This article first appeared in the April 15, 1966 issue of The Standard Bearer (vol.42). It was penned by Rev.Cornelius Hanko for the rubric "The Lord Gave the Word", a missions column.
Efficacious grace is one of the fundamental truths of Scripture preserved for us by the Reformation and maintained by the Calvinists. Calvinism confesses:
Sovereign predestination, by which is meant that the God of all grace eternally decrees to lead His chosen people to heavenly perfection in Christ, where they shall show forth His glorious praises forever; and that also the wicked who are destined to perish in their sins must serve toward the salvation of the elect.
Total Depravity, which means that, apart from the saving grace of God, man is dead in trespasses, and sins, incapable of any good, also of accepting the gospel, and is prone to all evil.
Particular atonement, which signifies that God reveals His grace to His elect in the cross of Christ, where justice and mercy meet together. God spared not His Son, but gave Him as a ransom to redeem unto Himself a people that can enjoy and show forth His praises forever.
Efficacious grace, by which we mean that God's grace is the power whereby God bestows upon His people the merited gifts of grace, to make them like unto Himself, beautiful and attractive before Him, that they may live to His praise eternally.
Preservation of saints, which means that God preserves His people in a living faith in the midst of trails and temptations, so that they grow in grace and are prepared for heavenly perfection.
Now the Arminians have never openly denied this doctrine of salvation by grace. That is simply impossible, since Scripture so emphatically teaches it on every page, and the apostle Paul so confidently declares to the church, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8, 9).
On the contrary, Arminians have always taken this as their maxim, even to the extent that it has virtually become a slogan with them. They proclaim it from pulpit and in leaflet, they spread it in large letters across billboards, or they blazon it in bright lights over their tent or auditorium: Saved by grace! But in spite of all their emphasis on salvation by grace, they still deny this fundamental doctrine by applying their own interpretation to the word 'grace'.
Grace, according to Arminians of every sort, is the willingness of God to make salvation available to all men; God's offer of salvation to all, which remains contingent upon man's acceptance. Grace is effectual only if man, on his part, shows a willingness to accept the proffered salvation.
This was taught many years ago already in the Five Articles of the Remonstrants, which were so strongly condemned by our fathers in the Canons of Dordt, 1618-19. The fourth article declares:
"That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptation to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,
and elsewhere in many places."
Our first impression upon reading this article is that it teaches emphatically that salvation is the work of God's sovereign grace with nothing of man in it. The unwary may be deeply impressed by the fact that it speaks of the grace of God as "the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good." Natural man can, according to the article, certainly do nothing toward his salvation. Even the regenerate man can "neither think, will, nor do good!" He cannot as much as withstand evil without this grace of God. This grace must be first, must continue to operate in man, and must follow up any good action that he can perform. The article speaks of a "prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace." Now all that sounds like a strong emphasis on salvation by grace. What more could anyone ask?
And yet this article is thoroughly Arminian and was condemned as such by the fathers of Dordt who brand it as "altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture." (See our Canons, III and IV Head of Doctrine, Rejection of errors, article 7).
That also becomes evident from the last part of the article. It is true that even there the free-will heresy is camouflaged as much as possible, but it still shows through. After stressing that salvation is indeed of grace, the Arminians did not hesitate to add, "But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible." True enough, this is a negative statement; they did not say that grace is resistible. But that is certainly what they meant! Nor did they say that man must accept the proffered salvation, must be willing to be saved, and must also take an active part in the work of salvation, or God can do nothing. But that was indeed the intent. Read the first part of the article once more in the light of that last statement that grace is not irresistible. You see at once that the Arminians insisted on a free will in man. They spoke of prevenient (going before, preceding) grace; but they hastened to add that what they meant was assisting grace. They spoke of an "awakening and following grace," but they again added that they meant a "cooperative grace." God is willing to assist and cooperate with those who are willing to be helped. Do you wonder that our fathers so strongly condemned this error?
This Arminianism is so common in the preaching today that one is hardly shocked by it any more. It is not unusual to hear a minister speak of confronting every. man with Christ, making overtures of grace, offering Christ to the nations, and pleading with young and old to make a decision for Christ. And always the implication is that man must be willing to accept the gospel in order to be saved. Somehow he must show some token of willingness or in some manner assist toward his salvation. And as soon as anyone insists that this is contrary to the Scriptures the charge is made that he denies human responsibility, has no message for the unsaved, preaches a powerless and empty gospel.
