To The Glory of God by J I Packer
All the passages below are from J. I. Packer’s book, “God’s Plans for you,” published in 2001.
THE PURPOSE OF IT ALL
What is God’s ultimate end in his dealings with his children? Is it simply their happiness, or is it something more? The Bible indicates that it is the glory of God himself.
God’s end in all his acts is ultimately himself. There is nothing morally dubious about this. If we say that man can have no higher end than the glory of God, how can we say anything different about God himself? The idea that it is somehow unworthy to represent God as aiming at his own glory in all that he does reflects a failure to remember that God and man are not on the same level. It shows lack of realization that, while sinful man makes his own well-being his ultimate end at the expense of his fellow creatures, our gracious God has determined to glorify himself by blessing his people. His end in redeeming man, we are told, is “the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 NIV). He wills to display his resources of mercy (the “riches” of his grace and of his glory—”glory” being the sum of his attributes and powers as he reveals them: Ephesians 2:17; 3:16 NIV) in bringing his saints to their ultimate happiness in the enjoyment of himself.
But how does this truth, that God seeks his own glory in all his dealings with us, bear on the problem of providence? In this way: It gives us insight into the way in which God saves us, suggesting to us the reason why he does not take us to heaven the moment we believe. We now see that he leaves us in a world of sin to be tried, tested, belabored by troubles that threaten to crush us—in order that we may glorify him by our patience under suffering and in order that he may display the riches of his grace and call forth new praises from us as he constantly upholds and delivers us. Psalm 107 is a majestic declaration of this truth.
Is it a hard saying? Not to those who have learned that their chief end in this world is to “glorify God and [in doing so] to enjoy him forever.” The heart of true religion is to glorify God by patient endurance and to praise him for his gracious deliverances. It is to live one’s life through smooth and rough places alike in sustained obedience and thanksgiving for mercy received. It is to seek and find one’s deepest joy, not in spiritual lotus-eating, but in discovering through each successive storm and conflict the mighty adequacy of Christ to save. It is the sure knowledge that God’s way is best, both for our own welfare and for his glory. No problems of providence will shake the faith of the one who has truly learned this.
THE GLORY OF GOD
The crucial fact we need to grasp, then, is that God the Creator rules his world for his own glory “To him are all things” (Romans 11:36 NIV); he himself is the end of all his works. He does not exist for our sake, but we for his. It is the nature and prerogative of God to please himself, and his revealed good pleasure is to make himself great in our eyes. “Be still,” he says to us, “and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 KJV). God’s overriding goal is to glorify himself.
Or is it? Because the claim is so crucial and is so often found offensive and dismissed, I want now to sharpen the focus on it and spell it out more fully. Once this concept is clear in our minds beyond any shadow of doubt, everything else in Christianity will fall into place and make sense. However, as long as we are uncertain about it, the rest of the biblical faith will set us constant problems. Look again, then, at the thing that is being said here about the Maker of us all.
Its reasonableness. That God aims always to glorify himself is an assertion we at first find hard to believe. Our immediate reaction is an uncomfortable feeling that such an idea is unworthy of God, that self-concern of any sort is incompatible with moral perfection and in particular with God’s nature as love. Many sensitive and morally cultured people are shocked by the thought that God’s ultimate end is his own glory, and they strongly oppose such a concept. To them, it depicts God as essentially no different from an evil man or even the devil himself! To them it is an immoral and outrageous doctrine, and if the Bible teaches it, so much the worse for the Bible! They often draw this conclusion explicitly with regard to the Old Testament. A volume, they say, that depicts God so persistently as a “jealous” Being, concerned first and foremost about his “honor,” cannot be regarded as divine truth. God is not like that. It is blasphemy, real even if unintentional, to think that he is! Since these convictions are widely and strongly held, it is important to consider what validity, if any, they have.
We begin by asking: Why are these convictions asserted with so much heat? On other theological matters people can disagree calmly enough. But protests against the doctrine that God’s chief end is his glory are made with passion and often angry rhetoric. The answer is not difficult to see, and it does credit to the moral earnestness of the speakers. These people are sensitive to the sinfulness of continual self-seeking. They know that the desire to gratify self is at the root of moral weaknesses and shortcomings. They are themselves trying as best they can to face and fight this desire. Hence they conclude that for God to be self-centered would be equally wrong. The vehemence with which they reject the idea that the holy God would exalt himself reflects their acute sense of the guiltiness of human self-absorption.
Is their conclusion valid? We repeat: It is in fact a complete mistake. If it is right for man to have the glory of God as his goal, can it be wrong for God to have the same goal? If man can have no higher purpose than God’s glory, how can God? If it is wrong for man to seek a lesser end than this, it would be wrong for God, too. The reason it cannot be right for man to live for himself, as if he were God, is because he is not God. However, it cannot be wrong for God to seek his own glory, simply because he is God. Those who insist that God should not seek his glory in all things are really asking that he ceases to be God. And there is no greater blasphemy than to will that.
