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TEXT: Philippians 1:21

SUBJECT: Watson on Death and the Last Day #1

Tonight, with the Lord's help, we start a new Puritan study. It's called Thomas Watson on Death and the Last Day. The name you recognize, of course, and the title speaks for itself.

Except for those alive when the Lord comes again, every believer in Christ will die one day. He may die old or young, healthy or sick, alone or surrounded by friends and family, but he will die. Nobody gets out of this world alive. Including you and me.

This is not something we like to think about. The thought of dying is scary-even for people who believe in Christ and know they're going to heaven. There's nothing we can do about that. Death is not the believer's friend, but his Last Enemy-an enemy that is beaten, for sure, but who hasn't given up quite yet. That's a future victory for the Lord Jesus Christ and His people. On that day, the inspired taunt will be realized,

"O death, where is your sting?

O grave, where is your victory?"

But in the meantime, we need help in warding off the terrors of death without pretending it's not there. Thomas Watson can help us here. His short study offers no comfort to the unbeliever. He offers none because there is none. But he has a lot of cheering words for the believer in Christ. For us, death is scary. But that's not all it is. It's also glorious.

He divides the subject into three parts: (1) The death of the righteous, (2) A believer's privilege at death, and (3) The resurrection. Tonight, we'll look at the first one.

THE EXEGISIS

Watson starts the chapter by briefly expounding the text, Philippians 1:21,

"For me to live is Christ

and to die is gain".

What does Paul mean by the first part of the verse?

"For me to live is Christ".

The Puritan says he is getting at four things,

"Christ is my life or my life is made up of Christ.

As a wicked man's life is made up of sin, so

Paul's life was made up of Christ-He was

Full of Christ".

That's a fine summary of the Christian life? What is a Christian? How does he differ from other people? Is he just nicer than others, more religious, or sincere? Not necessarily. No, what a Christian is is someone full of Christ.

The Pharisee was full of himself-what he did, how much he gave, what he stayed away from, and so on. The friends of Job were full of words-they could talk theology all day long! But a Christian is full of Christ.

It also means,

"Christ is the source of my life. I fetch my

spiritual life from Christ, as a branch

fetches its sap from the root. He sends

forth life into me; He quickens me to every

holy action".

Whatever grace the believer has, he has it from Christ. Whatever good he does-or even wants to do-he does it by Christ living in Him. Every holy motion, every sacred thought, every recoil from sin, every prayer comes from the Lord Jesus.

"Without Me, you can do nothing".

In the third place, it means

"Christ is the end [or goal] of my life. I do not

live for myself, but for Christ.we trade for

Christ's interest: we propagate His Gospel,

We design our lives to exalt Him."

Had Paul lived for himself, he would have been the stupidest man in the world. Look what he did without! And what did he get out of it for himself? Contempt, suffering, endless work, and no pay. But if he lived for Christ, then he was a big success. What did Christ get out of Paul's life? He got a Universal Church and more glory than we can imagine.

Finally, it means

"Christ is the joy of my life. He can rejoice

in Christ when worldly joys are gone.if

Christ were gone, my life would be a death

To me".

According to Thomas Watson, then, "to live is Christ" means to be full of Christ. This means the Lord is the source of your life, the goal of your life, and the joy of your life. That's the first part of the verse. And now, more to the point, we have the other half,

"To die is gain".

What does this mean? At the very least, it means the believer's death is a step up, not a step down. It's a promotion and not a loss. Watson cannot praise it too highly,

"To a believer, death is great gain. A saint

cannot tell how great his gains are at death.

Death, to a believer, is the daybreak of eternal

Brightness. To show fully what a believer's

Gains are at death is a work too great for

An angel; all hyperboles fall short of it; the

Reward of glory exceeds all our faith".

He's right on the mark here. Take the holiest man who ever lived. Then take his thoughts of heaven-how wonderful they must be! Yet they're nothing compared to the real thing. The Bible says Christ

"Is able to do exceedingly abundantly

above all we ask or think".

The most ridiculous fantasy about heaven is way short of the heaven the Lord has prepared for us. For the believer, therefore, "to die" is no small gain, no marginal improvement, but a humungous change for the better!

THE EXAMPLES

Watson cannot do justice to heaven-nobody can. Yet he offers eight examples of its glory and why dying is Christ is better than living the happiest life in the world. Here they are, in brief:

"Believers at death shall freed from sins

and troubles. Sin will expire with their life.

I think sometimes what a happy state that will

Be, never to have another sinful thought,

And to be quiet from all troubles".

Holiness is a wonderful thing now. Yet, even at it's best in the world, it is troubled by the prospect of throwing it away by sinning. When I've truly humbled myself before the Lord, confessed my sins, and done better for a time, I hear a little voice in the back of my head saying, "This won't last long". And it doesn't.

The same thing is true of happiness. Good health will finally succumb to sickness; the happiest family will have their fights; the best weather will soon turn for the worse. Happiness in this life is always temporary-no matter what you do to conserve it, you won't. But the happiness of heaven cannot be disturbed or lost.

"Believers at death shall gain the glorious

sight of God. The sight of God through

Christ will be very delightful, for the terror

Of God's essence will be taken away. His

Majesty will be tempered with mercy. It will

Be infinitely delightful to the saints to see the

Smiles of God's face".

Right now, the sight of God is not entirely pleasant. When people saw Him in the Old Testament, they expected to die. Even in the New Testament, a man like Peter would say,

"Depart from me, Lord, for I am

a sinful man".

But in heaven there will be no discomfort in God's Presence, no sense of uneasiness or inkling that you don't belong there. If there was nothing else to heaven but five seconds of God's smile, it would be better than anything anyone could think of. But it's way, way more than that!

