Article of the Month
by Thomas Watson
“I will wait till my change come.”
If all that has been previously said will not stop men in their sins, I shall add little more; only let me make this one motion to them, that they would remember their mortality and think seriously how soon a change may come, and how terrible it will be to die in their sins, John 8:21. For this purpose, let them hearken to this deathwatch in the text, “I will wait till my change come.”
This book of Job treats much of mortality. Job looked upon himself as a man who was not long for this world. Job 17:1, “The graves are ready for me.” And he loved to be walking often among the tombs, and so to familiarize death to him. “I will wait till my change come.”
“Till my change come” — that is, till death comes. So Aben Ezra, Drusius, and our Annotators render it.
In the text there is:
Job’s resolution, “I will wait.”
The length of time he will wait, “till my change come.” From which words flow three propositions:
DOCTRINE 1. Death is a change. There is a three-fold change:
1. There is a change before death. Death being ready to approach changes a man’s opinion. When a person comes to die, he has another opinion of things than he had before. He now sees with other eyes.
He now has another opinion of the world than he had. He sees what a vain thing it is. He could never see its nothingness, the devil having cast a mist before his eyes. He once doted upon the world. Now, all its jewels are pulled off and he sees it in its night dress. He sees how the world’s paint falls off, and how unable it is to give one drop of true comfort at the hour of death.
Death approaching changes a man’s opinion about sin. Before, he looked upon sin as merely a matter of merriment. He thought swearing an oath, drinking to excess, and wasting his precious time in vanity was but a light thing. He said of sin, as Lot did of Zoar, “Is it not a little one?” Genesis 19:20. But when he sees death’s grim face appear, he now has other apprehensions of sin than he had before. The wine that showed its color in the glass and smiled at him now bites like a serpent, Proverbs 23:32. Those sins which before were thought to be light as feathers are now like talents of lead ready to sink him. King Belshazzar was carousing and drinking wine in the vessels of the Temple, but when there came forth “fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote upon the wall, then the King’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled, so that the joints of his loins were loosed,” Daniel 5:6. So, after sinful pleasure enjoyed, when death begins to show itself and put forth its fingers, and a man sees a dreadful hand-writing in his conscience, oh, how is his opinion about sin changed! How his thoughts trouble him! Now what would he give to have his sins pardoned? He never saw the face of sin as ugly as in the glass of death.
When death comes near a man, it changes his opinion about holiness. He once thought it a shame to be seen with a Bible in his hand. Holiness before was the object of his scorn and hatred. He called pious discourses “canting,” repentance “whining,” praying by the Spirit “babbling.” He baptized true zeal with the name of frenzy. But when death begins to approach, it changes his judgment. He now sees how mistaken he was and that without holiness he can never see God, Hebrews 12:14. Now his eyes begin to be opened and he subscribes to that maxim, Job 28:28, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” He now sees the best way to be safe is to be sincere. Oh, now what would he give for a dram of that holiness which before he despised! How glad he would be to die the death of the righteous, though he hated to live their life!
Thus, there is a change made not long before death. The sinner now sees himself in a snare and labyrinth. Now the minister must be sent for in all haste, though oftentimes he comes too late.
2. There is a change at death. This is a change in the body. Job 14:20, “Thou changest his countenance and sendest him away.” The most ruddy complexion is strangely metamorphized when once the pale horse of death rides over it. The eyes are hollow. The cheeks are pale. The jaws are fallen. That beautiful face which once allured now frightens. Psalm 39:11, “Thou makest his beauty consume away like a moth.” Death is a moth which consumes a beauty of the finest spinning. Hence, the body being so discolored by death and turned into an ill favor, the patriarchs desired to have their dead buried out of their sight, Genesis 23:4. Death so changes the body and puts it into such a frightful dress that none fall in love with it but the worms.
3. There is a change after death. This change is chiefly in regard to the soul. To the godly, it is a blessed change. To the wicked, it is a cursed change.
The godly, after death, have a blessed change. They have a full acquittal from their sins and are put into an actual possession of their inheritance. Faith gives them a propriety in glory, and death gives them a possession. Oh, blessed change, from a desert to a paradise, from a house of mourning to a banquet house, from a bloody battle to a victorious crown! Glorified believers shall chance their place, but not their company, said Dr. (John) Preston. They shall have transforming sights of God. 1 John 3:2, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him.”
As the souls of the godly shall have a blessed change after death, so shall their bodies at the resurrection, John 6:40 and 1 Thessalonians 4:19. Though the grave is their long home, it is not their last home. Mother earth shall fall in travail and be delivered of the bodies of the saints, and they shall shine as the sun in its meridian splendor, Philippians 3:21.
