This article was first published in the Standard Bearer
Cornelius Hanko is an emeritus minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Ques. 110. What doth God forbid in the eighth commandment?
Ans. God forbids not only those thefts, and robberies, which are punishable by the magistrate; but he comprehends under the name of theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we design to appropriate to ourselves the goods which belong to our neighbor: whether it be by force, or under the appearance of right, as by unjust weights, ells, measures, fraudulent merchandise, false coins, usury, or by any other way forbidden by God; as also all covetousness, all abuse and waste of his gifts.
Ques. 111. What doth God require in this commandment?
Ans. That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may; and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others: further also that I faithfully labor, so that I may be able to relieve the needy.
Heid. Catechism, Lord's Day 42
The earth and the fullness with which it is stored,
The world and its dwellers belong to the Lord;
For He on the seas its foundation has laid,
And firm on the waters its pillars has stayed.
This same Lord upholds and governs all things as Almighty God, Sovereign Ruler over the wide and vast domain and His universe! He, and He alone has claim to all the work of His hands!
In a very special sense, His people are His peculiar possession. He lays claim to them saying, "I have chosen you, redeemed you, called you by name; you are Mine!
To which we respond in faith: Yea, Lord, I am Thine with all that I have!
We are dependent creatures!
When God created man, He made him a needy, dependent creature to live out of God's hand. As long as sin had not entered into the world this created no serious problem. Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the trees of the garden, which brought forth abundantly. They received their daily bread in thankfulness to their God. There was but one tree in the entire garden from which they were forbidden to eat. Through the instigation of Satan this became a snare to them. They became rebels, declared their independence to do as they saw fit. The Lord in His just wrath cast them out of the garden, and gave them over to die a prolonged but certain death. Spiritually they had separated themselves from God's fellowship and brought upon themselves His condemning judgment. They died!
Given over to his sinful nature, man became a thief. Rather than to listen to God's command, "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work", he devises all sorts of get-rich schemes, such as lotteries, gambling, dishonest business transactions, fraudulent merchandise, oppressing the employee, or refusing to give a full day's labor for an honest wage, strikes, boycotts, and various other attempts at dishonesty.
The Lord says, My people, whom I have delivered from the bondage of sin and the power of death, love Me! Thou shalt not steal!
We live out of Father's hand!
A striking example of that we see in Israel's journey through the wilderness to the promised land. In the waste lands of the Sinai peninsula God rained manna from heaven, a new supply every day. Very literally Israel was reminded that they ate out of the hand of Jehovah, their faithful covenant God. Never did they lack food, no, not for a single day. This manna contained all the necessary vitamins, all the nutrients necessary for their daily existence. One would think that Israel would live in perfect contentment and thankfulness for God's providential care in a waste and howling wilderness. Yet even then they murmured, complaining that they wanted meat, and that their souls longed for the onions, garlic and leek of Egypt. For forty years they. grieved God with their bitter complaints.
We have another example in Elijah sitting at the brook Cherith, waiting each morning and evening for the arrival of the ravens, which were sent of God to supply him with his daily ration of meat and bread. After one year he was sent to the widow of Sidon, who was about to starve to death. For two and a half years Elijah, the woman, and her son were fed with a daily supply of oil and meat. No, their table was not laden with luxurious pies and rich cakes; yet they had their daily bread, while thousands around them died of starvation. Together they learned to pray each day anew: "Give us this day our daily bread!" And they also saw, even including the former pagan widow, that this daily ration pointed them to Him who is the Bread of life, who feeds us even unto all eternity!
The Psalmist declares that he has never seen the righteous without food, while Paul assures us, "Godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. But having food and raiment let us therewith be content." I Tim. 6:6-8.
We are stewards in God's house!
There is a sinful obtaining, but there is also a sinful misuse of God's gifts.
Proud man is selfishly greedy. He banishes God from his thoughts and sets himself up as if he were God. He claims to have inalienable rights, the right to live, the right to be cared for, whether that be by the government or some other agency. Especially when the government is so ready with its handouts, every one tries to obtain all that he can. The world owes him a living; no, a living that compares with the Joneses. He claims the right to make use of his possessions as he pleases. We think of the rich man who sits mulling over the abundant production of his farm. What shall I do? I'll build bigger barns, I shall lay up my goods in store for many years. I shall assure my soul that I have found independence, freedom from want and freedom from fear. We all know how God answered this fool. We know so very well, and yet he is not foreign to any of us!
We have a stewardship to fulfill. Jesus gives us the parable of the talents, in which the man traveling to a far country (this was spoken on the eve of Christ's crucifixion) entrusted to his servants all his goods. These are the gifts that God entrusts to us day by day. They include our span of life, our health, strength, home, family, friends; our task in life with the ability to think, to will, to act; our automobile, all our luxuries, our place in God's church, and even our contact with our neighbors, whoever they may be. To one God gives five talents, to another two, and to most of us one, each according to our ability. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) All that we are and all that we have belongs to the Lord, even as we rejoice in the fact that we are not our own, but belong with body and soul, for time and eternity to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ! We are privileged to labor in God's House, in His fear, and to His glory! In the great day of days each of us will be called to give account of our stewardship, also with that one talent entrusted to us! And every man will be judged accordingly!
All that I am belongs to Thee,
Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.
God is always first!
When Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath he met her at the gate of the city, picking up "two sticks" for a final meal with her son, before they both starved to death. When she assured the prophet that she had only a handful of meal and a small amount of oil, enough for one last meal, the man of God told her: "Make me a cake first!" If it were not that he was sent of God, this would sound cruelly selfish. Yet this widow, who had until now been a pagan idol worshipper, is given in her heart by the Spirit to accept Elijah as sent by his God, and makes a cake for him first! There we learn our first lesson in the basic principles of the kingdom of heaven! God is first!
The Lord through the prophet Malachi accuses carnal Judah of robbing God! "Wherein", they ask, "have we robbed God?" To which the response is given: "In your tithes and offerings!" They were not always liberal and honest in giving a tenth of their income to the Lord. Their offerings were not always the best of their flocks and herds. God had second place in their lives. Pride, selfishness, and greed demanded for themselves the first place.
Is God always first in your life and mine? Do we set aside our contribution for the kingdom, our alms for the needy and our school tuition or donations, and only then see what is left for our daily needs? Do we live according to the command of Christ, "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven," assured that all other things will be added unto us by our heavenly Father?
We think of the widow who went to the temple with her two mites clutched in her hand. She felt that she had to give expression of her love and thanks to God for all His Fatherly care over her. Yet she had only two mites, barely enough for her earthly existence. One wonders, did she debate with herself along the way whether she should give but one mite, and keep the other for herself? But when she approached the treasure chest, her heart overwhelmed her with thanks for all that the Lord had done for her. Giving little thought to what she was doing, she cast her all into the kingdom. Would not God who cares for the sparrows also care for her?
Here is a lesson in humility clothed in godly fear! True humility means self denial, self surrender to our God, even as we confess: "All that I am belongs to Thee, O my God!"
This creates in us child-like trust. Jesus warns, "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For all these things do the gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (Matt. 6:31, 32).
This, in turn, arouses true contentment, living by faith out of God's hand. Elijah and the widow experienced that their bread was certain, even while the famine ravaged the land! Does not our heavenly Father care for us, O we of little faith?
Contentment gives thankfulness. While thankfulness expresses itself in giving! Freely we have received, freely we can give! Upon which our Lord assures us: "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (Matt. 25:35, 36).
Well may we pray, "Lord, teach me to live also according to this commandment!"
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)