrine, thus, is to describe the causality of Scripture, granting the divine purpose of revelation and salvation and granting, also, what is known of the essence and attributes of God—in order to provide an a priori foundation for the discussion of the character of Scripture in bringing about the divine ends."2
Just as God has ultimate ends in the planning and procuring of creation and redemption, so there God has ultimate ends in the revelation He gives of Himself and His works in Scripture. In summary, all that God has breathed out in His word is meant to serve the purpose of bringing Him glory and believers joy and salvation in Christ. To leave off either of these is to fail to see the wisdom of God in the end for which He gave us the Scriptures.
1. Leigh, Edward A Treatise of Divinity (London: E. Griffith, 1646) 128
2. Muller, Richard A. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 230.