Many struggle to get a satisfactory answer to such a simple question. Some have concluded that there is no such final answer and the meaning we seek cannot be found. If the ultimate reality is only matter shaped by random blind chance then seeking meaning is a pointless exercise. But an infinite personal God guarantees meaning and a satisfactory answer to this question.
Hugh Binning taught philosophy at Glasgow University as well as being a minister. He was therefore well-qualified to answer this question. The following is an updated extract from one of his lectures. It focuses on the first question of the Shorter Catechism “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”. This is a simple but very profound answer to the question “Why are we here?”
1. What Is Most Important for Us to Know?
All that we are required to know may be summarised under these two headings: (a) our purpose and (b) how we must attain that purpose. All we are required to do is to achieve that purpose by any means.
This is the first priority in all arts and every business and is especially necessary in Christianity too. It is the first cause of all human actions and the first principle of all deliberate activity. Unless you are going to walk randomly – not knowing where you are going or what you are doing – you must first establish and fix your intention. “What is the great purpose for which I have been created and sent into the world?” If you do not ask this and settle it aright, you will do nothing or else nothing purposefully or that which is even worse, you will do that which will undo you. Establishing this one thing in the wrong way certainly makes most of our activities either completely unprofitable or destructive and harmful.
Since this point has first place in the catechism, it ought to be laid to heart first of all and pondered as the one thing necessary. “One thing is needful” says Christ, (Luke 10:42). If any thing is most necessary of all this is it. O that you would consider it according to its necessity and weight!
2. What Is Our Chief Purpose?
There are two Scripture verses which deal with the ultimate and chief purpose of man, which is glorifying God by all our actions, words and thoughts (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 10:31). In these we have the following important matters:
- God’s glory is the purpose of our being.
- God’s glory should be the purpose of our doing.
- The basis for both of these. Since both being and doing are from God, they ought therefore to be both for him. He is the first cause of both and therefore he ought to be the ultimate purpose of both. “Of him, and through him…are all things”. All things are for Him and therefore all things should be done to Him.
3. Why is God our Ultimate Purpose?
God is altogether independent and self-sufficient. This is His royal prerogative in which He infinitely transcends all created perfection. He is of Himself and for Himself. He is from no other and for no other: “of him, and for him…are all things” (Romans 11:36).
He is the fountain-source. You ought to follow the streams up to this and then rest because you can go no further. Even the most perfect creature is limited and imperfect: it is from another and for another. Its source is in the fountain of God’s immense power and goodness and it must run towards that again until it empties all its faculties and excellencies into that same sea of goodness.
Dependence is essential to a created being — dependence on that infinite, independent Being for their first cause and ultimate purpose. This principle is engraved in the very nature of man. It is as certain and evident that man is made for God’s glory and for no other purpose as that he is from God’s power and no other cause. “That which may be known” of man’s chief purpose, “is manifest in them”‘ so that all are “without excuse”. It is evident unless men violate their own conscience and put out their own eye as the Gentiles in Romans 1:19.
God’s being is independent – there is no more suitable name than the one He gives Himself, “I am that I am”. This implies a boundless, ineffable, absolute and transcendent being. It is the glorious perfection of His nature that He does “all things for himself” (Proverbs 16:4). He does them for His own name and His glory is as dear to Him as Himself. “I am the Lord, that is my name, and [therefore] my glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11).
4. Why is Our Ultimate Purpose Not in Ourselves?
For a man to seek his own glory or search into it “is not glory” (Proverbs 25.27) but rather a man’s shame. Self-seeking in creatures is an unnatural thing. It is as absurd and unfit for a creature to seek its own glory, as to attribute its own being to its own agency. Will the thing formed say to the potter that he has not made it? That would be ridiculous. Will the thing formed say that it is made for itself? That would be equally ridiculous. Self-denial is the beauty of a creature and therefore humility is an ornament and clothing (1 Peter 5:5). Honour upholds the humble spirit (Proverbs 29:23).
5. Why is it Not Wrong for God to Seek His Own Glory?
But God’s self-seeking and seeking His own glory is His eminent excellence. It is indeed His glory because He is and there is none else. There is nothing besides Him except that which has issued from His incomprehensible fullness. There is thefore all the reason in the world that as He is the beginning so He should be the end of all things (Revelation 1:8). Seeking His own glory is not prejudicial to the creature’s good but in glorifying Himself, He is most beneficial to His own creatures.
Ambition in man robs and spoils what is excellent in others for itself and then boasts itself in these borrowed feathers! But our blessed Lord is doing most for our benefit when He does all for His own glory. He does not need to go outside of Himself to seek perfection but manifests what He is in Himself and communicates from Himself to us. O blessed self-seeking that gave us a being and wellbeing; that gains no advantage by it but gives advantage! He has the honour of all but we have the benefit of all.
God has made all things for Himself and especially man for His own glory to display the glory and excellence of His power, goodness, holiness, justice, and mercy in Him. It is not only most reasonable therefore that man should do all things to the glory of God but it is his beauty and perfection. This is the greatest possible accession to his existence—to glorify God by that existence. We are not our own, therefore we ought not to live to ourselves but to God to whom we belong.