If the objectors’ line of reasoning is so clearly false, why do so many today believe it? The plausibility of the argument derives from our habit of making God in our image and thinking of him as if he and we stood on the same level. In other words, his obligations to us and ours to him correspond—as if he were bound to serve us and further our well-being with the same selflessness with which we are obligated to serve him. This is, in effect, to think of God as if he were a man, albeit a great one. If this way of thinking were right, then for God to seek his own glory in everything would indeed make him comparable to the worst of men and to Satan himself.
But our Maker is not a man, not even an omnipotent superman, and this way of thinking of him is gross idolatry. (You do not have to make a graven image picturing God as a man to be an idolater; a false mental image is all that is needed to break the Second Commandment.) We must not imagine, then, that the obligations that bind us creatures to him, bind him as Creator equally to us. Dependence is a one-way relationship and carries with it one-way obligations. Children, for instance, ought to obey their parents—not vice versa! Our dependence upon our Creator binds us to seek his glory without committing him to seek ours. For us to glorify him is a duty; for him to bless us is grace. The only thing that God is bound to do is the very thing that he requires of us—to glorify himself.
We conclude, then, that it is the reverse of blasphemy to speak of God as self-centered; on the contrary, not to do so would be irreligious. It is the glory of God to make all things for himself and to use them as a means for his exaltation. The clearheaded Christian will insist on this. He also will insist that it is the glory of man that he is privileged to function as a means to this end. There can be no greater glory for man than to glorify God. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God”—and it is in so doing that man finds true dignity for himself.
The humanist, who believes man is at his noblest and most godlike when he has thrown off the shackles of religion, will say that we rob human life of all real worth by asserting that man is no more than a means to God’s glory. The truth, however, is the opposite. Life without God has no real worth; it is a mere monstrosity. When we say that human beings are no more than a means to God’s glory, we also say that they are no less than that—thus showing how life can have meaning and value. The only person in this world who enjoys complete contentment is the person who knows that the only worthwhile and satisfying life is to be a means, however humble, to God’s chief end—his own glory and praise. The way to be truly happy is by being truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly.
Its meaning. But what does it mean to say that God’s chief end is his glory? To many of us the phrase “the glory of God” is rather empty. What significance does Scripture give it?
In the Old Testament the word translated “glory” originally expressed the idea of weight. Glory came to be applied to any characteristic of a person that makes him “weighty” in other people’s eyes and prompts them to honor and respect him. Jacob’s gains and Joseph’s wealth are called “glory” (Genesis 31:1; 45:13 NIV). Then the word was extended to mean honor and respect itself.
Accordingly the Bible uses glory with reference to God in a double connection. On the one hand, it speaks of the glory that belongs to God—the divine splendor and majesty attached to all God’s revelations of himself. On the other hand, it speaks of glory that is given to God—the honor and blessing, praise and worship that God has a right to receive, the only fit response to his holy presence. Ezekiel 43:2ff reflects the link here: “The glory of the God of Israel came … and I fell upon my face.” The term glory thus connects the thoughts of God’s praiseworthiness—the majesty of his power and presence—and of the worship that is the right response when God stands before us and we before him.
Take these two thoughts separately for a moment.
In revelation God shows us his glory. Glory means deity in manifestation. Creation reveals him. “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). In Bible times God disclosed his presence by means of theophanies, which were termed his “glory” (the shining cloud in the tabernacle and temple, Exodus 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10ff; Ezekiel’s vision of the throne and the wheels, Ezekiel 1:28; etc.). Believers now behold his glory fully and finally displayed “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Wherever we see God in action, there we see his glory. He presents himself before us as holy and adorable, summoning us to bow down and worship.
We give God glory. We do this by all our responses to his revelation of grace:
1. By worship and praise. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me” (Psalm 50:23 KJV); “Give to the LORD the glory due His name” (Ps. 96:8 NKJV); “Glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9 KJV).
2. By believing his word. “Thy word is true” (Psalm 119:160 KJV) “Thy words are true” (2 Samuel 7:28 RSV).
3. By trusting his promises (that was how Abraham gave glory to God, Romans 4:2Off NIV).
4. By confessing Christ as Lord, “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11 NIV).
5. By obeying God’s law. “The fruits of righteousness” are to “the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11 NIV).
