The former is based on the latter, being drawn up by a special Assembly convened in London in 1643, to be a Catechism for the Christian Church in England, Scotland and Ireland. It was adopted by the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland in 1648 as a means of Christian instruction. Here is how a 1981 Presbyterian Church of Australia words question and answer No. 1 –

“What is the chief purpose for which man is made? The chief purpose for which man is made is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever. Scripture: 1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36; Ps 73:24-26; John 17:22, 24; Rev 7:17.”

Yet in “The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes”, the first declaration is all about God revealing himself through his works of creation and providence, but primarily through written Scripture, so to declare his will to the Church as his former ways of revealing his will to his people have ceased (Heb 1:1-2).

The Shorter Catechism No. 2 appears to make the link:

“What rule has God given to direct us how to glorify and enjoy him? The Word of God, which consists of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy him. Scripture: Gal 1:8-9; Isa 8:20; Luke 16:29-31; 2 Tim 3:15-17.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 opens up with,

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…”.

Yet, ironically, the previous Study Class question is asked, “How do Protestants sometimes subordinate the authority of Scripture to men?” and I wonder if the first Shorter Catechism exemplifies this fault.

Thus my question is, why would man be made the object of the first question, not God and his written word? Is there something intrinsically wrong with the first Shorter Catechism question and answer?

  • Catechisms and confessions are two very different types of documents with different purposes. There is no inherent need for them to be ordered similarly. As to the catechism, is man really what the first question is about?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 29, 2018 at 8:36
  • That is correct: they are 2 different docus with different purposes, yet the Shorter Catechism could not exist without the WCF, upon which it is based. It's clear that the headings used in the SC I quote from (Rowland S Ward, New Melbourne Press) follows the order of headings in the WCF and all the answers agree with the WCF. The SC is to help teach the main doctrinal points of the WCF. I am querying if the 1st SC is about man, as it appears, or not. That is what I seek clarification on so perhaps you could answer?
    – Anne
    Jun 29, 2018 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


To discover why the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism appears to be different to the first section of the Confession (‘Of The Holy Scriptures’), I read comments written by those subscribing to that Confession. Here are some quotes:

Thomas Watson, 17th century divine, on glory and enjoyment re. Q38 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (‘What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?’) “At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity.” A Body of Divinity Contained in Sermons upon the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism, p 305 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr., 1965)

This shows the sense in which glory and enjoyment is understood – there can be no divine glory and permanent enjoyment for man outside of Christ and God. There can only be failed and temporary attempts if God is not made the object of the believer’s life as shown by this Church of Scotland minister’s explanation as to how the will of God is biblically unfolded:

“The hallmark of coming to know the will of God is objectivity. Jean Piaget, the Swiss thinker and psychologist has suggested that the fundamental difference between childhood and truly adult thought is that while the child is dominated by an egocentric attitude to life and influenced by his own wishes and inner needs rather than the objective reality beyond him, the adult lives his life in the light of that world and brings his perception into line with it. It is surely obvious that there is a spiritual parallel… the basic need is for Christians to learn …to live their lives out of God as their centre rather than self as their centre; to escape from a self-dominated view of Christian living, and to see that their chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him… When we are concerned to glorify God, guidance will cease to be a problem and appear increasingly as a joy and a privilege.” Sinclair Ferguson, Add to Your Faith, p 69 (Glasgow, Pickering & Inglis 1980)

This shows that the first question in question here does not promote man at the outset, but gets man to consider God as the One who should be his goal, his object, his reason to live, for it is God’s glory that will give ultimate and everlasting satisfaction and joy. On the matter of how man can know what his will and purpose ought to be, the next quote shows that God reveals this through the gospel message (contained in scripture):

“In order for man to be the image and likeness of God two things were essential. His being must be like God’s, and his will or purpose must also be like God’s… However, the purpose of man is a matter of choice. As God is free to do as he will, so man (being created in the divine image) is free to do as he will. But even in his freedom of will man cannot escape the absolute control of God because the being of man (he is only an image) is wholly dependent upon God. In setting his will against the will of God revealed by the Word of God, man can only violate, but can never destroy, his dependent relationship to God. Man’s determination to be independent of God is doomed to frustration, and he is clearly and constantly reminded of this through natural revelation… so the remedy for man’s present need comes by way of word revelation. Only the gospel can supplement natural revelation in such a way as to (a) disclose the means of removing God’s enmity and (b) make man once more a willing subject of the will of God.” G.I. Williamson, pp 2-3 The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1964)

The obvious reason for the first question in the Shorter Catechism is now seen to be to direct man at the outset to his need of God, to focus on and live for God’s glory and then he will enjoy God forever. This leads beautifully into the opening part of the Confession about the holy Scriptures.

Finally, to clinch it, consider the opening words to students in this Workbook on the Shorter Catechism:

“Your study of the Shorter Catechism is planned to take two years. A bird’s-eye view of its organization may help you to understand the lessons that follow. The catechism is divided into two main sections. Questions 1-38 teach what man is to believe concerning God. Questions 39-107 explain what duty God requires of man. The first three questions form an introduction to the entire catechism. Question 1 tells us the chief purpose of man’s creation: to glorify God. Question 2 states that the Scriptures are the only rule for faith and duty, and question 3 tells us the two main topics treated in the Bible.” Dorothy Partington Anderson, Bible Doctrine, 1. Of God and Man (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1954 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Inc, USA)

Note how the first three questions are an INTRODUCTION to the whole catechism? They lay the foundation for all that is to come, and the foundation laid is about God, not man, and about God’s provision of the scriptures to inform and direct man in the way he should go. So, the first question in the Shorter Catechism is not different to the Confession’s opening points – it introduces it to help students understand what the Confession is about, and all to God’s glory, from start to finish.

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