6. What is it to Glorify God?
Is it any advantage to the Almighty that we are righteous? No indeed! Here is the vast difference between God’s glorifying and sanctifying us, and our glorifying and sanctifying Him. God’s glorifying is creative — ours only declarative. He makes us such, we do no more but declare Him to be such. This then is the work that man was created for, to be a witness of God’s glory and give testimony to its manifestation in God’s ways of power, justice, mercy and truth.
To glorify God is to conceive of Him and meditate on His name in our souls until they receive the impression of His glorious name. We are then to express this in our words and actions, commending Him and obeying Him. Our souls should be like wax bearing the seal of His glorious attributes of justice, power, goodness, holiness, and mercy. As water reflects the beams of the sun back again, so our spirits should receive the sweet, warming beams of His love and glorious excellency and then reflect them towards His Majesty, with the desires and affections of our souls. All our thoughts of Him and all our affections towards Him should declare there is none like Him or besides Him.
A soul will glorify God when love so unites it to God and makes it one spirit with Him. His glory becomes our honour and becomes the principle of all our inward affections and outward actions. It is not always possible to have express particular thoughts of God and His glory in every action and meditation. For the most part, however, it ought to be so.
If souls were accustomed to meditating on God it would become their very nature and be delightful. Even though we may not always have an express intention towards God’s glory we ought always to maintain a spirit that may be construed to proceed from intending God’s glory.
7. How does Redemption Restore our Ultimate Purpose?
“All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That glory is the reason for man being in the world and he has come short of it. O strange shortcoming! Short of all that he was ordained for! But behold! the goodness of the Lord and his kindness and love has “appeared toward man. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” “through Jesus Christ” (Titus 3:4-6). Our Lord Jesus, by whom and for whom all things were created would not let this excellent workmanship perish and He therefore goes about the work of redemption.
This is a second creation with greater labour and glory than the first. This is the purpose of His second creation, as it was of the first: “We are his workmanship created to good works in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10). He has made us again and paid a price for us and so we are twice bound not to be our own but His, and so to glorify him in our bodies and spirits (1 Corinthians 6:20). We once came short of our goal —God’s glory and our happiness; but it is attainable again. We lost both but both are found in Christ. Awake then and stir up your spirits, otherwise it will be double condemnation (when we have the offer of being restored our former blessed condition) to love our present misery better.
8. When Will We Begin to Ask This Question?
Ask yourself “Why am I here? Why have I come into the world?” If you do not ask this what will you answer when God asks you when you appear before his judgement seat? You have been sent into the world only for this business to serve the Lord. If you answer truthfully (as you will have to —you cannot lie then) you must say, “Lord, I spent my time in serving my own lusts. I was taken up with other business etc”. Imagine if an ambassador reported to his government on his negotiations: “I was busy at cards and dice. I spent my money and wore my clothes”. Though you think your ploughing and borrowing and trading and reaping very necessary, yet certainly these are but as trifles and toys compared to the main business.
O what a dreadful account will souls give! They come here for no purpose but to serve their bodies and senses, to be slaves to all the creatures which were once put under man’s feet. Now man is under the feet of all and he has put himself under them. You seek these created things as if you were created for them and not they for you. You seek yourselves as if you came from yourselves and not from God. You were not made for that purpose nor yet redeemed either to serve yourselves or other creatures but that other creatures might serve you and you might serve God (Luke 1:74-75). And this is really the best way to serve ourselves and to save ourselves—to serve God. Self-seeking is self-destroying; self-denying is self-saving, soul-saving. He that seeks to save his life shall lose it, and he that loses his life shall find it, and he that denies himself and follows Christ, is His disciple (Luke 9:23-24).
When will you sit down and be truly earnest about this business? ‘It is lamentable only to begin to learn to live when you must die! You will be almost out of the world before you ask “Why did I come into the world?” This is the most lamentable thing of all —many souls end their life before they begin to live. For what is our life but a living death as long as we do not live to God, and do not live in relation to the great end of our life and being,—the glory of God? It would be better, says Christ, that such “had never been born”. It concerns you who are created again in Jesus Christ most of all to ask, “Why have I been made? And why am I redeemed? For what purpose?” It is certainly so that you may glorify your heavenly Father, (Matthew 5:16; Psalm 56:13). And you will glorify Him if you bring forth much fruit, and continue in His love, (John 15:8-9). Therefore abide in Him by faith that you may honour Him and bring forth fruit (John 5:23; 15:4).
Here is the summary of how to glorify God. Receive salvation from Him freely, righteousness and eternal life. This is placing your seal of approval on God’s truth and grace and mercy. Whoever counts the Son worthy to be a Saviour to them and places their seal of approval on Him whom God the Father has sent and sealed also honours the Father. He that honours the Father will be honoured “for them that honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30) says the Lord. “He that serves me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26).
God is the delight of such a soul and such a soul is God’s delight. That soul sets God in a high place, in a throne in its heart. God sets that soul in a heavenly place with Christ (Ephesians 2:6). He comes down to sit with us and dwells in us from off His throne of majesty (Isaiah 66:1-2 and 57:15).