6. By bowing to his just condemnation of our sins (so Achan gave God glory, Joshua 7:l9ff NIV).
7. By seeking to make him great (which means making self small) in our daily lives.
Now we can see the meaning of the statement that God’s chief end is his glory. It means that his unchanging purpose is to display to his rational creatures the glory of his wisdom, power, truth, justice, and love so that they come to know him and, knowing him, to give him glory for all eternity by love and loyalty, worship and praise, trust and obedience. The kind of fellowship that he intends to create between us and him is a relationship in which he gives of his fullest riches, and we give of our heartiest thanks—both to the highest degree. When he declares himself to be a “jealous” God and proclaims: “My glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8 KJV; 48:11 NIV), his concern is to safeguard the purity and richness of this relationship. Such is the goal of God.
All God’s works are a means to this end. The only answer that the Bible gives to questions that begin: “Why did God…?” is: “For his own glory.” It was for this that God decreed to create and for this he willed to permit sin. He could have kept man from transgression. He could have barred Satan from the garden or confirmed Adam so that he became incapable of sinning (as he will do to the redeemed in heaven). But he did not. Why? For his own glory. It is often said that nothing in God is so glorious as his redeeming love—the mercy that wins back transgressors through the bloodshed of God’s own Son. But there would be no revelation of redeeming love had sin not been permitted first.
Again, why did God choose to redeem? He need not have done so. He was not bound to take action to save us. His love for sinners, his resolve to give his Son for them, was a free choice that he did not have to make. Why did he choose to love and redeem the unlovely? The Bible tells us: “To the praise of the glory of his grace … to the praise of his glory. . .”(Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14 KJV).
We see the same purpose determining point after point in the plan of salvation. Some he elects to life; others he leaves under merited judgment, “choosing to show his wrath and make his power known. . . to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy (Romans 9:22ff NIV). He chooses to make up the bulk of his church from the riff-raff of the world—persons who are “foolish
weak.. . base. . . despised.” Why? “That no flesh should glory in His presence. . . . that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31 NKJV). Why does God not root indwelling sin out of his saints in the first moment of their Christian life, as he will do the moment they die? Why, instead, does he carry on their sanctification with a painful slowness so that all their lives they are troubled by sin and never reach the perfection they desire? Why is it his custom to give them a hard passage through this world?
The answer is again that he does all this for his glory—to expose to us our own weakness and impotence so that we may learn to depend upon his grace and the limitless resources of his saving power. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” wrote Paul, “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 KJV). Once for all, let us rid our minds of the idea that things are as they are because God cannot help it. God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11 KJV), and all things are as they are because God has chosen that they should be, and the reason for his choice in every case is his glory.
THE GODLY MAN
Let us now define what godliness is. We can say at once that it is not simply a matter of externals but a matter of the heart; and it is not a natural growth, but a supernatural gift; and it is found only in those who have admitted their sin, who have sought and found Christ, who have been born again, who have repented. But this is only to circumscribe and locate godliness. Our question is: What essentially is godliness? Here is the answer: It is the quality of life that exists in those who seek to glorify God.
The godly person does not object to the thought that one’s highest vocation is to be a means to God’s glory. Rather, he or she finds it a source of great satisfaction and contentment. His ambition is to follow the great formula in which Paul summed up the practice of Christianity—”glorify God in your body . . . Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 6:20 KJV; 10:31 NIV). The dearest wish of the godly is to exalt God with all that they are, in all that they do. They follow in the footsteps of Jesus their Lord, who affirmed to his Father at the end of his life here: “I have glorified thee on the earth” (John 17:4 Kjv),and who told the Jews: “I honor my Father. . .I seek not mine own glory” (John 8:4Qff. KJV). They think of themselves in the manner of George Whitefield the evangelist, who said: “Let the name of Whitefield perish, so long as God is glorified.”
Like God himself, the godly are supremely jealous that God, and only God, should be honored. This jealousy is a part of the image of God in which they have been renewed. There is now a doxology written on their hearts, and they are never so truly themselves as when they are praising God for the glorious things that God has already done and pleading with him to glorify himself yet further. We may say that it is by their prayers that they are known—to God, if not to men. “What a man is alone on his knees before God,” said Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “that he is, and no more.”
In this case, however, we should say, “and no less.” For secret prayer is the veritable mainspring of the godly person’s life. When we speak of prayer, we are not referring to the prim, proper, stereotyped, self-regarding formalities that sometimes pass for the real thing. The godly do not play at prayer. Their hearts are in it. Prayer to them is their chief work. Their prayer is consistently the expression of their strongest and most constant desire—“Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength. Be thou exalted, 0 God, above the heavens. . . . Father, glorify thy name. . . . Hallowed be thy name” (Psalm 21:13; Psalm 57:5; John 12:28; Matthew 6:9 KJV). By this God knows his saints, and by this we may know ourselves. (26-34)