Also the Christian Reformed Church in 1324 took the official position that the preaching of the Word is a "general offer of the gospel." Prof. Dekker and others conclude from this that already there their church taught a universal love of God and a desire on God's part to make salvation available to all men. They have stressed that it is simply impossible to speak of two kinds of grace as two different attitudes of God toward mankind, a common grace that does not intend to save, and a special grace that does have as its intent to save. They maintain, and correctly so, that grace must be saving grace or it is no grace. Only, of course, they insist that this saving grace is made .available to all men with the divine desire to save all.
What else can anyone conclude from all this reasoning but that grace is not irresistible? How can anyone maintain a general offer of the gospel and still hold the Calvinistic principle of efficacious grace?
But what is the gospel message of the Scriptures? It is high time that we seriously face that question.
In doing so let us listen to the great missionary to the Gentiles, the apostle Paul himself. He writes in Ephesians 1:3, 4a, as follows: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world."
Some time ago I had occasion to refer to this same passage to show that the apostle did not hesitate to preach sovereign election in the mission field and to the newly organized churches. In fact, this glorious gospel of sovereign grace, rooted in eternal election, so stirred the deepest recesses of his soul that he breathes forth a paean in adoration: Blessed be God!
Now turning to this passage once more, we see that Paul ascribes the entire work of salvation solely to God in Christ. Anyone who preaches salvation by grace must preach that same glorious gospel.
Paul raises a doxology to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." And the reason for this praise is, that God has blessed Christ, that is, God has spoken His powerful, efficacious word of blessing upon Jesus Christ. That fact in itself is sufficient for the apostle to declare, "Glory be to the Father!"
God has blessed Christ! Let that be preached, for that is the very keynote of the gospel. That brings us to the cross. We are forcefully reminded that God sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. He became poor, that through His poverty many might be made rich. He humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, and walked the bitter way of shame and reproach that led to the cross. In perfect obedience to the Father He bore the wrath of God against sin all His life, but particularly on the cross. He suffered torments of hell to deliver His people from the bondage of sin and death and to merit for them eternal life.
As a reward on this accomplished work of the cross, God raised up Jesus, exalted Him to heavenly perfection, and gave Him a Name above all names. God spoke His word of blessing upon Christ. He spoke that word when He raised Him from the dead. He did so again when He exalted Him to a position of authority at His right hand. And He did so by bestowing on Him the gift of the Holy Spirit. With that Holy Spirit God also bestows on Christ all the blessings of salvation which He has merited by His death.
Therefore Paul can say that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us. Since Christ is our Head, and we are the members of His body, God spoke that word of blessing upon us also when He raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to heavenly power, by the working of the power of God's might. When God blesses Christ with every spiritual blessing Christ becomes the reservoir, containing and pouring out all the blessings of salvation upon His church.
Christ brings His gospel of salvation to His people. He calls and sends His ambassadors to preach that gospel in His Name. And no one can preach except on the authority of Christ. But Christ also applies that preaching of the Word by His Spirit to the hearts of His people. The preaching of the Word is the means of grace used by the Holy Spirit to work and strengthen faith in the hearts of His own.
Preaching is never man's work. The power of the gospel is never dependent upon a well-organized evangelistic campaign or any other contrivance of man. That does not mean that God does not use mere man to preach the gospel, but the power of the gospel is always the power of God, the work of grace operating by the Spirit in the hearts of men. Salvation is the working of the power of God's might. It is that same Word of blessing that was so efficaciously spoken upon Christ when God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to heavenly power. It is that same working of the power of God's might that now draws His own out of death into life. See Ephesians 1:19, 20. Saved by grace, even efficacious grace, God's grace!
Saved by grace that is rooted in love, "according as He hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world."
An empty, powerless gospel? A cold, comfortless message? Paul did not think so. It is indeed devoid of all that is of man, but it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, both to Jew and Gentile according to sovereign mercy.
He that glories in that salvation must glory in the Lord!
Blessed be God!
Rev. Cornelius Hanko was born to Herman and Jennie (nee Burmania) Hanko on May 19, 1907 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his heartfelt desire when the Lord in His mercy took him to glory on Monday, March 14, in the year of our Lord 2005.
