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Book Review: The Mysteries of the Kingdom


The Mysteries of the Kingdom: An Exposition of Jesus' Parables (revised edition)
by Herman Hanko
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 2004
Hardback, xvi + 416pp.
ISBN 0-916206-82-3
(Click here to order from the CPRC Bookstore)

The parables of Jesus are among the most loved parts of Scripture. In this excellent book, Herman Hanko, Professor Emeritus of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, offers expositions of all of Jesus’ parables. This revised edition is now available in hardback for the first time. The short chapters and clear lay-out make this a useful resource for group Bible studies, Sunday school, home-schooling or private devotions. The introductory section gives some useful advice on interpretation and some reasons why the Lord chose this means of instruction. Parables, writes the author, "make these mysteries so clear that there is no possibility of misunderstanding" (p. 22), thus leaving them with no excuse, yet at the same time, "in the way of making the mysteries of the Kingdom clear, the Lord sovereignly hardens the wicked in their sin" (Mark 4:11-12; p. 23).

After carefully explaining the context of each parable, Prof. Hanko elucidates the main elements of each story, while reminding the reader that "some elements in the story are incidental to the point being made and are included only for the story’s sake" (p. 12). Prof. Hanko’s expositions are therefore sober, clear, and characterised by theological insight. The most attractive aspect about the book is the obvious devotedness of the author to the Lord Jesus. Herman Hanko is a man who clearly has a great love for the Lord and for His church. He writes movingly as some one, who has not only studied the great truths of Scripture, but who knows from personal experience the tender-heartedness and compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Especially impressive are the moving descriptions that Prof. Hanko gives of the poor believing souls (mostly downtrodden and despised by the world, yet beloved of Christ). Such characters are the harlot in Simon’s house (Luke 7:41-43), Lazarus ("he whom God helps;" Luke 16) and the Publican (Luke 18). In sharp contrast are the vivid descriptions of the wicked, self-righteous Pharisees: "The proud Pharisees ... claimed the most exalted place in the house of God … but there comes to the wedding feast one more noble than they. Perhaps a harlot, a publican, a sinner—it makes no difference. They are more noble for they have gained their nobility in the cross of Christ by faith" (p. 184) and "the house [i.e., heaven] is filled with guests in order that there may be everlastingly no room for the self-righteous and proud" (p. 197). Equally sharp are his comments about foolishness: "Foolishness is a spiritual fault and a moral sin ... the refusal to evaluate things in the light of true reality" (p. 139); about unbelief: "the reason why men will not believe does not lie in ignorance or lack of evidence. It lies rather in man’s wicked heart of unbelief" (p. 272); and about hypocrisy: "how is it possible that so many, piously speaking of their concern for the poor across the sea, divorce their husbands and wives, and abandon their children? They refuse to love the neighbour who stands at their side. How can they love any neighbour?" (p. 116).

This book will instruct the reader about the wonderful grace of God, about the cross, about the nature and the calling of the church in the world, about prayer, about the deceitfulness of sin and self-righteousness to name but a few subjects. I will close with a representative quote, from the chapter on "The Seeking Shepherd" of Luke 15: "But over a lost one there is rejoicing. Such a one may be a lowly and despised sinner. He may be a publican of the baser sort. He may even be scorned and derided, or worse, ignored by self-righteous people. He may be you or I. But Christ found him and brought him home. See, he is on his knees weeping. But the angels are singing beyond the skies" (p. 209).

Martyn McGeown