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Faith Made PerfectFaith Made Perfect
by Herman Hanko

Commentary on James

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304 Pages
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The believers James is writing to faced many problems as they made the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament. James addresses these issues that the early Christians faced, including trials and temptations, true religion, wisdom, the use of the tongue, the judgment of the rich, patience, and spiritual help in trouble.

This eminently practical book gives instruction for living the Christian life in many of its aspects. A salient feature is the relation between justification and works, which James explains by the examples of Abraham and Rahab.

by Matthew De Boer

How are we to live as those who are justified before God in Christ? In his commentary on the book of James, Faith Made Perfect, Prof. Herman Hanko answers this question by explaining the practical instruction the epistle of James gives to God’s children. The converted Jews, whom James addresses in this epistle, received instruction concerning the same things that we need to be instructed about today. As God’s people who are united to Christ by faith, we are taught in the book of James how to deal with trials and temptations, how to be wise, how to use our tongues, how to handle unfair treatment by those in authority over us, and how to deal with spiritual struggles. In exegeting these passages filled with practical demands in a verse-by-verse commentary, Professor Hanko provides excellent applications for all the members of God’s church today, including the elderly and the young people. He shows how we are to live to God’s glory in all of life and to manifest that we have genuine faith.

Understanding that we often fall short of obeying God’s commands and doing good works, even as those who are his children and united to Christ, Professor Hanko always makes sure to lead the reader to the cross of Christ. In interpreting the admonitions of James to the converted Jews of that day concerning their walk of life, Hanko shows that we also often do not follow God’s commands in this epistle and that we often do not live out of the bond of faith we have with Christ. Yet, Hanko always emphasizes that there is hope for us in Christ. For instance, concerning James 4:7, which calls us to “resist the devil,” Hanko writes, “When we fall into sin, as so often we do, we have the victory of the cross to which we flee in humble confession” (207). This book is truly Christ-centered.

In his discussion of the practical instruction and commands we are given in the book of James, Hanko explains the teaching of the book concerning the relationship between faith and works. He exegetes key passages in the book of James that deal with our justification in the sight of God. The Roman Catholic Church as well as the proponents of the federal vision use passages in James to teach that we are justified by faith and works. They appeal to texts such as James 2:21, which states, “Was not Abraham justified by works?” to attempt to prove their position. Hanko examines James 2:21 and other passages like it that are so often falsely interpreted and proves that James teaches the same truth of justification by faith alone as Paul did in Romans and in Galatians by the inspiration of the Spirit. In his explanation Hanko shows that there are indeed no contradictions in scripture.

After reading this book the child of God most definitely will have a greater knowledge of the book of James and will surely be spiritually edified. Professor Hanko spends much time explaining the connections between the verses that can sometimes be difficult to find. In describing the connections, he gives the reader a richer understanding of each individual passage. Also, his explanation of many of the key words used in the original language help the believer better understand the important concepts of this epistle. In reading this careful work on the book of James, the believer will certainly grow in knowledge of his God and will develop in his understanding of how he is to live his everyday life as one who is one with Jesus Christ.

by Rev. Martyn McGeown

This is Herman Hanko’s third commentary. He has written previously on Galatians and 1 Peter, and Faith Made Perfect follows the same basic format. This is a commentary not a series of sermons, although it is certainly the fruit of thorough exegesis. In the preface Hanko mentions that he had preached a series on Galatians. I believe he may have preached, or planned to preach, a series on James also. Be that as it may, Faith Made Perfect would be helpful to the preacher today who considered preaching a series of sermons on James.

However, like all of Hanko’s books, and, indeed, like all of the books published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA), this book is not designed to be only for preachers, theologians, or biblical scholars. There are useful footnotes, in which various points of Greek grammar are elucidated, but these are not at all off-putting to the Christian without any knowledge of the Greek language of the New Testament. These notes are useful to the pastor as he struggles with exegesis. In addition, Hanko does not bore us with extraneous details of textual criticism, historical background, or other matters, but quickly, after a brief introduction, delves into the text of scripture, which is our spiritual meat.

The title of the book, Faith Made Perfect, captures the theme of the epistle—faith is made perfect by works. The purpose of James, and more importantly the purpose of the Spirit who inspired James, is to contrast the dead “faith” of the hypocrite with the living, works-producing faith of the child of God. Pivotal to James, and pivotal to Faith Made Perfect, is chapter 2, which in church history has been a battleground not only between Rome and the reformers, but also now between the Reformed and the men of the federal vision. In light of this fact, every Reformed Christian must know what James means when he declares, “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” and “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:22, 24).

Something that impressed me about this book—and this is something that we ministers need to bear in mind when we preach series—is that Hanko never loses sight of his main theme as he works through the epistle. Always that main theme colors his exegesis and applications. For example, in his explanation of chapter 1, where James exhorts his readers to hear and to do the word of God, Hanko rightly remarks:

Immediately, the apostle slams the door in the face of all Arminians and those who teach justification by faith and works by pointing out that because we are regenerated, we are to perform these good works, which good works are what these admonitions require. James also closes the door to the antinomians, who claim that good works are unnecessary. He says, “You are regenerated, therefore God has given you the spiritual power to do these good works. Be what God has made you. You are justified by faith, and faith produces good works” (58).

Antinomianism is not an issue only in chapter 3—it is James’ concern throughout the epistle. Hanko never lets us forget it!

Another feature of Faith Made Perfect is the multiplicity of illustrations and applications. In this way Hanko follows the style of the book that he is expositing, for James uses many homely or earthy illustrations and makes numerous pointed applications. One need only list a few from chapter one—the wave of the sea (v. 6), the burning heat of the sun (v. 11), lust’s conception and bringing forth of sin and death (v. 15), and the forgetful mirror-gazer (vv. 23–24). Hanko applies the word sharply and pointedly—to himself and then to us:

This is strange, but true. You can hear a child of God sing fervently God’s praises in church on the Lord’s day as he sits next to you in the pew. But when you stand near him outside of church, you may hear him curse someone as he relates what that person did to him. You are inclined to ask, “Can this be the same person?” Then it comes to you sharply and as a dagger. You do the same in your home. You lead the family in devotions, but suddenly you speak evil of someone within the congregation and repeat a juicy bit of gossip that was told you by one of your fellow workers on the job (169).

Faith Made Perfect combines good exegesis, sound theology, helpful illustrations, and heart-searching applications. The reader will understand the epistle of James when he has finished the book, which will be useful for Bible study groups and pastors alike. Not only will the reader understand James, but also, if he has read carefully and prayerfully, he will be found humbled and comforted at the feet of Christ, where all true faith leads us.