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The Chief End of Man

The Chief End of Man

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Published by glennpease
BY GEORGE ALBERT COE, Ph. D.




According to a Greek myth, the Theban
sphinx was accustomed to propoimd to men
a single question. Whosoever first solved it
was to gain irresistible power over the ques-
tioner, but whoever failed to give the correct
answer forfeited his life. The question was,
''What animal goes on four legs in the morn-
ing, on two at noon, and on three at night?"
BY GEORGE ALBERT COE, Ph. D.




According to a Greek myth, the Theban
sphinx was accustomed to propoimd to men
a single question. Whosoever first solved it
was to gain irresistible power over the ques-
tioner, but whoever failed to give the correct
answer forfeited his life. The question was,
''What animal goes on four legs in the morn-
ing, on two at noon, and on three at night?"

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Published by: glennpease on Apr 07, 2014
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THE CHIEF ED OF MA BY GEORGE ALBERT COE, Ph. D. According to a Greek myth, the Theban sphinx was accustomed to propoimd to men a single question. Whosoever first solved it was to gain irresistible power over the ques- tioner, but whoever failed to give the correct answer forfeited his life. The question was, ''What animal goes on four legs in the morn- ing, on two at noon, and on three at night?" CEdipus guessed the riddle by answering that this animal is man, who in infancy crawls, at maturity walks, and in old age employs a walk- ing stick to assist his legs. Under this pic- torial form Greek thought expressed its sense of the mystery of hiunan existence. Whoso solves this problem becomes master of all things, but whoso fails to solve it forfeits all. One great motive power of religious and philosophical thought has always been the desire to imderstand ourselves and our place in the universe. A Hebrew poet-thinker, considering the heavens, the work of God's 159 i6o RELIGIO OF A MATURE MID fingers, the moon and the stars which he has or- dained, speedily discovers that interest in crea- tion centers in humanity — ''What is man?" In a curiously similar spirit, Plato breaks into
 
poetry, and the resulting lines are the only specimen of his verse that has come down to us. They have been rendered as follows: '' Thou gazest at the stars, my Life; Would I might be Yon starry skies With thousand eyes, That I might gaze on thee 1" It was the same interest that led the West- minster divines to give the first place in their catechism to the question, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer, "The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever," stood for generations as the ac- cepted interpretation of the Christian view of life. Self-Regarding Other- Worldliness, The meaning that used to be foimd in these words of the catechism is clearly ex- plained by the comments of Thomas Watson, a British divine of the days of Cromwell. Glorifying God, according to him, consists in THE CHIEF ED OF MA i6i four things: appreciation, adoration, affection, and subjection. "This,*' he adds, "is the yearly rent we pay to the crown of heaven." The meaning of life, according to this, is to be found in a sort of bargain according to which God leases to men certain privileges in order that he may reap certain advantages for himself, and men pay the rental because of advantages to be gained thereby. The Cre-
 
ator likes to be praised and worshiped; men want to go to heaven; an exchange is effected whereby each secures what he desires. ote two implications of this exposition. First, it assumes that both God and men are actuated by self-regarding motives. It simply ignores the possibility of disinterestedness. God creates man, and man worships God, ''for revenue only. ' ' To the question, ' ' Why should I tell the truth, or be kind to the imfortunate?'* the reply was simple: "Because, if you do these things, you will go to heaven; if you do them not, you will be punished in hell." The whole scheme is parallel with the method employed by some parents to secure good conduct from their children. Do so or so, and I will give you a sugar-plum, etc. Of course the theory leaked, and the practice was 1 62 RELIGIO OF A MATURE MID better than the theory. The love of God for men could not be twisted into a selfish affec- tion, nor sympathy on our part toward our fellows be reduced to the terms of a bargain. evertheless, it remained for very recent times to make clear to the general conscious- ness that the divine motive and the Christian motive are just the opposite of self-seeking. A second implication of this view is that it postpones the realization of our true life to the future world. At present, it teaches, we are not exactly living, but rather preparing to live. Life on earth is simply a probationary process whereby the good and the bad are being sorted out from each other in order that each may

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