Death will make a cursed change to the wicked. They must go out of the bed of pleasure, leave all their mirth and music. Revelation 18:21, “The voice of harpers and musicians shall be heard no more in thee.” The wicked must change from joy to misery, from a temporary paradise to an eternal prison, Luke 16:19.
DOCTRINE 2. This change will come.
Death can no more be stopped in its race than the sun. Death’s scythe cuts asunder the royal scepter. God’s messenger of death finds out every man. Ecclesiastes 8:8, “There is no discharge in that war.” Among men, if one is summoned to the wars, he may find some excuse. He may plead unfitness, or he may substitute another in his place. But in this war with death, the press is so strict that there is no getting off. “There is no discharge in that war.” As death sends its challenge to all, so it is sure to conquer. When death, like God’s sergeant-at-arms, arrests men, there is no bribing this sergeant or making resistance.
Death will not be bribed. It was a saying of a Mr. Beauford, a wicked bishop in King Henry the Sixth’s time, “Wherefore should I die being so rich? Will not death be hired? Will money do nothing?” (Foxe’s Acts and Monuments) .
Ezekiel 7:19, “Their silver and gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.”
Death cannot be resisted. Take a man in his best estate. Let him be dignified with honor like Solomon, armed with strength like Sampson. Were his flesh as firm as the leviathan, yet the bullet of death would soon shoot through him. How easily can God look us into our grave! Men may set up their standards, but God always sets up the trophies.
That there must be a change is evident. The body, being but an earthly tabernacle, 2 Peter 1:14, the cords of it will soon be loosed. Besides, there is a decree of death passed upon all, Hebrews 9:27. And how soon this change will come we do not know. Death may be within a few days march of us, and when it comes with its letter of summons we must surrender.
USE 1. OF EXHORTATION
BRANCH 1. Let us all exercise ourselves to the thoughts of this great change. Let us not be of Otho the Emperor’s mind, who judged it cowardly to think of death. Job 17:14, “I have said to corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm, Thou art my mother.” Job, by often meditation on death, was as well acquainted with it as with his father and mother. By often handling this serpent, it will be less frightful. The serious contemplation of this change would produce these four excellent effects.
FOUR EFFECTS OF CONTEMPLATING DEATH
1. It would humble us. Why should we set up the flags and banners of pride when we are but dust and rottenness? The thoughts of the grave would bury our pride, Psalm 82:6.
2. The thoughts of a sudden change would be an antidote against sin. Shall we go on in sin when God may say this night, “Give an account of your stewardship”? The way to give sin a mortal wound is to set up a death’s head, a cast of our face after we die.
In particular, the thoughts of our change would keep us from sinful compliance. Some Latitudinarians can cut their religion according to the fashion of the times. They can be Protestant or Papist. They can sail with any wind that blows preferment. But that man will not be for every change who thinks seriously of his last change.
3. The thoughts of this change would cure our inordinate love of the world. A change will come shortly, and then what will this world be to us? All our money will serve only to buy us a burial sheet. Saladine, the Turk, lying at the point of death, commanded that a white sheet should be carried before him to his grave on the point of a spear with this proclamation, “These are the rich spoils which Saladine the Emperor carries away with him, of all his triumphs and victories obtained, of all his realms possessed, nothing is left him but this sheet.” After a great feast comes the basket for leftover food. Shortly, death, like such a basket, will take away all our earthly comforts.
4. The serious thoughts of our last and great change would make us spend our time better. How diligent men would be in reading, how fervent in prayer, how watchful over our hearts, how useful in our relations! We would live every day as if it were our dying day. He who knows how short his time is in his farm will make the best advantage of it. He who remembers the shortness of his time here, and how soon a change may come, will improve all the seasons of grace for his soul that he may give a good account of his stewardship. The nearer things are to the center, the swifter is their motion.
BRANCH 2. Let us prepare for this change. All the changes we meet with in the world are but to fit us for our last change. Men unprepared, being summoned by the king of terror before God’s tribunal, go as the prisoner to the bar to receive their fatal doom. I think the thoughts of it are enough to put them either into frenzy or despair. Would it not be sad for a man to have his house on fire, and the fire so fierce that he has no time to get out his goods? Such is the case of many at death. A fever has set their house of clay on fire, and they are snatched away so suddenly that they have no time to make provision for their souls.
QUESTION. What shall we do to be fitted for our last change?
ANSWER 1. Let us labor to get into Christ. It is terrible when death finds any out of Christ. As if the avenger of blood had overtaken the manslayer before he had gotten to the city of refuge. You who are in Christ are as the dove in the rock. Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Christ has fully satisfied for believers. Christ’s blood turns a deathbed into a bed of roses.
