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The Chief End of God and the <i>Missio Dei</i>

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series

"Worship and the Missio Dei"

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Edwards’s discussion of “Ends” presented last week provides a framework for determining both God’s chief end and his mission. Using Edward’s categories, God’s chief end constitutes his absolute ultimate end, and the missio Dei is the highest consequential ultimate end that serves as God’s primary means to his chief end. Where worship and redemption fit within these categories will help to determine their essential relationship.

Edwards rightly argues that God’s chief end is his own glory.

He states,

It is manifest that the Scriptures speak on all occasions as though God made himself his end in all his works, and as though the same being, who is the first cause of all things, were the supreme and last end of all things.1

He offers many Scriptural proofs, several of which are especially pertinent to the present discussion.2 First, he notes that throughout Scripture God acts for his own sake as a primary end. Isaiah 48:11 and Romans 11:36 provide Old and New Testament examples:

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Everything that God does is toward the ultimate end of his own glory. This does not mean that he has no other ultimate ends, things in which he takes pleasure for their own sake or explicitly states are the goal of his actions, but all of the other ultimate ends are subordinate to his chief end.

Second, Scripture proclaims that God’s good creation and his people exist primarily for the glory of God. Edwards cites Isaiah 43:6–7, 60:21, and 61:3 as examples:

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.

That they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

Because all of God’s actions move toward the goal of bringing himself glory, all that exists as a result of his work does so for that same end.

Third, “The ultimate end of the goodness of moral agents is the glory of God.”3 Edwards notes several cases in which the good works of God’s people are for the glory of God, including Philippians 1:10–11, John 15:8, and 1 Peter 4:11:

So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Of particular importance is what Edwards suggests regarding performing good works toward others, especially unbelievers. He cites Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 2:12 as evidence that these works exist for God’s glory as well:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Fourth, since all of God’s actions work toward the end of his own glory and all things therefore exist for that purpose, “God makes it the duty of man to seek God’s glory as their ultimate end.”4 1 Corinthians 10:31 is Edwards’s prime example: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” As God’s chief end is to bring himself glory, so “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This leads him to his fifth proof: “Saints, at their best, desire and delight in the glory of God above all else.”5

Edwards’s sixth proof specifically relates to the missional conversation: “Christ’s ultimate end in his ministry was the glory of God.”6 In other words, Christ’s mission on earth was for the end of God’s glory. John 7:18, 12:27–28, and 17:1 manifest this point:

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”

This connects directly with his seventh argument: “The ultimate end of the work of redemption is the glory of God.”7 This proof deserves close attention since it relates specifically to the missional emphasis. Redemption, which Edwards later suggests is a consequential ultimate end of God,8 is not his highest ultimate end. Edwards is correct that Scripture often speaks of God being motivated by redemption as an end in itself, but here his point about an ultimate end also being “for the sake of a further end”9 must be remembered. The end of redemption is subordinate to the greater end of God’s glory. Edwards connects this proof with the sixth since redemption was Christ’s mission on earth. Since Christ came to earth primarily to bring his Father glory, his mission of redemption exists also for that end. He notes that in John 17:4–5, Jesus specifically identifies his work of redemption as existing for the end of bringing his Father glory:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Edwards further supports his argument with Philippians 2:6–11 and Ephesians 1:3–6:

Who, though he was inthe form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Edwards recognizes several apparently ultimate ends listed in Ephesians 1 but points out that the end chief among them all is God’s glory:

Several things belonging to that great redemption are mentioned in the following verses: Such as God’s great wisdom in it, [Ephesians 1] verse 8. The clearness of light granted through Christ, verse 9. God’s gathering together in one, all things in heaven and earth in Christ, verse 10. God’s giving the Christians that were first converted to the Christian faith from among the Jews, an interest in this great redemption, verse 11. Then the great end is added, verse 12: “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” And then is mentioned the bestowing of the same great salvation on the Gentiles, in its beginning or first fruits in the world, and in completing it in another world, in the two next verses. And then the same great end is added again. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the holy spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”10

In other words, Ephesians 1 lists several of God’s ultimate ends in redemption, but each of them serves the chief end of his own glory. Edwards highlights similar language in 2 Corinthians 4:14–15:

Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Notable here is Paul’s assertion that redemption is “for your sake,” but this ultimate end is nevertheless subordinate to the chief end of “the glory of God.” Edwards later elaborates on this point to further explain that the redemption of his people, although ultimate, is consequential and not absolute, and is therefore subordinate to his chief end. He lists several passages that explain God’s purposes in saving his people:

1 Samuel 12:22: “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake.”

 Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

 Psalm 31:3: “For your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”

Psalm 109:21: “But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake.”

1 John 2:12: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 25:11: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”

Psalm 79:9: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!”

Jeremiah 14:7: “Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake.”

Edwards comments about these examples:

These things seem to show that the salvation of Christ is for God’s name’s sake. Leading and guiding in the way of safety and happiness, restoring the soul, the forgiveness of sin; and that help, deliverance, and salvation, that is consequent therein, is for God’s name.11

Thus God’s absolute, ultimate chief end is his own glory. Everything God does, including his “mission” for humankind, is subordinate to this chief end. The question remains, then, as to what that mission entails. God does many things, but which among those acts could be considered the missio Dei? Continuing to utilize Edwards’s framework, since God has several ultimate ends that are subordinate to his chief end, any one of these ultimate ends (or, potentially, multiple ends) could be legitimately considered God’s mission. Edwards discusses several of God’s acts that could be considered ultimate:

  1. Doing good to his creatures is pleasing to God in itself, while doing harm is pleasing only in relation to something else.
  2. God delights in the saving work of Christ as an ultimate end of creation.
  3. The motive of showing goodness and mercy to his people is spoken of in the same way as doing it for his name’s sake.
  4. The entire government of the universe by Christ is for the good of God’s people.
  5. All the wheels of providence turn for the sake of saving the people of God.
  6. God’s judgment on the wicked serves the final happiness of God’s people.
  7. All creation belongs to the people of God and so exists for their good.
  8. All the works of providence are mercy for the people of God.
  9. The kingdom of God is prepared for the people of God.
  10. The ultimate end of virtue among men is that they do each other good.

Here Edwards demonstrates that the redemption of his people is a consequential ultimate end in God’s actings—it is something that God delights in for its own sake while still being subordinate to the chief end of his own glory.

So how does redemption relate to worship, then? That will be our subject next week.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Edwards, “End,” 183. Emphasis original. []
  2. Ibid., 191ff. []
  3. Ibid., 195. []
  4. Ibid., 198. []
  5. Edwards, “End,” 199. []
  6. Ibid., 201. []
  7. Ibid., 203. []
  8. Ibid., 222–3. []
  9. Ibid., 127. []
  10. Ibid., 205–6. []
  11. Ibid., 211. Emphasis original. []