Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Does Job fear God for nothing?
Satan insinuates that the man who professes to serve God is, after all, only serving himself, and is making God nothing more than a convenience, a purveyor to his own selfish profit and pleasure. One object of the Book of Job is to prove that there is something genuine in man, especially when the grace of God has entered his heart. Satan puts his calumny into the form of a question. It is evident how he intended it to be answered. God has held up Job as a proof of His power to put true goodness into human nature; and the reply is that this seeming goodness is only self. interest. The man is religious because he makes a good thing out of religion. The accuser has a belief in the philosophy of selfishness. It is a faith not uncommon in our day. There are some who seek a foundation for it in argument, and wish to prove that all virtue is merely self-interest largely and wisely interpreted, which is true in this respect, that goodness and self-interest will, in the end, coincide, but very false if it is meant that goodness has its origin in taking this end into account. The Bible itself is quoted as sanctioning the idea that self-interest is, and ought to be, the spring of human action. Sin, it is said, is only self-interest unenlightened and wrongly directed, and true religion is a proper and wise regard to our own happiness.
I. SELFISHNESS IS NOT THE ESSENCE OF HUMAN NATURE AS PRESENTED IN THE BIBLE. Satan denies that there is unselfishness in Job. He would imply that it is not in God's power to create a disinterested love of Himself, even in a regenerate creature — that self-interest is the hidden worm at the root of everything, good or bad. Think —
1. Of the regenerate man, and see whether God's plan of forming him proceeds on the principle of appealing to selfishness. It is granted that the Bible, all through, presses men with threatenings of punishment, and holds out to them promises of happiness to lead them to a new life. But this is to be remembered, that it begins its work with men who are sunk in sin, and that the essence of sin is selfishness. It must arrest and raise them by motives adapted to their condition, provided that these motives are not wrong, and enlightened self-interest, that is, self-interest which is consistent with the good of others is not wrong. The Bible is too bread and human not to bring all fair motives into exercise. So before the Gospel, and even with it, we must have Sinai's word, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." But to affirm that this is the final, or even the prevailing motive of the new life, is to mistake or misrepresent the Bible, which is constantly advancing from the domain of threatening and outward promise to that of free and unselfish love. Its strength of appeal from the very beginning lies in the mercy of God pardoning unconditionally. As a man rises into the knowledge of the Divine plan he seeks and serves God, not from the hope of what he is to receive from Him, but from the delight which he finds in Him — in the true, the pure, the loving, that dwell in the Father of Lights. If they still charge us with selfishness in seeking this, because it is our happiness, we confess we know not what is meant by the charge. We do not seek Him for the joy, we find the joy in seeking. God acts towards man on the principle of free, undeserved love, that He may form in him the spirit and image of His own action, creating a spring of self-sacrifice which flows back to God, and overflows to men. The Son of God, who knows what is in man, believed this possible. He made a John, a Paul, a Peter, a Stephen — hearts that drank of the cup of His self-sacrifice, and forgot themselves, and laboured, and suffered, and died, like Him, for the world's good. It is certain that the Bible proceeds on the principle of creating unselfish action in the regenerate heart.
2. Even in the case of unregenerate men, the Bible does not affirm that the only law at work is one of utter selfishness. Though man is fallen, the elements of human nature are still there. They are not annihilated, neither are they demonised. The deep radical defect is Godward, that man has ceased to retain Him in his knowledge, and has expelled His love from his heart. There yet shines many a fair tint on human nature. Whatever unrenewed men may be to God, they perform to their fellow men, oftentimes, the most unselfish acts. They give, hoping to receive nothing again. Let us not think that we discredit the Gospel, by seeming to leave these fair features of humanity outside its regenerating circle, but let us rather widen that circle to embrace them, and believe that if there is anything glorious upon earth, or beautiful in humanity, we owe it to the power of Christ's death, and the breadth of His intercession.
II. THE RESULTS OF BELIEF IN UNMITIGATED SELFISHNESS. The first evident consequence in him who holds it is a want of due regard for his fellow creatures. With no belief in principle or goodness, he can cherish no reverence, and feel no pity. The next consequence is the want of any centre of rest within itself. Another effect is the failure of any real hold of God. The spirit, Satan, here, had no just views of a God of truth and purity and goodness.
III. SOME MEANS THAT MAY BE ADOPTED AS A REMEDY BY THOSE WHO ARE IN DANGER OF FALLING INTO THIS FAITH. We should seek to bring our own life into close contact with what is genuine in our fellow men. Next to the cultivation of society and friendships among living men, we may mention the choice of books. Then, in judging humanity, we must beware of taking a part for the whole. The last means for removing the view that man is incapable of rising above self is to apprehend the Divine care of human nature. He who has studied the person of Christ, and laid his hand, however feebly, on the throbbings of that heart, will not be in danger of the view that self-love, utter and eternal, is part of the nature of man.
(John Ker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?