The best way to be fitted for dying is being married to Christ. No matter if death unties the knot between the body and the soul as long as faith has tied the knot between Christ and the soul. The Prince of Peace secures against the king of terror.
ANSWER 2. If we would be fitted for our last change, let us labor for a spiritual change. Before our bodies are changed, let us labor to have our hearts changed. O let us get the holy anointing, 1 John 2:27. Grace is as needful for the soul as oil is for the lamp and as breath for the body. John 3:7, “Ye must be born again.” He who is born but once shall die twice. Grace makes an admirable change. To be changed from sin to holiness is as if iron were changed into gold or dust into a pearl. Now, the soul is all glorious within. O labor for this gracious change! At death, a good face may change for the worse, but a good heart changes for the better.
DOCTRINE 3. It is a high point of Christian prudence to wait till our changes comes. “I will wait.”
Waiting implies two things:
Expectation. “I will wait for my change” — that is, I will look for it. A gracious soul is ever expecting to hear new of his going home. Death does not come to a child of God unawares, but it come as Jonathan’s arrow did to David, who went into the field and expected where the arrow should be shot, 1 Samuel 20:24. A godly man looks every hour for the arrow of death to be shot at him.
Diligence. “I will wait till my change come” — that is, I will be setting my soul in order for death. We must not wait and sit still, but wait and work. He who waits for his master’s coming will be careful that everything is in good decorum. Matthew 24:26, “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when he cometh, shall find so doing.” Be often calling yourselves to account; every night review what you have been doing all the day. This is the right waiting for our change, when we put our souls in a ready posture for death and judgment.
USE 2. OF REPROOF
BRANCH 1. It reproves such as are so far from waiting for their change that they cannot endure to think of their change. They are no more willing to think of death than a man drowned in debt is to think of going to prison. Amos 6:3, “Ye that put far away the evil day.” Men are generally set upon pleasure. If they go to hell, they would go there merrily. Who even thinks of his change? He hopes for long life. The bud of youth hopes to come to the flower of age, and the flower of age hopes to come to old age, and old age hopes to renew its strength as the eagle. Psalm 49:11, “Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever.” That would rather be blazing their shield than providing their tombstone. The lustful flirt does not like the noise of a passing bell, and the powdered hair forgets the dust.
BRANCH 2. It reproves such as wait, but not in the right sense. They wait to fulfill their lusts. “They eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight,” Job 24:15. The unjust man waits for an opportunity to defraud. Is this to wait as Job did? Where do men wait for their change? In a tavern, at a theater, in a whorehouse? Alas, their change comes before they are aware. The graves are ready for them, but they are not ready for their graves.
USE 3. OF EXHORTATION
It exhorts Christians to wait for their change. As the husbandman waits till his seed sown springs up, as the merchant waits for the coming home of his ship, so we should wait till death comes to ship us over to another world.
1. Let us wait with watchfulness. Mark 13:33, “Watch and pray.” Let us watch our hearts that they neither decoy us into sin nor charm us asleep in security.
2. Let us wait with patience. “I will wait till my change come.” The Septuagint renders it, “I will be patient.”
The sufferings the godly endure in this life, and the joys they hope for after death, may put them upon desiring a change. But though they should covet to die, yet they must be content to live. Wait with patience till the appointed time has come. The Father knows when the best season is to send his child home. Christian, do not be desirous to be in heaven before your time. Wait but awhile, and you shall have what you have prayed and wept for. ‘Tis but awhile and God will take the cross off your shoulders and set a crown upon your head
The actual birth date of Thomas Watson is unknown exactly. He was one of the non-conformists of the 1600s and was educated at Emanuel College, Cambridge, and in 1646 was appointed to preach at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment for the king; because of his share in Love’s plot to recall Charles II, he was imprisoned in 1651, but was released and reinstated vicar of St. Stephen’s in 1652. He acquired fame as a preacher, but in 1662 was ejected at the Restoration. He continued, however, to exercise his ministry privately. In 1672 after the declaration of indulgence he obtained a license for Crosby Hall, where he preached for several years until his retirement to Barnston upon the failure of his health.
Watson was a man of learning and acquired fame by his quaint devotional and expository writings. Of his many works may be mentioned, The Art of Divine Contentment (London, 1653); The Saint’s Delight 1657); Jerusalem’s Glory (1661); The Divine Cordial (1663); The Godly Man’s Picture (1666); The Holy Eucharist (1668); Heaven Taken by Storm (1669); and A Body of Practical Divinity, . . . One Hundred seventy Six Sermons on the Lesser Catechism (1692). He died at Barnston (28 miles n.e. of London) in July of 1686.
This article is taken from Watson’s The Mischief of Sin, first published in London by Thomas Parkhurst in 1671.
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