"The saints at death will not only have a sight of

God, but shall enjoy His love. There is no more

Veil on God's face, nor shall His smiles be

Chequered by frowns, but His love shall reveal

Itself in all of its beauty and fragrant sweetness".

Even if you know you're accepted by God, you also know He's not always pleased with you. The most loving parent will scold his child-and often more than scold him. This is done in love, but it's not done in happiness. We too are chastised, and though that doesn't mean God hates us, it does mean He's not happy with us at the moment. But just imagine what it must be to know God fully approves of you and will never be displeased by you again.

"Believers at death shall gain a celestial palace.

Here the saints are crowded for room; they have

Bad cottages to live in, but they shall have a royal

Palace to live in hereafter. Here is their sojourning

House, there in heaven is their permanent home".

This is a sharp contrast: what we live in now is a tent, but in heaven we'll be home. The fussiest man in the world would not put the same effort into fixing up his tent as he would building and decorating his home. Why? Because a tent is for camping, not for living in!

If you knew you'd have to live somewhere forever would you fix it up just right? Jesus Christ has an eternal place for His people-and He's going to make it just right.

"Believers at death shall gain the sweet society

of glorified saints".

Have you ever been around people whose company you couldn't stand? We all have. Some of you spend eight or ten hours a day with them! Even if you're patient and mind your own business, they make life pretty rotten for you. But in heaven, you'll have only the best company!

Nobody there will be using four-letter words; nobody will look down on you; nobody will monopolize the conversation; nobody will give you the sense that he wishes you'd leave. All the things that make bad company bad will be shut out of heaven.

And, to the contrary, everything that makes good company good will be there-fully and forever. Warmth, acceptance, happy conversation-and something in common. This company is waiting for you in heaven.

"Believers at death shall gain perfection of holiness".

Wouldn't it be great to think holy thoughts-without having to fight against the wicked thoughts that are always trying to crowd them out? Wouldn't it be wonderful to say nothing but holy words-without ever having to guard against gossip or lying or inappropriate jokes? Isn't it great to know that the desires of the body-that are good in themselves, but prone to abuse-will one day be good only?

These are not dreams. They're real. We'll be sinless in heaven. And perfectly and forever devoted to God and each other.

"At death, the saints will gain a royal and

magnificent feast".

There's nothing in the world better than a dinner party. But the problem is: it's not always what you want it to be. Sometimes the food is no good; at other times, it's very good, but you eat too much of it; maybe the company is no good; maybe it's served too early to enjoy or, or so late you're too hungry to taste it. What I hate about restaurants is the noise: either obnoxious people nearby or the background music that drills into my brain.

Heaven's banquet will be a feast for the body and soul-and without any worries about getting sick or gaining weight! The Bible is full of this imagery. In this life, maybe we have to eat grape nuts for breakfast or skip dessert. But in the world to come, it's a feast!

"Believers at death shall gain honor and dignity".

At the moment, we're not much. That's probably a good thing, as being something would likely go to our heads. Very few people have the grace of being special without also being proud. But in heaven, the lowest Christian will be a king-and he can enjoy the honors without vanity or pride.

These are eight joys of heaven. But as tremendous as they are, Watson has only scratched the surface. To ask the Persian king's question,

"What shall be done for the man

whom the King delights to honor?"

THE RIGHT

The blessings of heaven belong to every believer. There are no classes in heaven-master, servant, or rich and poor. But how do the blessings come to us? Watson says,

"They have a right to all this gain at death upon

several accounts, as by virtue of the Father's

Donation, the Son's purchase, the Holy Spirit's

Earnest, and faith's acceptance. Therefore, the

State of glory is called the believer's inheritance".

At this point, we have to think Biblically-and not just theologically. Reformed Christians believe in salvation by grace alone. Thus, we shy away from words like "right" or "claim". It's true, of course, that we have not earned God's favor or a place in heaven. But at the same time, we have a right to them-a claim to them, even.

But the right is not ours because of what we do for us; it's because of what God does for us. The Father chose us, the Son died for us, the Holy Spirit indwells us. Because of what God wants-and does for us-these things are ours!

We are not squatters in heaven; we're sons and daughters of the King.

USES

Watson finishes the chapter with a few uses or what we would call applications.

"See the great difference between the death of

the godly and of the wicked. The godly are

great gainers, but the wicked are great losers

at death. They lose the world, they lose

their souls, they lose their hope, they

lose heaven".

The next time you feel envious of the wicked, remember that they too must die and what they'll lose when they do.

"How shall a man be profited if he gain

the whole world, but lose his own soul?

Or, what shall a man give in exchange

For his soul?"

That's the first use. Here's the second,

"If saints gain such glorious things at death, well

may they desire it. Does not everyone desire

promotion?"

I've known people who are happy with where they are in life, but most of them wouldn't mind a little more. A promotion at work, maybe, or a pay raise, or some honor. Heaven is all the above-and far more. That means you don't have to wring your hands with fear at the thought of death.

Death itself is bad, but for the believer, the next moment is indescribably wonderful!

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord".

Here's the third and final use,

"We may find here comfort in the loss of dear and

pious relatives. They are not only taken away

from the evils to come, but they are great

gainers by death. They leave a wilderness

and go to a paradise".

Just about a year ago, a good friend of mine died. I saw him dying on Thursday and he saw me living. But on Sunday, it was he who was living and I who was dying. I still have to face death-he doesn't; I have sickness in my future-he doesn't. I'll sin again-he won't.

Losing a loved one hurts. But if he's a believer, the hurt is mixed with joy. We're sad but he is happier than he's ever been-and the happiness is only beginning!

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