When we recollect some of Job’s own declarations, it may excite some surprise that he should, at the outset, be described as a “perfect man.” He says in one place very plainly, “I have sinned;” Note: Job_7:20. a declaration which he repeats with great emphasis after God had spoken; Note: Job_42:6. and in another place, he declares, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me; if I say, I am perfect, it will prove me perverse.” Note: Job_9:20. Yet it is said of him, “That man was perfect and upright, one that feared God and eschewed evil.”
Of course, as this word “perfect” is a translation of a Hebrew word, it is open to consideration whether it bears, in this case, the full meaning of our word perfect. The word is tam, which has different shades of meaning, and is in different texts translated by different words. The leading sense is that of a thing being thoroughly complete or consistent—possessing the qualities or parts without which it would be left incomplete. It is whole, entire, full, complete. Our word “perfect” contains this sense, but it is, in this sense, of less frequent occurrence than at the time our translation of the Bible was made. But we sometimes hear it. Thus, some years ago, the “Athenaeum” was in the habit of offering an enhanced price for certain specified back numbers, wanted for the purpose of completing sets of the journal; and thus, from time to time would see the announcement—“The publisher has succeeded in making perfect another set of this Journal;” or, “The publisher has succeeded in perfecting another copy,” etc. In this sense, the character of Job was complete in all its parts. In the case cited, the numbers deficient rendered the set imperfect, which was “perfected” when these numbers were obtained; but the character of Job was already full or complete. No numbers were wanting to complete the set of qualities which constituted his character as a righteous man. He possessed temporal greatness, and therewith he manifested all the attributes which became him as a great lord, a master, a parent, a worshipper of God. He was complete—and that completeness constituted his perfection. He was complete in character, and “upright” in thought and action. And the sense in which this is to be understood, is defined by the addition, “He feared God, and eschewed evil;” for we take this clause, not as a statement of additional qualities, but as an explanation of those already set forth. “He was perfect and upright,” for, “he feared God and eschewed evil.” The same term, in the same sense, is used to describe the character of Noah, who is said to have been “a just man, and perfect in his generation.” Gen_6:9. In a lower sense, derived from this higher, it is applied to Jacob; for where the authorized version has, that he was “a plain man dwelling in tents,” the word translated “plain” is the same in the original as that which stands as “perfect” in the two other texts. It does, in fact, in this and other passages, mean simple, plain, or innocent, free from guile, and in regard to Jacob, appears to apply to his placid temper and quiet habits, as contrasted with the fierce temper and rough habits of his elder brother. Some would take the word in this sense even with regard to Job—supposing it to denote that he was a plain and true man—that his perfection was a perfection of sincerity—that he was one who did not act a part, or simulate religion, but was truly a religious person—one who was not gilded, but was gold. Or again, it may, in this lower but more definite sense, rest upon the simplicity of his character and walk—not “simple” in the sense of weak and foolish, but as “simple” is put for plain-hearted, one who is not what the Apostle James describes as a “double-minded man,” but one who was single-minded—one who was not a compound character, speaking one thing and meaning another, but altogether single in thought and purpose. This is that dove-like simplicity which our Lord recommended his disciples to hold along with “the wisdom of the serpent.”
Nevertheless, having thus pointed out the possible senses in which Job is called a “perfect man,” it may be proper to indicate the forms under which perfections may be, and are, in Scripture, ascribed to the children of God.
There is first a perfection of justification. This is a complete perfection—for to say that it is incomplete, were to disparage the Lord’s work. The redeemed are complete in Christ, they are perfectly justified. There is not any sin left uncovered, not any guilt unwashed in the blood of Christ, not any spot left unremoved. His garment is large enough to cover all our nakedness, and to hide all our deformities and sores. In this respect, therefore, they may be called perfect, seeing that they are perfectly justified. “By one offering, Christ path perfected forever them that are sanctified,” Heb_10:14.
Then again, there is a perfection of holiness or sanctification; and it is so called, either in respect to the beginnings of, or in regard to the desires after, and the aims at, perfection. The people of God have, even in this life, a perfect beginning of holiness, because they have begun to be sanctified in every part—sanctified throughout “in soul, and body, and spirit” 1Th_5:23. Though every part be not throughout sanctified, yet they are sanctified in every part throughout—and this is a perfection. When the work of sanctification has begun in all parts, this is a perfect work beginning—even as an infant is perfect as an infant, and yet grows on into the higher perfection of a man.
They are also perfect in regard to their desires and objects. Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and is the reward of the saints in heaven. That which they aim at here, is perfection—to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect, therefore they are called perfect. As God accepts the will for the deed, so He expresses the deed by the will. He esteems him to be a perfect man who strives after perfection; and He calls that person perfect who longs to have all his imperfections cured.
We see, therefore, that Job might properly and fitly be described as “a perfect man,” although it is clear, from what ensues, that many infirmities remained with him, and although he knew himself to be a sinner.