Rev. Hanko was baptized in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. During the common grace controversy in the 1920s the Hanko family followed Rev. Herman Hoeksema and the majority of the consistory of Eastern Avenue in their polemic against common grace and their advocacy of one, sovereign grace of God for the elect in Christ Jesus. The Hankos thus became charter members of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan when the Eastern Avenue Protesting Christian Reformed Church, her pastor and consistory, were cast out of the CRC in 1926. Rev. Hanko, therefore, was the last of the PRC clergy (and perhaps of the entire membership of the PRC) to have had direct, personal contact with the events of 1924–1926 that led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Already in his teenage years Rev. Hanko had his eye on the ministry. His first inclination was to be a missionary. That never happened, because the Lord called him to the pastoral ministry for his entire career. Rev. Hanko began his studies for the ministry under Revs. H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema, and G. M. Ophoff. He graduated from the seminary in 1929 with five other men (four of whom left the PRC in the split of 1953 and one of whom left the PRC in the early 1960s. All five of these eventually became ministers in the CRC).
After graduation from the seminary Rev. Hanko and his bride Jennie (nee Griffioen) made their way to Hull, Iowa PRC, in which church Rev. Hanko was ordained a minister of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC. God blessed Rev. and Mrs. Hanko with four children, all of whom are members of the PRC: Rev. Herman C. (married to Wilma Knoper), Professor Emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary; Fred (married to Ruth Miersma), who gave his working life to the Protestant Reformed Christian Schools (Adams Street in Grand Rapids, where he was my ninth grade teacher, Northwest Iowa in Doon, where he taught with my wife, and Hope, Walker, Michigan); Elaine, widow of Richard Bos; and Alice, who cared for her father in his later years.
In addition to the Hull PRC, Rev. and Mrs. Hanko served in the following Protestant Reformed Churches: Oaklawn, Illinois (1935); Manhattan, Montana (1945); First, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1948); Hope, Redlands, California (1964); and Hudsonville, Michigan (1971). After becoming emeritus in 1977, Rev. Hanko remained active for a number of years, preaching and teaching in the churches and preaching two services per Sunday in Florida during the winter seasons.
His years in First Church were difficult ones for Rev. Hanko because of the controversy that resulted in the split in First and in the denomination in June of 1953. The controversy involved the doctrine of the covenant. The majority of the congregation of First and of the members and clergy of the denomination embraced the covenant view of Dr. Klaas Schilder (conceiving of the essence of the covenant as consisting of a conditional promise made by God to every baptized child). These left our churches. During these years, while never compromising the truth of an unconditional covenant of grace and friendship established unilaterally by God with His elect in Christ Jesus, Rev. Hanko never lost a certain healthy balance in his preaching and teaching in First Church. He simply did his work by the grace of God, preaching, teaching, and caring for the flock of God as best he was able.
During his years in First Church, which numbered more than five hundred families before the split in 1953 and ca. 200 families after the split, Rev. Hanko had my father as one of his co-laborers in the consistory. They became good friends. The Hankos and the Deckers regularly visited together. It was through this contact that I got to know Rev. Hanko on a personal basis. It was during Rev. Hanko’s years as pastor of First that I was a student at Calvin College, then located on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids just a short block away from the parsonage occupied by the Hankos. Not infrequently, I would walk from class at Calvin to the parsonage with my questions. Rev. Hanko patiently answered these questions from Scripture and the confessions and would then offer prayer. Rev. Hanko was used by God, together with my parents to keep me in the PRC as a member and later as one of the churches’ pastors. I also had the blessed privilege after October 1, 1965, the date of my ordination as pastor of the Doon, Iowa congregation, to labor for a few years with Rev. Hanko as a colleague. We younger pastors in Classis West leaned heavily on our older, experienced, and competent colleague, learning much from his godly example.
During his pastorate in Hudsonville, Michigan the Lord delivered his beloved Jennie from her suffering into glory. I remember sitting with Rev. Hanko in the ICU waiting-room at the hospital, when he remarked, “Part of me is dying in there.” Now Rev. Hanko, having died in the Lord, enjoys God’s fellowship in Jesus in glory as well.
We thank God for giving our churches this gifted and faithful servant and for using him for the edification of the churches for the years of his lengthy ministry among our Protestant Reformed Churches. That in the years to come these churches may follow the example of our beloved brother, Cornelius Hanko, and “…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints…” is our fervent prayer (Jude : 3b).
Soli Deo Gloria! (Written by Rev.Gise Van Baren)