The Great Profit of Righteousness in the Day of Wrath

Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.

Proverbs 11:4

There is coming a great day of wrath and destruction.

The prophets often spoke of this day. Zephaniah spoke of a coming day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness (1:14, 15). Malachi spoke of the great and dreadful day of the Lord that shall burn as an oven (4:1, 5). Joel spoke of the great and terrible day of the Lord which shall come after the sun has been turned into darkness and the moon into blood (2:31).

Our proverb speaks of the same day.

This proverb is a Hebrew parallelism, in which we find two thoughts that run parallel to each other in meaning, so that we must interpret the one in light of the other. When we approach our proverb this way, we find that righteousness and riches are contrasted. We are told that whereas riches do not profit in the day of wrath, righteousness does. For righteousness will deliver from death in this day of wrath.

There is implied here a solemn calling and warning: seek after and obtain righteousness rather than riches.

The day of wrath.

The day of wrath is the day in which God vents His wrath upon man for his sin. Man has sinned. He sinned originally in the Garden of Eden in and through Adam. The result of this original sin is that each generation of mankind sins horribly against God. And God is very displeased with this sin. So much is this true that it brings down upon mankind the wrath of God. And so our proverb speaks of the day of wrath.

In a certain sense every day is a day of wrath. Every day God in wrath brings trouble and sorrow to mankind as punishment for his sin. We read of this in Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” However, it is also true that God forbears in His wrath. For a time He holds back the full manifestation of His wrath, reserving the fullness of His wrath for a future day. In this sense our proverb speaks of the day of wrath.

This day of wrath is also a day of death. Notice that our proverb speaks of death. This is because when God vents the fury of His wrath upon man for sin, He brings death to man. The wages of sin is death. The punishment of God upon sin is death.

When is this day of wrath?

We find several outstanding days of wrath in Bible times. In wrath God destroyed the wicked world with a flood in Noah’s day. In wrath God also destroyed wicked Sodom and Gomorrah with fire. God’s wrath also brought the ten plagues upon hardhearted Egypt in the days of Moses. Terrible days of wrath these were. Nor did the Old Testament church escape the wrath of God when she became unfaithful. There was a day of wrath for the nation of Israel, when God led her into captivity by the Assyrians. Later Judah experienced the same, when God in His wrath led them into captivity into Babylon.

We also see days of God’s wrath in secular history. Repeatedly God brings widespread death through hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, war, and pestilence. These certainly are the visitations of God’s wrath to punish an evil society.

All these various days of wrath, however, only anticipate the great and final day of wrath that is coming. This is the day of the coming of Jesus Christ from heaven. In that day God will pour out the fullness of His wrath upon mankind to destroy them. In that day there will be a final and public judgment in which all men will be judged according to their works. The result of this judgment will be that God will in His wrath condemn many (the majority) to the eternal death of hell, never to escape. So great will be the destruction of that day that the entire universe in its present form will be destroyed to make way for a new creation.

Of this final day of judgment our proverb speaks. All the other days of wrath found throughout history are only types and warnings of the great and final day of God’s wrath.

The profit of righteousness.

Our proverb contrasts riches and righteousness.

Riches refer to earthly, material abundance. These riches include nice homes, fine clothes, rich food, any luxury you can imagine. Riches also include the life of comfort, pleasure, and prestige which material wealth affords. These riches certainly characterize our society today!

In distinction from that, our proverb speaks of righteousness.

Righteousness has the basic idea of obedience to the law of God. The Bible views righteousness both legally and spiritually. Viewed legally, righteousness is God’s verdict as Judge that we are righteous before Him, perfect and without sin. Viewed spiritually, righteousness is righteous living. One has to do with God’s verdict upon our lives; the other has to do with how we actually live.

True righteousness is to be found only in Jesus Christ.

Apart from Jesus Christ we are depraved. All we can do is live unrighteously, following every way of sin and disobedience. And that is also the verdict of God upon our lives—unrighteous.

However, in Christ there is found perfect righteousness.

At the cross Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God against the sin of God’s elect church, thereby covering their sin. All His life long, but especially at the cross, Jesus also walked in perfect obedience for the church. When God accounts this covering and obedience of the cross to be ours, we are righteous before God. No matter that we have sinned. No matter that we have sinned terribly. We are righteous before God in Christ. God accounts the righteousness of Christ to be ours as we daily cling to Jesus Christ by faith. This is the great truth of justification by faith alone.

But God does not stop there. When God accounts His people righteous before Him by faith in Jesus Christ, He by that same faith also transforms them spiritually so that they begin to live righteously. What motivates them is gratitude to God. This is the truth of sanctification.

Of this twofold righteousness our proverb speaks.

The question we face is, what will profit us in the day of wrath? The answer is quite simple. Whatever will deliver us from the terrible wrath of God that will fall upon mankind is what will profit us in that day.

Riches certainly are of no profit in the day of wrath. Riches cannot deliver us from the wrath of God against sin. If all we have to present to God in that day are earthly riches, we will perish under God’s wrath. And many will perish in that day. All they will have to show for their lives are riches or the vain attempt to gain riches.

However, righteousness will profit in the day of wrath. For God is a righteous Judge, who punishes the sinner but blesses the righteous. And those who appear before Him in the day of wrath clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ will be delivered from the wrath of that terrible day. All their sins will be covered by the blood of Christ. On account of Christ’s perfect righteousness they will be honored as heirs of God’s blessings. God will even reward their works of righteousness with eternal glory.

Oh, the profit of righteousness!

The way of wisdom is clear.

Certainly we must not seek earthly riches.

Many do seek the earthly riches of this life. Their whole life is caught up in the pursuit of earthly wealth. To obtain riches they often turn from the ways of righteousness. They do so because they have been deceived into thinking that riches are the key to all that is good.

But God calls us repeatedly to turn from this seeking of earthly riches. We are not to set our affections on things on the earth (Col. 3:2). We are not to labor for the meat that perishes (John 6:27). And now we know the reason. Riches profit not in the most important day of our lives, the day of wrath.

Wisdom seeks to attain the righteousness which is in Jesus Christ.

Also this is God’s call to us. We are to set our affections on and to seek those things which are above (Col. 3:1, 2). We are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

This righteousness of God is a free gift of grace to His people. It is found by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

In faith, seek the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ first, above all. Make the possession of true righteousness in Christ the all-important concern of life. Make sure that earthly, material things become important only insofar as they are necessary to be found in Christ, clothed with His righteousness in the great day of wrath.

For riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.